WHY MUMMY DRINKS – The diary of an exhausted mum

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Book review by Mark Reid.

WHY MUMMY DRINKS – The diary of an exhausted mum.
By Gill Sims
ISBN: 9780008237493
HarperCollins £14.99

I spent much of this book wondering if the answer to the title is ‘because she is an alcoholic’. Has Ellen, 39-year-old mum of two, lost the ability to control her drinking? Mummy is at the stage when, increas­ingly, everything she has to do is better with alcohol – afterwards, and then, during: ‘stashing a large bottle of Pimm’s in my bag… made the intermin­able hell of sport’s day pass much faster’.

Mummy says she drinks because other people are too much. Especially her young children, Peter and Jane. Like when Jane picks a paperclip off a hospital floor, and it later gets stuck between her teeth. So it’s back to the hospital to have it removed. This leaves mummy ‘beyond the aid of mere wine and having to resort to gin’.

Then there are other people’s mummies; the ‘Bloody Perfect Coven’ and their obligatory middle-class extra-curricular activities: ‘take children to swimming/music/tennis/dance/Jiu Jitsu’. ‘So much to do, there is never enough time to do anything’. ‘It’s a wonder I don’t drink more’ listening to ‘Perfect Lucy Atkinson’s Perfect Mummy’ say things such as ‘you still eat quinoa? You should give Camargue red rice a try’. ‘3.45pm: ‘wonder how soon I can have wine?’.

These resent­ments are among many unhelpful ways in which Ellen thinks. She doesn’t come across as being sustainably comfortable in herself or nice to be around – except to her friends, Hannah and Sam, when they are drinking. Together they sneer at the dysfunctional relationships of other adults; split-up couples arguing about money or who sees the kids when.

Gill Sims
Author Gill Sims

Mummy is prone to doing other people’s thinking and fuelling her self-doubt by comparing herself unfavour­ably to everyone else. She sits on the top deck of buses, peering into people’s homes. ‘What I see through all those windows are the good stories. Do people think the same when they pass my house? A nice house, a woman who has everything she could want, two beautiful children and a husband who loves her?’

In fact Ellen thinks she is ‘a terrible parent’ and all aspects of parenting are an ordeal. An afternoon at a soft play centre is an event for which ‘there is not enough wine in the world to ease the pain’.

Her thinking jumps to conclusions, crystal-ball gazes or strives for perfection. She expects too much from everything – so a firework display, which might be exciting, is just ‘being jostled in a muddy park’.

The alcohol, on almost every page, is a symptom of Mummy’s sedation of all this over-thinking. What she idealises is control: ‘7.40 pm: enjoy a civilised gin and tonic with my loving husband as we discuss each other’s days and make supportive remarks’.

This is never the reality and Ellen’s conclusion is that she’s ‘a bored borderline alcoholic trying to pass herself off as a semi-functioning adult’.

So is the sequel going to be ‘Why Mummy Goes To AA’? It’s much more likely to be ‘Why Mummy Swears’, which she does – a lot.