Additionally, the support systems that parents could count on in past generations for help have essentially disintegrated. Child-care costs, for example, have skyrocketed in recent years—meaning many parents, especially mothers, are sacrificing their careers to stay home to look after their kids, and losing out on both extra income and time around other adults. Grandparents in the U.S. are less likely than grandparents in countries such as Germany and Italy to regularly help out with child care, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew suggests that this may be in part because American grandparents are more likely to still be working full-time jobs themselves.
Read: The great affordability crisis breaking America
And the demands of parenting itself are considerably more daunting today than they were a generation or two ago. As my colleague Joe Pinsker wrote last year, parents across every demographic and economic class now aspire to practice hands-on parenting, the kind of parenting popularized in the 1990s and 2000s and hallmarked by “supervised, enriching playtime; frequent conversations about thoughts and feelings; patient, well-reasoned explanations of household rules; and extracurriculars. Lots and lots of extracurriculars.”
Child-rearing in this style takes tons of time, patience, and energy—which, thanks to the aforementioned developments, many parents have depleted levels of already. Is it any wonder, then, that today, mothers are joking through their gritted teeth about how desperately they need a moment to relax?
If you were to ask left-leaning, extremely online young people, though, about the elusive identity of the wine mom, they’d likely describe her as a powerful political force with a somewhat dubious reputation. Today, if you searched social media for “wine moms,” you’d find many of the results are … exasperated posts about the 2020 presidential election, many of which use “wine mom” to mean something similar to “Karen”: a wealthy white woman who, well-meaning as she may be, is blind to her own privilege.
To understand this most recent plot twist, one first has to understand the particular role of wine in American households in the past several decades. When winemakers were advertising their product to women in the mid-20th century, Jacobson told me, “What they were really trying to do is say, This is the beverage of moderation, so this is how you can be a sophisticated hostess.” So there’s probably a reason that today’s memes aren’t about “cocktail moms” or “hard-liquor moms”: Kicking back with a glass of wine, Jacobson noted, “is something that could signal that women might be slacking off but they still have good taste, and they still have possession of their middle-class identity.”
Wine-drinking as a leisure activity is associated with the comfortably affluent. In the U.S., comfortably affluent women have long been associated with the suburbs—and in recent years, comfortably affluent women from the suburbs have been associated with moderate and centrist politics. Frequently, “wine mom” is used these days to refer derisively to a married suburban woman with center-left ideological views. It’s typically deployed by those who think those views aren’t progressive enough: In February, for instance, one Twitter user responded to a woman’s criticism of the then-presidential candidate Bernie Sanders with, “This resistance wine mom clearly just wants to rail on socialism cause all us youths are into it now.” Another wrote in April, “I got called a neoliberal wine mom because I was Bernie-skeptical.”