There’s usually a specific look I get when I tell someone for the first time. Their eyes widen and in a split second they catch themselves and convert their display of shock into a too-enthusastic smile. “Wow!” is all some people can muster before they change the subject. Others, fascinated, embark on their in-depth investigative interview trying to figure out just how someone “like me” could have ended up here.
Hi, I’m a thirty-something mom of a toddler and I’ve never had a sip of alcohol in my life. In the suburban mom culture, camaraderie seems to be built in large part through commiserating over a glass of booze. But how do you fit in when drinking isn’t a part of your life, not even a little bit? Here’s what it’s like to be a non-drinking mom in a world of “Wine Wednesdays.”
Let me answer the most common question right up front. My choice not to drink started out as strict adherence to a religious guideline, but then it just became part of my core belief system and identity during high school and college. Not drinking has always just made sense for me.
That being said, to answer the next most common questions: yes, most of my friends drink; no, I’m not offended by people drinking around me; and no, I’m not judging you. No, I’m not pregnant; and no, I don’t want to try just one sip!
You may now be wondering whether it’s ever socially awkward or uncomfortable not to drink. The answer is definitely yes. If you met me out, I’m sure you’d never think twice about whether I was drinking along with everyone else. I’d like to think I’m a social, fun person. I’m pretty gregarious and often strike up conversations with strangers. I love to laugh with people I’ve just met and really enjoy performing at karaoke. I went to a college where Greek life was a big part of the social scene and to a law school known for its party scene as much as for its academics. I practiced law at a big firm in Midtown Manhattan, which was the epitome of work hard/play hard culture.
But let me tell you that despite looking relatively comfortable being around people who are drinking (and, in some cases, drinking heavily), that’s not always the case. Having never had a drink is kind of like being the last kid in your grade who’s never been kissed. You feel like every single other person on earth has participated in this fundamental human experience, and you’re just kind of faking your way through.
As a mom it can get especially awkward when the point of entire social groups/book clubs/happy hours is built around the idea that the best way to relieve the (very real and intense) stresses of motherhood is drinking. There’s the public countdown to “wine o’clock”. There are the ubiquitous social media memes about your kids’ antics leading you to drink. Many times, new mom friends say they want to get to know you over a glass of wine, and it’s super awkward to say “um, well, actually…” People can feel judged when you say you don’t drink, and that’s honestly the last thing I want to happen. But I will never be comfortable at a wine tasting or in any discussion about day drinking or the joys of rosé. Even though I’ve learned to fake my way through, I don’t think my fundamental discomfort will ever go away.
A lot has been written about the health debate surrounding drinking and about parental drinking culture specifically. I related a lot to this essay, where the writer confesses that she feels she has to “come out” as being a non-drinker, and offers some suggestions to those who are friends with non-drinking moms. “Being a Sober Parent in a Wine Mom Culture” frames “mommy drinking” as a way to cope with the pressures of parenthood and offers suggestions for sober socializing and alternative methods of stress management. Another article I found in my research for this post, written by a British mom, puts it more starkly: “The Secret Shame of Being a Sober Mother.” I’ve read several essays like this one that credit mommy drinking culture with normalizing alcoholism in this country. And I think by now we’ve all heard about the new study proclaiming that “No Amount of Alcohol Is Good For Your Health“. Most people I know weren’t too pleased about this!
Now, I’m not here to stir a debate about the merits of drinking or parental drinking culture, but merely rather to acknowledge that it exists and that, if I’m being perfectly honest, it makes me feel a bit excluded.
My message to all my fellow moms who choose not to drink for whatever reason is simple: you are not alone. I understand how it can be challenging to navigate our culture and how it can feel lonely and awkward sometimes.
To all the other wonderful mamas out there: enjoy yourselves! But please keep in mind that there are some of us out there who would prefer to get to know you over a walk instead of a glass of wine. And finally, if another mom tells you she doesn’t drink, let her decide whether she wants to explain her reasoning to you. Sometimes it’s for a very personal reason that might not be so easy to share.
Thanks for reading!