How Sobriety Has Helped Me Become a Better Parent

One mom shares how the pandemic increased her drinking and why her decision to give up alcohol altogether was the right one for her family.

mom and child outside
Photo: Getty Images/MoMo Productions

Before I became a parent, I was a social drinker. I'd have a beer or a glass or two of wine with some friends on a Saturday night, and that was about it. My friends occasionally called me a lightweight and I didn't mind. Life was good and fun and, when I felt stressed, I was able to manage it with various tools that didn't include alcohol.

A few years into motherhood, however, I realized how pervasive the mommy wine culture in our society actually is, and how hard it was to resist it. It felt like everywhere I looked, moms were having wine play dates, hosting shopping parties with wine, and gifting each other tumblers and T-shirts with phrases like "mama needs a drink" on them. I quickly learned, firsthand, how much our culture encourages—and even celebrates—moms turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism for the challenges of parenting.

I'll admit, I fell into the trap for a few years, and I attended plenty of those mommy wine parties. I honestly didn't think it was an issue whatsoever because many of the moms I knew in my suburban community were doing it alongside me. No big deal, right?

But at some point, in my late 30s, as a mom with two kids, a dog, a husband who at the time was often away on business travel, my drinking shifted from the occasional glass with friends to drinking often and alone. It just got worse during the pandemic.

I wasn't struggling with alcohol use disorder, but I found myself looking forward to that almost-nightly glass of wine after the kids had gone to bed. I was rewarding myself with drinking after a long day of parenting and then I would berate myself the next day for doing it. I realized I was drinking more often, but I didn't realize the horrible cycle of depression and anxiety that alcohol was keeping me trapped in. Unfortunately, this is common among mothers—especially in the last two years.

Samantha Zipp Dowd, LGPC, a psychotherapist at a private practice in Lutherville, Maryland, says she's seen this with her clients whose concerns with alcohol use has increased dramatically since the summer of 2020. "So far, 10 out of 12 of my clients have noted an increase in their alcohol consumption, and they recognize they need to address it," says Dowd, who focuses on maternal mental health, transitions, and parenting support.

A Pandemic-induced Shift in Alcohol

While I was at home, overwhelmed and lonely, I saw plenty of Facebook posts and memes about stocking up on toilet paper, paper towels, and alcohol. Moms online were joking (or were they serious?) about drinking wine all day to deal with virtual schooling their kids. Between the stresses of parenting, being home all the time, and the possibility of getting the virus, no wonder our consumption had increased.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the COVID-19 crisis fueled increases in retail alcohol sales. One study conducted by RTI International found women with kids under 5 increased their drinking by 323 percent.

"From the stress of unemployment to feelings of isolation during physical distancing, there are many reasons the COVID-19 emergency may be influencing alcohol consumption," George F. Koob, Ph.D., the NIAAA director, wrote in a post.

I found that I was drinking alcohol specifically to escape the feeling of overwhelm that encompassed the year 2020. I was exhausted all the time, was impatient with my kids and myself, and was only "relaxed" when I was alone with my wine and Netflix late at night. It soon became impossible for me to ignore that drinking alcohol just wasn't serving me. I came to a place where I wanted to change my approach to parenting stress that was exacerbated by the pandemic.

Choosing Sobriety

So, what did I do? I made a commitment to myself to remove alcohol from my life and started reading books about sobriety, such as Annie Grace's This Naked Mind and Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker, which was recently featured on HBO's Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That...

I listened to several podcast episodes on sobriety, including Sober Powered, and I found some sober accounts to follow on Instagram. Through my own personal journey and exploration of sobriety, I've found that I fall into the category of moms who just want to be seen and heard during this pandemic. My need for a break from being a full-time caregiver is a feeling shared by moms across the country, and we need more than a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to help keep us afloat.

Today, I am enjoying the confidence and mental clarity that comes along with my choice to stop drinking alcohol. I know that I'm choosing a healthier lifestyle for myself—and one that will impact my kids and my family in a very positive way. I'm starting to feel free of some of the anxiety that came with drinking over the years, like a heavy weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I'm sleeping better and have more patience with life's challenges in general during a pandemic.

After some personal exploration and new, pandemic-formed online friendships, I now know that the only way I can be true to myself—and be the best parent to my kids that I can be during these wild times—is without alcohol. Not surprisingly, other moms agree and have had similar experiences over the last two years.

Alicia W.*, a stay-at-home mom of four lively kids in suburban Colorado, has found that living alcohol-free allows her to put herself first in ways that she wasn't fully able to before. "I am more focused on doing what I know is best for me and my family, and I have more confidence navigating curveballs in life. Without numbing my feelings and using alcohol to escape uncomfortable moments, I know myself better and I am learning what is important to me as a mother." A member of the membership-based online community, the Sober Mom Squad, Alicia says that she knows she's meant to be on this path and attributes her success, in part, to finding the supportive virtual resource.

Katie H.*, from Kentucky, found a similar improvement when it comes to parenting young children. "When I stopped drinking alcohol in January of 2021, my sleep improved within the week. Over the first couple of months, my anxiety decreased. My patience has improved, and I rarely raise my voice at my kids." Katie, a former hospice nurse turned full-time mom of two young daughters, found support from her therapist and she tried several online resources, including the Sober Mom Squad and The Luckiest Club. "I now feel a peace within myself and a confidence that I've not had since I was a young child," she shares.

Feeling Better About My Parenting

Maybe it has always been my destiny to choose sobriety and I just didn't know it until now. I'm thankful that my experience of being sober-curious and now sober has given me a new and refreshing perspective on parenting, and all I want is for other moms to know that it's an option for them, too, if they also find themselves unhappy with their drinking habits.

For parents who are struggling with addition though, it's of course not as simple to stop drinking. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) is great resource for those struggling to get clean, as well as a place for loved ones to get advice or help.

But whether it's a membership-based virtual support group (there are many!), a free trial to test the waters, like the Alcohol Experiment from This Naked Mind, or professional help, there are different options out there for moms who want to give up alcohol and level up to a different and more enjoyable version of parenting.

*Last names have been withheld for privacy.

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