Friday 5 April 2019

Mother's Little Helper, or Mother's Ruin?

Did your family give you a present on Mother’s Day this year? Breakfast in bed maybe? Flowers? A home-made card?

In the days BS (Before Sober), my three children always knew what to give me as a present, because they knew what Mummy’s favourite hobby was: drinking wine. 

So, they’d buy me a corkscrew. A bottle stopper (ironic, since there was never anything left in a bottle of wine once I’d opened it). A giant wine glass with ‘Mummy’s glass’ etched onto it. You get the picture. 
This year, my kids gave me a frame, with a photo of me and the three of them inside it. This made me all tearful, as I realised that now my focus isn’t distracted by wine, it really is on them. Not entirely on them, obviously, but more so.
I might not have been given booze on Mother’s Day this year, but an awful lot of women in the UK were. 

Between 2016 and 2018, gin sales doubled to over £2 billion, and the sales peak – 2.6 million bottles – was in March, coinciding with Mother’s Day. 

In the weeks leading up to the big day, retailers bombarded us with alcohol based presents. I saw a bottle of wine branded ‘Mummy Fuel’, wine bangles (hollow bracelets filled with wine) and wine purses (handbags with a built-in wine pouch and a tap on the outside – yes, really).

How did we end up in a place where motherhood is synonymous with wine? Or gin? When did ‘mother’s ruin’ become ‘mother’s little helper’? Why did we all start buying into the myth that it’s impossible to be a mother without some form of anaesthetic?

I had my first child in the early days of this century – 2003. That was when the ‘mummy blogger’ first appeared, and back then mothering was all about perfection. We wanted to do it brilliantly. 

We read Gina Ford and The Baby Whisperer. We tried to bake perfect cupcakes and make home-made playdough. We bought organic vegetables and spent hours pureeing and freezing them into little ice-cubes. 

And we were knackered.  We felt like failures. Because motherhood is really hard, and perfection is unachievable. You just need to give it your best shot, and forgive yourself.
So, by the mid noughties, the backlash began. The perfect-mum-blogger was replaced by the slummy-mummy. 

We cheered! We threw Gina Ford in the bin and bought ready-made baby food from Ella’s Kitchen. We laughed about our failures on Mumsnet. And all of that was a really good thing, but along with it came wine-o’clock.
When we decided to shout about motherhood being difficult, we also started joking about how we managed to cope. And how we managed to cope was WINE. 

As social media took off, so did all the wine memes. Wine o’clock. Why Mummy drinks. Mummy juice. 

The retailers and marketing departments were really quick to jump on the bandwagon, and then start driving the train. We didn’t feel bad about pouring ourselves a large goblet of wine at the end of a long day, because it was ‘me-time’, we were worth it. And everyone else was doing it too.

The problem is that wine is a drug. 

That sentence looks really obvious to me now, but it wasn’t back then. How could something so beautifully packaged, so ubiquitous, joked about all over social media, be an actual drug? After all, you wouldn’t joke at the school gates about being desperate to get home for a line of cocaine, but everyone admitted looking forward to that first glass of wine.

But it is. A drug. And, like any other drug, your tolerance increases over time, so it no longer takes one glass of wine to help you unwind at the end of the day, it takes a whole damn bottle. And when you’re drinking several bottles of the stuff a week, it’s not just your shoulders unwinding, it’s your whole life.

I honestly bought into the myth that wine helped. I thought it made me more relaxed. When I’d had a day filled with nappies and wipes and Monkey Music, a glass of wine made me feel adult again. I thought it made me more tolerant with my kids.

The scary thing is, alcohol does exactly the opposite. 
Alcohol made me anxious all the time. It made me rush through bedtime stories so I could get to the fridge. It made me short tempered and grumpy with my kids. And it made me a terrible role model. I was teaching my children that grown-ups need a drug in order to be able to cope with everyday life. To be able to cope with them. 
So, this Mother’s Day, I looked at that photo of me with the three of them, looking relaxed, happy, present, not wishing the time away until it was wine o’clock, and I realised that sobriety is the best gift ever, for you and your children.

To read about my first year sober, and for lots of hints and tips, check out The Sober Diaries. You can find it here (UK) or here (USA).

(I wrote this article for Catherine Gray's Sober Spring campaign, in conjunction with Alcohol Change).

Love to you all,

SM x


  1. Thanks for posting, Clare. It has been wonderful watching your journey. My child was also born in 2003. I am behind you but getting there. It is a process for sure!

  2. Lovely post Clare as ever, and so true! My children were born about the same time as yours and within a few years, play dates revolved around wine and wine became a necessity in life. And what you say is so accurate, wine is everywhere and I noticed most Mothers Day adverts included wine/prosecco, as did cards. Now I'm sober I can see booze for what it is, an addictive drug, but trying to justify not drinking to others is serious hard work, I'M seen as having a problem for NOT drinking. I watch your tedx talk sporadically for continued support. Keep up the good work, Meggie xxx

  3. Great post Clare, my kids were born in the 80's - so I was stearing the mothering ship based on no training (had to pass a test to drive a car ... A baby!!!! .... Deep end jump). The wine became the prop, the resource, the fear of failure numbing juice.
    For years.....
    Now 2 years alcohol free I have just returned from my husband's 70th birthday party, where we danced with our grandgirls, played musical statues and had the best time ever!!!! .... Go for it if you are dithering ... Clare is a brilliant example and I am proof it is never ever too late to start living the Joy of Living Free from that bewitching drug :-))

  4. Thank you so much for getting me through dry January. I read your book and it really helped me. 3 months on and I still haven't touched a drop. I like to read your blog it inspires me to keep going. A huge thank you from me for being so brave and selfless for sharing your story.

  5. Hello. I discovered your blog a little while ago and am now reading your book. I am a mom to a 10 year old son. I am 3 months sober. I also have done it so far with only online support (no AA or support meetings) so far.

    Your book is so similar to my story. It makes me feel less alone, inspires me, and (most importantly), makes me laugh. I'm loving being sober, especially as is gets easier as I am just a few days away from 100 days.

    Your mother's day story made me tearful. My son is the number one reason I quit drinking and the main reason that keeps me quitting. I don't want to be pushing him away, rushing through bedtime, missing all the special moments. It breaks my heart to think I prioritised wine over him on COUNTLESS occasions. And for many years. I hope I don't struggle forever with the guilt about that :(.

    Thank you for so much for writing about being a drinking (and ex-drinking) mom. A lot of my favourite sober bloggers are not moms. It makes me feel less alone and and guilty when I read your stories, knowing that other moms struggled with this demon also, and quit and went on to live happier lives (and hopefully don't feel forever guilty about the moments they missed). I know my life has improved immensely and I look forward to the next 100 days getting even better! I am very proud to say my son has a way more present, energetic, and loving mommy. Thanks for your inspiration.


  6. Hi there. Day 2 here, again. Made it to Day 4, muffed it, and now I'm back to Day 2. I found your book before I found your blog, and I wanted to say THANK YOU. Just...thank you.

    1. I stopped in May, started again in June, tried again in July, decided to have one last it's August. Starting again, want to kick this once and for all. I hope you are doing well!

  7. I love this post. It was so true of me that I started motherhood "Gina Fording" and pureeing veg and then with the terrible two's came the rebellion. I have been guilty of rushing story time. My boys (now 9 and 10) have seen mummy not as she should be. They too have thought it clever to say that mummy likes wine and we have all laughed (and inside a bit of me has died). Next week I will have been AF for a year. I started last year trying to seriously moderate (yeah, right) and then read your book Clare and have not had a drink since). Life is too precious and I don't to blot out a single second more - even the trying stuff. My boys are very proud of me and it is the best thing I have ever done for me. I love the use of the word "present". It has a double meaning because to be so certainly is a gift. Good luck to all and thank you for constantly inspiring and reminding Clare. Jo. xx

  8. I SLEPT LAST NIGHT! I feel like a goddess. Bring on the fauxjitos! - Red-Whiner

  9. Hi Clare - Great post - as always. I'm still reading and still sober and still an imperfect mother - but much more perfect than I ever was when I was drinking. Hope all good with you lovely lady.

  10. Hi Clare, firstly I want to say thank you. Thank you for your candid, funny, & open book. I'm way behind everyone else I'm sure, on day 2 of my sober journey. I've been reading your book these past two days & it was like looking in a mirror. Only I wasn't a secret drinker , I was a full on in ya face drinker in front of my kids. Wine, beer & vodka, not in the same glass obviously but you get my drift. I know my journey is only at step one, but it's a step & a big one. No more lying to myself after a few weeks off saying I'll be okay to start again. I know now its not the way to go. Thanks again for all your support from one Fulham girl to another xx

  11. Hi Clare
    So here is day 50 and feel pretty good. Struggling with something though. I have teenage girls and have shared with them that I have quit drinking. They have expressed that they are glad and proud of me. But here is the selfish struggle. Why don’t they acknowledge my success more?
    I know why because they are selfish teenagers that put up with a selfish drunk for years. They will grow out of it but will they get over the impact of my absenteeism while I was drinking. I guess I am ashamed of my selfish thoughts even in sobriety.
    What is wrong with me that I want a pat on the back from the people that I have disappointed the most?
    Enough pity party..... thank you for being the relatable guidance that you are!!!

  12. Guten Morgen Clare,
    danke dir sehr für Alles!!!!
    Bin bei Tag 6, die erste Nacht besser geschlafen. Du warst für mich DER Auslöser, endlich und wirklich aufzuhören. Ich habe alles an Nebenwirkungen, Fressattacken,Verstopfung,schwitzen,Schlaflosigkeit,Anriebslosigkeit. Da ich jetzt weiß, das es normal ist,nehme ich es gerne in Kauf.Ich will nüchtern bleiben und werde es auch. Heute Früh hatte ich das erste Mal ein Glücksgefühl,so schön!!
    Danke für den Blog danke danke danke.

  13. Ach ja, es war sehr gut, der Tag des Absprungs.Ich war übermäßig satt, es war sehr spät,ich war auf einer Einladung,zum Essen am 7.5.19 Auf Einladungen trank ich noch nie, erst zu Hause, daher wollte ich unbedingt nie lange bleiben. Diesmal war es anders,ich konnte nicht weg,hatte auch keine Alkoholika daheim.Das war der Absprung. Ich glaube,es gibt Engel oder etwas im Universum, die haben den Tag für mich geplant. Ich bin so dankbar.Auch das wunderbare Buch habe ich fast gelesen,ich finde mich darin wieder.Genau so.Ich hoffe, jemand kann meine Worte lesen, denn ich komme aus Germany. Danke, herzliche Grüße, June

  14. Thanks for this blog post admin, you have done really nice work.
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  15. Hi Clare,
    I haven't commented on your Blog before, in fact I haven't commented on anyone's Blog before. However, I have nearly finished The Sober Diaries and I just wanted to say that I have enjoyed enormously. When I have finished the book I will start The Authenticity Project, which I am sure will be equally as good (I have already purchased it buy the way!).
    As a man of 62 (getting on for 63) who has struggled with Alcohol Addiction, pretty much since I was 16, I found your book comforting, challenging and most of all honest. I know that all this has been said to you before but I just wanted to say that although our lives are completely different, I can relate to the stories you tell and more importantly, to the principals which to are now living.
    I have been sober now since Jan 2017, I have made the mistake of going it alone and as such I have struggled at times. I have now been diagnosed with cancer and will soon (I hope) have surgery, so my similarities to your story quite close in some ways.
    So, having read your book I don't feel alone anymore and as I go forward to beat this "thing" I will do it knowing that someone out there understands.
    Thank you for you books, thank you for the impact you have had on my life and thank you for being you.
    I hope and pray that you and your family stay well.

  16. Thank you for writing this - some of my friends have started having babies and their "Wine O'clock" and "Gin O'clock" comments make me sad.