Thursday, May 31, 2012

10 Random Thoughts on Discipline

Tomorrow my husband and I and our three children will move back to the United States after two years of living in Europe. It will be a long travel day (understatement), no one is going to get much sleep, and it's highly likely (read: guaranteed) that someone (read: me) is going to lose it over something trivial at some point. I'm trying to consciously focus on being calm and in the present and taking things slowly. So far it's working because, well, we haven't gotten on the plane yet.

Anyway, this upcoming upheaval has me thinking a lot about my own discipline philosophy, and why gentle understanding and respect is always my goal . . . even when I'm stressed and screw it up. Following are ten random thoughts on discipline that popped into my head while mentally preparing myself for the transition. Agree? Disagree? Share in the comments.

1. Discipline should be (mostly) proactive, not reactive.

2. Connecting always trumps correcting.

3. If it sounds too complicated, it probably is. Don't make things harder than they need to be.

4. Realistic, age-appropriate expectations are essential.

5. Consistency is overrated. There is no one way that works best for every child, every time.

6. Amendment to #5: Physical punishment is never a good idea. Never.

7. If my own cup is empty, I have nothing left to pour out. It will affect how I relate to my children.

8. At least once every 24 hours I feel like I have it completely together as a parent and my kids are awesome and doing great.

9. At least once every 24 hours I feel like I am a complete loser and I'm ruining my kids and they are doomed.

10. Nearly everything that makes me feel crazy in the moment will not matter in ten years. or ten hours. or ten minutes.

For some wonderful positive discipline resources, check out the following:

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dr. Sears is Not My Son's Mom

Now that the frenzy about the scandalousness of the May 21 Time's cover and the general public reaction to it has passed, I'd like to address what I found actually scandalous about the whole situation. It wasn't the somewhat awkward photo of a mother nursing her pre-schooler. In truth, I actually really liked the discussion that happened after cover was released and the reaction of several mom bloggers who really helped educate the public on what full term nursing is like and it was a discussion that likely would not have happened if not for that cover. Some of my favorites included this piece on what extended nursing really likes from Dionna at Code Name:Mama, this piece on attached dads and several other wonderful pieces that arose during the I Am Mom! Enough! Carnival hosted at Hybrid Rasta Mama. As a facebook user and the first mama in my family to practice full term breastfeeding, it was awesome to suddenly have all kinds of wonderful links I could share with my friends and family who up until that point had assumed that I was an anomaly. So, if I do not address why I think choosing to stay at home can be just as feminist as working, it is because Tara has already written about it so effectively that I really want you to read her words or the words of Mandy at Living peacefully with children. If I do not address why I don't find attachment parenting oppressive, it is because Julian's impassioned message addresses it so beautifully that I want you to turn to her (and the multitude of beautifully written pieces from the carnival) for that.Laying aside the attempt to "reignite" the mythical "Mommy Wars" (which I personally have never found evidence of existing. No matter what other moms around me believe and whether or not they stay at home or go to work, it always seems to me that most moms support one another. If there is a war, it is an internal war that every woman fights within herself about what is best for her family.), what I found scandalous about the Time cover emblazoned with the words "Are You Mom Enough?" was that the article inside did not talk about real moms at all. Instead, the article discussed Dr. Sears and seemed to imply that because my family practices what many see as the defining characteristics of attachment parenting, I must be doing so because he told me so. Furthermore, in lieu of talking about Dr. Sears as what he actually is, a pediatrician that has written some resource books that support attachment parenting both from his own experience as an attached father and as a doctor, the article seemed to imply something more. The author, Kate Pickert, calls Sears "a hero" (p.37) and calls those who use his resource books or practice attached parenting "Sears' followers" (P.36). In fact, the entire piece is crafted in such a way to strongly suggest that Sear's experience of having a working, single mother who was unable to stay home with him from the time he was one month old on because his father left them has become his motivation to "ask a great deal of mothers" with his "demanding" "dogma" (p.34) of attached parenting. Now, I like Dr. Sears. I've read some of his books, but he has never, ever claimed to be a mom and I have never turned to him for anything other than support for what I already wanted to do as a mom and for what I already believed was right. And while I have talked with several women who are at a place where they may be rethinking their parenting decisions or who are interested in reading what other experts have to say about sleep training, breastfeeding vs. bottlefeeding, babywearing, etc. and I have chatted with some moms who may feel at various times for various reasons that they have "let their children down" or aren't being the mom they want to be. (And usually, I'm that mom, to be honest . . . just because like many of you out there, I can be very hard on myself.) I have never met or read anything by a woman who remotely resembles the parents who try "Sears" and fail and are then "immobilized by their seeming parental inadequacy" and are suffering from "posttraumatic Sears disorder" (p.37). Rather, most of the parents I know who struggle with feelings of inadequacy do so because of the high expectations they have for themselves. In short, I don't know a single woman who needs Sears, or any man, to tell her to have high expectations for herself and to do the best she can for her child.Even if such a sect of parents were to exist who felt enslaved and inadequate because of their inability to live up to some impossible "Searsian" picture of attached parenting, Dr. Sears himself states clearly in most of the books I've read by him "If you resent it. Change it!" I am not nor have I ever been a mindless follower of anything or anyone and I resent Pickert's implication that attached mothers must be enslaving themselves to (slightly) misogynist tenets of Dr. Sears in which they blissfully miss all the "shades of sexism [and] naivete" (p.37) that she (Thank goodness!) has found for us in his writing. Frankly, said implication is beyond insulting and misogynist in and of itself. I want the world to know that women are stronger than that article seems to think we are. We are perfectly capable of making parenting decisions that happen to align with attachment parenting principles all on our own. We don't need any man except one we have chosen as our partner to help us make those decisions, either. I decided to co-sleep, breastfeed, and wear him in baby carriers because I wanted to. I am my son's mom, not Dr. Sears.Thanks for Reading.Shawna

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Person's a Person, No Matter How Small

“There is no justification in human nature for treating children, from birth, with any less respect or equality than that accorded to older people. Children are people, fully and without qualification.” –Daniel Greenburg, author

I remember one of the first times I realized that my son was more than just an extension of myself. He had started pre-K and his teacher described to me an incident where he was holding on to a little boy’s arm and wouldn’t let go, despite the other child’s tearful protests.

I was a helicopter parent for much of my son’s first few years (sorry, kiddo!) so I knew that I certainly didn’t teach him to grab other kids. I was both amazed and somewhat embarrassed that my child clearly had a mind of his own and did what he wanted, completely separate from me and beyond my control. It took time and lots of practice to not become irate every time I got a report from a teacher that deviated from what I thought I had drilled into my child’s head and what I assumed he would do—because, after all, I told him to do it!

Now that he’s older, the things that come out of my son’s mouth are sometimes brilliant, other times side-splitting funny, and occasionally, because he is a human being, and a small one at that, can be inappropriate, and even hurtful. As stunning and jarring as that can be, I’ve come to terms with it. He lives in his own world and I feel lucky to be able to be a part of it, alternately conversing with him, laughing with him, and correcting him. My husband and I are enjoying my daughter’s emerging commentary and sense of humor immensely, and know that she’s well on her way to letting us in on her own world as well.

If there is one aspect of my parenting that I can say has most definitely evolved, it’s realizing that children are their own people. From the time they were very small, my children have had their own feelings and thoughts, and as they’ve gotten older, those have turned into very real ideas, opinions, and even values—and there is a good chance that many of them are, or will be, different from my own. Even though my kids are only seven and three, they have made their likes and dislikes very clear. Their interests vary and they have mood swings and many different emotions, just as adults do. Even my newborn is able to communicate her likes and dislikes quite clearly.

Well, duh, you may be saying. Obviously children are their own people. Obviously their needs have to be met and respected, just as any adult’s needs would. But you know what I’ve noticed lately? The rest of society doesn’t seem to agree. From families being kicked out of airplanes, to kids being banned from restaurants, to shaming of breastfeeding mothers, to stores and eateries having “no stroller” policies—I’m starting to get the feeling that many people are anti-kid.

First of all, I’d like to say that obviously, not every moment spent with our kids, or around other people’s kids, is a joy. They cry, they scream, they poop, they puke—and often at the worst times. I know what it’s like to be in front of a toddler kicking my seat at the movies, I understand wanting to eat a meal without a screaming child next to you, and I definitely would not choose to be seated in an airplane with an unhappy child for an extended period of time.

My problem is the fact that children are discriminated against. They are treated like second-class citizens, and people seem to be completely comfortable with that. For example, which of the following criteria would make it okay to ban a human being from a restaurant? Could it be someone’s race, religion, gender, weight, sexual orientation?

None of those would be acceptable. Yet children are increasingly being treated this way, simply because they are small and helpless. And often the parents are blamed, for not being able to “control” their children. Oh, how I despise that word! Parenting is not about control. It is about teaching and guidance. Any time I try to control my children, I regret it, and I fail miserably.

It’s especially difficult when the only reason I am trying to exert control over my kids is because I fear someone else’s judgment. I resent society’s judgment of my children and how I parent them because in the past, it’s caused me to react more strongly and more angrily than I would have if I didn’t feel like all eyes were on me—whether it be at the checkout line, or at an eatery, or at a coffee shop. I have to make a concerted effort to ignore those people and stay calm, because ultimately, this is about myself and my children, and the relationship and communication I’m trying to establish and nurture with them. Worse yet, my children always pick up on my anxiety and it causes them grief, as well.

What amuses me (and alternately puzzles me) is people’s seeming intolerance for children while simultaneously, adults are allowed to behave in ways that I find rude and unacceptable. No one seems to bat an eye when adults engage in excessively loud conversations, both in person and on cell phones, while sitting at a casual restaurant. Or when the constant chime of texting or game playing or whatever makes it difficult for me to hear what my eating companion is saying. Yet, my three year old daughter makes one loud (and happy!) exclamation, and a dozen heads snap back to look at us as if we are disturbing everyone’s peace. I have to be subjected to strangers’ musical tastes on their ridiculously loud headphones while sitting on the train, yet my fidgety son is looked upon with disdain, as if he is dirtying the environment simply by being there. I’ve seen people clip their nails—clip their nails—on the subway, yet I still get various dirty looks when I get on the train with my active kids or nurse my baby in public.

We were at a restaurant recently where I confronted someone who was very anti-child. Let me be clear—it was Friday, at 6 p.m., at a family restaurant that we frequent, with a kids’ menu, and my kids were perfectly well-behaved. This patron and his friends not only chose to sit at the table right next to ours instead of choosing one of the dozen or so other empty tables in the place, the man then proceeded to make a comment about not wanting to sit by my daughter because children make “weird noises in restaurants.” As if that wasn’t bad enough, later in their meal, the two other people he was with used our family as an example to discuss what their parents did with them as kids when they went to restaurants. They were inches away from us. Not only was this conversation audible to myself and my husband, but my children, as well.

If we had a child that was disabled, or one of us had some other type of unusual physical trait or ailment, would it have been acceptable for those patrons to discuss that, even if it wasn’t directed at our family? Would it have been acceptable for them to have a discussion based on our race, weight, hair color, what we were eating?

No. No, it would not have been acceptable. Yet these folks decided it was fine for them to discuss children, loudly enough so that those children could hear them, because, well, children don’t matter.

I don’t think so.

I kept my calm and confronted the rude patrons, made sure my children heard me, and then explained to my son on the way home why what that man and his friends did was unacceptable.

I wonder if people forget that they were once kids, too. If we expect kids to learn proper public behavior and become successful adults, then we have to allow some margin for error. There is no magical age that children come to when they suddenly sit up, sit still, and stop playing with their food. There’s no certificate that comes with turning 18 that says, “Congratulations! You’re now a contributing member of society!”

Sure, kids go through phases, and as parents, we are responsible for recognizing what situations have the potential to be disastrous and avoid them—but for ourselves and our children first and foremost! When my daughter is throwing a tantrum, I’m not concerned with the comfort level of the person behind me. I’m stressed out and concerned about my child, why she’s screaming, and trying to find a way to get through it. When my son drops his fork repeatedly while eating, my first thought is not about how disturbed the person next to him is. I’m thinking that we’ve run out of clean forks and he’s starving and where is that darn waiter? I lament about the fact that my meal is stone cold because I have spent the last 10 minutes rescuing my son’s utensils. When my newborn is crying, I’m not going to worry about offending the person next to me if I flash a nipple as I nurse her.

And we’re going to make mistakes. Sometimes we’ll go to a place that’s not entirely appropriate for families, and maybe our kids will be overtired and cranky and maybe they will act out as a result. We may get on a plane after waiting three hours for a delayed flight, where we’ve run out of snacks and activities and one of our kids may need to fuss for 15 minutes until she falls asleep. Sometimes, my child may have a coughing fit while sitting next to you, and you may be inconvenienced or even grossed out. Society has to allow for those types of situations.

We talk so much about tolerance and acceptance, but when it comes down to it, we don’t practice what we preach. Children are human beings—little, un-evolved, clean slates. I take joy in showing my children the world and teaching them about all it has to offer. I don’t want them to be looked down upon, disrespected, or undervalued simply because they are little.

“Because, after all,
 A person’s a person, no matter how small.” –Dr. Seuss

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

What I Love about the Rough Toddler/Preschooler Stage

Whether it's called the terrible twos, the terrible threes, or some other words that describe how frustrating parenting a young child can be, we all know that at one point or another we will hit a wall with even the most gently parented and fiercely loved toddler or pre-schooler. In short, everyone has a rough patch with their kids. We wait for months and years to hear what our lovies have to say and to experience all of their thoughts and opinions and then, well, and then they start sharing. The good, the challenging, and even the ugly. Part of it is just the shock of encountering the unfiltered and unmitigated thoughts and feelings of another human being. As we matured into grown ups, we got used to the social niceties of others filtering their raw emotions and thoughts and when our children hit us full force with their stream of consciousness and emotions, it can be overwhelming. Our children, unlike our spouses, or our siblings, or our parents have trusted us with their every need, feeling, and whim from the very beginning. They don't know that just because they are old enough now to put it all into words, that we will respond to them any differently and yet, we do. Before a child can communicate in words, we see them as little humans, but we don't see them as completely distinct from us. Even their first words we often see as parrots of our own words, but when they can talk, cry, joke, and throw temper tantrums, they become scarily distant from us. For the first time, they become completely "other." They are unpredictable and that can be quite the test for us. However, no matter how strong my son's tempter tantrums have become (when they occur, which is thankfully rare right now), and however frustrating his new "maturity" and communication ability can sometimes make the day to day business of our house, I've also found that this "difficult" stage is really one of my favorites. Not because of the challenge exactly, but because of what the challenge means. You see, for the first time, I am being faced head on, not with who I think my son will be or how I predict he will be or even how I interpret him to be, but how he really is in his own words. I am seeing both the seeds of his success and triumph and the potential for his self-destruction, sometimes even in the same breath and I love him all the more for it, even as I struggle to keep myself from throwing up my hands and walking away. For example, he has a wicked bossy streak. He wants to plan everything and be in charge of every detail. He tries to direct everyone and everything from his parents, to the dog, to every other child he meets. This means that play dates can be challenging and it is difficult to make him understand that he cannot always be in charge (although it is a lesson that he is learning quickly). He also has a strong shepherding streak. Not only does he want to direct everyone, but he also wants to know where everyone is all the time and to take care of their every perceived need from his duckies (his favorite toys) to his cars (his current second favorite toys) to every relative in the vicinity. This makes for both some tender moments, like when he makes sure to feed his duckies when they are hungry and tucks them each into bed together, but also some very frustrating ones like when I can't find the car "family" he wants so he is throwing an outrageous fit because they "need" to be with "somebody" and they are "sad" and "scared" and "somebody needs to find them." He cried for a solid twenty minutes in the grocery store after I recently dropped off the dog at boarding before a family vacation. He was frustrated that I was not following his orders to either let him stay at the "doggie hotel" with our family pet or "go get her so whole family be together" (sic). (See how he's learning, he's picked up that I usually give him two choices so that I can maintain control while still giving him some autonomy and he's started trying to use that trick on me!) That's a brief example of some of his personality traits and how they add to day to day frustrations, but here's what I see beyond that. My son, my baby, (I'm realizing) is a leader and not just any leader, one with a strong compassionate and caring streak. This means that he has within him the ability to be exactly the kind of person who should be in authority. He has the means, intelligence and determination, not only to get people to do what they ought to be doing, but, also, to care for them at the same time and to take other's feelings and needs into account. These same traits that could lead him to be too bossy or to be too easily hurt by other's pain, if left untempered or unguided as they are now, could one day hurt him or undercut his own natural abilities, but if I work to give him the tools to shape them just right. . .well, wow, he is already showing signs that he is someone that the world definitely needs! I've learned to let go of the illusion that I can control my child and have instead embraced the idea that I can control my own actions and use them to teach him how to control himself. It requires a lot of deep breathing and letting go on my part which is really hard for me because I, like my son, have a strong bossy streak. However rough our days get and however often I find myself fighting both him and myself in these tumultuous toddler times, I will end this tough period with an even greater since of awe of who my son is and the strength of his spirit and self-determination (and my own). Perhaps, what we identify as our greatest challenges with our head strong, determined toddlers are also the root of our children's greatest strengths and the parts of our children's identities that they hold most dear and are, therefore, the parts that they are most resistant to let us shape. What's great about this period is that through these challenges, we glimpse what will be their (and maybe our) greatest triumphs in their growth if we can just hold on tight and continue to guide them, even when they are convinced that they can and should be guiding themselves. When times are their toughest, I try to hold on to that and, I'm finding, that, soon enough I do see a glimmer of growth and even deeper connection between us as parent and child. Thanks for reading, Shawna

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Open Letter To Mainstream Media

Dear Mainstream Media;

I am not being oppressed by my parenting style. Thanks for your concern but you are missing a key piece of the story. You see; I am not solely responsible for building and maintaining my child's sense of attachment.

If I were I would most certainly find the weight of such a responsibility oppressive; I may even find the idea of shouldering that responsibility impossible. I may laugh or rage or otherwise dismiss it entirely. Instead I embrace the piece of mind that comes of following my child's cues with my heart and my instinct because I don't have to do it alone.

My son has a secure emotional attachment to me. My son is also attached to his father. He is attached to his grandparents. He is attached to his aunt and his uncle. He is attached to his other caretakers who all accept that they have a role to play in meeting his needs. He trusts these people to meet his needs because, though we have all made mistakes, he knows we have never failed to love him. I trust these people because, while mistakes are always a part of life and relationships, they have never failed to love me.

He has a village. I have a village. We have a village of people who love us, who trust us as much as we trust them, and who support us in every way they can without question or condition.

This kind of community is so rare in the culture we currently live in that it seems you can’t even imagine what it is like. You feed us images of strong women with headlines designed to imply competition, you feed the resulting public take down of strong women by releasing article after article about her body and her dress, you debate my status and power within my community on daytime talk shows, you create within the public awareness the illusion of ‘good mom’ and ‘bad mom’ and pit them against each other.

Your point is quite clear; if you can’t parent this way you aren’t enough, if you can you are either oppressed or an extremist. In your sphere there is no win for any woman. The point you are missing is all the ways our culture is failing our children, is failing women, and men, failing families. The story you are missing is how we could be doing more to support all families to make choices based on what they feel is right and not what is necessary to measure up to your standards.   

Attachment parenting isn't about mothers. It's about families and it's about community. By continually dismissing and denying the roll that other family and community members have to play in attachment parenting and child rearing in general it is you who are adding unneeded shame, guilt and stress onto women. 

Please stop.


Julian: Feminist & Attachment Parent

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Moving As Motivation To Go Green

We're going to be moving into a new home in a few weeks. I plan to use this transition as an opportunity for increasing my crunchiness, so to speak, and getting just a little bit greener.

We take small steps now. We reduce, reuse, and recycle. We use cloth diapers and wipes most of the time. We're careful about our water use and combine car trips/errands whenever possible. (And not just because I hate driving.) However, I know we can do better. My hope is that setting up a new home will motivate me to encourage simple, everyday changes with our housekeeping, eating, and self-care.

What I really want is for my children to see that this is just how we do things. I want taking care of the earth, eating healthy, and using earth-friendly products to be a natural part of their lives, not an abstract concept. My plan is to concentrate on just three areas and continue to make steady progress while involving my children in my thought process as much as possible. Following are a few minor changes I'm looking forward to trying.

Cleaning. My goal is no chemical cleaners. At all. I'm going to try some of the cleaning suggestions here (an article posted in Whole Living, a wealth of great information). This one has another motive as well: my six-year-old recently became fascinated with helping me around the house. I certainly would not hand her a commercial cleaner to use on her own, but I would totally ask her to polish the furniture with olive oil or scrub the sink with a lemon. Learning home economics and helping Momma. Score! I've also considered making my own laundry detergent, but with the amount we go through around here, I'm not sure I want to take that on. (But if anyone has suggestions, I'm open to them.)

Food. Imagine a brand new kitchen with not one crumb of food. Where do you start? What do you bring in? A while back I had this brilliant idea to eliminate food dyes as a first step in our food overhaul plan. I even found this fabulous site and went all crazy looking for "numbers" in everything we bought. Unfortunately we never really got any further than that. My new goal is to buy more produce locally. We go through a lot of fruit and veggies around here, so I figured this would be a good next step. (I've even found a farmers market that will deliver a basket of seasonal produce every week to my door, which sounds tempting. Hmm.)

Personal Care. While the idea of cleaning my kitchen with baking soda and a lemon seems totally do-able, when it comes to products I use on myself, eh . . . I'm iffy on whether or not I'm willing to craft, say, my own toothpaste. I also have no interest in going no poo, although I try to use as little as possible and I don't lather up every day. (But I did find this great post about going shampoo-free and must admit I find it slightly intriguing.) I am a bit giddy, however, about the opportunity to try out some more natural (albeit commercially available) products. I recently became a fan of Toms of Maine, and I'm especially thrilled that they have a children's toothpaste that does not contain the aforementioned nasty dyes. 

Like I said, baby steps. I know I'm not going to wake up one day and transform into the model green living example. But, we have to start somewhere and I'm hoping to capitalize on the novelty of a new home in a new area to inspire me.

What small steps have you taken to help your family get greener?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Movement in Pregnancy

I look at pregnancy a little different than most.  For me?  Every single day is a miracle.  On the days where I'm terrified and worried, every minute is a miracle.  I may not connect or bond with my babies very early because of the fear, but for the two pregnancies I've had that went past 7 weeks since my daughter, I'm prepared and open for anything.

I don't agree with a lot of the big baby tracking apps and websites that you can subscribe to, but on my Kindle I downloaded the babycenter pregnancy app so my daughter could watch movies of our baby and see it grow. I also like the little fruit analogies so she can understand how big our baby is (even though right now our baby is measuring bigger than their fruits).

When I watched one of the videos with her, it talked about how baby is fluttering and moving all the time, but you won't feel this movement for a few more months.  I may not be that far along, but my baby is two inches long.  This baby isn't small anymore.

It got me thinking.

Is it truly impossible to feel a baby move before the common 12-18 weeks?  Or is that something we've been telling women for years and they put off what they think they feel?  Are we in essence, from the very beginning of a woman's pregnancy, basically telling her that what she is feeling is wrong, and having her doubt herself before she is even near giving birth??

With one of my pregnancies, I was on bedrest, so I couldn't be very active, and I felt that baby move very early.  I was a few days before 11 weeks, and baby squirmed and wiggled like a goldfish in my lower belly. It was amazing.  I had so many people tell me that was impossible, but so many more that talked about how they felt the same thing.  I knew what I felt, and instead of letting people dissuade me from what I knew about my own body and my own baby, I stuck to it.

This time, even if I haven't bonded because of my history, this baby moved very early.  Even earlier than my last "sticky" pregnancy.  At almost the second trimester, this baby already moves around a lot.

To explain, movements this early aren't the same as movements you feel at 20 weeks.  They are less kicks and bumps, and more pressure and slight wiggles.  The first movements I felt were because I could feel my uterus go from far into my pelvis to poking out.  If I hadn't known what I was looking for, and known how to figure out it was my uterus from early on, I would have just assumed it was cramps or gas.

Yes, it seems unlikely to be able to feel a baby wiggle and squirm when they are the size of a grape, but how is that in any way impossible?  Impossible things happen every day.  We shouldn't be telling pregnant women that their first connection to their baby is impossible.  Plus, how would anyone but her know what she felt?  Reading about it in textbooks, working with pregnant women, yes that can make you an expert in situations, but in the end, every woman is different, as is every baby and pregnancy.

I didn't feel my daughter move until 21 weeks.  I had an anterior placenta so even when she did move, it wasn't much because the placenta blocked most of it, and she wasn't a very active baby.  Does that mean I should believe it's impossible for anyone to feel a baby move before 21 weeks because that was my experience?

Pregnancy is the time where a woman should be getting to know her own body and her own baby.  No one else should interfere in that process, even if it's about the impossibility of early movement.  We should be helping women trust in their own experiences and their own feelings, not putting them down from the first instance.

Early movement is improbably but not impossible.  Women should be able to trust their own intuition.  And maybe if we believe them about the early experiences in pregnancy, their trust in what their bodies can do will follow.

Feminism and Attachment Parenting: It Can Work

Twenty years ago, or maybe it's closer to fifteen, in any case, once upon what feels like a lifetime ago, an ex-boyfriend and I had an argument about whether a woman should stay home after having children. He argued that women should stay home, because it was better for the children; a mother could give children an emotional security that no one else could. I argued that it was sexist to say a woman “should” do anything, and that women should not be the ones to give up their career or work outside the home just because they happen to be the ones having children. A father or other trusted care giver could just as easily provide the love, care and emotional security children required.

In hindsight, the fight was stupid, simply because it was theoretical. We were still in college. We were too young to even be talking about the prospect of having children. Even when we were out of college, the topic of living together never came up. I never expected a proposal. Now I know enough to know it doesn't make sense to talk about scenarios that aren't real or on the soon-to-be-horizon. As they say, it's like worrying about problems that you don't even have yet.

But at the time, I was young and oversensitive, I took his views as a personal attack, as if he was saying, what I wanted for myself individually was less important than my potential child needs, as if he was suggesting that women (me) not just take off a few years or the first year of each child's life off from their careers, but give them up permanently, and to fail to do this, made them a bad mother. Whether he was actually saying this or not, I made the point that women who have something – like a career – that nurtures them, make better and far more nurturing mothers, in addition to demonstrating to their children of both genders that they can pursue and fulfill the careers of their dreams.

At the time, I thought anyone saying that women SHOULD stay home was sexist, and that anyone who suggested that a baby's needs were more important than a mother's was especially sexist, because such a view devalued women, their potential, their skills, and their lives. I thought for a mother to be a good respectable mother, she had to put herself first. That if she took care of herself, and enjoyed her life, it would only benefit her children, whereas an exhausted woman who gave everything, never got anything for herself, would only end up resenting her children and feeling like she was constantly being taken advantaged of. For the record, I do think some degree of this is true. And yes, I realize, in all fairness to my ex-boyfriend, he wasn't saying women are a dishrag who should be completely used up by their children.

At least I hope not. (Actually, what I hear from his mother, whom I am still friends with, is that he is a very loving, committed, hands on, and patient parent.)

I think I was all of nineteen when we had this fight. I don't know for sure, and I'm unwilling to go through old journals (because there are a lot – this ranting habit of mine is hardly new) to find the exact date. But it was the early 90s. I had read Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth and Carol Gilligan's Ina Different Voice. My copy of Susan Faludi's Backlash was dogeared, with a spine that was so cracked, I had to tape it back together. I subscribed to Ms. Magazine. Gloria Steinem and Hillary Rodham Clinton had told me I could have it all and that I was entitled to it. Poor ex-boyfriend, given all the reading I had been doing, it was just an argument waiting for an opportunity to assert itself.

When I became a mother a good decade and half later, I thought of this fight often. I found myself wondering what my 19 year old feminist self would say about my mothering self. When I was 19, I had wanted to teach college English. I wanted tenure. I wanted to write books that won the Pulitzer. By the time I got pregnant, I had taught college English, but I no longer wanted tenure. In fact, I walked off campus the last time before my husband's job took us to LA, and realized with a startlingly clarity that I never wanted to teach again. While I had written books, they hadn't won the Pulitzer because they hadn't been published (yet...). My husband and I moved to LA, and I sat my pregnant-bellied self in my new found spot at Ground Zero of My Life.

And when I gave birth to my son (Yes, naturally. My fear of needles is bigger than my fear of pain.) I, like many parents before me, melted. While I had some anxiety about mothering, simply because my own mother didn't seem to enjoy it much, it disappeared the second he was born. I was startled to discover a few weeks, and then a few months later, that I had never felt happier. Given that my son literally nursed every twenty minutes, it's entirely likely, I was just high on oxytocin, with fresh new hormones releasing every single time he latched. Nevertheless, he was an easy and happy baby, as long as he nursed. Which means, I was one of “those” women that Elisabeth Badinter writes about in The Conflict and that the latest issue of Time magazine points to, with its cover asking, "Are You Mom Enough?"

In my new motherhood, I was surprised how often I found myself questioning what my younger feminist self would say about my mothering self, and wondering if she felt like she had failed as a feminist, and if I could still even call myself one. I talked to myself a lot about this point. I even joked at mom's group and with other mothers that honestly, I have failed at everything and most of my ideal career choices in my life, breastfeeding is just the weird thing that came easily to me. It's just my bad luck that I can no longer make a living as a wet nurse. (And if I had known that this would be the one thing I was good at, maybe I should have pursued it earlier?). In the end though, I would end the conversation with myself by concluding that what I had been arguing for all along was that women have choices, and that those choices be equally valued and respected.

Consequently, what has come to be these ridiculous debates or battles or in more polite words, conversations, about Attachment Parenting and if it devalues women, has continued to hit nerve after nerve of mine. Badinter is hardly the first. Ayelet Waldmen makes a few jabs in Bad Mother. Judith Warner in Perfect Madness; Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety argues against the pressure to breastfeed for at least a year and the “boundary breakdown” of attachment parenting, and Lisa Bloom in Think takes a two paragraph time out from arguing against the dumbing down of American women to argue against co-sleeping, because she thinks sleeping next to one's child causes one to lose sleep.

No, actually. When you co-sleep, you roll over, nurse and go back to sleep (if you've woken up). When your baby is in a crib down the hall, you wake up, walk down the hall, sit in a rocking chair and nurse, then after your baby is back asleep, you walk back down the hall, go back to sleep, only to repeat the entire process two hours later. Because your sleep is so physically disrupted, you can't help but be exhausted.

See? Nerve. I try to rise above these weird assumptions about attachment parenting, and I keep taking the bait.

And all these books make valid points and are worth reading (while the Badinter reads quickly, you could probably still save the time and find a nice summary. It's not like it hasn't been written about ad nauseam.) Still, I can't help it. I want to shout at these women, “You know what devalues a woman and mother? FATIGUE!”

I understand - having thought similar thoughts as a 19 year old feminist – the concerns of these women and the people who feel compelled to turn attachment parenting into some weird thing it's not. It's easy to fear falling so head first into mothering that you risk losing yourself. It's happened to many an innocent woman before. 

But I have to question the women who continue to point to certain choices women are making as mothers and asserting that those choices are causing them to be devalued as individuals. I have to question the notion of not keeping our children at arm's length makes us less feminist or equal. Because I don't actually think the issue is attachment parenting or any other form of parenting. Most parents of my current parenting generation are fairly clear that like many parents before us, there will be things we do as parents that work, and that there are things we do that don't work as well. All of us are making the best choices we can with what we have, and the choices we're making line up with our values, who we know ourselves to be, and who we know our children to be. We're all interested in doing what works for us, our children and our nightly sleep. There are more parenting resources than ever before in history. It's not like we're not doing our homework.

Rather, I think the issue is that motherhood isn't valued the way we'd like to think it is. It's easy to resent anyone who recommends breastfeeding at least a year because employers aren't set up to support mothers who breastfeed a year with paid maternal leave. Of course working women who resort to bottles and formula feel pressured to breastfeed: their doctors are recommending they do something they can't easily do. With work days getting longer, not shorter, it isn't exactly fun to stick your breasts into a machine inspired by efficiently milking commercial dairy cows while you think of your baby that you haven't seen in 10 hours. And not that breastfeeding mothers are off the pressure hook either, with breastfeeding rates at 30% after three months and 13%, I can't say I agree with Badinter that the “Tyranny of Breastfeeding” has accomplished its goal. Rather, a woman breastfeeding her child the recommended length, more often than not, is asked when she'll quit, why she hasn't quit, isn't it weird, and if not, when will it be? The tyranny of breastfeeding has hardly normalized what pediatricians around the world recommend for all children.

I do appreciate the conversations women are starting, because it's clear dissatisfaction is afoot. But instead of taking our dissatisfaction out on each other and various parenting choices, which are nobody else's business anyway, why not instead work towards something that will make parenting better for everyone? Because let's be honest, the current work culture doesn't make it easy for parents of either gender to be good parents, whether it's an utter lack of paid sick days and family and medical leave or a work environment that demands employees work at least 12 hours at a time, and look down on them if they don't.

I am tired of women being women's harshest critics. It's hardly new. Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Women was published in 1792. Her sharpest critics were women. The reasoning behind it is rather simple. As my midwife told me in my first pregnancy, I would never have to even utter a word about my parenting (or life) choices, because the sheer fact that I was doing it differently than someone else would have that someone else feel judged or threatened or like I thought they or their way wasn't good enough, when in reality, it has nothing to do with them at all. Surely, in addition to all the rights we've earned since 1792, we've also gained enough security in our selves and our choices that we can not take each other's approaches so personally?

Badinter and Time magazine seem to think not. I disagree. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

When Life Gets in the Way of Living

I had a relatively simple childhood. My days were spent playing on my own—in the warm months, creating magical gardens and befriending neighborhood cats, running amok in our backyard, playing with dirt; with sticks; collecting leaves and always promising myself that I’d dry them and keep them in a book (I never did). In the colder months, I spent my time imagining worlds for my Barbie dolls to live in, I read, and I played with my older sister.

There were no such things as dance classes, gymnastics, swimming, or karate for me. We never went on play dates, and my mom never had any other “mom friends” over. That said, I had a stress free, easy-going, blissful childhood. I never worried about being anywhere besides school—I never had a weekly schedule with anything on it other than homework. And I have no complaints.

Oh, how times have changed. As my kids get older and more active, I find myself trying to come up with ways to occupy their time. Don’t get me wrong—we have plenty of fun on our own. But, there are only so many ways we can dress up, only so many books we can read, puzzles we can make, crafts we can create, cupcakes and cookies we can bake; canvases we can paint; play dough we can concoct. We watch TV, but I dislike simply sticking my kids in front of it for the duration of the cold months; and they, and I, need social interaction.

So, we take classes. Lots and lots of classes. Art, guitar, and baseball for my son; dance, animal/nature, art and piano for my daughter. I swore I would never become one of those “We have to go to _____ class today” moms, but I have (oh, and by the way, I could write a book listing all the things I said I or my kids would “never” do).

My husband and I agreed that if any of our kids showed an interest or any affinity for something, we would jump right on it and encourage them in every way possible. We’ve stuck to that, and I’m so happy and grateful that we’ve been able to hone in on my son’s interests and have figured out what makes him “tick” to some extent. He is so happy with art and music; and his dad is coaching him in baseball, which is such an amazing opportunity for the two of them. My daughter is pretty easygoing when it comes to activities, but her interests are clear and she absolutely adores being out and about and enjoys each of her classes. We’ve tried out activities that have turned out to be duds now and again, but I definitely feel that each instance has taught us something.

I do, however, find this way of life somewhat challenging—more accurately, I find keeping the balance between work and play to be a constant worry, and something I have to be acutely conscious of. Being this busy is a slippery slope, and one can quickly forget to stop and smell the roses, watch the leaves turn, watch the snow fall. To take pleasure in simply being—in each day, in each breath. To not let life get in the way of living.

Do I want the type of life where I drive my minivan frantically from place to place, dropping off one kid here and one there? There will come a time when my kids’ day is structured and scheduled to the hour. There will be days when they want to play but will have to do homework instead (in fact, as the weather gets warmer, those days are rapidly approaching). There will be a day when, no matter how much my son loves Little League, he will want to sleep in instead of waking up for 7 a.m. practice on a Saturday. There are days already when my daughter wakes up grumpy, yet we still drag ourselves to music class because we’ve committed to it.

A few months ago I lightened the load of responsibilities that were causing me stress and anxiety but were bringing me little, if any, pleasure. I re-evaluated much of what I was doing with my family and decided we had to get rid of whatever was not making us truly happy. I enjoy being engaged and active in my life; but as they say, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans—and I don’t want to let mine pass me by.

If living my life is causing me grief, if the day-to-day activities with my children stress me out to the point where I lose my mind, don’t I need to step back and re-evaluate? And do I really want my kids harried and stressed out over missing a class, a playdate, or being late? My sweetest daydreams of spending time with my family include cozy mornings making waffles; hot cocoa by the tree on Christmas day; stopping to jump into a pile of fall leaves while walking through the park; playing catch with the dog; sleeping in; and not doing anything at all.

And yet, I also see myself being buried under sports/music/art equipment. We do schedule activities and go to games, recitals, and exhibitions—and they are a joy. I do see my kids in sports uniforms, holding clarinets, covered in paint. I want our children to do what they love, and love what they do. I them to feel happy, safe, and secure, and know that their home is their haven, the place they can always come back to. I also want them to cultivate their interests, live a full life, and make the most of each day.

Nowhere in my daydreams do I see myself running ragged for anything; being so stressed out over the amount of items on my calendar that I lose my mind. However, despite my best intentions, I do run ragged, run late, and feel like a hamster in a wheel at times. Those are the times that I have taught myself to step back, breathe deep, and evaluate. Whatever is not truly important gets purged.

What difference does it make if my calendar is full but I’m so busy I don’t know what day of the week it is? And if I fill the little boxes in with constant activities, where is the space for fun, for exploration, for time just spent together? What’s the point of “getting everything done” if I’ve lost my temper and yelled at my kids and my spouse?

Years ago, I used to look at my life from the outside—like a picture, I wanted it to look perfect, pretty, and well organized. Now, I remind myself to live my life on the inside—realizing that the picture many not always look perfect, but knowing that what I fill the blanks in with is important.

So far, my boxes are full of the things we enjoy, while leaving space for us to breathe, have fun, and simply live. And I’ve discovered that what may look empty from the outside is more fulfilling than any pretty picture. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Life, Love and the Importance of Lactation Consultants

On the heels of the Whoopi Goldberg comments regarding the breastfeeding initiative, I felt compelled to share my birth story.  I’m sure there were plenty of other problems that could’ve occurred, but to us at the time, it felt like just about everything that could’ve gone wrong did, indeed, go wrong.  I was quite resolved to nurse my daughter from the start, but those days in the hospital were far more trying than I anticipated.  Were it not for the support of the amazing lactation consultants at our hospital, I’m not sure we would’ve succeeded.

After 6 hours of contractions 2-3 minutes apart (from midnight to 6am) we went in to the hospital with our awesome doula.  I was completely heartbroken to find that I was only one centimeter!  They quickly determined that my uterus was in spasm, which meant that between the highs of the contractions, it was never fully relaxing. So every time I moved the slightest bit I'd have a mini or full contraction. I couldn't even get to and from the bathroom without 2 extra contractions. So nobody could massage me, I couldn't move and I stayed frozen and tense for the majority of my labor because of it. I remember yelling at my husband in a panic when he caressed my arm because I thought it was going to bring on a contraction. Because I was so tense they gave me a sedative at about 7am. It knocked me out but not for the contractions. So I'd be completely passed out, and every 1-2 minutes wake up screaming and clutching the bed rails, and promptly pass back out. It was the weirdest, almost nightmare dreamlike state ever. By noon I was maybe 2 cm, and I pretty much threw in the towel on my natural labor. I think I may have hung in there if I had been progressing and knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel becoming even remotely visible, but 12 hours of contractions 1-3 minutes apart (and more hours prior) was wearing me out with no progression, so I caved. Not to mention the fact that my spasming uterus was basically keeping me locked up like a popsicle and threw that entire labor I’d envisioned of using the hospital birthing tub, walking around, etc...out the window.  I’m sure plenty of you 30 and 40+ hour labor moms would probably laugh at that, but in the moment that’s where I was at – I needed some actual down time where I wasn’t tensed up thinking I couldn’t move for fear of the impending contraction that movement would cause.

From the moment our doula called the doctor, he was unfriendly to her and refused to speak to her even though I was in the middle of a contraction when she called.  This behavior continued once we arrived, but he was gone by 7am and replaced by a much more considerate doctor.  The nurse, however, had an equally frigid attitude towards our doula. Fortunately, at 11am she left her shift early and we were switched to the most wonderful nurse who was there for me until 11pm. But the first nurse would practically roll her eyes when I asked to turn over, because it meant she had to reposition the heart monitor. Amidst my weird sedated state, I would only ask about once every hour and a half if I could roll over to the other side because she made me feel bad about it.

So we arrived at 6am, epidural and pitocin started at noon, and by 4pm the downward spiral began. I got a fever, and my daughter’s heart rate was elevated. I had also passed meconium earlier and was Group B Strep positive, so the clock was ticking. They tried to give me something to bring my fever down, and said they'd give the baby some time to get her heart rate down. Nothing was working. The other main thing was we went in engaged at -1 with her in the perfect position, and then my daughter actually started to move BACKWARDS throughout labor. Before they cut me open you could see her curled up in a ball just beneath my rib cage. I didn't even know this was possible!

By the time the doctors switched at 7pm the new doc came in and was unbelievably pissed that nobody had called it and cut me open yet. At that point he insisted to do so, and when I told him I needed to talk it over with my doula and my husband, he stormed out in a fury. The nurse came back and said that he said if I didn't agree he was calling his lawyer. It was all very upsetting but we could kind of see it coming. My doula was getting uneasy about the snowballing problems, and ultimately, the main deciding factor was that my daughter was simply not coming out but actually moving backwards, and I was not progressing. But I wasn't progressing even before I got the epidural so I don't necessarily think that was it. Even my doula insisted that there was no other option.

Within 10 minutes of OK'ing the c-section I was being strapped to a table with my arms tied down like jesus on the cross. It was at this point they informed me (after telling me otherwise) that this same doctor wanted to cover his butt and because I had a fever they feared the baby might have an infection, so she'd be staying across the hospital in NICU for 2 days. Everything I'd hoped for went down the crapper in those 10 minutes. I tried to stop crying about it all and waited to see my daughter. I remember my husband having to wipe my running nose and tears because my arms were tied down.

They took her out and it was decided my husband would go with her. I am so thankful that our doula had sweet talked the nurses and docs into letting her come in when he left. She was able to stay with me for the majority of the surgery while they put me back together, and she also stayed with me in recovery. I don't know what I would've done if I was there alone because I was there for over 3 hours in a windowless room with no baby, no husband and just a nurse going in and out late at night after a LOOOOOONG day.

They also convinced our nurse to let me see my daughter that night (beyond the 60 seconds I got to see her after they took her out when they held her up to my face on the table). They told the nurse how long we tried to conceive and how many painful years I'd been waiting for this baby, and even though the doctors wanted us separated so I didn't infect her with my supposed infection (my temperature immediately returned to normal after the surgery!) she agreed. The nurse brought her down to me in recovery and I got to hold her for 10 minutes, but 10 minutes only.  She slept soundly the whole time.

The next morning I was on an epidural and couldn't leave my bed, and my daughter was across the hospital in NICU. I kept harassing the nurse to get me off the epidural so I could go see her. My husband was bringing video of her back to me in my bed, and it was difficult keeping grandparents away until I got to see my baby.

By noon I was finally able to get into a wheelchair to see her, after incessantly pestering the worst nurse ever. Later, this same nurse returned to tend to my beeping machine a few hours after taking me to the bathroom for the first time after the epidural.  I told her I was relieved because I needed to pee again.  She replied, “You don’t need to buzz me for help if you have to pee, that was just for the first time.” So at less than 18 hours post c-section, she told me this and stood there and watched as I struggled like a turtle on my back trying to get out of bed, and continued to watch me hobble over to the bathroom and go by myself. 
When this nurse finally got everything in place so I could be removed from my epidural and do all the things I needed to see my daughter, I got wheeled a long distance across the hospital.  Obviously they were giving her formula, but they were very supportive of my breastfeeding. I was so doped up on percocet I could barely keep my eyes open, and people had to practically help me hold her the first time I got to really meet her. I still cry when I look at how out of it I was in those pictures. The first time I nursed her was behind a screen in NICU, with the stiffest hospital pillow on my lap, and it was really difficult to position her and lean forward with the c-section.

When I went back to my room I kept trying to pump and was completely unsuccessful.  Not a single drop would come. They say you need a baby for the hormonal response, so in desperation I put on the newborn channel on the hospital TV in some pathetic attempt to get a response. My husband spent the majority of those first two days with our daughter, which was what we both wanted. I had seen several lactation consultants at this point who showed me how to use the pump and watched me nurse, but FINALLY one came in on the second day and got me bigger flanges for the pump so my nipple wasn't rubbing against the edges when it pulled in and out, and...SUCCESS! I remember shuffling out to the nurse’s station with my measly ounce of milk and being so proud!  If it weren’t for the help of that LC, I’m not sure if I had it in me to keep trying to pump without my baby there - especially when it was hurting so much because the flanges were too small. 

After the first meeting I would deliberately NOT take my pain pills when I knew I was going to see my daughter, but it made holding her and trying to nurse her excruciating. I had dreamt of this being such a beautiful experience for us, and there I was under fluorescent lights with a stranger’s family on the other side of the screen, grimacing while I tried to sit in an uncomfortable chair with that damn stiff, awkward pillow on my lap nursing her.  At least she had an excellent latch. The lactation consultants were phenomenal and checked on me often and came with me to the NICU multiple times to help.  They were so supportive, and I can remember one coming into my room first thing when she arrived for her shift, because she wanted to see how I was doing right away after meeting me the day before.  She said she’d thought of me often overnight and hoped we were doing well.  She encouraged my husband and I to do as much skin to skin contact as possible with our daughter, and she was so pleased to see that despite our rough start being across the hospital from one another, I was still trying.

When they finally gave her to us in our room after those first 48 hours, they said she was getting jaundiced and we had to overfeed her. At this point, as first time parents hearing threats of taking her away to go under the lights, we were willing to do just about anything they said and didn’t give it a second thought. We had her pounding formula and nursing ‘round the clock. Less than 12 hours after she was in our room with us, they said she didn't look good and suspected that the results of the blood test they just took were going to be bad and she'd have to stay under the lights and not in our room.  They said they’d probably be back in a few minutes to take her away as soon as the test results came back, and that she probably wouldn't be going home with us if it was as they suspected. I instantaneously lost it and was in complete hysterics until 20 minutes later when they came back and said she just squeaked by on her blood test! They had just given her to me and they were going to take her away again? And factor in postpartum hormones? HOLY! Thankfully everything went OK from that point on until our release from the arctic hospital, into a 105 degree summer day.

I still can't really tell the story verbally to anyone without crying, and every time I see that triumphant moment in a movie where the baby is handed to the mom to nurse it I get choked up. To this day, I haven’t been able to get through reading “On the Day You Were Born” without sobbing. I think it would've been a lot easier to swallow if she had been in my room waiting for me after recovery and we could've gone from there.  In the months that followed people asked about my “giving birth,” and I never felt like I gave birth to her.  I felt like they took her from me, in more ways than one.  I guess I still feel that hesitation whenever “giving birth” to her comes up, because it feels misleading.

But despite it all, despite spending those first few weeks home lamenting about the bonding we missed that I had played out in my head over and over....a friend of mine who is an amazing midwife said it best – “Birth is about separation, not bonding. It is probably the most literal example of separation. You have a lifetime to bond, and you and your baby are already connected.”
She was right. Upon returning home, we nursed exclusively for the first 7 months, and continue to do so today. We have shared a bed every night, and at nearly two years old, I still wear her occasionally, despite her enormous size. Others may have their own means of bonding, but for me those things helped tremendously. I can proudly assert that everyone who meets her says she is the happiest baby/toddler they've ever seen, and not the traumatized little baby I anticipated because of our separation at birth. We are so, so close, and yet, she is independent as can be and often running away from me down the street! She is a social butterfly at parties and could care less if I’m around in those situations. Yes, that rocky start is painful to think about, but in the long run, it sounds crazy to say but it didn't really matter. What mattered was things like the  lasting relationship the LC's helped me establish, not the separation.  No matter what type of birth you have, that love and intimacy can still be cultivated, even if you are denied it immediately following the birth.  She’s happy as can be, and we have an undeniable bond…and we always will.

Thank you for taking the time to read my story!

Monday, May 7, 2012

What I Want For Mother's Day

Two weeks ago, my sister asked this season's first, “what do you want for Mother's Day?”

Mother's Day is a big business. Greeting cards, brunches, champagne toasts, jewelry, spa treatments, flowers, mugs from the paint-your-own-pottery place. The intention is valid, even admirable: to honor mothers and the work they do raising children.

Except this year, when my sister asked what I might want for Mother's Day, I did not think of the potential flower arrangements, necklaces with children's birth stones, or sappy greeting cards that were supposed to honor the hours and attention I give to my children. It's counter-intuitive, really, given that raising children can be exhaustive work with only emotional fulfillment as its reward. But raising my children is not what I recently find so exhausting.

No, what I recently find exhausting and what I thought of instead of the potential gifts I might reap is that in 45 states, 944 provisions have been introduced that would limit women's reproductive health and rights. I thought of how Arizona, now declares by law that pregnancy begins up to two weeks before conception - “from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman.” So for Arizona, life begins before an egg is even fertilized, which by extension then means every woman in Arizona is pregnant the first two weeks of her monthly cycle. This is purely to limit abortion rights, but it just made the Sex Education taught in the public schools that much more confusing. No matter though, because while the most effective way to reduce teen pregnancy and abortion is through education in the public schools, several states introduced bills that would forbid anything but abstinence education or stipulate that certain “facts” must be taught, even if these “facts” aren't facts at all or have any medical or scientific basis. Abstinence education, as we know, is very good at telling women not to get pregnant by not having sex or to protect themselves from getting sexually abused or raped. It's also good for perpetuating sexist and traditional gender roles since when an unplanned pregnancy happens, it's the woman's life it impacts or education that gets derailed. It's lousy for educating or empowering men to take responsibility for themselves in preventing rapes, sex abuses, or unwanted pregnancies.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Walker repealed the comprehensive sex education laws only to replace it with an abstinence only one. He signed legislation to restrict abortion rights in health care exchanges and require doctors to “investigate women” seeking abortions to make sure they aren't being coerced (because it's such a big decision – surely a woman can't work this one out by herself). Then Walked signed a bill to nullify enforcement of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay for Women Act. So he may want women to have children, but he doesn't want to help them support the children his laws encourage.

I also thought of how many friends I have that since becoming mothers, they were passed over for promotions and raises – all because of the perception, that because of their family life, they would be less “available” or “committed” or “reliable” or “serious” at work, even though all solid evidence points to the contrary. Or the women who receive inadequate maternal leaves, so they go back to work after two or six weeks, as if they were out for a root canal rather than the act of having a baby. I thought of how women, on average, make 77 cents for each dollar that men make and that number drops to 73 if a woman is a mother. If that mother is single, the number drops further to 60 cents. Mothers are also 79% less likely to be hired compared to non-mothers with the same education and experience. Given that having a baby is one of the leading causes of a poverty spell for a family in this country, it seems we might want to point our attention to empowering women to provide for the families politicians think they should be having.

Then I thought of how every 90 seconds, or in other words, 1,000 women a day, die from a pregnancy related death. 90% of these are preventable and 50% of these happen in the first 48 hours after delivery. The US ranks 50th in the world for maternal health.

The US also spends 30 cents of every dollar on the military, while only 4 cents goes towards education. So while the US has figured out how to monetize the killing of people, and even the incarcerating of people, we haven't figured out how to monetize the raising and education of people, and therefore, it falls to the bottom of the financial priority list.

I could go on about the recent injustices aimed at mothers and women, but I don't know that I need to. You get the idea, and that there's enough for me to say that to live in a country so actively limiting the rights of women and mothers on an almost daily basis – to such extent of 944 provisions in the first three months of 2012 alone – that Mother's Day feels like a cheap-drug-store-bought consolation prize of an acknowledgment.

A champagne toast brunch is a tempting way to spend a May Sunday morning; a boat ride on the lake in Central Park is an exquisitely tempting way to spend a morning having my parenting energies acknowledged. But I don't want it, because it's meaningless in a culture that doesn't put its attention and money where its mouth is.

No, what I want for Mother's Day is to live in a culture that values women and mothers and empowers them to be the best mothers they can be, and that means empowering them to decide for themselves when and how to give birth and how best to provide for their families, instead of leaving it up to a bunch of white guys to decide for them. Until then, I have no interest in a holiday that essentially is a band-aid for the rest of the year.  

Friday, May 4, 2012

Girls Rule, Boys Too!

Cute banter or damaging stereotype?
Motherhood is rough, and it can be especially rough when we feel like our partners "don't get it." If we fail to communicate and work through our differences, it can lead to frustration or even resentment in a relationship. To relieve the tension, sometimes we might poke fun at men. I admit it, I have laughed at man-bashing humor before. I may have even passed along a joke or two. But when does it cross the line from being good-natured humor to enforcing a harmful stereotype?

Watching my third little boy sleeping sweetly in my arms, I begin to feel guilty about taking part in this. Little boys will one day grow into men. What will we raise them to believe about themselves? I don't mean to attack anyone who has ever laughed at a man joke. Nor do I feel women are free from sexism. I just want to urge you to pay attention to the messages we are sending our sons (and our daughters) when we degrade men.

Often, I hear women commiserating about their husbands. They will accuse them of being immature, insensitive, lazy, or clueless. These criticisms are commonly dismissed as "typical male behavior." I have done this myself, and (I am ashamed to admit) in the not-so-distant past. I can see two real problems with this type of thinking. First, not all men are like this. Do jerks exist? Sure! But it is unfair to demonize the many loving, attentive partners and fathers because of a few jerks. Second, it can become an excuse for legitimate jerks to behave disrespectfully--and for women to excuse it because "it's a man thing."

Sweet and innocent. Let's keep him that way.
I am especially concerned with using this language around our children. If boys hear enough of these stereotypes, they might start to believe them. They might come to feel that they are no better than that. Or they may give up trying to act with character, since they are going to be perceived negatively anyway. Our boys deserve better.

This doesn't just affect boys, either. Your daughter could grow up and enter a relationship with a man. Do you want to see her in a relationship with someone who believes that he is no better than those stereotypes? Do you want her to excuse someone who disrespects her because she believes all men are that way?

Instead of stereotypes, boys need role models. If you have a great guy in your life--a partner, a dad, a friend--show him you appreciate him. Show him openly so your son can see it. Let your son see you give respect to and receive respect from men. Most of all, respect your son. Let him explore all of his emotions, including the scary or tender ones. Love him unconditionally, hold him close, and give him space when he needs it. This way, he will learn empathy that will turn all of those negative perceptions on their heads!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Intentionally Simple

At the beginning of the year I stumbled upon this website and came up with my own word for 2012: Intentional. For January I focused on becoming intentional with my time and for February I focused on becoming intentional with my words.

Then I . . . kind of forgot about it. March and April came and went in a blur. My best intentions (ahem) fell by the wayside.

For the month of May I'm making a renewed commitment to this whole idea of intentionality and my focus is on simplifying. (Perhaps that should have been my word all along?)

Because you know what happens when I forget to simplify?
  • I get grumpy, and start to spiral, and have a terrible time pulling out of my funk. (You know how it is when everything. just. seems. overwhelming. Yes, that.)
  • I yell at the Agents. I hate this most of all. I don't want to do it, I just do. And then I need something like this to get back on track again.
  • I stop taking care of myself . . . I don't sleep well, I don't get enough time alone, and I literally make myself ill. (Seriously. This week I came down with my first UTI in probably 15-20 years. Apologies for the TMI, but I seriously forgot how truly awful a urinary tract infection is. Ugh.)
I read somewhere recently that stress is what happens when you try to do two things at once. (I don't remember where or I would totally give credit. I'm nice like that.) Anyway, yes, that is me. I mean, to some extent if I couldn't multitask at least a little I could not survive life with three small children. However, I find that often I bring on the stress of tackling two (or three, or four) things at once myself. I don't need to be busy for the sake of being busy. And the thing is, even when I feel busy and productive I'm not necessarily getting more done, I'm just spinning faster.

Basically, I got caught up with trying to do too much, ended up getting nothing accomplished in the process, and now I want a do-over.

Okay, perhaps do over is not completely accurate. What I really need is an action plan. I've been so bogged down with, well, existing, that I haven't really stopped to assess in a long time.

So, what's a Momma to do?

I think what I'm really looking for is a better routine. As much as I enjoy our adventures with homeschooling, the past eight months of not "needing" to be anywhere in the mornings have taken a toll on our days. Yes, I like to be flexible, and it's nice to not always need to conform to an outside schedule. But . . . I think we've swung to far in the other direction. 

On some level I wish I were one of those people who can go with the flow and remain calm and zen and all that, but the truth is I really like a good schedule to follow. While it may sound counterintuitive to some, I believe having more structure actually simplifies my days. I like knowing what to expect. I like a good list of this happens, then this happens. I like the repetitive feel of a well-planned week. We've been all over the map lately, with everything from bed time to meals to outside activities, and it's starting to show. I believe we will all benefit if Momma gets her act together and encourages a regular, simple routine. 

For now, I'm going to try to make more of a conscious effort to focus on a few specific events to anchor our days. Of course we're in the middle of getting ready to move across an ocean so maybe now is not the best time to revamp the way we do things. And then we'll be off visiting relatives, and setting up the new house, and then we have a planned trip to see Mickey Mouse, and after that Hubby will be getting ready to leave . . . 

Okay maybe this will be more challenging than I think.

Do you aim for simplicity, or do you thrive on chaos? What does your daily routine look like? What do you do to get back on track when you are feeling off kilter?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.