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Does 'Mommy Needs Wine' Culture 'Gaslight' Moms About Their Workload?

Photo: halfpoint, Dean Drobot / Canva
overworked, tired mom turning to wine for 'support'

It's been everywhere on social media in recent years — so-called "wine mom" culture. It's even become a cottage industry, with myriad websites selling products with jokey sayings like "mommy needs wine" engraved on coffee mugs and emblazoned on sweatshirts. 

But some think the joke has gone too far, morphing into an entire online subculture that masks the overwhelming burden of motherhood. 

We spoke to several moms about what they think of "mommy needs wine" social media trends, and their answers speak not only to how much moms are struggling, but to how readily our culture decides not to take it seriously.

Many moms feel gaslit by 'mommy needs wine' culture.

Author and parenting influencer Celeste Yvonne literally wrote the book on "wine mom" culture and the disturbing state of modern motherhood. Her recently released book is titled "It's Not about the Wine: The Loaded Truth Behind Mommy Wine Culture."

In discussing it, she recently posted a take on Instagram that sparked quite a bit of conversation about the ways "mommy needs wine" jokes are obscuring wider problems. The post read, "The 'mommy needs wine' narrative gaslights women by implying the mental load they carry is something a few drinks can fix." 

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The post initially surprised me, not so much for its content, but for who posted it into my feed. It was on the Instagram story of *Allison, a single mom with a high-powered career, active social life, and a deep and abiding love for a stiff drink.

If even a cocktail-loving mom like Allison is feeling manipulated by this take on motherhood, how must other moms feel?

Many moms feel 'mommy needs wine' culture is a collective dissociation from the lack of support mothers get.

Jennifer, mom to a two-year-old with another baby on the way, agreed that "mommy needs wine" functions as a sort of groupthink distraction from the workload of parenting. But she thinks that doesn't go far enough in explaining how problematic it is, and feels it's part of the wider problem of the way our country — with its inadequate healthcare and parental leave provisions and non-existent childcare system — fails to adequately care for moms.



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"Postpartum care is abysmal," Jennifer said. "After six weeks you're basically thrown back out into society, with a slap on the back and a 'OMG you’re so strong, moms can do anything.'" And she feels that our system's way of evaluating moms for postpartum depression only exacerbates this by leaving tons of moms out in the cold.

Likening the evaluation process to a "Cosmo quiz," she described how it doesn't take seriously the wide shades of grey between feeling well and actually qualifying for a PPD diagnosis. "So if you’ve filled out the quiz and you 'passed' what are you supposed to do with these feelings?" she mused.

This, she says, is what underpins "wine mom" culture. "It’s just easier to use wine as the coping mechanism because, let’s be real, what else is there? A fully supportive universal health care system? Ha! We’d rather give women a glass of wine than acknowledge that the support system we have for them is a joke and there’s very little we want to do about it."

Moms also said they've witnessed 'mommy needs wine' culture result in alcoholism.

Annabelle, a mom of three boys, said she finds "mommy needs wine" culture "deeply disturbing" because of what she sees as a sense of denial inherent to the whole notion. "The mental load and oppressive misogyny is too much to think about, so look at this cute, rustic 'it’s wine o’clock' sign!"

Of course, we're talking about an addictive substance here, and several moms said they've seen this play out in real time among their own mom friends. "There's a whole lot of alcoholism that's normalized with 'mama needs a glass of wine,'" Sheila, a mom of two boys, told me. "For some it really is just a glass of wine to mellow out, but there’s no realization of the fact they’ve actually come to need it."

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Jillian, a recovering alcoholic who mentors other addicts, said she hears a story about "wine mom" culture leading to a drinking problem "at least once a month" while meeting with those who have decided to access treatment for alcoholism.

And Karla, another recovering alcoholic, worries about the message "mommy needs wine" culture sends to kids themselves. "The whole narrative of 'this is why mommy drinks' makes children think they’re a burden, or that they’re 'bad kids,'" she said. "You carry that with you for literally ever."

Not all moms agreed that 'mommy needs wine' culture is the actual problem. But they all agreed that the burnout is real.

Ariana, a new mom to an infant daughter, feels that "mommy needs wine" culture is more of a symptom of an overarching cultural disease that seeks to define the "right" ways to be a mother. "The wine thing… is more of a 'naughty' indulgence that women joke about because they know they’ll be judged for it," she said.

But "the 'supermom' narrative and the mom influencers who never show their messy house or [messed] up marriage or depleted bank account or postpartum depression are more responsible for gaslighting women," she said.

Meredith, a mother of three who loves a good drink herself, agrees that criticizing "wine mom" culture misses the point. "We're stressed, we're tired, our bodies are [screwed] and motherhood is relentless so I would like some booze to relax with when everyone finally goes to sleep," she said, adding that for many moms, drinking is more about maintaining some shred of who they used to be before they had kids.

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The booze itself, she says, isn't the problem, though — it's the need for some kind coping mechanism at all. "The mental load is outrageous, even with a good partner," she said. "We all need some vice to help us unwind at the end of a chaotic day," especially because the burden isn't being equally shared. 

As Allison put it, "a big piece of this is the hidden and very real labor all moms face that men do not, and the double standards for women in parenting. Why isn’t there a term 'dad guilt'; it’s just mom guilt? Or why do men talk about babysitting their own children?"



Studies have shown that this situation is all too real. Moms and dads are breaking under the loads of parenthood and the need to work ever harder in their careers in our increasingly difficult economy, but they aren't feeling the pinch in anywhere near equal measure. A 2022 Ohio State University study found that moms are feeling burned out at much higher rates than dads — 68% versus 42%.

We talk all the time about how these demands are breaking marriages apart and resulting in tidal waves of divorces, but we don't seem to talk as much about how they might be breaking the people in those marriages themselves.

Maybe that's ultimately what "mommy needs wine" culture reveals — even when we talk about the issues facing moms, we forget that the moms in question are real people being crushed beneath the load. As Meredith aptly put it, "the 'mommy needs wine' narrative exists because she probably does," and that, in the end, is the entire problem.

*All names have been changed to protect the mothers' privacy.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.

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