When my children were little, I longed for the summer afternoons where my fellow mothers would sit around, share a bottle of wine, and let the kids play. It was a time to relax knowing that the village of mothers were helping in the minding of my children. We would discuss the struggles of parenting, share stories and complain about our husbands.
Dinner would be thrown together with a delivery pizza, some grapes and some carrots and ranch dressing. The moms would continue with a liquid dinner.
Inevitably the kids would go to bed dirty, often past their bedtime, and exhausted. The moms would go to sleep feeling like the kids “had fun” and were enjoying their “unstructured” play time and that we were deserving of our time where we could check out of motherhood and all the other responsibilities for a bit.
Occasionally, one of the moms would have had too much to drink. We would laugh and help her get to bed and help the child/children get into their pajamas and into their beds.
The next morning we would meet on the street and talk about our hangovers and how the kids got up so early! We would talk about the one mother who had too much to drink and how she has been stressed and that “it takes a village, we have all been there.” Sometimes, we would even hear that the child was wandering around late because the mom was passed out. In these cases, there would be some judgment passed about our friend but also an acknowledgment that it could have been us.
The other day, I met a mom who had these same experiences of drinking in the front yards with other moms while the kids played. Her situation however, ended a bit differently. When her child wandered out after a night on a neighbors’ lawn at 11 p.m., it wasn’t another mom who found him, it was the police.
Of course, she was arrested and charged with child neglect. She was put in front of a judge who told her she was a terrible mother and her child was put in a foster home. Her child began to act out in the foster home and was sent to a residential facility and one condition of her probation was that she could not have contact with him. As a result of this, she began to abuse alcohol and got a DUI. She was sent to prison for a year on a probation violation. She is currently trying to get her son back after a long two years.
The difference in the two situations is that one mother is black and the other mother is white. In addition, one mother lives in a “nice” neighborhood and the other mother lives in subsidized housing.
First motherhood is hard, and raising a child without the resources needed makes it even harder. These include not only money, food and housing but also emotional support and the opportunity for an occasional respite from lovable but often needy dependent children. It should also be noted that many women who are alcoholics find that motherhood pushes them further into the disease. Rather than punishing mothers and shaming them about being a “bad mom,” we should consider life through their eyes and provide help.
In addition, before politicians rail about the social decline in the inner city, they should investigate their own perceptions about what is acceptable behavior, based on who is behaving. Not only do laws need to be uniform, but the application of those laws also need to be color and neighborhood blind.