By: Julie Gamberg
I have a confession to make.
(And believe me, no one is more tired of Mommy Confessions than I am. Mommy Confessions tend to give the illusion of opening the door to honest communication about the real challenges of parenting, but instead they wind up being a false apologia for bad parental practices disguised as shame but actually playing a who-can-be-more-funny about hurting children while secretly thinking of oneself as the hero of the story because of the confessional itself (definitely a column for another day). I digress.)
I don’t have enough men in my life. Or I should say, in my daughter’s life. And I wish that were different. It’s not that I don’t give credence to the idea of the importance of male role models in a child’s life because I do. It’s that … it’s that … and here is the real confession: When I think of parental figure role models who we know, almost all of whom are parents themselves, I usually like how women parent much better than how men parent. Egads! I said it!
Now let me just say (hello, friends!), I know of at least half a dozen straight families of which I am blown away by how thoughtfully the male partner parents. But in most straight families I know, the mother is doing so much more of the heavy lifting and so much more of the thoughtful, careful parenting. And worse than that, and heartbreaking to see, I often see fathers who hinder good parenting with impatience – who would rather quickly fix a problem than try to understand what’s going on – and with a lack of sustained time, energy, and attention to issues of parenting, or to their children.
And this is not just limited to fathers I personally know. I have overheard dads talking at the playground or park, or before or after children’s classes and programs. They seem to studiously avoid discussion of childrearing, and if their talk does stray into that realm, they quickly turn to issues of equipment, such as stroller comparisons, or to reporting on their child’s latest feat, and then just as quickly move back to a non-parenting related topic.
I am also on several online parenting boards, and they are primarily filled with mothers. These mothers are seeking peer advice and resources about important and necessary questions related to, say, the nutritional and sleep needs of their children, or how to solve important and pressing family issues. I realize that some of these women are stay at home moms whose primary occupation is parenting and/or the maintenance of the domestic sphere. But many of the women are also working full-time outside of the home and still make time to focus on parenting issues. Yet I almost never see men on these boards in spite of some boards reaching out specifically to men.
I do realize that many women are terrible parents and many men are wonderful parents. However, I am talking here about a larger trend, not individual cases. And in the larger scheme of things, men are not prioritizing parenting.
These men are not bad people. Many are good, wonderful, smart people. And I hear from some of these men too that they feel criticized by women for their failure to be more involved with their children or their failure to parent better (or as they see it, parent more like the other partner wants, which is not necessarily better). These men often express something along the lines of: Give me a break! They want a break from the relentless criticism which is taken as demoralizing and harsh, and brings up feelings of hurt and anger. Of course that would not be fun for anyone.
A long-distance friend of mine, a very enlightened straight father, talks about how people often critique or offer his wife advice when she is out with the kids no matter how well things are going. Yet when he goes out with the kids, he can be practically dangling them by the feet and he usually gets very positive responses … “Oh, look at the great dad!” So society tells women they cannot do enough for their children and tells men they are heroes for simply walking around the block with their children. No wonder it sounds so harsh when women in a relationship try to tell their men otherwise. No one wants to go from hero to villain in the blink of an eye. And the walking around the block hero narrative is so much more appealing. Who wouldn’t want to be seen that way? Yet it isn’t honest.
And it’s important for women who co-parent with men to be honest about the amount of work involved in parenting, and that we as a society work toward shifting our sensibility about women’s and men’s responsibilities toward their children.
Our culture, particularly the perpetuation of patriarchy, hurts these poor clueless-seeming men as much as these beleaguered-seeming women. I would like to see things be different.
What would I like to see?
1. Women demanding and expecting equal partnership in parenting with men.
2. Women, straight women in particular, having children on their own if they can’t find a responsible, giving man with whom to co-parent.
3. Men stepping up and opening themselves up to the time-consuming hard work and attendant joy that is thoughtful parenting.
Is this just an extended male bash? I hope not. Men are acculturated to function in the world so differently from how women are acculturated. They’re taught to take action, to gently let things slide in social relationships, to be comfortable in their bodies and in taking up space, to be courageous, to endeavor to fix problems. Those are all qualities I would like my daughter to be exposed to and to learn from.
I just hope that as some of us are teaching a new generation of girls to take on more traditionally male characteristics, that we’re teaching a new generation of boys to prioritize communication, emotions, and relationships, to be willing to sit with a problem or difficulty before acting, to be vulnerable, and to respect the space of others – so that the next generation of men feel comfortable and at ease with the role of good parent.
To those men who are already are good parents: I salute you. And hope you’ll come hang out with my daughter.
[Photo Credit: Flickr Image: Disgustipado]
By: Julie Gamberg
Since writing the last blog/column for The Next Family, my baby had her first birthday and is now officially a toddler. Getting through the first year is a huge relief – as a friend recently said: the first year is all about survival – yours and theirs. It’s no small feat, so it was both weird and amazing to see my daughter turn one. Looking back to before I conceived, I remember how worried I was about choosing to be a single mom. I anxiously weighed every step of the process – perseverated over minute details, and agonized over decisions. I thought being a single mom by choice was going to be super duper hard. And it is super duper hard. I also thought and hoped that it would be incredibly wonderful – a joy, and worth everything I would be giving up for it. On the heels of this time of year in which everyone meditates on thankfulness, I’d like to say: Thank you thank you thank you –it is less hard and so much more joyful than I imagined. If I could talk to my three or four-years ago self, I would say: Shut up and do it. It will be the most earth shattering, mind blowingly wonderful thing you will ever do and you will be so happy you did. I love being a parent, I love my baby, and I’m so grateful for all of it, in spite of the hard. I want to say to everyone, anyone genuinely considering it, anyone who knows they want to be a parent but isn’t sure if they can do it on their own that yes, you can do it on your own. If you want to and can nurture and love and raise a child, you should. Do it!
[Photo Credit: Flickr Image: Marian Doss]
By: Allison Norris
I don’t think I’ve written enough about my mom’s group. It’s called PEPS and stands for Program for Early Parenting Support…or something. There are 8 of us in the group and our babies are the same age, or within a month of each other. We all live a mile or so apart and meet every Tuesday at 10:30 to talk about our highs and lows of the week, and then a topic. The topic portion has now turned into us making sure that our child does not hit someone else in the group, and that their sippy cup is indeed their own.
When I first started the group, Baylor was 3 weeks old and I was nervous that I wouldn’t fit in, or that someone in the group would be so overbearing that I would dread coming and eventually quit. I called my friend Caren after the first meeting and told her that I was the only single mom and that everyone in the group was either married or engaged and that I just didn’t fit in. She told me to quit if I absolutely hated it, but that maybe it would get better if I went one more time. I didn’t know the women and first impressions after giving birth 3 weeks prior don’t mean a thing.
I went back again and the leader, Shannon, pulled me aside and told me that she thought being a single mom was commendable and that she couldn’t imagine how I was doing it. I told her I didn’t know any differently and thanks (question mark?) for the compliment.
Each week I was learning something new. There were the handful of super organized moms with their outlook calendars opened and ready to plan. They had breastfeeding apps on their iphones and wrote down what their child would eat each day. They did all of the research that I didn’t have time to do, and let me know what was poisonous to feed my new baby. Oh, he’s 5 weeks old…He doesn’t eat steak? They became a valuable tool and women that I still learn from each week.
Then there were the free spirit mamas. They followed a schedule and obeyed the rules, of course, but didn’t write anything down and found their joy planting gardens and cooking with their baby strapped into a carrier on their chest. A schedule, sure, but a nap in the car counts, right? This taught me how to enjoy the small things and be a thoughtful mother noticing each bit of progress my child would make. I felt ok about going with the flow and not freaking out if Baylor wasn’t home for a nap at the exact time he should be.
There are the other moms who are in between… and all of them are my friends.
Today I went to a meeting with Baylor and brought his lion costume. We all sat in our circle and the kids were playing.
Lauren, one of the moms, started saying that today’s meeting was about someone who didn’t know it, and that there was going to be a toast because of what an incredible mom she is. Lauren was also the friend who took me to the airport last week to see Jen in Chicago. I cried the whole trip to the airport because of a fight I got into with Bay’s dad before he picked up my son to keep him for the weekend while I was away. I felt furious, helpless, and like I have nobody on my team. Lauren comforted me the whole way.
She organized with the other moms in the group and they all went around and said something about me because they want me to know how appreciated I am, and what I great mom I am to Bay. I cry as I write this, because I’ve never felt so special. It wasn’t my birthday, mother’s day, or anything special. Just a Tuesday morning when a bunch of women and their babies sat in a circle to make one of their own feel loved. Then they toasted me and I cried a little more.
No matter the put downs that I may have to put up with… I know that this group of friends has my back and see me for the great mom that I work to be every day.
For you mamas out there who don’t hear it enough, BRAVO for watching out for boo boos, wiping poopy butts, singing the itsy bitsy spider a million times a day, and loving your child more than you love anything in the world. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Thank you so much moms, for the gift you gave me today. It was the best soul massage I’ve ever had… and boy did I need it.
By: Julie Gamberg
You know those people who are super serious about every little thing? Who can’t seem to crack a smile? Who think they know everything about everything and act like the fate of the world is at stake in everything they do? I’m turning into one of those people!
I found myself at playgroup the other day going on and on about sunscreen, and in particular another mom’s sunscreen. This sunscreen is really popular with health-conscious, informed, concerned parents. It’s on the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) list of best sunscreens. In fact, it is in the top five. Yet many in the alternative health world believe that some of the ingredients are questionable – mainly titanium dioxide, as well as micronized minerals, or nanoparticles, and, I said, the truly best sunscreens use only zinc oxide as an active ingredient and then non-nano blah blah blah. This is me going on and on about what is basically, more or less, good sunscreen. You can imagine how popular I am in playgroup.
Childrearing is a serious business. Yet no one likes a know-it-all and no one likes being told how to raise their kid, even if it is just about sunscreen. It’s amazing what we parents can get into spats about, or in my case, start randomly lecturing about. These spats are sometimes called The Parent Wars, although more often they are called, honestly, The Mommy Wars. There is something slightly Stepford Wives Remake with Nicole Kidman about the concept of The Mommy Wars. Most of the new moms I meet who are at home with their little ones, full or part-time, have a successful background before mommying. They come to motherhood with a strong professional skill set, interested and capable of reading, digesting, synthesizing and analyzing information, and making informed and complex decisions for their families. And then sometimes making the terrible faux pas of talking about these decisions with other moms. This talking about our decisions is one part of what gets called The Mommy Wars which turns my picture of smart, thoughtful mamas sitting around enthusiastically sharing ideas, resources, tips, advice, opinions and yes, even debating, into an image of moms in camouflage with rubber-soled boots and a practical ponytail ducking behind slides and scurrying across jungle gyms to crouch, duck, cover, and shoot.
I don’t think the problem is that we have a diversity of opinions and passion. And I hell-to-the-don’t think the solution is trying to be even more polite, avoiding The Mommy Wars by nodding sweetly and murmuring generic neutrality.
I have a friend who parents in some very non-traditional, progressive ways, but she really doesn’t talk about it too much. She would never, ever comment on the nanoparticles in your sunscreen, even if she had just taken a class in sunscreen nano-chemistry. She would just be like, “Oh, I like the bottle; it’s got a cute picture!”
There is something to this approach of respect and, really, butting out, which is very kind and very appealing. If we don’t talk about how we’re parenting with other parents, we are more likely to all get along and be able to give one another very simple and direct support – having a cup of coffee while our kids play, passing on clothes or toys we no longer need, lending out an item we have. Yet I’m not sure this Code of Silence is the ideal work-around to The Mommy Wars. I deeply appreciate the gesture of all parents who don’t want to be placed in polarized opposition to other parents. But I’m wondering if we can be both not at war, and also talk to one another? Or, to put it simply, is Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell really the only solution to avoiding conflict over discussion of our diverse parenting styles?
The thing is, if we came to parenting accustomed to being in dialogue in our communities, to talking about differences and sharing our ideas, and, dare I say it, if we have even been accustomed to working and agitating for social change before becoming parents, do we really want to suddenly stop — to not speak within a community about our thoughts, our experiences, and even about our alternative ways of doing things?
I realize that parenting is highly personal. But so too is marriage, abortion, state-sponsored murder, rape, citizen ID checks. In other words, if we are invested in social justice issues, we are used to thinking and talking about the highly personal in terms of its larger implications. I think it’s better that we try and fumble, better we let the conversation get a little messy, than to slide into mannered indifference.
I’ve already fessed up to my tendency to be a bit, uhm, pedantic. And I’m working on that. Because there is a lightheartedness, a playfulness in some of the most inspiring parenting I see and that is more important than whether or not your goop is micronized. And I know there is a lot of room between the two extremes of feigned indifference or pushy remonstration. So barring pedantic know-it-all-ness, is it unrealistic to think that we can share parenting ideas and resources beyond the safest and most superficial?
If you’ve found a way to be in real dialogue with parents you encounter – those you already know well and those you are just meeting – how do you do it? Do you feel like you can avoid the feeling of stepping into a boxing ring, yet still talk about (and disagree about) hot button issues such as sleeping and healthcare choices? Do you share information and ideas which are not mainstream with parents who are?
I look forward to starting a dialogue about parenting dialogues with you.
By: Allison Norris
Tugged at, sucked on, and tethered to an 11-month old, I finally understand why mothers are crazy. A new squeal that seems to be connected to part of my brain so that when I hear it, I shut down. He neeeeeeds to be held. He simply can’t LIVE if I don’t pick him up – and then once he’s up, he’ll just die if I don’t put him down. The drama has started.
I am a firm believer in phases. Takes the blame off of me if I’ve done something wrong to make him act a certain terrible way, and also provides a much-needed light at the end of the tunnel. The teething excuse is good too, “oh, yeah, he doesn’t normally scream this much, he’s teeeething” completed with an eye roll and a “pity me” look can make someone believe that your child is normally a saint.
I can see it now – Baylor out on the playground in 1st grade chasing other kids and maybe underestimating the super strength he inherited from his Aunt Liz. He’ll get too close, knock another kid down, they’ll cry, and all of the sudden Baylor is a bully. What will I say?
“It’s just a phase.”
Using the f-bomb in public…
“It’s just a phase.”
Peeing around the outside of the toilet…
“It’s just a phase.”
We just finished moving. I hate moving… but we did it. I am sitting in my new living room surrounded by boxes that are labeled with words like “random living room” giving me absolutely no idea what is inside, but at least knowing which room to put the damn box in. My mom is here to play with Baylor so that I can nestle all of my unorganized belongings into their appropriate places. I started packing at my old place 3 days before the big moving day as the temperature in the northwest reached 90 degrees. I sent Baylor to his dad’s house and shut all of my blinds so that I could pack in my little cave. It’s like everything I am terrible at bottled up like champagne and then it explodes and your kitchen floor is sticky because you were running to the sink with the overflowing bottle and then to the glasses and you missed the dribbles that your feet will stick to the next morning. I’m supposed to be putting my closet together right now… sticky feet.
My new neighbors are a construction crew building a new house so close to mine that I can reach out my window and touch it. On the other side, we have an elderly woman living with her middle-aged son – not sure what the creep factor is yet – but they seem fine. Grown-up son and his mom live in a duplex connected to a very old couple that have lawn ornaments littering their yard. Baylor loves the deer, lions, and the bear the very most and we walk in front of their place when Bay is especially needy and pulling down my shirt to suck on my boobs for milk leaving me feeling like a cow or a drive-thru express widow. Behind my yard is an alley and behind the alley is a junk-yard dog-man. He looks like a pitbull and has tattoos all over his body, including a large one in such detailed cursive across his lower back that I can’t quite make out what it says. I’m afraid he will bite me if I stare too long… might have to get a pair of binoculars for that one.
Ok, I’ve stalled enough. Time to get back to my laundry mountain. I may need a cliff bar and a powerade just to make it to the first lookout point.
By: Allison Norris
I left Baylor at home with my mom over the weekend to attend a wedding in Los Angeles. The decision to leave him was harder than I had thought; but with much encouragement from other mamas who had “cut the cord” (again), I went.
I’d been planning and stressing for the past month. Pumping and freezing enough breast milk to hold Bay over until I got back was no easy feat. I did not have a supply beforehand (classic Allison), and really do hate cleaning all of the little parts of my super pump, so I rarely take the time to fill a bag with my precious liquid. I pumped and pumped and had just enough to feel like I was not leaving my child without, um, food.
I started a non-profit called Project Parachute with Jason Mesnick who was the bachelor on tv. We give child care scholarships to single mamas and dads who are working or going to school. We also are starting support groups across the country for single parents who need to vent about all the dynamic parts of single parenting. This process has been intense and I have learned more than any college class could have taught me. Anyone who has filed a tax-exemption application (or 501c3) with the IRS knows what a task this can be… It has also provided me with the opportunity to help some single parents out there!
It also meant that I was invited to Jason’s wedding, and to represent this project that I have become so passionate about.
I met Christina, the other executive director of Project Parachute. We’ve been talking on the phone for almost 6 months and started the foundation together – from across the country. She lives in Gainesville, Florida, and we met for the first time in LA. She is fabulous. Christina has followed another “famous single dad” and insisted that we meet up with him.
An absolute bonus about LA was meeting Matt Logelin. Matt’s wife just died after giving birth to their daughter, Maddie, while still in the hospital. Matt started a blog and a non-profit, and is in the process of finishing a book about his experience. After picking his brain about how to run a successful foundation, Matt disclosed that he digs sweets, good music, and dropping f-bombs. I obviously wanted to be his new bff.
Matt talked about his blog and what it did for him. He never considered himself a writer, but just started doing it to cope with his loss… and his new love, Maddie. His writing is raw and honest and to the point while still poetic. There is no beating around the bush or leaving you wondering about what he meant. He told me that he had to stop caring about what other people thought and just write exactly what he observed and felt.
Of course we have different writing styles – I am more into telling a story… with a splash of “funny” – and I’m too nervous about what everyone will say if I bare my soul to the world (ok, maybe not “the world”). It was inspiring and amazing and it broke my heart. All of it.
Meeting Matt, and then witnessing the behind-the-scenes of a televised wedding couldn’t have been more of a juxtaposition. Both famous daddios, and for entirely different reasons. Both working on helping single parents… and a few new loves.
Maybe I do need to be a little more “raw” with my writing. I guess for Matt, after losing the love of your life – in front of you – you realize that the small stuff doesn’t matter and who gives a shit about what people think. It’s making the most out of your life, and about being the best parent you can be to the little eyes that look up to you and trust each decision that you make. Right?
I gave Bay extra kisses today… Then, he peed on me and I loved every second of it.
[photo credit: Flickr- Viastula]
I can always tell when I say something annoying. I wonder why people who are actually very annoying don’t catch on… especially after the fourth eye roll in a row or another “mmm-hmm” from the listener while glancing around the room. I feel the words choking me as I sputter them out, not sure why I am saying them as I am sure they are… annoying.
I’ve come to terms with the fact that baby talk is my new first language and that I can’t remember what stories I’ve already told. I’m sure my friends dread playing along like they’ve never heard what I’m about to say and then quickly change the subject so that they don’t have to hear the “repeat tangent” like it’s the first time I’ve thought of it. This is kindness at its best. Not having a husband or roommate walk through the door each evening to exercise my witty bantering skills with has become obvious. I’ve taken up “one upping” to make myself feel like I know what I’m doing and actually talking about.
A friend of mine just had a baby… well, not just, as she has a nine year old and now a 2 month old. We went to lunch and I was so excited to see her, to have someone else to commiserate with and to show off what a hunk my little guy is. Her son was peacefully sleeping in his carseat and woke up hungry. As she started to unbuckle him, words began coming out of my mouth. It reminded me of science class when we we made volcanoes out of vinegar and baking soda. I had my own science experience happening… the words were foaming up and pouring out all over our lunch.
“oh yeah, you should probably feed him here. There aren’t too many places around this shopping center that are good for breastfeeding…”
“Great. I was actually getting him out to feed him.” She politely informed me.
“So… are you planning on joining PEPS, the mommy group?”
“Yeah, I think I’ll join in the next few weeks…”
“Well I signed up when I was four months pregnant and barely got on a waiting list. It’s a miracle I’m even in a group – so I would sign up, like, yesterday.”
Who was this know-it-all inhabiting my body? It was as if all self control and social etiquette had become a thing of the past and I was this savage of a girlfriend with primitive communication skills.
She fed her son and we finished feeding ourselves. We packed our things and I caught sight of her $1200 stroller. It was like someone was inside of my brain pushing the buttons and torquing the levers as I started comparing our strollers – out loud.
“Yeah, the thing I like about my stroller is that it has an undercarriage so that I can put all my stuff underneath. I’d be totally lost without it. Like, how do you even leave the house without one?”
“And another thing, my diaper bag is so small that it leave me tons of room for other stuff. Have you seen this diaper bag brand? Mmm hmm. It’s the best.”
She got very quiet and it was unfortunately time for me to go home. I drove the 5 miles home replaying every awkward comment that I had made. It was like a drunken hook up that you can’t get out of your head the entire next day – that one scene that makes you go ohhh nooooo. I had experienced my first know-it-all drunken hook up… or whatever.
I blame it on sleep deprivation, making up songs about birdies and puppies that I end up humming because I can’t think of more words that rhyme, and eating too many Christmas cookies because I am home all day alone with them. It’s a bad combination and one that led me down a very dark social path, leaving me feeling like Penelope from snl… with a baby. I am just banking on my friend being equally as sleep deprived and too tired to notice. It feels like I have no idea what I’m doing on a daily basis and when that opportunity arises to sound like I am in control and actually have a grasp on things – it’s too awesome to pass up!
If you run into “Allison-the-expert”, I apologize. Right here, right now, I apologize.