Is Modern ‘Mom Culture’ Concealing Addiction & Abuse?
I blamed my anxiety and depression on the difficulties of parenting instead of on my spouse’s addiction and mental illness.
I spent the first three years of my child’s life feeling totally inadequate as a new mom. What parent doesn’t have those feelings, right? When connecting with others through parenting groups, online and in person, I discovered an echo chamber of parenting frustration. Every mom blog out there confirmed that other moms often felt like they were falling apart too. Through my support network, I got constant validation that mothering was “SO F*ING HARD.”
I was lead to believe exhaustion, lack of self care, sleeplessness, poor eating habits, all come with the territory. Self-care was the prescribed remedy, but no amount of hot baths, long walks, pedicures, coffee, or wine helped me feel any better.
Through my support network, I got constant validation that mothering was “SO F*ING HARD.”
I saw a therapist, and when we started having the requisite client-therapist conversation about my mom, I said she wasn’t really there for me as a teenager because she had to raise a toddler at the same time. My therapist made an offhand comment (I don’t remember exactly what she said) but it stuck with me: was it possible my mom had something else going on in her life that made parenting so difficult for her?
It was the first time that it ever occurred to me that there might be something else besides mothering that was making it almost impossible for me to function.
Then my husband sexually assaulted my best friend.
Yeah. We don’t need to talk details, but it was bad, and I was shocked despite the warning signs. Before we lived together, he would get drunk, call me in the middle of the night, and say things that didn’t make sense. Once, after we moved in together, I had to pick him up drunk on the sidewalk in front of the bar at midnight. He spent the rest of the night in the walk-in closet writhing over piles of shoes, thrashing, sobbing, and throwing what looked exactly like a toddler tantrum for hours.
He later got a DUI, and when I picked him up the next morning, he was verbally unresponsive, babbling, and kept wandering into the street. I eventually coaxed him into the car. He passed out on the way home.
Why did I not string things together sooner? Because 85% of the time, my husband was kind, rational, patient and capable—and in those moments I loved him.
And we have a child. As fucked up as things were sometimes, parenting together was hard enough, and I assumed parenting alone would be next to impossible. So I gave him an ultimatum: therapy once a week for him plus couples therapy for both of us, or we were done.
We lasted about six more months before he was arrested on a domestic abuse charge and our way of life imploded.
85% of the time, my husband was kind, rational, patient and capable — and in those moments I loved him.
I’ve talked to many other women who’ve experienced the cycle of abuse, and they all say similar things about getting out — that when you’re around your partner, it feels like you’re surrounded by a kind of fog.
The longer you spend away from your partner, the more the fog clears, but the second you let them back in — whether it’s just talking, spending time together, or moving back in after a separation—the fog descends. You enter their world and it’s next to impossible to see the anything outside of the reality they’ve created.
For me, the night my child and I left was when the spell broke. My husband and I were yelling and fighting, and my son was in the room. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about, but my husband noticed that our son was looking at him, and I felt my husband’s rage shift—physically felt it swing around and zero in on my son. It was like there was a monster in my husband that had just scented new prey. He got right in our son’s face and screamed at him instead of me. Everyone draws their own lines, and this was it for me. When I intervened, my husband pushed me, grabbed our son from me, threatened to hit me, and he took my phone away when I tried to call for help. I waited for my husband to pass out, and then my son and I went to the police station to report what happened.
It was like there was a monster in my husband that had just scented new prey.
At the time, I thought a restraining order was an excessive but necessary precaution. Now I know we’re lucky to be alive. The restraining order helped give me perspective about the magnitude of the violence which I had become acclimated to in my home.
Here are some things that happened when I was with my (now ex) husband that I had been conditioned to ignore:
At least once a month, and sometimes weekly, he would completely break down, become verbally unresponsive or abusive, and stay in bed for days at a time. During these breakdowns he would cry until he threw up, get angry about events that hadn’t actually occurred, or at people that he hadn’t seen or spoken to in twenty years or more. He always wanted me to console him during these episodes, and when I suggested he needed more help than I could give him, he responded with terrifying rage.
These episodes usually coincided with heavy drinking. He hid bottles of vodka all over the house, and when he wasn’t drinking, he would take over the counter sleeping pills or cough medicine until he passed out.
Most nights after my son was born, I was exhausted and wanted to sleep, but my husband would get angry that I wasn’t giving him enough attention. When our son woke up in the middle of the night sick or fussy, there were many nights that my husband couldn’t wake up and help because he’d taken a sleeping pill or had been drinking, or both. There were many nights my husband woke me up in the middle of the night sobbing, screaming, thrashing, and throwing up, and I hid in my son’s room until my husband passed out.
For years, he blamed each breakdown on his job, on his “crazy” ex-girlfriend, on his parents, on his financial situation, on the death of a pet, on the season, on the fact that there were dishes in the sink when he came home from work, on our infertility issues, on infrequent sex, on me not taking good enough care of myself and therefore being unable to take care of him, on me not being supportive enough, on discouraging him, on me, on me, on me.
It was never any of those things. Not everything was in his control, but he still hurt people who loved him, and he still has to take some responsibility for his behavior.
There were many nights my husband woke me up in the middle of the night sobbing, screaming, thrashing, and throwing up, and I hid in my son’s room until my husband passed out.
I know now that I don’t have a model for a healthy romantic partnership, so I couldn’t see all the signs until they became really blatant. I was being compassionate and patient and wishing we could find a way to support his good health, but I could only do so much before I gave away too much of myself.
And I wonder: How often do moms blame their stress on motherhood when in fact they are being abused? Is mom culture enabling addiction and abuse?
I’m not the first one to examine why “Wine Mom” culture is so potentially problematic, but how many moms are gaslighting themselves (like I was) by saying parenting is just hard, and ignoring other factors that could be responsible for our exhaustion, our anxiety, our depression?
While it’s true that 70% to 80% of women experience some level of depression after giving birth with 10%-20% experiencing clinical PPD, why do we assume that mothering is impossible without wine and coffee? What if it’s not just the lack of parental leave or dads being dads that causes maternal anxiety and depression? I don’t know the answer, but I don’t hear enough people asking the question.
How often do moms blame their stress on motherhood when in fact they are being abused?
From the outside looking in, I’m a single mom with a three year old, I’m in the middle of a messy divorce, and I have limited financial resources. That sounds pretty unpleasant, and it’s a fate I tried to avoid because of my fears and the attached social stigma. But parenting is easier for me now than it has ever been.
I sleep through the night, I have more energy, I don’t need coffee at the beginning of the day or wine at the end. Best of all, I’m creating again. I’m drawing, taking pictures, and reading poetry just like I used to. I’m feeling again, and I’ve rediscovered joy in my life. Even on the days where I’m cranky or my son is in full-on threenager mode, I don’t feel the same anxiety or despair as I did when I was married. I have a safe place to recharge and heal, and no one can take that from me. I have my humanity back.
I had become adept at protecting others, including my son, at the expense of protecting myself — and I’m wondering how many other mothers are drinking coffee in the morning, sipping wine at night, and internalizing abuse as if it’s a normal part of marriage and parenting.
Parenting is easier for me now than it has ever been.
It took me a long time and a lot of courage to recognize and change what I had control over. Even though things are better for me now, I still have to be careful of the slow creeping fog, and I’ve learned that the best way to check in with myself is to keep asking the question: Is this really how it has to be?