Martini Moms

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Some moms bring more than juice and crackers to play dates. Are Sacramentans in on this trend?

Swigging cosmopolitans while watching Sex and the City was once a regular girly ritual for a trio we’ll call Rita, Ellen and Sue. But taking a cocktail cue from Carrie Bradshaw (the cosmo was the lead character’s signature drink) was about as much mimicry as they could allow themselves without getting into trouble. While Bradshaw was a single girl on the make in New York City, these three women are married moms living in Elk Grove.

A weekly drink or two is hardly dangerous behavior&emdash;especially in an adults-only setting&emdash;but there is evidence that some moms are taking it a step further, getting together earlier in the day to knock back a few Bloody Marys while their children play nearby. Recent books such as The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting and a growing number of websites defending the afternoon momtini seem to suggest that a trend is under way. But has this trend taken hold in Sacramento? And is it something we should worry about?

On the Local Front

On her blog, Stay at Home Motherdom (stayathomemotherdom.com), Jennifer R., a 33-year-old Roseville mother of two who is in alcohol recovery, has received e-mails from women who are having such mommy play dates. Some, she says, question their drinking around children or worry that they’re drinking too much. But when pressed for a referral to local women to interview for this article, she responds with a short list of bloggers from Texas, the Bay Area and Southern California&emdash;no one local.

Still, Jennifer figures they’re out there. I don’t think Sacramento is so insulated from the rest of the world that these play dates wouldn’t occur here if they are occurring in other cities, she reasons. The one time she tried to hook into a mommy group in the Rocklin/Roseville area, she adds, she was immediately invited to an evening out and encouraged to bring alcohol, though it was a child-free event.

I don’t know if local moms are out there drinking on afternoon play dates, says Christy S. Waters, M.D., an addiction psychiatrist with Kaiser Permanente in Sacramento. We’ve not heard these stories from our patients. But that doesn’t mean it’s not happening. She has heard stories about women drinking in secret, however. They might have alcohol in their Pepsi, but people around them don’t know it.

Nikki Buckstead-Pane, CEO of the Sacramento office of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, says it isn’t a trend she’s heard about, either. But we do need to pay attention to the way people are using alcohol, she says, because it’s still the most abused drug out there.

Affluent mothers with money and time on their hands might be the most likely to indulge in such daytime play dates, speculates Dana Wackerly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in Sacramento who often sees clients with alcohol-related issues. As Wackerly says, Your average mom is pretty busy&emdash;too busy to have the time to schedule ‘play dates’ with other women where drinking is the main event.

Play date may, in fact, be nothing more than a buzzword for the social drinking women have been enjoying for decades. (Flashback to the 1950s cocktail hour&emdash;two olives in my martini, please?) Women for years have been drinking alcohol, sometimes when kids are around, says Wackerly. It could happen during a barbecue, a party . . . any number of social occasions.

And that, she notes, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

When alcohol becomes the main focus of getting together or is used to excess, that may be a different story, she cautions. But sitting around talking together at the end of the day, having a glass of wine, can be a positive way for women to relax, reduce stress, interact and bond. For many women, says Wackerly, having a drink is simply a treat at the end of a really stressful day. The goal is to be social&emdash;not to get smashed.

It’s All About Bonding (and a Little Glamour)

Molly, who juggles a full-time job with being a wife and mother (she has a 2-year-old daughter), says she doesn’t know any moms who partake in daytime drink-a-thons. I have a lot of friends who are stay-at-home moms, and none of them do that, says Molly, who is 32 and lives in Sacramento.

But she and her friends regularly enjoy girls’ nights out&emdash;which, in her mind, is a completely different animal. Drinking around her child, she says, is something she doesn’t do. It’s not that I don’t think it’s OK to have a glass of wine or whatever. But for me to let go, I need to be completely removed&emdash;be somewhere else.

Even though their get-togethers are short and sweet&emdash;we have a cocktail or two and call it a night&emdash;they help to keep the bonds of friendship strong, says Molly, who is partial to the lemon drops at Zócalo.

The seductive glamour of a night on the town also appeals to Molly and her friends, who turn it into a real event by getting gussied up for the occasion. I know it’s silly, she says, but I like dressing up. That’s half of the fun for me. Whether or not Carrie Bradshaw’s designer high heels have been a fashion influence on today’s bar scene, it appears the cocktail-lounge heroine’s choice of drink certainly has: Molly says the cosmo is popular among her friends, who almost always drink something in a martini glass. My girls don’t drink beers, and they don’t drink shots.

The aesthetic allure of the martini glass also has a hold on Rita and her group in Elk Grove, who pour their cosmos, appletinis and blue-raspberry martinis into sugar-rimmed martini glasses.

Responsible Drinking Is Key

The moms interviewed for this article emphasized their commitment to responsible drinking&emdash;a comforting theme in light of recent statistics showing that more than 5.3 million U.S. women drink in a way that threatens their health, safety and general well-being. 

This [drinking] is at night&emdash;not during the day around the kids&emdash;and mostly at friends’ houses, says 46-year-old Rita, whose play pals are in their 30s and 40s, all of them moms. On the occasions when the group has gone wine tasting in Amador County, they’ve rented a limo and brought picnic baskets to make sure we were eating, and plenty of bottled water.

And though Molly may toss down a few more drinks than usual when she goes to San Francisco for a longer ladies’ night out, she wouldn’t dream of getting behind the wheel. Says Molly, I’m always staying at a friend’s house or in a hotel, and I don’t worry about driving.

Experts agree that most women with children are highly responsible about their use of alcohol. Women tend to be very careful in taking care of their children, says Edward Callahan, Ph.D., who has worked with women in overcoming substance abuse during his 35-year career as a clinical psychologist at UC Davis and other universities. I’m sure there are plenty of women who become alcoholics, but most will do anything to protect their kids.

Even those who do develop drinking problems will go to great lengths to separate the baby from the bottle, so to speak. A lot of the alcoholic women I treat talk about the struggle they would have&emdash;that they would not allow themselves to drink when the children were awake, shares Kaiser’s Waters. Even in the grip of addiction, she says, a woman’s desire to protect her children will often prevent her from drinking during the day, waiting instead for the relief that comes at night, when the kids are tucked safely in bed.

 

Alcohol More Dangerous for Women

Women need to be particularly vigilant about their use of alcohol, say experts, because they are more vulnerable to its effects than are men. We don’t know why, says Waters, but women get addicted to alcohol more quickly, and it doesn’t take as long for them to develop alcohol-related physical problems. Women who drink heavily chance an increased risk of breast cancer, are more likely than men to develop alcoholic liver disease and may be more vulnerable than men to alcohol-induced brain damage, according to a recent report by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Women alcoholics also are far more likely to die of alcohol-related causes, with death rates 50 to 100 percent higher than those of male alcoholics.

Although guidelines for safe alcohol consumption are not a one-size-fits-all proposition&emdash;some people, including pregnant women and those on certain medications, for example, shouldn’t drink at all&emdash;the general recommendation is no more than one drink per day for women, two for men. If it’s an occasional special event, you can maybe have three drinks over the course of a day, says Waters. But if a woman is consistently having more than one drink per day, she says, it’s excessive.

Jennifer R., who was seven months sober at the time of this writing, can’t put a finger on exactly when her drinking careened out of control. But after she curtailed her career to become a stay-at-home mom, she found herself drinking alone, and earlier and earlier in the day. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that I had given up part of my identity when I quit working, and I was lonely and bored, says Jennifer, who also was new to the area and floundering in a social vacuum.

Similarly, Rita, a Bay Area transplant, found herself drinking more as a stay-at-home mom than she had during her 20 years in the work force. For her, alcohol served as a new hobby, shared with a new neighbor. We’re both fun and outgoing and social, and part of that fun was alcohol, she says. Soon, getting together for martini shakers&emdash;you know, the fun ones you shake with ice&emdash;became a nightly event. Although the drinking has tapered off since then, says Rita, the friendship hasn’t. I think chitchatting and drinking together was just part of the process of getting to know each other, she says. And because it doesn’t involve driving and because their drinking only happens when the kids are in bed, Rita says, they figure they’re not hurting anybody.

But while moderate social drinking may not be anything to worry about, experts emphasize the importance of keeping it in check.

Alcohol is a very tricky substance, says UCD’s Callahan. It starts out promising to be your friend, and over time it kind of lies to you and stops being your friend, so you need to look at your alcohol use, see how it might be lying to you and see how it might be affecting your life.

A Question of Balance

Today’s women are juggling so many roles and are under so much stress that it’s no surprise they turn to such coping behaviors as drinking, says Callahan. Women feel they are expected to be not only incredibly organized and effective in the workplace, but also the glue of the family, he says. For many, social drinking&emdash;whether in the context of a mommy play date or a girls’ night out&emdash;provides a pleasurable respite from it all.

Guys do it all the time, notes Sharon Justis, a licensed clinical social worker for Catholic Healthcare West who works extensively with women in addiction. They have their sports, their nights out for beers. So it’s probably women in one sense saying, ‘Hey, we deserve to do that, too.’

But in trying to strike a balance between the conventions of domestic life and a need for independence and freedom, says Justis, women are typically judged more harshly than their male counterparts are. Women know they will be criticized, she says. You wouldn’t think in this day and age it would be an issue, but the double standard still exists.

Because alcohol is legal and socially acceptable, adds Justis, there is a danger of forgetting just how dangerous it can be.

I hear women say, ‘I’m doing it in moderation,’ she says. But even when used responsibly, drinking regularly and over time takes a toll.

The sins of the 20s and 30s can catch up with you in the 40s and 50s, says Justis. What we put into our bodies does affect us&emdash;and what we birth.

Do you have a drinking problem?

One yes answer to the following questions suggests a possible alcohol problem. More than one yes suggests the strong likelihood of a problem.
• Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
• Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
• Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
• Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Moderation: Different for Men and Women

While moderate drinking is defined as no more than one drink per day for women, the bar is set higher&emdash;at two drinks per day&emdash;for men, according to Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Here’s why: Women not only tend to weigh less than men but also have less water in their bodies. Because they have less water with which to dilute alcohol, women are at greater risk than men for developing alcohol-related problems.

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Pregnancy and Drinking

• More than 1 in 10 pregnant women report alcohol use.
• Fetal alcohol syndrome occurs in an estimated one to two live births per every 1,000 in the United States each year.
• In 1981, the Surgeon General first warned that women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy due to the risk of birth defects.

Source: Center for Science in the Public Interest