Balancing on Strawberry Stilettos

Guilty Pleasure, Strawberry Stilletos, Grape Sex. These are just some of the nebulously named martinis currently being marketed to women at bars and restaurants in hopes of increasing our alcoholic consumption. And guess what? We're buying.

Women have become such grand consumers of 'girltinis', in fact, that alcoholism is currently up 50% for white and Hispanic women age 56 and younger. As a 49 year-old consumer of these exotic mixtures, I readily grasp their appeal. Recently embarking on an evening of cocktails with my similarly-aged peers downing rounds of French Kisses (a mix of finlandia, chamboard and pineapple Juice), Prom Nights (watermelon pucker, stoli strawberry and triple sec), and Decadence (white godiva, kahlua, bailey's, and crème de cocoa), it suddenly became apparent that our lives had become as complex as the intricate mixtures we were consuming. Rehashing our desperate attempts to balance kids and careers, we submerged ourselves in these colorful concoctions hoping to drown our sorrows as well. And it worked, at least temporarily. But when our glasses (and our heads) ultimately cleared, it also became conspicuously clear that the complexity of our lives may well be the cause of our increasing alcoholic consumption.

Riding on the high heels of the Sex and the City savants who made drinking Cosmopolitans a New York fashion statement (and staple), the fun is now being taken out of 'drinking pink' as, nationwide, women arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs increased by 30% in 2007 compared to a decade earlier. Why? "Our society has taught us that women have an extra burden to be the perfect mothers and perfect wives and perfect daughters and perfect everything," says Dr. Petros Levounis, director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center. 'They tend to go to great lengths to keep everything intact from an external viewpoint while internally, they are in ruins."

So, as our country now celebrates October as National Work and Family Month, it is important to examine the underlying reasons why work/family balance is just not working for many women, providing us with actually very little to celebrate.

Although men are beginning to contribute more to household chores, working mothers still undertake the bulk of the house cleaning, child rearing, and elder care responsibilities. According to recent research from the Families and Work Institute (FWI), employed fathers are spending more time with their children than their fathers did three decades ago, but the amount of time employed mothers spend with their children has not decreased at all. Specifically, the amount of time fathers spend with their children under 13 on workdays has increased from two hours to three hours, but the amount of time mothers spend with their children under 13 on workdays has remained constant at an average of 3.8 hours. Thus, today's mothers still spend significantly more time per workday caring for their children than fathers. This, combined with further FWI results showing that 70% of working women report they do most of the cooking, has forced women to seek out ways to lessen their stress. Unfortunately, alcohol provides quick, if only temporary, relief.

Surely, there are some more healthy and productive ways for working mothers to try to reduce stress, but their ultimate success remains questionable. Women can choose to work part-time instead of full-time enabling them to have more time at home, but the FWI survey shows that only 47 percent of employers allow employees to move from full-time to part-time work and back again while remaining in the same position or level, which is down from 57 percent a decade ago.

The federal government also stepped forward to help working mothers better juggle their work and family responsibilities. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 requires companies of 50 or more employees at least 12 weeks of unpaid, job-guaranteed leave for childbirth, adoption, and foster care placement for employees who have worked at least 1,250 during the preceding year. I could be wrong here, too, but I don't think that 16 years ago many women could afford to take 12 weeks without pay and, in light of the current struggling economy, I suspect they also can't do so today.

With limited options such as these, it's enough to drive a person to drink.

Lori Sokol, Ph.D. is President of Sokol Media, Inc., publisher of Work Life Matters magazine. She can be reached at lori@sokolmediaonline.com