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Calling for the End of the Cocktail Playdate

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Should moms lay off the sauce?

women having cocktails

Jennifer Ginsberg: After my son was born, I became friendly with a group of women from my Mommy & Me group. We began hosting our own weekly playdates with our children. One day, my friend Lisa had a brilliant idea: "Let's all hang out at my house on Tuesday afternoon and everyone can bring a different bottle of wine!" Little did I know that these informal gatherings had a name -- the "cocktail playdate" -- and were all the rage among upper-middle-class moms who were striving to alleviate the stress of motherhood by getting together with other mothers and their children over a bottle of booze.

Many modern moms feel stressed, isolated, and lonely. Gone are the days when women gathered together to raise children communally -- where mothers naturally helped and supported one another. As new moms, we often feel scared, confused, and uncertain, for the rules that applied to our lives and careers pre-motherhood are completely irrelevant now. There are no gold stars, promotions, or "atta girls," even when we make it through the most challenging of days. We must often derive a sense of purpose and self-worth from our own intuition and personal ethos, not an easy thing to do in a culture that is obsessed with external validation. We long for a sense of connection, and strive to find a way to both take care of our children and have some fun and joy in our lives. Hence, the cocktail playdate concept was born, with the goal of merging the social needs of both mother and child.

It seems innocent enough -- a group of moms meet at someone's house over a bottle of wine or a pitcher of margaritas. For most people, drinking means camaraderie, friendship, and fun. It can also provide a sense of release from boredom and worry. Raising small children can be tedious and frustrating, and it has become socially acceptable for women to have a glass of wine to cope with the incessant demands of motherhood. Alcohol has been used as a social and emotional lubricant ever since man crushed grapes -- for many people, having a drink at the end of a long day can provide a wonderful sense of relief.

However, there is a dark side to this illusive coin that indicates, often subtly but sometimes glaringly, that mixing motherhood and booze can be detrimental, if not deadly. Popular mom writers who bragged about drinking with their tots in tow are now cleaning up their acts and hitting AA meetings instead of the bottle. Books with titles like Mommy Doesn't Drink Here Anymore are flooding the best-seller table. So the question becomes, how did something that seemed so innocent and casual turn into a problem serious enough for some moms to say "no thank-you" once and for all to the ubiquitous cocktail playdate?

As a clinician and a mother, I find the trend of drinking during playdates both a bit tragic and potentially dangerous. It is a sign of concern when someone says they're drinking because they need stress relief, and when they are willing to go to extreme lengths to rationalize this behavior. My experience is that drinking can indeed relieve stress temporarily, but that there is a steep price to pay when using it to suppress feelings over time. 

Yes, our kids challenge us on so many levels, and without any buffers, motherhood can feel overwhelming. But I believe that a child deserves a mom who is truly present, available, and able to respond promptly if needed. And no matter how much you believe that you are totally functional with half a bottle of wine in your system, alcohol alters your judgment and impairs your ability to drive home after the playdate is over. If there is anything we can garner from the horrific tragedy that resulted in Diane Schuler crashing her car into another vehicle head-on and killing eight people, let it be that alcohol and driving do not mix.

I also am concerned that many moms who have underlying feelings of depression and anxiety use alcohol to medicate these emotions. While getting buzzed certainly provides a temporary sense of relief, when you wake up the next morning, your problems are still there -- only compounded by a nasty hangover. When alcohol is used in this fashion, it offers a band-aid solution that will eventually stop working, and conversely increase feelings of despair.

How about replacing the cocktail playdate with a real support group where moms can share their insecurities and anxieties with each other without being judged? How revolutionary would it be for moms to convene in a safe and sober environment to talk about their struggles and offer one another a true sense of community and connection, instead of the false sense of conviviality that the high of alcohol only seemingly provides?

Are we ready to call the cocktail playdate what it is -- a lame excuse for mothers to hang out and get trashed while pretending to be doing something positive for their children? If motherhood is so challenging and difficult that the only way to cope is by knocking back a few hard ones, you may have a problem. I am not here to condemn women who drink alcohol in a safe and appropriate manner, but I believe that getting wasted with other moms and calling this a "playdate" crosses a major line.

I am not denying that drinking can be fun, totally fun, but it is definitely not compatible with complex tasks, like operating a nuclear power plant or tending to kids. Perhaps the playdate can even be an opportunity to teach children healthier forms of self-soothing through example.


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5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous August 14, 2009, 8:23 PM

AGREED!

Mr Difficult August 15, 2009, 5:25 PM

Hey I just heard about this great new idea, but I don’t know if you or your readers are ready for it: ITS CALLED MODERATION.

Tabasco August 22, 2009, 7:32 AM

as for me, kids and alcohol don’t mix.
if you have a playdate, focus on the kids.
i think once in a while it’s normal to have “girls night out” and let the daddy or a nanny stay with kids.

Jen Tracy January 22, 2010, 10:59 AM

Thank you for the responsible voice of reason. I first read about this in a major magazine where the writer did not have the integrity to criticize this unhealthy practice. You have put it very well here.

Golf Clubs September 14, 2010, 10:37 AM

In related news, Gatorade recently broke its sponsorship agreement with Tiger Woods along with dropping the motto, “Is it in you?” Nike will keep Tiger as a spokesman and stay with the saying, “Just do it.”


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