Mommy Cocktail Hour
The invitation reads "Mommy Cocktail and Baby Play Date: Bring your little ones over for a play date while the mommies have a well-deserved 'refreshing' drink." You might also hear these gatherings described as "Juice Boxes and Wine Glasses," "Wine and Whine," "Tots and Tonic" or even "Booze and Babies."
Combining play dates and adult drinks is a hot-button issue that often elicits strong emotional reactions and opinions on both sides of the spectrum.
Mommy Cocktail Hour: A Hot Topic for Debate
"I say 'no' to the cocktail and juice box play date!" says Stacey Kannenberg, a mom from Fredonia, Wis. "The goal of a play date is to foster social setting learning along with your child without modeling the behavior that we need alcohol to relax and connect."
Michele Samuels from Mill Valley, Calif., has a different take on the issue. She enjoys the occasional play date that includes juice for the kids and a special grownup juice for the moms, or a nice glass of Cabernet. "I think it is a riot that moms are held to a standard so far above the rest of the world," says Samuels. "When I was in New York as a PR executive, no one ever questioned my ability to handle high-end client accounts after a two-martini lunch, but now they think I can't take care of my child if I have a glass of wine or a cocktail in the late afternoon while hanging out with other moms."
While Samuels understands that alcohol can be a problem for some, she also says we need to lighten up on moms in general. "Once we're done nursing (when, of course, we should not be drinking alcohol), we're people too, who are responsible and like to have fun and relax a bit and enjoy good food, wine and company just like anyone else," says Samuels. "I find it a bit ridiculous to think that we are only permitted to do that when our children are not present. Does that mean that a couple shouldn't have some wine or a cocktail at home when their kids are there?"
Mommy Cocktail Hour: Moderation Is Key
Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician in Atlanta, Ga., and author of several parenting books, says that these play dates aren't necessarily a bad thing as long as the women are drinking in moderation. "You obviously don't want to get so impaired that it would affect your judgment or have so much alcohol in your breast milk that it could affect your baby if you are breastfeeding," says Dr. Shu. "One or two drinks per week is probably fine." Dr. Shu does caution that moms need to be especially careful in babies less than 3 months of age as it may be harder for these little ones to metabolize any alcohol that does pass through the breast milk.
"Play dates are a great idea," says Dr. Shu. "They just don't necessarily need to involve alcohol." She encourages moms to meet at the local park or coordinate times to meet at each others' homes, taking turns hosting a light lunch with play time. Play dates provide parents an opportunity to socialize, connect with others and engage in adult conversations while caring for their children.
Mommy Cocktail Hour: The Red Flags
Your whole world changes as you become responsible for another human being. As a new mom, it is easy to fall into the pattern of neglecting your own needs when you are caring for your new baby. Feelings of isolation and loneliness may easily follow. Social gatherings and play dates with other moms can be a lifeline: a time to be with your child, but also a time to meet your own needs and feel like an adult. When feelings of isolation arise and are compounded by significant underlying issues such as depression or anxiety, some people may turn to alcohol as a means to self medicate, cope and deal with stressors. In these situations the cocktail play date certainly raises red flags.
Self-medicating with Alcohol
Dr. David Sack, medical director and CEO of Promises Treatment Centers, says that some women who report feeling stressed are in fact clinically depressed or experiencing generalized anxiety, yet it is relatively likely that they are going to minimize or normalize these feelings. They may even hear innocuous comments from friends or family members such as "all moms feel this way." Unfortunately, what may happen is that these women who are struggling with depression or anxiety and may need treatment instead get overlooked. People who start to use alcohol in this context often self-medicate in an attempt to cope and feel better.
The drinking can easily spiral out of control. The very nature of binge drinking, a few drinks consumed in a relatively short period of time, is easy to conceal and minimize as a problem. The person who is drinking knows they are not an alcoholic. Though they are drinking to achieve an effect, they don't crave a drink every day and they don't wake up with the shakes. "That part is true," says Dr. Sack. "But they definitely have an alcohol-related problem. They are abusing the alcohol, but they don't see it in the same light as someone who is addicted to alcohol, and I think that is really the problem." It becomes easy to rationalize and say, "Who doesn't have a drink once in a while or a few too many once in a while?"
Misjudging Level of Impairment
"Supervision of children isn't a part-time activity," says Dr. Sack. "The person who is drinking is frequently not aware of how much they've had or how impaired they are, so they are not good judges of whether or not they can really render the supervision required to take care of their kids." There will also be situations in which the parent is with one child, but the other child is in school and it isn't unusual for the parent to say, "Well, I've only had a couple of drinks," and get behind the wheel to drive.
Some people may feel that after two drinks they are fine, but even low levels of alcohol can affect judgment. Motor vehicle accidents are probably at least as likely, and maybe even more likely, among binge drinkers as compared to alcoholics, according to Dr. Sack, because binge drinkers don't have the same level of alcohol tolerance and so misjudge how impaired they are.
Getting Help for Depression
When the person has a history of depression or anxiety it is important for this to be assessed, as the depression or anxiety may be directly contributing to the drinking. If the core issue is fatigue, burnout and loneliness then these need to be addressed. "People need a break," says Dr. Sack. "They need to have hope that they are going to get some of their needs met and that is very hard to do." Partners need to be alert and may have to change their schedules to the extent possible to pick up more of the parenting slack and provide regular respite and breaks. Finding positive support and healthy outlets can make a huge difference for parents who are feeling overwhelmed or alone.
All of us need support and positive connections in our life. Parenthood can be exhausting and demanding at times, especially with very young children.
"I don't know about elsewhere, but in our neighborhood we are all much more looking forward to our coffee in the morning than a cocktail in the afternoon," says Leah Klein, mom of two from Cambridge, Mass. "Many of us are so tired from parenting, work and life in general that we rarely have more than one drink because beyond that it would be 'naptime'!"