I’ve always had a healthy relationship with alcohol. Growing up, my parents let me have a sip of their wine if I wanted one, and in high school, I never joined the partiers (mostly because I wasn’t popular, but also because I didn’t like beer). I was too busy studying to drink in university, and then too busy working out to want to spend my calories on cocktails. Alcoholism runs in my family, so I’ve always been a bit leery of that being an issue in my own life.
It wasn’t work or student loans that triggered me—it was motherhood. It’s not that I was never stressed or anxious as a single woman; it’s that the nature of my stress and anxiety and my ability to manage it changed dramatically when my children were born. All control is illusory, but some people accept that reality more easily than others, and I’m definitely in the non-accepting group. Sure enough, one night, we ran out of those ghastly canned cocktails that are equal parts sugar and alcohol (which I love), and I found myself getting positively angry.
I don’t think I was addicted to them, but as a precaution, I abstained for about a month. I continued to chuckle at ‘wine mommy’ jokes on Facebook for a while, until a friend of mine (who recently became a mother herself), sent me a link to Tilly Dillehay’s blogpost at TGC. “Is this actually a thing?” she asked, shocked. “Sure,” I wrote, “that’s been around for ages.”
I appreciated Mrs. Dillehay’s exhortation to Christians (particularly Christian mothers) that they be mindful of who might be listening when they make jokes. I agree that we ought to be careful of what we joke about, especially since substance abuse is a very real, very terrible thing, and that it affects more people than we realize. I gave a hearty ‘Amen’ to her reminder that the law of the Christian is one of love as well as liberty, and was encouraged by her reminder that our comfort and hope are not in happy hour, but in the assurance that Jesus is always with us, every moment of every day, and that he will never leave or forsake us (Matt. 28:20 and Deut. 31:6).
It was her passing acknowledgment of the difficulty of motherhood that made me wonder if we shouldn’t also be asking another question—why does the ‘wine mommy’ gag resonate so strongly with so many women? Yes, motherhood is hard, but isn’t working a 9 to 5? Isn’t marriage? Isn’t life in general? Definitely. But we don’t see many memes about people leaving the office to go blow off steam at the local bar. I haven’t seen any BuzzFeed lists like, ’27 Reasons Why Sauvignon Blanc Is The Answer To All Your Marital Problems.’ Why did the idea of de-stressing with wine ring so true with mothers?
Probably because mothers find that the social expectations of parenting mostly fall on them. In her book Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, Anne-Marie Slaughter writes that, “A 2014 study of more than 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates—boomers, Gen Xers, and millennials—found that roughly half the women expected to ‘take primary responsibility for raising children’[…]. What’s more, the almost three-fourths of boomer women and two-thirds of Gen Ex women who did not expect to be the primary caregiver still ended up in that role.” This is not to say that husbands and fathers are thoughtless negligents—Slaughter also noted that husbands and fathers are doing more to share household work and childcare now than they ever have. But it does mean that the majority of pressure to perform as a parent is placed on the mother, not the father.
This is even more true in the Christian community, which highly values mothers and strongly promotes a culture of stay-at-home motherhood. Scripture calls children a blessing and an inheritance (Psalm 127:3), and Paul admonishes women to love their husbands and children and work at home (Titus 2:5), and the publishing industry has, in turn, produced a myriad of books devoted to helping women understand the spiritual significance and impact of biblical motherhood. For Christian women, the implication is that full-time motherhood isn’t just a societal expectation, it’s also a biblical mandate. The result is that the biblical responsibility of motherhood is so persistently repeated that women are sometimes more burdened by the obligation than they are encouraged by the grace of God that sustains them in it.
Add to this the phenomenon of the Instagram mom—the svelte, immaculately-dressed young mother with three sweet babies gamboling around the beautifully-appointed, afternoon-sun soaked living room. IG Mom isn’t a celebrity with a chef, personal trainer, and housekeeper on staff to keep daily homemaking at bay; she’s an ordinary mother just like you (who just enjoys documenting her ordinary life with professional photographs). Not only does she excel at motherhood; she enjoys it—it’s fulfilling, interesting, and rewarding. There are many women who enjoy IG Mom’s feed for the sweet photos, the funny captions, and great weeknight recipes—and there are just as many who feel depressed and discouraged by it. It’s not because IG Mom is holding herself up as a paragon of domestic virtue, but because they don’t understand how it is that she’s able to care for her children while genuinely enjoying it at the same time. “How does she do it? Did her children just sprout teeth one day? Do they just like solid food? What am I doing wrong that I don’t love my child that much?”
Motherhood (for many) isn’t just difficult; it’s a psychological, physical, and emotionally-pressurized obstacle course that changes every day with no end in sight. Just because your children grow out of diapers and go to school doesn’t mean the challenges end—parents of teenagers will attest to that. Just because your children graduate from high school and go away to university or full-time work doesn’t mean you’re not concerned about the decisions they’re making or the people they’re spending time with.
What do we mean when we say that “[…] our lives ought to be characterized by a joy that’s deeper than a quick one-liner. We rejoice, knowing our motherhood isn’t powered by coffee and sustained by wine, but powered and sustained by the promises of God. In our weakness, we flee for refuge to Christ—with whom our cups overflow (Ps. 23:5)”? How can a life overrun with diapers, meal-prep, laundry and e-mails be characterized by joy? Our motherhood may be powered and sustained by the promises of God, but what do we do when it doesn’t feel that way? I’d like to expand on Mrs. Dillehay’s encouragement to mothers to turn to Christ before opening the cabernet.
I’m a working-from-home mother, so 90% of my prayers during the day look something like this: “Father, be merciful to me and my children. I can’t do this, and what’s worse, I don’t want to do this. Be merciful to all of us, for your name’s sake.” Some days, the Lord is pleased to answer my prayer immediately—my temper somehow instantaneously subsides and my children’s behavior improves. Some days, he is not, and I struggle mightily to remember that the same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is the same Spirit that lives in me now, and that neither death nor life, nor angels nor screaming toddlers, nor terrible days nor exploding inbox will be able to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord (Rom. 8:38). In these moments, there is no “joy stirred up by the Holy Spirit as I gaze on my savior,” and I confess that my life isn’t “characterized by a joy deeper than a quick one-liner,” but by an ongoing struggle against despair and resentment. The promises and power of God do sustain my motherhood—but it’s a white-knuckled, by-the-skin-of-my-teeth sustenance that offers no rest or refreshment.
And yet, even in the midst of this dark time, I can say with the prophet Jeremiah, who watched the destruction and captivity of Israel, “‘The Lord is my portion, therefore I will hope in him.’”
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. […] The Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.” (Lam. 3:22-27, 31-33)
Just after the Last Supper, where Jesus broke bread with those he knew would betray and forsake him, he told his disciples, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Just before entering Jerusalem, where he would undergo the darkest moment of human history, he reinforced this: “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matt. 20:27-28). This is ultimately what makes motherhood difficult—it’s the continual laying down of your own life, ambitions, and desires for your friends, willingly serving those who will sometimes revile and despise you, and the daily giving of your life for theirs.
For the mothers who are growing weary with doing good, don’t despair—we will, in due season, reap our harvest if we don’t give up (Gal. 6:9). Remember that it is enough for a servant to be like her master, and that there is nothing that we give up for his sake that he will not restore to us one-hundredfold now in this time, and in the age to come eternal life. He knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust, and we can cast all our cares on him, because even when we fail at caring for our children, he still cares for us.
Brooke Ventura is a writer. She lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband and two children.
 Slaughter, Anne-Marie. Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family. 26. Toronto: Random House Canada, 2015.
As I’ve written elsewhere, Scripture does not command all women to be mothers, nor does it say that mothers are prohibited from working outside the home—my point here is that for Christian mothers, there’s a Scriptural obligation as well as a societal expectation in how they care for their children that creates additional pressure.