Parenting Books, Wine Mom Memes, Unrelenting Standards and You: Parenting in the 21st Century

“When I’m upset or hurting, the last think I want to hear is advice, philosophy, psychology, or the other fellow’s point of view. That kind of talk makes me only feel worse than before. Pity leaves me feeling pitiful; questions put me on the defensive; and most infuriating of all is to hear that I have no reason to feel what I’m feeling. My overriding reaction to most of these responses is “Oh forget it …”

~ Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Let’s talk about parenting and parenting resources for a moment. Do you have a favourite parenting book? How would you describe your parenting philosophy or parenting skills? Do you ask for help when needed? How do you cope when you’re feeling overwhelmed by your kids?

Yesterday, I experienced a number serendipitous moments that prompted some serious reflection about parenting in general, and my parenting journey in particular:

  1. In the morning, a friend posted a meme on Facebook about mom burnout, about wanting to stop doing too much for family members, even while still continuing to do everything for them. It was standard social media fare, meant to be funny, but actually more uncomfortable instead because of how accurate it was. And the subsequent comments were equally revealing, especially how hard it is for parents, often mothers, to set limits, ask for help and let go of control. 
  2. That afternoon at work, as I shelved some new books onto the crowded shelves in the parenting section, I realized that I did not recognize most of the titles anymore. I reminisced about my bleary-eyed early years as a brand-new parent when that would not have been the case, when I compulsively read and reread everything I could about child development, hoping to find some answers, any answers, that would make me feel more confident, more certain of what I was doing with my high-energy, strong-willed, sensitive young son who was prone to spectacular and long-lasting meltdowns.
  3. Then, on my drive home, I overhead part of CBC’s Now or Never episode on drinking, which originally aired in November, 2019. I am a huge fan of the show and had listened to the episode before, but the discussion about wine mom memes and ‘mommy wine culture’ really hit home yesterday, in light of the other two events.

No question, being a parent is hard in today’s society. The plethora of information available and the pervasiveness of social media have created such high standards for raising children that many parents often feel inadequate. We go online to seek solutions to our parenting dilemmas only to discover an artificially-contrived, flawlessly-executed cyber-world of parenting influencers who seem to be doing everything effortlessly, with perfectly-toned bodies, perfectly-highlighted hair, and perfectly-whitened smiles. Feeling even more overwhelmed and imperfect, we continue surfing for answers, sinking ever deeper into a parenting funk. Enter the drinking and the drinking memes … 

“Yoga class? I thought you said pour a glass!”

“I decided to reward myself with a well-earned glass of wine after a hard week of parenting. But then I realized it was only Tuesday, morning …”

“The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink!” 

“Motherhood: Powered by love, fueled by coffee, sustained by wine!” 

It’s okay if you’ve laughed at those memes before. I have too. The last thing I am here to do is make you feel any more guilty as a parent than you might already. There’s definitely a dark humour in these memes to which most of us can relate, at least at one time or another. But the underlying message is concerning: that parenthood is so difficult these days that it is driving us to drink. Excessively. And then normalize it. 

Women seem especially susceptible to unrelenting, perfectionist parenting standards and unhealthy coping strategies like excessive drinking. I don’t pretend to have any great insight into why this is, but I suspect that it stems from the decades-long, ongoing struggle for equality in the workplace and the continuing gender-imbalance in the distribution of household chores, astutely captured by feminist artist EMMA in her viral comic, You should have Asked.

And these perfectionist tendencies are prevalent for all women, working mothers and stay-at-home mothers alike. And it’s hurting us. Mentally, physically, and emotionally. 

Again, I don’t have any great insight into solutions, but I can tell you what has worked for our family:

  1. I gave away most of my parenting books. I also stopped reading parenting magazines regularly and curtailed visits to most parenting websites. Yes, really. I love books and information dearly, but I realized I needed to follow my son’s lead and trust myself more. The only book that I kept was Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish’s book, How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. Less a parenting manual and more a really good guide to communication, its positive tone and strategies make me feel good about myself when I use them. 
  2. We started holding family meetings. Everyone gets to talk about what’s working, what’s not and to suggest ideas. It is in this forum that we work out how to equitably share household chores amongst all family members, sort any disagreements, plan future outings, etc. This was ESPECIALLY important during the early COVID-19 days, when everyone was at home and things were getting messy, physically and emotionally!
  3. I monitor my drinking. This is tricky, I’ll admit it. My husband and I quite enjoy wine and craft beers. My love of wine predates kids, actually, when I was living in France and attended various wine festivals in different regions of the country. Over the years, I have learned a lot about the process of making wine, the characteristics of different grapes, and various aspects of all the different wine regions in the world. My love of craft beer is more recent, but also involves visiting microbreweries, sampling different products, talking with brewmasters and learning about food pairings. Generally when I drink, it is to enjoy the wine or beer, the food and the company. But. It can be a slippery slope from enjoying a specially selected bottle of wine or a new pint of beer to grabbing a glass or two of something, anything, to “celebrate” just surviving another day. And it’s that normalization of alcohol as a stress reliever that’s become more pervasive, seductive, insidious. But excessive drinking is not the only culprit: overeating, excessive online shopping, smoking and drug use are all problematic strategies that may lead to addiction, health problems and financial issues, not just for women, not just for parents, but for all people. And equally important, it doesn’t address the underlying feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, anxiety, inadequacy and failure we feel. So I monitor my drinking very carefully and try to voice my feelings when I can. Awareness can go a long way. 

Again, parenting is not for the faint-hearted. Parenting resources often give oversimplified solutions and social media often paints an idealized, unrealistic picture of what parenting is really like. Learning to set realistic standards and not expect the impossible will help you trust yourself more as a parent and to use healthier coping strategies as well.

What about you? What has your parenting journey been like?

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