Editor’s Note: Shanon Cook is an entertainment contributor for CNN and has interviewed Peter Gabriel, Sting, Britney Spears, Kanye West, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Yo-Yo Ma. Cook grew up in Australia and now lives in New York with her husband and daughter. Follow her on Twitter @ShanonCook.
Author and mother Amy Sohn wrote recently that bored moms are turning to drugs and affairs
Shanon Cook says mothers looking for excitement through sex and substances isn't new
Cook admits to having too much to drink and acting wild herself post-baby
Cook says blowing off steam is necessary, but there is a point of no return
In a shocking article on TheAwl.com, author and mother Amy Sohn writes that moms in her affluent Brooklyn neighborhood are going through something called “the 40-year-old reversion.” The tedium of raising children, she says, is driving moms in her circle out at night to party to the extreme as if they were 25 again.
Sohn likens the scene to the HBO show “Girls,” which depicts life in New York for the post-college crowd: “…We’re masturbating excessively, cheating on good people, doing coke in newly price-inflated townhouses, and sexting compulsively—though rarely with our partners. Our children now school-aged, our marriages entering their second decade, we are avoiding the big questions—Should I quit my job? Have another child? Divorce?—by behaving like a bunch of crazy twentysomething hipsters. Call us the Regressives.”
It’s a grim portrait of parenthood and marriage. And cringe-worthy tales of a drunk mom falling down the stairs while leaving a party and a mom who went to third base in the back of a minivan with a man who wasn’t her husband could make a person who’s thinking about getting pregnant hit the pause button. Sohn’s salacious revelations have some people suggesting she made it all up: Her new novel comes out in August, after all. (When I contacted Sohn directly and asked if everything she wrote was true, she referred me to her publicist, who said the author wasn’t doing interviews until the book releases.)
But when I think about it, I’ve encountered plenty of this mischief myself, particularly the cheating. A former co-worker once described how a mom of three threw herself at him on a business trip, claiming she was having a hard time at home and really needed to have sex with him or she’d die. Sort of like he was a missing vitamin.
If there’s an uptick in Moms Gone Wild behavior among the Brooklyn co-op set, it wouldn’t be anything new. Heck, if “Mad Men” is any measure, this generation’s mommies were regularly tucked into bed by parents already three sheets to the wind before heading out to the neighborhood key party.
Cultural depictions of modern motherhood tend to be much tamer, however. When I became a mom, I never expected I’d go out nearly as much as I do. I thought I’d always be home knitting mittens, singing lullabies and falling into exhausted sleeps on top of my husband.
Sure, I do all that stuff (except the knitting). But I also go out for cocktails and adult conversation every couple of weeks or so.
Mind you, the first time I hit the town post-baby was a bit of a disaster. New York was in the grips of the worst blizzard it had seen in decades. But I was oblivious; I’d barely been outside since my daughter’s birth three weeks earlier. And the intensity of new motherhood combined with winter confinement was seriously tugging at my sanity.
“It’s snowing pretty heavily out there,” my husband cautioned.
“It is? We’ll see,” I said, zipping up my boots.
As soon as I stepped outside, I was waist-deep in snow. But instead of going back indoors like a normal person, I waded oafishly through the powdery sea of white to get to the cab.
Over drinks with friends at a bar downtown, I shared baby pictures on my phone, my eyes misting with pride. I laughed loudly at everyone’s jokes – even the average ones. It felt so wonderful to be out in the world again!
But by the time the joint was clearing out, the storm had progressed mightily. Cabs and subways could no longer operate. I was stranded. So I did what every good parent warns you not to – I accepted a ride from a stranger who was voluntarily circling the city in an off-road vehicle rescuing lost souls and delivering them home. My eyes scrunched shut the whole way uptown, I prayed that this nice man wasn’t going to feed me to his rottweiler. I also prayed my daughter would never do anything this stupid.
There’s something about New York City that makes misbehaving seem a little less like misbehaving. It’s like the city dares you to take risks and try new things while seductively whispering in your ear, “I won’t tell anyone.” I once struck up a conversation at a bar with two ladies in their early 40s, both married with kids, who were very comfortable admitting they were having affairs.
“My one piece of advice,” one of them told me like it was a given I’d eventually need to know the ins and outs of cheating. “Delete ALL your text messages. Delete, delete, delete.”
Another sliver of wisdom, this time from a PR executive and mother of two grown children, was that if I was ever tempted by another man I should “jump in with both feet” regardless of my marital status.
“Falling in love isn’t something you should ever pass up,” she said.
Even if it might tear my whole family apart?
Of course it’s not just a New York thing. When having dinner at a pub in Montclair, New Jersey, my girlfriend, a local, started pointing out patrons she knew who were at the bar cheating on their spouses. They were all parents and none of them seemed to be looking over their shoulders. Later she introduced me to a couple with kids who decided to make their marriage an open one after the wife’s affair with a neighbor was exposed.
Perhaps it’s not so hard to see how some of this happens. To save money on sitters, it’s often just one parent who goes out. After a few rounds at the bar, mom might start to actually feel a little on the single side. And her susceptibility to do something nutty might correlate to the challenging – even desperate – day she had.
While I’ve not made out with a bartender or snorted cocaine off the back of a toilet seat recently, there has definitely been some less-than-honorable after-dark behavior since I became a mother. Sometimes you’ve just got to blow off a bit of parental steam.
Nights out with my newly single friend Claire are often something to behold. One time we got into a heated, alcohol-fueled argument at a SoHo bar with a bunch of lawyers because one of them told me my dress was awful. The argument concluded when Claire threatened to take all the lawyers outside and “hit their faces.” Then there was the time, emboldened by a couple of glasses of white, I told a stranger his girlfriend reminded me of a prostitute I’d seen in the paper. Claire scolded me and said I needed to work on channeling my inner Kate Middleton.
While there’s nothing wrong with a mom embracing her precious moments of freedom, there is certainly an old-fashioned expectation swirling that once thou hast procreated, thou shalt be home by 8 p.m. While enjoying the conversation at a concert after-party well past midnight a few months back, I kept getting worried glances from a dad.
“Shouldn’t you be at home?” he said. “Should we get you into a cab soon?”
Clearly his wife doesn’t go out. After a while he just went quiet around me, as though he suspected that my partying was indicative of deep problems at home.
Au contraire. Truth be told, I actually enjoy going out more now, simply because I’m a parent. There’s a sense of accomplishment that I haven’t felt before, having co-created this awesome little creature who giggles her way through the day. These days I feel lighter and happier when I’m on the town. I laugh more because my baby constantly reminds me how funny we all are. I relax more because I know it’s useless wasting rare moments away from the house on being uptight.
Also, the pressure’s off. I’m one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to size up every dude in the bar to see if they fit the husband mold. My husband is at home playing video games or dozing peacefully in the room next to my sleeping kid. Or, even better, it’s date night and he’s right in front of me topping up my wine. My nights out end the same way, with me going back to a home that makes me happy.
I’d like to think I’m progressing, not regressing. Sure, I’m not perfect, as a few benders with Claire can attest to, but I seem to be getting the balance down.
Meanwhile, the party moms who delight in taking things into the danger zone didn’t invent the art of smoking illicit joints and having tawdry affairs. They’re just keeping the torch (or bong, or hot sex flame, whatever the case may be) alive. Yes, it’s all been done. The question is, will it be their undoing?
Do you know moms who’ve gone overboard in an effort to blow off a little steam? Share your experiences in the comments section below.