November 9, 2006 New York Times
By STACY LU
COME 4 o’clock on most Fridays, a group of eight mothers in Chestnut Hill, an affluent neighborhood in Philadelphia, gathers for drinks.
They have been following the rules all week, dutifully potty-training, wiping noses and transporting their progeny to schools, classes and doctors. As their young children play nearby, the women said, they sit around in one of their yards or living rooms, drink glasses of Cavit pinot grigio or cups of Yuengling lager, and unload. They talk of problems at the pediatrician’s or at school. They dole out pizza or cook hot dogs. Sometimes, they dance with the children.
“You just automatically relax,” said Kelley Ann Mansfield, a mother of two who founded the Friday group five years ago. “It’s before you take the first sip, as soon as your hand touches the bottle. It’s like, ‘Man, I’ve gone through the day, I need to treat myself.’ ”
Happy-hour play dates are here. Between runs to soccer and ballet classes, fund-raisers and homework projects, some stay-at-home mothers are sipping cocktails at afternoon spa parties, drinking bloody marys at play groups and toting wine and wine coolers to parks and friends’ decks while their children frolic nearby.
These women are not out to get drunk, they say. And they insist they are not drinking out of need. Rather, they are looking for a small break from the conventions of mommy-hood — a way to hold on to a part of their lives that existed before they had children and to bond over a shared disdain for the almost sadistically stressful world of modern parenting.
They know they will be criticized. They live, after all, in an age when many parents are so protective, they hire consultants to childproof their homes. Most acknowledge there can be a fine line between social and problem drinking and that the mix of children and alcohol is a dangerous one. And women who are pregnant keep away from the bar.
But some women are almost defiant in their defense of the afternoon group “momtini,” as one blogger calls it, and they speak out on the Web, in books and in interviews. The mothers do not know how many like-minded women are out there — there is no real way to quantify it — but they sense a change.
Some say the mother get-togethers are a throwback to the 1950s, when adults had more time to themselves and children were not always the center of attention. Martinis were in vogue; today’s obsessive, hard-driving, Harvard-or-bust parenting scene was not.
Teresa Klauber of Greenwood, S.C., wrote that she much prefers the cocktail play groups she has attended to other play groups, “where it seems like everyone is trying to compare their child to everyone else’s.”
“Too competitive,” she added, in an e-mail message. “This is much more social and well, friendly.”
Christie Mellor, in her book “The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting” — one of a spate of books over the last few years that urge parents to ease up — advised mothers to mix a few martinis during an afternoon play date. If the parents of your child’s new preschool friend are shocked, she says, they probably are no fun, anyway.
“This is a surefire method of separating the wheat from the chaff, the cream from the nondairy soy alternative,” she writes.
But Ms. Mellor said her book, which spawned a bulletin board of the same name on iVillage, the women’s Web site, has a larger message, advocating practical, non-obsessive parenting. The drinking part, Ms. Mellor said, “was meant to be a metaphor for having more fun in your life, and having a grown-up life.”
That is what many defenders of wine-cooler get-togethers say they are seeking. They love their children, they’re happy to be mothers, but they would like their world to be larger than a Little Tikes mini-kitchen.
“Crayons, cartoons and toys are in no way a part of that drink,” said Lene Proenza, a mother of two in North Plainfield, N.J., in an e-mail message. “My kids can’t have any of it. It is entirely and completely mine! And it doesn’t take anything away from my kids for me to have that one rare indulgence.”
Sandra May of South Amboy, N.J., who has a business holding in-home spa parties, says her clients want a taste of the pampering and party time they had while single, even if that means letting a 2-year-old splash in a foot bath or serving virgin cosmopolitans to little girls while their mothers have the real thing.
“Hey, we do what we have to do to have a fun night with our friends,” she said.
Melissa Summers of Royal Oak, Mich., frequently mentions her bloody mary play groups on her blog, Suburbanbliss.net, to the dismay of some readers. The site’s logo is what Ms. Summers calls the momtini, a pacifier garnishing a half-full martini glass. Ms. Summers says the logo represents a need for balance.
“It is saying mothering will look however I want it to,” Ms. Summers said. “It might just be a way of weeding out the mothers who are righteously indignant about what other people do. I know I don’t need more mothering guilt or mothering judgment in my life.”
Ms. Summers said many readers of her site, which has 4,000 to 5,000 unique visitors a day, are also looking for a way to connect. “What are they going to do, chitchat about the kids for an hour?” Ms. Summers said. “As long as you’re being responsible, I mean, have a glass of wine. When would you need it more than when there’s 40 screaming kids running around?”
Suniya S. Luthar, a psychology professor at Columbia University and mother of two, said her research has shown that alcohol and drug use is up among relatively affluent mothers. And there seems to be a reason.
“We are in a position right now where women can feel incredibly disconnected and lonely,” Dr. Luthar said, explaining that the apparent self-medicating she has found in interviews with clinicians and private practitioners and in an online survey could be a dangerous trend.
Some of the issues troubling mothers are disturbingly retro, according to interviews and a perusal of Web postings.
“Giving up a career (and a piece of my identity) and boredom were the core reasons I drank,” said Jennifer Ramsey of Sacramento, Calif., in an e-mail message, explaining how being a stay-at-home mother contributed to her alcoholism. “I know that this isolation and need to appear like the perfect mom are stressful for many women.”
Ms. Ramsey, who is in recovery, said that since starting a blog, stayathomemotherdom.clubmom.com, “I have received many e-mails from others who question their drinking with children or think that they drink too much.”
Susan Shapiro Barash, author of “The New Wife: The Evolving Role of the American Wife,” who teaches a class in gender studies at Sarah Lawrence College, said it is the attitude of modern martini mothers that determines whether they are repeating history.
“Is the drinking purely social or is this an underlying message that there is something missing?” Ms. Barash said. “This might be a happy event, but it certainly wasn’t for their predecessors. The drinking was just a coping mechanism for loneliness and unhappiness.”
Dr. Luthar, the psychologist, conceded that drinking together does beat drinking alone, particularly if the women in their groups can “achieve that sense of connectedness, with feelings of being seen, being heard, and of being understood.” Others, though, see alcohol as a risky way to connect. While many of the mothers who defended cocktail play dates claimed that having children underfoot promoted greater restraint, most probably would not tolerate it from hired caregivers.
“Driving can be impaired, even with one drink,” said Dr. Terry Schneekloth, director of the addictive disorders program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “Reflex time is slowed, judgment can be impaired. Both of those can be applied to child care as well.”
One woman who spoke about her affinity for cocktail play dates admitted to one lamentable incident. The woman, who spoke on the condition that her name be withheld, told of an afternoon tippling with two other mothers in her New Jersey neighborhood. She said she passed out afterward in her home, as her 4-year-old slept inside and the baby sitter, outside with her 7-year-old, rang the doorbell repeatedly.
Dr. Schneekloth said studies show that repeated exposure to alcohol and daytime drinking can put women at greater risk of developing a dependence on alcohol. “We saw this in men exposed to the two-martini lunches in the 1960s,” he said.
But some said men are a good argument for the mommy cocktail.
“In this culture there is a still a double standard,” said Dwight B. Heath, an anthropology professor at Brown University who has written extensively on alcohol attitudes. “It is more acceptable for men to drink, more often, and in greater quantities, and in public.
“This is not really exotic behavior,” Dr. Heath said.
But even Ms. Mellor, the “Martini Playdate” author, worries that many parents seem to have heard her plea to party while ignoring her book’s greater message of not giving oneself up entirely to the children.
“It’s not just about drinking and cutting loose, it’s about giving your children the tools to be self-sufficient,” she said. “Because if you haven’t changed your general attitude, then you just end up being a really busy drunk.”
While I think some might focus on the sensationalistic drinking part of this article, I have to say that these type of "play dates" sound like heaven to me....I long for a group of women with whom I can get together, on a regular basis, and while our children play safely we can enjoy a glass of wine and some down time - not even talking about parenting so much as just being an [i]adult[/i] and having grown up conversation.
We only have a few friends in the area with kids, and they don't know each other (or live near each other) so we tend to only get together on sporadic basis with one other family at a time. I would love to have something more regular with larger groups...I would also love to have the time to do it, though w/my schedule, there never seems to be time (other than a precious weekend) to do these kinds of gatherings.