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Cocktails Anyone?

If you believe the mass media, there’s a trend in America among mommies: playdate happy hours.

 

Last November, The New York Times reported about this trend and, in particular, about a group of affluent moms in Philadelphia who gather every Friday around 4 p.m. for their weekly happy hour playdate. This playdate sounds a bit like a BBQ: kids run around the yard while the moms catch up and prepare hot dogs and hamburgers before the dads join them after work. Some moms drink wine, but the women report they don’t overdo it.

 

As you may already know, the Today Show January 26th, 2007 featured a segment called “Cocktail Playmates” and plans to air another show on the topic February 2nd after reportedly receiving hundreds of emails from viewers. I know plenty of bloggers have been writing about their thoughts on whether moms should drink when parenting—and whether this trend of a playdate happy hour is a media frenzy event.

 

Melissa Summers, a well-known mommy blogger who was invited on the Today Show, says in her blog, SuburbanBliss, that she was surprised by the direction the segment took. In fact, she says that when a Today Show producer first contacted her about doing the segment, she asked to attend one of her children’s playdates. Since all of her friends’ children are in school fulltime now, Summers had to tell the producer that they no longer had playdates. Instead, she invited the correspondent to the weekly pizza night, where the moms and older kids got together for dinner and the dads joined in after work.

 

In the Today Show segment Summers was asked questions by Meredith Vierra, former View co-host, and psychologist, Dr. Janet Taylor, such as whether it was okay for moms or babysitters to drink when caring for their children.

 

I won’t rehash the whole segment. But it does make one wonder whether there is any movement in America among stay-at-home moms to nurse a few too many while young children play unsupervised. Certainly, the women in the Pennsylvania playgroup contend they didn’t drink too much during their Friday BBQs, saying one or two glasses over the course of the evening, which included dinner, was about the extent of it. Summers, too, describes her mommy friends in Southern California as moderate and says not everyone drinks—that coming to a pizza night doesn’t necessarily mean that all present drank. Some do, some don’t. Where’s the trend?

 

One book that receives a good bit of press on this topic is: The Three Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting by Christie Mellor. What’s interesting is that the main focus of the book isn’t really about playdates with cocktails or happy hours with the kids. Instead, it outlines ways in which parents can retain their lives, their interests, their friends and not cater to their children at all times. This is clearly a quick summation. But when I read it this past November I remember thinking that the juiced-up title was a bit deceiving when the core advice is old fashioned parenting.

 

So has the media been spinning this issue?

 

We all know, cough, that journalists can spin the news to sell a paper or to bring in more viewers. As a former newspaper journalist, I’ve seen a bit of this. Many years ago when I was a reporter in Berlin, Maryland for the local paper, my editor told me to rush down to the Ocean City boardwalk to cover the KKK rally. I raced down to the boardwalk and got excited as I saw TV crew vans in the parking lot. As I approached, I recognized an Associated Press (AP) reporter that I ran into at political functions and then three TV station crews, one radio crew and three other newspaper reporters. After nodding at colleagues and taking note of who was present, I turned and looked down the boardwalk. Approaching us were four, large, men wearing white robes and pointy hats, waving Confederate flags.

That was it.

The media, and the police, outnumbered the members of this “KKK rally.” Afterwards I laughed to friends and my editor about how the whole thing was a joke. Interestingly, the AP and others printed a close-up picture of the men draped in robes, mouths agape while shouting and waving their flags. If I hadn’t attended, and only saw the picture, I might have thought it represented a new wave of hatred, or a renewed passion among growing numbers of KKK members in the region. But since I did attend, I knew that wasn’t the case and have memories of roller-bladders whizzing by these men, annoyed they were in the way, while journalists clicked away.

 

Sorry for the digression. But it begs the question: is there really a trend among mothers to merge a girl’s night happy hour with a playdate for children?

 

In Mellor’s book, she calls for the old-fashioned days of parenting, when children should be seen and not heard, to come back. She reminds us of our own childhoods where we may have shared a room with a sibling and had parents who wouldn’t stand for us running amuck and demanding to be the center of attention while adults were having a dinner party.  

 

It seems fairly practical. For instance, one paraphrased rule of Mellor’s is if adults are coming over for dinner, the children should be able to play quietly in their rooms and only come out when asked or to say goodnight.

 

My take on her advice steers toward being a bit more realistic. If the children are too young to be able to entertain themselves (or could hurt themselves if left alone), hire a sitter. If you’re having a party, hire a sitter who can make sure they’re fed, play games with them, cook popcorn and let them all watch Nemo. Or better yet, go out to eat and leave the kids at home.

 

I’m swaying off point. The point is, I’m not really sure that there is a trend. I’m not sure thousands of women want to merge adult time and playtime with young children. Isn’t it hard to have a conversation? And, wouldn’t you rather recruit the hubby to come home early one evening to babysit the kids and then go somewhere not distracting to reconnect with your friends over dinner and a glass of wine? Wouldn’t you rather go to a monthly book club where you eat dinner, maybe have a glass of wine, and have some stimulating conversation for a change?

 

When I was in a mommy group in Los Angeles, I felt privileged to know such amazing women and mothers. Spending time with them on Wednesday afternoons with our children, usually at a park, was absolutely wonderful. It provided a means to chat about the struggles of first-time parenthood: introducing solids, allergies, potty-training, ear infections, first fights on the playground, or even a laugh about a husband who put on a diaper backwards. Playgroups provide support for moms, when they need it most and allow very young children the opportunity to socialize. Since all of us were breast feeding, wine or cocktails were never present at any of our playdates. As our children got older, and when many of us had stopped breastfeeding, we’d meet up in the evenings once a month for a “girl’s night” at a local restaurant and many of us would have a margarita or a glass of wine with dinner. It never occurred to us to do this with the children around as the goal was to relax, unwind and be able to have an adult conversation. When the children run amuck, eventually someone needs something, and in the distance you’ll likely hear:

 

“Mine!”

 

Bang

 

“Ow!”

 

“Momm!”

 

Crash

 

“Waahhhh!”

 

You get the idea. And your heart-to-heart conversation with a dear friend is interrupted. Happy hours, which typically conjur up more than one drink, with children, doesn’t seem an easy, or enjoyable task. Now, having a glass of wine with dinner, is a different topic isn’t it? And then if that's the topic, does it imply that NO mothers should ever drink a glass around their children? What about dads, they aren’t mentioned much, but one presumes that if they are meeting the family who is at a BBQ or having pizza, they might have a beer too. So is the controversy really that parents drink a glass in the evening with dinner?

It seems to me that the few moms who admit to having a glass of wine in front of their kids are being questioned for their morals and their ability to parent. If these moms aren’t driving while impaired, are really only have a glass or two over the course of an evening that includes dinner—how is that wrong? It certainly isn’t illegal. If they aren’t recovering alcoholics and are truly getting together once a week for dinner and a glass where is the controversy here? And if it is wrong, someone alert all the European mommies in France, Spain and Italy and elsewhere where wine is considered  the accompaniment with good food. It seems that the media is drumming up an issue. Most likely the members of the media writing or airing segments on this topic have had the occasional glass of wine with dinner in front of their children as well. And this may be hard for media executives to endorse. If one glass is okay, it may be hard to endorse for fear that in reality, one glass leads to another, and then to another, and before long, the neglected children need to help mommy lie down. But how realistic is this feared scenario? And is it okay to have a glass of wine after the kids go to bed? What if they wake up and need something?

I’d venture to guess that many of us moms are guilty of having a glass of wine with friends at a dinner—in front of our kids. Maybe a close-up picture is needed of four moms, mouths smiling widely, waving wine glasses in the air: a rally of the moms who sip.

  

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