Happy Hour Play Dates

Happy hour play dates are controversial because they mix parenting with alcohol.

The term “happy hour play date” refers to a growing trend among groups of stay-at-home moms who get together on a regular basis to share a few drinks of wine, beer or cocktails as their kids play together. Mommy bloggers have debated the safety of these play dates and this week ABC’s Good Morning America featured a story about it.

For many moms, happy hour play dates have become something to look forward to as a time to relax and unwind. Unfortunately, there’s a fine line between using alcohol to relax and needing it to cope. Many of the moms who get together for happy hour play dates are crossing that line. Some already use alcohol throughout the day to ease the monotony of hours spent alone with children. Alcohol is also used by moms to self-medicate for anxiety brought on by the responsibilities of parenthood. For many moms, drinking becomes a compulsion that transitions into full-blown alcoholism.

Besides the risk of becoming alcohol dependent, play dates that include alcohol put children at risk. Some moms who attend happy hour play dates lose track of what their kids are doing. Moms may also drive home with children in the car when their blood alcohol levels are over the legal limit. Moms who drink during play dates are also sending the wrong message to their kids about the use of alcohol. From any angle, happy hour play dates are a potential recipe for disaster.

Happy hour play dates were championed by Stephanie Wilder-Taylor in her humorous booksNaptime is the New Happy Hour and Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay. In her books and blog, she confessed to using alcohol and sometimes Xanax to make it through a busy day with her three young children. Her use of humor allowed her to fool everyone about the extent of her problem. Even her husband didn’t recognize that signs of her alcohol dependence, confessing that he held on to a stereotypical image of an alcoholic as a skid row bum. Then the day came in 2009 when the Los Angeles mom had a hangover so bad that it sent her to the ER. It was a wakeup call. She composed a blog post where she admitted to being dependent on alcohol and then she sought treatment. She is now celebrating her second year of sobriety.

Wilder-Taylor attributes her addiction to Xanax and dependence on alcohol to stress anxiety and trying to cope with the symptoms of anxiety. Other moms turn to alcohol to help tolerate what they perceive as the boredom of life as a full-time mom. Women who leave a career in business or academia to become stay-at-home moms don’t always think through the consequences. Unable to cope with days spent isolated at home without adult companionship, they turn to “mother’s little helper” to get through the day.