In a gift shop near my house, two prominent shelves display a tongue-in-cheek line of wine products. Glasses bear messages like “W.I.N.O.S.—Women In Need Of Sanity” and “Drink Like a Mother.” Coffee mugs say “There’s a good chance this is wine” and “COFFEE keeps me going until it is acceptable to drink WINE.”
Online, too, some of my Christian friends share alcohol-soaked memes: “MOTHERHOOD: Powered by love. Fueled by coffee. Sustained by wine.” Though many of my friends have never been intoxicated in their lives, they may open our celebratory evening out with cries of “Wine o’clock, ladies!”
These mommy wino jokes communicate something painfully true: motherhood is hard. So hard, it seems, that we might need alcohol to get through it. And they communicate the idea in a way that relieves pressure, normalizes the feelings described, and allows moms to sympathize with each other.
My purpose here isn’t to discuss the various, valid Christian positions on drinking, but to consider the way we talk about drinking. Since God wants to “set a guard” over “the door of [our] lips” (Ps. 141:3), here are three good reasons to think before speaking (or sharing) that “mommy juice” joke.
1. Our Jokes Are Heard by Fellow Christian Moms
“I laugh at the jokes, but I don’t appreciate them,” said one mom, a Christian who confided she recently became worried about her own drinking practices, because she realized one glass a night had turned into three. “They really aren’t a good thing, although we laugh—because we’re misleading each other. We’re saying it’s okay to use wine in order to ‘make’ it.”
Paul specifically addresses the way we joke together in his letter to the Ephesians: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (5:4).
The jokes about “mommy juice” are funny because we all get it—de-stressing is wonderful, and wine is stress relief in a bottle. The problem is that these jokes are misguided exhortation: The Holy Spirit is not sufficient for you. Motherhood requires wine.
Lighthearted drinking memes may also make it more difficult for Christian women to turn to each other for support when they fear they’ve crossed a line into sinful alcohol abuse. When everyone else is treating the issue like something to joke about, it’s harder to take over-drinking seriously, or to imagine being taken seriously if we bring it up to a sister.
Wine, to the partaking Christian, is a gift to be accepted with thanksgiving. But it won’t sustain us through the difficult days of sleeplessness, noise, and mess. God gave wine “to gladden the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15), but wine can never produce the joy brought by the Holy Spirit and stirred up as we gaze on Christ the Savior.
2. Our Jokes Are Heard by Unbelievers
Mommy drinking culture, with its attendant genre of jokes, is getting concerned attention in the wider media.
“As a mother, I find that the number of demands put upon me in a single week dizzying and never-ending,” Sarah Cottrell confessed on Babble. “And so, like a lot of moms at the end of a long day, I turn to the internet and my nightly wine. . . . I somehow didn’t see it when my one glass of wine turned to five each night.”
Liz Tracy wrote about the issue in The New York Times, concluding that, as a nondrinker, she must look to other ways of fighting stress: “My vice is PBS murder mysteries,” she said. “I also take antidepressants, do talk therapy, write, and splurge on some indulgences at the grocery store.”
To the believer, who knows that Christ renews our minds, restores our souls, and strengthens us over time through the process of sanctification, these solutions might sound ineffectual. But to the extent we enter into the spirit of the wino meme, we’re publicly offering a solution even less helpful than PBS murder mysteries and talk therapy.
Just as these jokes send a message to our believing friends, they send a message to our non-believing friends and strangers online: Christ isn’t enough. We still need wine to get through the everyday struggles of life.
3. Our Jokes Are Heard by Fellow Christians Who Abstain
Christians abstain for many different reasons, including the desire to set themselves apart from the world, the knowledge that they’re predisposed to alcoholism, and, according to Paul, a weak conscience.
Paul has a warning for each of us who thinks that coarse jokes about alcohol are something the nondrinker just needs to “get over”:
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (Rom. 14:20–21)
Our Christian liberty always gives way to love. According to the text, it’s good for us to forego that drink when we’re sitting with someone who has a complicated history with alcohol or a captive conscience. This is an act of love, commanded by Scripture. And in the spirit of this command, isn’t it also an act of love to forego the wine joke when we’re with that same nondrinking sister?
Our Cups Overflow
As Christians, 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).
Jokes always betray what we really mean. And what we should really mean—with our lives and our tongues—is that Jesus is Lord. We’ve tasted something better than chilled chardonnay after the kids go to bed. We’ve tasted Christ.