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<strong>covid-19</strong> drinking spawns new 'mommy juice' memes. But the truth isn't cute — or funny.
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covid-19 drinking spawns new 'mommy juice' memes. But the truth isn't cute — or funny.

As a country, we look to mothers for glass half full takes that fill us with hope and determination. But right now, my glass is full of whiskey and sprite.
Image: A woman, semi-blurry, drinking red wine as a giant coronavirus spore looms in the background.
Perhaps acknowledging that I am not OK is the first step toward finding a healthier way to cope.NBC News; Getty Images

It’s 3:00 p.m. and I just ended my third Zoom work meeting of the day. Throughout the hourlong virtual assemblage, my 1-year-old screamed at my 6-year-old, while my 6-year-old continuously demanded he be allowed to play another hour of Animal Crossing. The dishes from breakfast and lunch are still in the sink, I have another meeting in 45 minutes, and two deadlines I might as well wave at as they pass me by. It’s 3:00 p.m. and I want a drink. So, I pour one. Again. For the eighth week in a row.

It’s 3:00 p.m. and I want a drink. So, I pour one. Again. For the eighth week in a row.

Drinking while parenting isn’t new, and indeed “mommy juice” culture was popularized several years ago as a sort of twisted attempt at parental self care. But as covid-19 continues to undermine caregiving schedules and destroy any notion of so-called work-life balance, I know I’m not the only mom who has noticed a change in her alcohol habits.

Sometimes, these changes manifest in unexpected ways. For example, for Sarah Hall, 30, a marketing professional and mom of one living in Anchorage, Alaska, it’s become a marathon, not a sprint — but without the endorphins or exercise. “I used to drink straight liquor, but since quarantine I cannot do that anymore,” she tells me. “I make mixed drinks that are not as strong to try and not drink so much, but then I just started [drinking] earlier and earlier. At least it makes it, so I can still cook dinner at 6:00 pm.”

Hall’s significant other is a truck driver who leaves home for extended periods of time, making her fully responsible for the parenting responsibilities, bills, and e-learning, all while working from home. “By noon, I’m like, ‘Can I have a drink yet?’” she told me.

Clearly, and understandably, stress is getting to moms right now. Back in April, a study conducted by the University of Southern California found that working moms were taking on the bulk of the child care and household work during covid-19 to the detriment of their mental health. In May, a survey conducted by Motherly, a lifestyle brand, found that 74 percent of moms say they’re mentally worse off now since before the onset of the pandemic. The start of a new school year hasn’t helped anyone. A recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 34 percent of moms say the worry and stress of back-to-school has had a “major” impact on their mental health.

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With a lack of access to outside support — be it child care or mental health care — and an increase in anxiety and overwhelmed, many moms are self-medicating. A recent study published in the journal Alcoholism Clinical & Experimental Research found that Canadian parents with at least one child under the age of 18 were more likely to be depressed, less likely to connect with others socially, and more likely to see an increase in alcohol consumption when the pandemic began.

But these studies are backed up by a plethora of anecdotal examples. While doing research for this essay, I reached out to my online communities, asked moms to share the details of their pandemic drinking habits with me, and was both surprised and overwhelmed by the number of near-immediate responses. Moms weren’t just noticing this phenomenon — they wanted to talk about it.

“I have always been a moderate drinker, but during the quarantine I found myself going from a few drinks a week to a six pack by myself a day,” Greer Flanagan, 29, a surgical technologist student and full-time mom to her son and stepson, told me. Flanagan, who lives in Tacoma, Washington, says that the isolation of quarantine and suddenly becoming the full-time entertainer for her 3-year-old son caused her anxiety to spike.

“I am not a fan of the unknown,” she said. But she also has realized that she can’t, actually, do it “all” — and that includes being the kind of mom who drinks and then jokes about her drinking. She wanted to be that mom from the “mommy juice” memes but is learning that a parent — who is funny and carefree and drinking while holding everything together “didn’t actually exist in real life.”

Ivana Poku, a maternal mental health advocate and motherhood coach, says it’s not surprising that alcohol consumption is increasing in moms given their lack of support. “It is not a secret that some mothers get through the challenging days thanks to [the] ‘wine o’clock’ that comes once children are in bed.”

Six months of isolation has certainly impacted Alexis Barad-Cutler’s drinking. The writer and founder of the motherhood community Not Safe For Mom Group and mom of two living in Brooklyn, New York, tells me she has been drinking one or two martinis a night, every night, since the pandemic hit. “The drinking is now an expected part of my routine, and it has to happen every night. My body has come to expect it,” she said.

Barad-Cutler says she spoke with her psychologist soon after shelter-in-place orders shut down much of New York City, and upped her mental health medications “as high as they can go” to help her deal with the highs and lows. “At first the medication helped,” she explains. “But after a while, the anxiety and impending sense of doom crept back, and at the end of every day alcohol felt like a salve.”

In a country that refuses to provide adequate and affordable child care, mandatory paid family leave, maternal mental health access and universal screenings, and continues to pay moms less than dads, a working mom struggling to “do it all” and to the detriment of her mental health and the possible onset of a substance abuse or dependency is far from uncommon. This country praises moms as familial backbones but is always a little surprised when those bones fracture.

With drinking, this can result in shame and a reluctance to reach out when a stress release mechanism becomes a real problem.

“I have felt comfortable speaking with my mother and a few friends about my drinking problem, but I still feel uncomfortable speaking with my husband about it,” Washington mom Flanagan says. I don’t want him to think I am weak, which is silly because that’s not what he would think at all.”

With drinking, this can result in shame and a reluctance to reach out when a stress release mechanism becomes a real problem.

Flanagan says that after reflecting on her drinking habits over the past five months, she has decided to get sober. “I feel positive about the future,” she says. “I think that with the right support, I can curb my drinking habit and experience sobriety.”

As for me, well, I am not as optimistic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts the fall and winter months will be “one of the most difficult times we’ve experienced in American public health. And I’m about to start facilitating at-home e-learning for my new first grader full-time, while working close to 80 hours a week from home, juggling multiple professional commitments, caring for my 1-year-old, cooking, cleaning, and emotionally supporting my partner, who works 12-hour days at an Amazon fulfillment center.

As a country, collectively and as individuals within our own families, we look to mothers for guidance; for support; for glass half full takes that fill us with hope and determination. But right now, my glass is full of whiskey and sprite.

As far as inspirational anecdotes on how we’ll all “get through this and be stronger for it”? Well, I have none. And perhaps, for now, that is OK. Perhaps acknowledging that I am not OK is the first step toward finding a healthier way to cope with this unparalleled moment in global history. Just don’t send me any more of those “mommy juice” memes because right now, none of this feels cute — or funny.