The first time I got kicked out of a bar, I was a college student. I snuck in my own bottle of wine and tried to slyly drink it in the corner, forgetting that I'd never successfully been sly about anything in my life. The second time I got kicked out of a bar, I was a first-time mom with a 6-month-old in tow. "I'm sorry, but you can't be in here with a baby," a member of staff told me upon seeing my stroller. "It can get pretty loud. And I mean, what if something were to happen?" I'm still not sure if the "something" she was referring to was a drunk person stumbling onto our pram, or if what she actually meant was, "What if you get drunk and endanger your child?" Either way, this was the first time I became aware that taking your baby to a bar is often frowned upon — even if it should arguably be celebrated.
In the UK, where I live, it is not exclusively illegal for children under 16 to be in establishments primarily used to sell alcohol. It is illegal for them to buy alcohol (and if they are under 16, to consume it), but as long as their parent or guardian is with them, they can technically enter the venue. That is, unless the bar or pub owner doesn't allow them to.
I was simply a mom with a baby in a bar — and in this particular setting, that just wasn't acceptable.
This is was happened to me on the aforementioned evening. It didn't matter that I had no intention of having more than one or two drinks. It didn't matter that I wasn't planning on driving afterwards, or that my pre-verbal infant had no cognizance of her surroundings. I was simply a mom with a baby in a bar, like that character in Sweet Home Alabama, carrying on her life after becoming a mom — and in this particular setting, that just wasn't acceptable.
While I'm sure that part of this might have come down to the owner's fear of getting sued (in the unlikely event that I didn't notice an inebriated individual seeming dangerously close to falling on my baby, I guess?). To this day, though, I cannot help but think that most of it comes down to fearing that I myself would harm my child. That I would behave irresponsibly. That, in simply trying to enter the place, I was already behaving irresponsibly. That I could not possibly be someone with enough self-control to limit my alcohol intake, by virtue of being the kind of human who'd think to take a baby to a bar in the first place.
Throughout both of my pregnancies, many folks around me were quick to deliver information and unsolicited advice about drinking while pregnant, drinking while nursing, and drinking in the presence of children. The statistics may have varied, but the sentiment was always the same: Moms shouldn't drink. And they certainly shouldn't get drunk.
As a nursing mother, in particular, the scaremongering surrounding drinking and breastfeeding made me feel like I should never even take a sip of beer. Like doing so made me a reckless mother who loved the bottle more than she loved her baby. Like I was selfish for wanting to be under the influence of anything more than my baby's loving gaze.
The thing is, I'd wager that most mothers who think to take their babies to bars or pubs aren't going there with the intention of getting hammered, or even drinking, necessarily — the local has, for centuries, been simply the place you go to find community. As for those who do intend to drink, I'd wager that most of those have gone on the outing with a designated driver and babysitter.
Most moms you may see at bars probably just want a little break from their routine: A little bit of controlled fun that reminds them that their life does not solely have to be about diaper changes or sleep training. Maybe they just want to relax a little — and although there are plenty of ways to relax without substances, for some people, in some moments, there is nothing quite like the warmth of a fizzy cocktail. And we're kidding ourselves if we think this is about the booze. This is about our strict ideas about motherhood, and a mother's place.
Trying to censor mothers' behavior is nothing new, of course. Trying to censor women's behavior is the most commonplace of occurrences, in general. We are called selfish and immature if we make time to party once our children are born. We are called washed-up and dull if we don't. We are shamed for dressing in revealing garments (things that "no respectable mother should own"). We are called uninteresting, drab, or matronly if we cover up. We are gawked at and judged if we take our children to a bar. And we are ridiculed and made to feel silly when we'd rather not.
In reality, it's perfectly possible to drink responsibly. It's perfectly possible to go about your parental duties just as diligently under the influence of a drink or two as it is to go about them sober. It's perfectly possible to have a baby in a bar, and not forget that you have a baby in a bar because you have become distracted by a Long Island Ice Tea.
The truth of motherhood is that it never stops being full-on. There is always something to do, something to clean, someone to change, someone to sooth. In the midst of it all, it is terribly easy to forget to look after yourself. I could not recount all the times that I have forgotten to brush my teeth, eat lunch, change my clothes, or wash my hair, simply because I did not have a single free moment in the day before ultimately falling into broken sleep. I could not recount all the times when I skipped out on doing something fun at the end of the day because I simply didn't have the energy.
This is why, when I do have the energy, I do not want to be made to feel like an inadequate or irresponsible parent. I don't want to be made to feel like I cannot balance parenthood and personhood in a way that benefits both my children and myself. I know, deep down, that I am the best mother to my kids when I take care of myself, my own needs, and my own wants. No mother should be shamed for doing the same. On occasion, looking after herself might take the form of enjoying a refreshing glass of bubbly while her friends gush over the cute little babe in the capsule. And you know what? She deserves to be celebrated for making the time to feel a little more human while raising humans of her own.