A new report claims there is a 'silent epidemic' of alcohol abuse among middle class mums: but are our drinking habits making us bad parents – or do busy mums deserve some fun?
Before I became a mum, I was bored of going out on the razzle dazzle. Pubs were depressing, nightclubs were for teenagers and cocktails were for people who didn't have houses to furnish and families to plan.
In my youth, I loved partying to the tune of a vodka or two: I took my disinterest as a sign that I was ready for parenthood. Sure enough, completely cutting out alcohol during pregnancy was a cinch. And after nine months of breezy sobriety, I even considered keeping up an alcohol-free lifestyle.
Then I met my antenatal group. I'd never had such a warm, genuine and like-minded bunch of female friends before. Post-births, we hung out together on a regular basis. We took the babies to a local bar, deserted by day with excellent changing facilities (not to mention scrumpy on draught). The odd drink helped us relax, share funny mummy stories and really get to know each other.
Before long, we were organizing boozy, baby-free nights out when the cocktails flowed and Sambuca shots were not unheard of.
I hadn't had this much fun since university – and it was all after becoming a mum.
I'd been preparing for a sedate middle age, but cutting loose with my fabulous new friends was a perk I didn't see coming.
OK, so the odd pint or glass of vino made dealing with a screaming baby slightly less stressful; but that's not the reason we drank. We popped the cork to celebrate a new sense of 'normality' after childbirth, and to toast our new-found friendship (as well as taking advantage of maternity leave, which affords carte blanche on an afternoon tipple). As one of my best mum friends puts it our shared drinking experience was "part of a bonding process with like minded mums; a sense of sharing something a bit naughty and forbidden amongst the drudgery."
But our cheeky cocktail hours may have a dark side. A new report released by the charity 4Children warns of a 'silent epidemic' of alcohol misuse in middle class British families, with even light drinking apparently hampering parenting skills.
One in five of those surveyed for the report said that, like me, their alcohol consumption had a positive effect on their ability to parent – but the report insists: "Parenting capacity can be adversely affected, and quality interactions with the youngest children disrupted, by parents who merely drank socially, or finished a bottle of wine over dinner."
And 4Children chief executive Anne Longfield has called for a rethink on Britain's relationship with alcohol saying: "What to many parents feels like low level consumption still has the ability to negatively impact on their parenting."
Well, that's me and my eight-year-old done for then. Perhaps the fact that his birthday parties have always involved fizz for the grown-ups, and that day trips are broken up with a nice glass of wine over lunch (for me, not him), has done irreparable damage?
And I dread to think what Ms Longfield would have to say about me and my mummy friends taking the kids to Ibiza and sipping Cosmopolitans in Manumission's beach bar, while the kids built sandcastles at our sides (no, really).
I'd never take alcohol abuse lightly: alcoholism has affected my own family and it is a cruel and debilitating problem. For some mums, drinking alone to escape the stresses of parenting can lead to problems.
Mum of four, Mel*, 47, admits that her drinking habits are unhealthy: "When the children were small, I didn't drink all the time as I had to get up in the night and deal with them. I made a point of never having a drink until they'd gone to bed.
"But I had no social life, and drink became a reward for a hard day's work. Now the kids are older, they go to bed later, so I start drinking later, stay up later and end up with a stinking head. I worry about the message I'm sending my teenage kids (although one despises alcohol, thanks to me), but on the other hand, life can be so busy and stressful sometimes, it is a good way to unwind."
But the 4Children report doesn't appear to be aimed at mums like Mel, who says her drinking is 'an issue': it is aimed at social drinkers. If we take the report as read, we can't let our hair down, even once in a while, without being labeled 'bad mothers'. And if that's the case, we might as well join a convent.
I'm not the only mum who thinks so.
"Society has evolved; being a mum doesn't mean an end to everything else in your life, including having fun," says parenting author, Hollie Smith. "I've made more good friends and had more wild nights out (and in) since having children than in my twenties. When mums get together and let their hair down it can be quite potent. It's such a relief to leave the nappies, tea-making or tantrums behind for the night - I think we're all just making the most of that."
I've certainly made the most of it. After one particularly raucous night with the mums (when I did a little sick-up in my handbag on the tube home), I did decide to keep myself in check; but for the most part, I don't believe my drinking habits have had a detrimental effect on my parenting - or my son's wellbeing.
"To a certain extent, my drinking makes me a better parent," says mum of five, Margot, 42. "I can relax into the evening, and the more relaxed I am, the more patience I have with the children.
"If you and your home are not functioning, then there is a problem that needs to be addressed. But when my children are around, my drinking is controlled. If the house is clean, day to day tasks have been done and you end the day with as many children as you started with, why not congratulate yourself with a tipple?"
Well, I'll certainly drink to that.
*name has been changed
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