'Wine mom' culture is more than just a funny joke. It can be toxic — here's why

A former "certified wine mom" is letting go of that title.

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Natalie MacLean, a former 'certified wine mom' opened up about why she decided to change her alcohol consumption. (Photo submitted)
Natalie MacLean, a former 'certified wine mom' opened up about why she decided to change her alcohol consumption. (Photo submitted)

Wine writer Natalie MacLean knows all about "wine mom" culture.

In fact, the Ottawa-based author and wine expert, who's been writing about wine for 20 years, says that by sharing the wine mom memes on social media, she wasn’t just a bystander to wine mom culture — "I was team captain," MacLean told Yahoo Canada.

"I called my glass of wine at 5 p.m 'mommy's little helper.'"

When, in the wake of a divorce and professional low, MacLean started to turn to alcohol more frequently, she began noticing her consumption habits, and of those around her. She also noticed how she — and the wine industry as a whole — were contributing to over-consumption or alcohol, specifically when it came to women.

MacLean detailed her experience in her book Wine Witch on Fire: Rising From the Ashes of Divorce, Defamation, and Drinking Too Much, which was released earlier this year. "I had some lows in the book where I clearly was drinking too much," MacLean said. "[I] wasn't remembering the previous evening if we'd been out to dinner, and it got embarrassing. But I also realized I am sacrificing my health."

It wasn't full-blown alcoholism, but I was using alcohol as a tool to cope.

In those moments, MacLean realized she needed to cut back, "and then look at the role I'm playing and what's happening [more largely] in this industry."

What is 'wine mom' culture?

Here's what you need to know about the
Here's what you need to know about the "wine mom" and marketing. (Getty)

For those who are unfamiliar with the term "wine mom culture," you only need to log onto social media to be inundated with examples of it; memes of celebrities like Amy Schumer and Kristen Wiig chugging from oversized glasses of wine, BuzzFeed quizzes to find out "What Percent Wine Mom Are You?" and jokes about why drinking while pregnant means you're never truly drinking alone (yes, really).

At the centre of the messaging are two things:

  1. Being a mom is stressful and exhausting,

  2. A crisp (often pink) bottle of wine is the antidote.

And in many ways, having a glass of wine or two at the end of the day might be viewed as the only way in which mothers are allowed to relax.

Alejandra Battiston, a Toronto-based therapist at The Growth and Wellness Therapy Clinic, explained: "A lot of times if a mom says, 'I'm just going to take a holiday, I'm going to go out with my friends for dinner,' there can be [a] stigma to that, sort of, 'Oh, you should be spending time with your family; how can you do this?'"

It's different with the "wine mom," Battiston said. "It's something that can happen while the kids are [there]. It's something that's fun and it doesn't take away from the 'mom' part of the woman," she said.

Why is it problematic?

At its core,
At its core, "wine mom" culture promotes alcohol overconsumption. (Getty)

While finding a community of like-minded people who share your interests and experiences can be empowering, Battiston has some hesitancy when it comes to wine mom culture.

"I think it really reduces our experience of mothering to a very limited scope," she told Yahoo Canada. "And it also puts parameters of what kind of person a mother can be outside of mothering and what's acceptable."

It can be used to justify the use of substances.Alejandra Battiston

And, at its core, "wine mom" culture is masking — and promoting — alcohol overconsumption. This is instead of dealing with some of the real issues that may lead someone to want to drink, like stress or a lack of support. "What's very risky is that if there is any sort of pre-existing tendency to substance abuse, it can be used to justify the use of substances," Battiston said.

Do women drink more?

In the United States, a study found alcohol consumption in women who had children under five years old increased by 323 per cent during the first year of the pandemic, compared to 39 per cent in the population overall.

In Canada, a 2021 survey by the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addictions (CCSA) and Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) found 37 per cent of women living with young kids who use alcohol reported increased consumption since November 2020.

During this time, a 2020 survey by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found 24 per cent of women surveyed were experiencing higher levels of moderate to severe anxiety and loneliness than men. Parents with children under 18 were more likely to report feeling depressed than adults without children.

'We are wallets, not women'

Natalie MacLean admitted though she was never an alcoholic, she drank too much wine. (Submitted)
Natalie MacLean admitted though she was never an alcoholic, she drank too much wine. (Submitted)

A lot of this rise in consumption is aided by the marketing of wine to women.

Historically, women have been the main household purchasers and marketers have taken note.

Natalie MacLean pointed to bottles with stilettos and dresses, with stereotypically feminine language like "blousy" and "light" to describe wines like Rosé and Pinot Grigio.

"We are, for some wine marketers, cash cows," MacLean said. "We are wallets, not women."

It's a reality that men don't deal with. "No one asks a man why he wants to have a drink. He has one because he wants one," she claimed. "For women, the message is you need to have a reason to have a glass of wine… If you go one more layer down, there is an even more serious message that says: no one's thanking mom for all she does, so mom will thank herself to a drink, and then another one, and another."

We are, for some wine marketers, cash cows.Natalie MacLean

That's why it's important for consumers to be critical of the products being marketed to them, and what the intention might be.

How to embrace mindful consumption

For Battiston, it's important for women to find and embrace self-care outside of alcohol consumption. And that starts with asking your social support system to give you time for yourself — and to do so regularly. She also recommended finding a community and an identity outside of motherhood.

For anyone who is reconsidering their relationship with alcohol, Battiston recommended talking to a professional.

"One of my professors in grad school would say, 'If you name it, you can tame it,'" Battiston recalled. "Recognizing 'I don't like this pattern,' that I can recognize without saying entirely 'it's a good thing' or 'a bad thing,' it just is — and it needs to change."

Two women are sitting and talking. Woman psychologist practicing with  patient women. Coach session between girlfriends. Therapist's gestures. Female talking and drinking a cup of tea
Talking to a professional or friends about problems can help prevent harmful coping mechanisms. (Getty)

For MacLean, this meant paring back her wine consumption but not complete sobriety, a decision she made with help from her therapist.

"The first thing she said is 'we have to deal with the underlying issues, the depression from the divorce and the insane online mobbing, and then let's see where we are,'" MacLean repeated. After that, MacLean said her reflexive need for a drink subsided.

Now she's developed tips and strategies for moderating her consumption, including asking herself what was happening in the moments before she started feeling like she needed a drink. "If it's about stress, can I deal with that in another way? Go for a walk, take a bath, watch a show."

It may have flown under the radar for the past three years, but MacLean claimed "wine mom culture is still very much alive and kicking.

"Perhaps we gave it a pass during the pandemic, as people just tried to cope in whatever way they could, [but] now that we're back out of that, we really need to examine it and look at better tools and better support for women."

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