Many of us have made jokes about ‘wine o’clock’ or ‘mummy’s little helper’ to help relieve the pressures of modern parenthood before. But how much is too much?
According to Gabrielle Glaser, author of Her Best Kept Secret: Why Women Drink – and How They Can Regain Control, wine has become “normalised, expected and then reinforced by popular culture, social media, advertising. The volume and ubiquity of the pro-drinking message has made it infinitely more likely that even mothers who know it’s a caricature, will immediately think of pouring themselves a drink as a release valve once the children are in bed – and then do it.” That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with a drink at the end of the day – two per day is acceptable – but it’s drinking responsibly that is key. We asked women ranging from a GP to a meditation expert to a recovering high-functioning alcoholic for their philosophies on drinking. Here’s what they had to say…
Vanessa Clarkson, food and nutrition consultant and author
“Well, I’m breastfeeding and have a four-month-old that I co-sleep with, so it’s been a long time since I’ve had a drink! But when the time comes, I would generally I limit it to a couple of small glasses of wine over the weekend. Drinking is very social and it’s very easy for it to tip into something more frequent as a way of releasing tension that can build when looking after children. It’s not ideal for our health though, nor is it conducive for a good night’s sleep (which is so important when you have children), so I keep it to a minimum.”
Image: Julie Adams
Sarah-Jane Clarke, fashion designer
“My decision to quit alcohol for a year came after I realised it was controlling me rather than I controlling it. I decided to take a break, so I could retrain my brain and the relationship it has formed with alcohol over the years. My drinking habit was in direct conflict with my overall health and wellbeing philosophy.
I publicly announced it to my followers on social media for three reasons. One, to keep me to my word. Secondly, so I wouldn’t need to explain my decision every time I saw a friend. And thirdly, I was sick of the silent internal struggle I had dealt with over the last few decades. I felt like I needed to expose myself, the real me and my battle with binge drinking. It meant taking away the mask that I hid behind and exposing myself to the world. It also meant being very honest with myself.
I did a lot of reading and I educated myself on the effects alcohol has on our health and our society. I saw clearly for the first time how our culture glamourises drinking.
My children came on this ride with me and I talked to them about the importance of drinking alcohol responsibly. Our children’s minds are curious by nature; they want to experience and they watch and learn. They see us, their role models, drinking alcohol and having ‘fun’. They instantly associate alcohol use with good times. This is re-affirmed with constant messages from the alcohol industry through advertising and sponsorships and now social media influencers.
Sadly, I think much of the focus (in our Australian culture) has been on getting drunk rather than drinking for pleasure whilst maintaining awareness. Though I do think the younger generation is drinking less, partly as there is so much more education on the harms of alcohol. I have noticed the mocktail lists in restaurants getting longer and far more sophisticated so there must be a growing demand!
The most surprising part of not drinking for the year was how much better life was without it. I was more present for my family and friends, I had mental clarity, I was more confident, and the health benefits are endless – better sleep, glowing skin, healthier digestion just to name a few! Not to mention more time! It was an invaluable realisation that social drinking and dreaded hangovers take up a lot of valuable time.
Since the year has passed, my relationship with alcohol has totally changed. I no longer look at it with the shine and magic it once held. It is no longer the enabler of good times.
I now drink moderately and occasionally and on my own terms. I don’t let the situation dictate if I drink or not. I know I can attend any social gathering without alcohol. I no longer use it as a confidence builder or a stress release, rather I engage in healthier options.”
Emily Keenan, co-founder of The Squad Co. and pregnant with her second child
“My philosophy is everything in moderation. One of my favourite things to do is enjoy good food and wine with family and friends. I exercise a lot so have a little more leeway with my food/drink lifestyle. I’m not one to ‘restrict’ anything but rather enjoy a wide variety of what we have on offer. I’ve just found for me personally that’s my way to be able to sustain a long-term happy and healthy lifestyle. I’ve tried restricting things in the past and I just end up a cranky and bored person! My general rule is 80/20, so I’ll eat well and minimise alcohol during the week and then relax on weekends to enjoy what I feel like.
I do associate a wine with de-stressing and socialising with friends. My favourite time to have a drink is definitely the weekend. I love a champagne as it makes me feel festive but also love a good Rosè or Riesling on a summers evening or over a long lunch!
After having kids, I have found I have turned to it more after a long day. Although I do find I don’t sleep as well after more than one drink, so if I know I need a good night’s sleep I definitely won’t have one.”
Georgia Macmillan, founder of Georgia Macmillan Paints
“It entirely depends on the week, our schedule and how I feel. Some weeks, we’re very social and go out to dinner a few nights where I may start with a gin and tonic or gin-based cocktail or champagne then go on to enjoy a couple of glasses of white wine with dinner. On regular weekdays, I generally pour myself a large glass of sancerre or pinot grigio with about five ice cubes when the children eat at 6pm. And that’s it. We always pour ourselves a lunchtime wine on the weekend if we’re not going out that night.
I don’t think of wine as a guilty pleasure. It’s a choice. I love the Italian and French approach to it simply being part of life. They have such a healthy attitude towards alcohol and drink responsibly. I don’t feel a need for ‘alcohol-free nights’. Where’s the fun in that? There’s absolutely no point in punishing oneself. It is such a pleasure to wind down with a beautiful glass of wine at the end of a weekday.”
Preeya Alexander, doctor
“The amount I drink per week varies, but I probably drink on average four standard drinks a week. My favourite time to have a drink is with my husband on the couch – no TV, just us and a glass of red debriefing. I also love sharing a wine with friends and family, preferably with a platter involved! Drink of choice is either a gin or red wine. In summer the odd beer is also on the cards! My approach to drinking, like most things, is everything in moderation. As a GP, I know the health risks of alcohol consumption but I just make sure I keep it in safe limits and still enjoy it! For me, alcohol provides a nice way to relax and unwind with my husband but it’s also a lovely social thing – to share a drink with a friend.
I tend not to drink at all mid-week. And I usually only have two drinking days per week. This used to be different when I was younger – but my husband I and both found that a drink at night after a stressful day at work was becoming the norm, we would use it to unwind. Over time we changed this and broke the habit of pouring a wine to relax and I have to say I now enjoy a drink on the days we do much more – it’s more of a treat now.
According to the Australian guidelines – we should be having no more than two standard drinks a day. A standard drink contains 10 grams of alcohol – that equates to 100mL of wine or 30mL of spirits. The evidence also shows that drinking more than four standard drinks in a single sitting can increase the risk of alcohol-related injury (falls/alcohol-related violence etc) in that sitting. The current guidelines do not include alcohol-free days anymore.
If it’s only the 1-2 per night then you are likely within the guidelines (if your glasses really are 100mL of wine which often they aren’t!). Drinking more than the 2 standard drinks per day is associated with many health issues though – it increases the risk of high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks, obesity and fatty liver. Consuming too much alcohol can also increase the risk of certain cancers such as bowel cancer. All that said, as a GP I believe in everything in moderation – so yes, I will eat a burger, I enjoy a red wine, I love cheese – I do all these things in moderation and I’m still considered healthy.
As a GP I will always say exercise instead of reaching for a wine at the end of a stressful day! And that’s how I tend to operate – when I’m stressed I try to fit in some exercise in – a walk or a Pilates class. I try and avoid reaching out for a drink to treat the stress. It works 99% of the time, but I’m human and some days I do walk in the door and pour a red wine and that’s OK! As a mum, I know those moments when you feel you just need to survive until toddler bedtime so you can have a wine… I know those moments well!”
Phoebe Ghorayeb, blogger, writer and presenter
“I gave up alcohol about 7 years ago – I was 23 years old. It didn’t feel like a conscious decision, it just happened. It was a combination of not being much of a drinker anyway, not seeing value in spending my hard earned cash on alcohol and my husband not being a drinker himself. It seemed to happen very naturally and I can’t say I miss it. In saying that, I’m not opposed to a celebratory glass of prosecco at a birthday or wedding.
I don’t miss it but not because I have bad memories of when I used to drink, but because I don’t think it adds any value to my life now. I can socialise and go out with friends and I don’t think I have less fun or stamina than those who are drinking. I feel as I’ve got older my friends are far less judgemental, if at all, about the fact that I chose not to drink. They would never pressure me or make me feel bad for my decision. I think this is different when you are younger but I am now much more sure of myself and my life choices and my friends and family respect me for that.”
Georgie Watts, founder of The Window Seat
“I really enjoy a glass of wine whilst I cook dinner in the evening, I find it relaxing, and in a way, almost a reward for getting to the end of the day! This year my husband has been working on a comedy festival combining wine and comedy (www.grapesofmirth.com.au) which has meant a lot of time at wineries, and much sampling of their wares… It got to the point where we were having a drink most nights, and so we’ve made a conscious decision to rein it in… no drinking Monday through Thursday. It’s only a recent thing, but I do feel better for it. Will I be able to maintain this heading into the festive season? I’m not sure, but I’ll certainly try!”
Michelle Kennedy, Founder & CEO, Peanut
“I am a horrible sleeper, so do find myself falling victim to insomnia very often. As every mama knows, sleep deprivation is so debilitating, and something we all experience. I started to justify having a glass of wine every night as a route to sleeping. The point for me, was that this was a fallacy. Having wine didn’t help me sleep, it made me fall to sleep, but then the sleep was broken. So now, I’ve made a real change. I’m trialling a new me where I don’t drink in the week. I really look forward to my wine on a Friday night, (mine is always a glass of red, preferably Brunello di Montalcino!), and I would happily have some drinks over dinner on a Saturday too, but I’m trying to keep it to that, and you know, my sleeping is slowly getting better. Perhaps because I’m not thinking about it so much. One point I have to make clear, women should do whatever is right for them. If you want to have a drink, have a drink! No one should feel policed. But, if it’s having an impact on you in other areas of your life, if you’re starting to look at it as something you ‘deserve’, or a way to do something else (sleep), then maybe, it’s time to re-evaluate.”
Image: Grace Alyssa Kyo
Jacqui Lewis, Principal, The Broad Place
“Alcohol and our relationship to it, we can work within the same way in which we work with anything; our work, our partners, our egos, by asking, ‘am I approaching this in a conscious way? Is it upgrading my life?’. When we ask ourselves, ‘am I blocking anything, hiding anything, running from anything’ we can begin to understand our patterns and behaviours in relation to this. This deeper questioning, this auditing, can then lead to greater clarity so we know what to increase and what to decrease. And then we stay curious, creative and we continually refine. This means we can have a more conscious and active role in our relationship to alcohol, and not simply be acting out old patterns and behaviours, and be living life as our best selves”
Image: Emmy Etie
Georgie Abay, founder of The Grace Tales
“I’ve been through phases where I can’t wait to pour myself a glass of wine at the end of the day – I need the release. That was mostly when the girls were younger and the day just felt like it was never going to end. But the thing was – I found that rather than relax me, it just made me more cranky with the kids and groggy the next day (even one glass!). I also find that when I drink mid-week, I lose focus. Monday-Wednesday, I work a lot at night, so if I have a glass of wine, I find it hard to concentrate. On Thursday and Friday, I’m more relaxed and will usually have a glass of wine and watch Netflix with my husband. Fridays I’ll almost always have a couple of wines with a girlfriend and do a kids’ dinner. I guess it’s like our version of after dinner drinks. I’m not too strict with myself – I go with how I feel and what works for me. The end of the week and the weekend, I can relax more. I have no set rules in place, but if I can have a few alcohol-free days a week, I definitely feel better for it.”
Talitha Cummins, television and radio journalist, keynote speaker & media consultant
“When you’re a high-functioning alcohol, life looks fantastic from the outside. I had a great job in television, lived in a nice suburb, went on overseas holidays and was giving the general impression that I had my life together. But what people didn’t see was the inner turmoil I experienced on a daily basis. I hated myself, I lived in shame at the constant embarrassment alcohol was bringing to my life and I was desperately unhappy – but because I hadn’t lost my home, or friends or job, I couldn’t comprehend alcohol was the problem. And that’s why denial looms large in the functioning alcoholic – your success works against you. It tricks you into thinking you have it all under control. But it catches up with you. Alcohol brings confidence to those who lack it, fun to a boring situation and is a widely accepted social lubricant. Drinking typically begins in your teenage years and by the time you’re in your twenties and older I think most people come to rely on it as a social crutch out of habit. For me, I was a shy and introverted young girl and it made me the person I wanted to be; confident, funny and the life of the party.
I’d been drinking unsuccessfully for many years, but I was in complete denial alcohol was a problem for me because I was still holding down a career. It wasn’t until my chief of staff at the television network I worked at sat me down and confronted me that I realised my work facade had been shattered. I had tried many times to stop drinking, but this time I knew things were serious. I’m an all or nothing person and I knew I had to stop completely. I went to AA that day and began a long period of recovery.
Life is so much better without alcohol! I am stable, content and have finally found happiness and confidence. I like myself and I am grateful for what I have. I have found an incredibly supportive husband who has helped me realise I’m a good person. I have a child and one on the way and my own business in media consultancy and speaking. I’d have none of this if I was still drinking.”