A colleague recently told me that she just couldn’t imagine how hard it must be for me to put trust in my nanny while I’m at work. “I just don’t know how you do it,” she said. She’s pregnant and will have the luxury of staying at home. Her judgments have begun. Whether we’re willing to admit it or not, as moms we judge and are judged. I’m tired of being judged but I will never stop judging, I can’t help myself. But she with her opinions before even having birthed her child made me cringe. I wanted to say thank you very much for throwing in my face that which I obsess about daily, thank you for making me feel like a horrible mom because I have to provide for my family, thank you for reminding me how much less fortunate I am than you, thank you very much for your insensitivities. Instead I said “Yeah, it’s tough.” I was furious after I abruptly ended our conversation. How dare she? It’s hard enough that I recently stopped nursing my second, that I don’t see my kids nearly as often as I would like, that I wish I could be with them every waking hour. I wish I didn’t have to work. But then I started realizing, it’s hard to be a stay-at-home-mom, I know this because I have flexibility in my schedule and sometimes when I get a long string of taking care of my kids, I appreciate the break that work gives me. I like motivating to look good, be smart, and talk with grown-ups. Kids exhaust you, raising them is hard and not having balance in my judgmental opinion can make you complacent. I know stay-at-home moms who take any chance they can to get on the computer just to escape, they plan play dates accompanied with wine, they are bored to tears and they’ll admit it in intimate settings. So perhaps said colleague will become a tired, run-down, alcoholic stroller-pusher. Regardless, she has become one of those in my mind, those women that always have a better way of doing things. I’m sure her child will be speaking two languages at one!
By: Stacey Ellis
So my husband and I decide to finally start using babysitters and getting out. Our first big night out was to dinner and a show with some friends. That felt great. Next, we had a double date for dinner with another couple. They have two kids and we have one. Her kids are a bit older than mine so she has a lot of knowledge. Also, she’s a stay-at-home mom, so she has more time to focus on every little aspect of parenting. EVERY. LITTLE. ASPECT.
I learned this quickly on our double date. She asked me if I had started to look into preschools. I was king of dumbfounded. I really didn’t know what to say. I mean, my daughter is six months old. Preschool? That’s for when she’s like three or four right? Sure we started looking at synagogues but mainly for the sense of community and Jewish involvement. We considered having her go to a Jewish preschool as well, but really thought that concept was years away and haven’t focused on it. We certainly haven’t signed her up for any preschool and haven’t visited any preschools.
My friend said, “If you don’t get her signed up for preschool by the time she’s one, she’ll never get in. And then, you have to start working on elementary school right away.” I already felt behind. While I was grateful to have the information – this is when I learned the difference between the stay-at-home mom and the working mom. I – the working mom – only have three hours a day to focus on anything baby related – and those three hours are spent WITH my daughter, giving her my undivided attention. I come home from work and we play together or take a walk and eat, then play some more, then tubby time, final bottle and sleep (her, not me). Then my last two hours of the day, after my daughter is asleep, are bottles, laundry, paying bills, and well, sleeping.
My friend – the stay-at-home mom – who had a full career before becoming a mom, is now obsessed with everything for her children. Those are not my words, those are hers. She says she only becomes obsessed when she is with other stay-at-home moms since they start talking about all of the things they are doing for the best interest of her kids. And then she comes home exhausted and exasperated that she’s behind. So I was thinking to myself, why are you doing this to me tonight?!
So I changed the subject and we started talking about getting together at the park. I said, “Our daughter loves the swing.” She looked at me intensely, “On your lap?” I said, no in the black seat with the chain.” She said, “You put her in the seat with the chain? Not even a full bucket?” I said, “Sure, she loves it.” I had no idea there was a problem with this. She looked at me like I had two heads. Then the debate between her husband and her ensued over whether they would put their one-year-old in a swing with a chain and not a full bucket. I thought to myself, it’s not like I’m pushing her far. If she started arching her back, I’d be right there. I didn’t understand the big deal. My daughter cracks up laughing and actually holds on to the chain. Some days I think she’s trying to get me to push her higher, but I’m cautious since she’s so young. But it seemed the only way to be cautious enough for my friend was to never put her on a swing without a full bucket again.
Subject change: Napping. Oops. Again, not the best subject since my daughter is not on the perfect, by-the-minute schedule. She’s close, but not perfect. Her kids go down at the exact same times every day. She even sent me a book and DVD on naptime and sleeping patterns. They were very helpful. The books definitely say a regular naptime is very effective, BUT the books even give a half hour of wiggle room on this. So we work on trying to stay within that time frame – and on weekends if we are going to be out during nap time, we make sure she’s in a stroller where she can sleep for naptime. I could tell while we were talking, she got quieter and quieter. She makes sure her kids go down at the exact same time every day for both naps and they go to sleep at night at the same exact time, by the minute, every night. She does not leave the house during nap time. EVERY. Basically – she acted like she has it all under control and that is how to raise healthy, happy children.
But in reality, do any of us REALLY have it ALL under control? Could I be a better parent? I think every mother feels this way – wondering daily if we are doing everything “right”. But am I doing anything that will harm my child? I don’t think so. She’s happy all the time. She’s healthy and gaining weight. She seems well rested. She already knows the signs for “eat”, “more”, and “up”. She’s just amazing. And I know some day, a preschool will see that as well.
[Photo Credit: Women on the Fence]
By: Kelly Rummelhart
I do WAY too much. People who know me constantly ask how I do it all. Well, the answer is: I have no idea. I am a juggler of sorts and truly think that if I get rid of one or two “balls” that I’m going to drop them all. But with my teaching gig starting back up this week, I just know that at this point in time, something’s gotta give.
Let me describe all my balls:
I am a wife and mother (my kids are 9, 7, and 4).
I own and work at my children’s boutique, Ruby Q’s.
I am an adjunct instructor at American River College. (I teach Human Sexuality.)
I just started a surrogacy consulting business, Just the Stork.
I Facebook for Ruby Q’s and myself personally (which includes 2 surro-groups).
I Tweet about surrogacy/personal life and my new surrogacy business.
I blog for The Next Family and at my own blog.
I follow and support other surrogates by reading their blogs and submitting comments.
As you can see, I am one busy lady. You may be wondering how the hell I pull off being a pregnant surrogate at times. Well, that’s easy. I just do everything I usually do, but with some “company”. Being a surrogate is the easiest of all the things I do and has one of the biggest emotional rewards. I have very easy pregnancies, which usually include limited morning sickness and minimal complications. Even when I have issues like swelling, it may look horrible but doesn’t really feel bad. Heck, even the genetic betrayal that is my wide hips make this part of my life a genetic gift. I guess it’s all in the way you look at it.
But however I look at it, I know that I’ve got to let something go. There needs to be a decision to slough off something so that I will be able to do less so I can spend more time with my family . . . but what should that be?
Kelly Rummelhart writes about her experiences as a two-time gestational surrogate for gay couples. She calls herself a “Uterine Activist” and will be the first to tell you that her uterus is an ally. Kelly also writes at Just The Stork
By: Stacie Ellis
Everyone tells you “having a baby will change your life.” Yes, it does. And it’s hard to adjust to such a tremendous life change. Now, add to that a new job. I knew I’d have to go back to work, as I am a big financial contributor to our family and I carry the health insurance since my husband is self-employed. But I didn’t just have to go back – I had to go back within a month. Adoption is not treated the same as giving birth. When a woman gives birth, my company offers full pay for two weeks’ baby bonding, and six weeks’ “disability” (eight weeks if you had a c-section). But I didn’t give birth; therefore, I got just two weeks’ baby bonding at full pay. The state offers six more weeks of “state disability” at 45% of your salary, but that caps out at $780/week. So, I had two weeks. Fortunately, I had two more weeks of vacation I could tack on. That’s it.
People misunderstand, thinking companies pay for six months off. No, they pay whatever time period they want to pay for, yet you can take up to a total of six months off UNPAID. People asked me – why don’t you at least take the state disability and stay home? “Your baby needs you,” they’d say. They looked down on me, not believing I HAD to go back to work. I joked that I wouldn’t be meeting my baby’s needs if we couldn’t pay the mortgage and she didn’t have a roof over her head. That was my way of keeping myself from wringing their necks and screaming at the top of my lungs, “What part of spending nearly $60,000 in infertility treatments and $32,000 to adopt – all in straight cash –do you not understand?” That’s an entire salary! Gone! But how could any of them understand? When they gave birth, their insurance covered every aspect of the pregnancy and delivery.
So, we hired a nanny, which was remarkably cheaper than daycare, and one month after our baby girl was born, I was back at my desk with no interest whatsoever. None. But I went through the motions and pretended to care. My husband works from home so he took pictures of our daughter and sent them to me during the day. As much as I wanted to see them, this made being away from her even harder. I was missing everything. Missing her smell. Missing her touch. Missing her in her cute clothes. Missing her in the gymini. Missing comforting her. Just missing her. It was a much harder adjustment than I thought it would be…and then my world was rocked again with the offer of a new job.
Before we ever turned in our adoption paperwork, and before we were matched with birthparents, I interviewed for a new job that paid tens of thousands of dollars more than I was making and with a higher title – Vice President. I never planned to leave my stable job of six years. I was merely “exploring my worth.” But then it happened – I really liked the people I interviewed with and I really liked the fact that the job was more managerial instead of worker bee. After my first interview, I was intrigued and thought I could see myself at this new company. But then came “the call” that brought us our daughter. While in Chicago, I completely flopped back to the other side. I had no intention of taking the new job. I couldn’t handle a new baby and a new job. But I was determined to continue the interviewing process to get a counteroffer from my current company. I still had one interview to go but I was stuck in Chicago for two weeks. I threw caution to the wind and sent an email with the subject line heading of “A funny thing happened on the way to…” My new “boss to be” was so incredibly gracious, congratulating me and telling me that was the best email she ever read that week and it brought a tear to her eye. She said to just let her know when I got back in town to reschedule. They’d wait. Wait? What kind of employer was this? Waiting for me to get back? That’s just surreal. Most employers couldn’t care less about your personal life and most would interpret “new baby” to mean “I won’t be as available as someone without a baby.” (I’m a lawyer. I know they can’t take familial status into account in hiring, but still, they could just have said, “Oh, that’s too bad” and moved on.)
My baby was three weeks old when I went in to meet with the General Counsel of the company for my final interview. I had already decided; I wanted an offer. I would get a counter offer, make more money and stay in my old job. Then I interviewed and dang it, I liked these people even more! And I liked the job even more! I was conflicted. Now I didn’t want an offer so I could justify staying in my old job. It would be impossible to turn this down if the money were right. Sure enough, the money was right. And the counteroffer came – it was nearly comparable. Welcome to migrane hell for the weekend as I wrote lists upon lists of pros and cons to each position.
I’m a strong woman. I had endured a year of infertility treatments which included surgery, poking, prodding, and mind- and body- altering drugs. I had endured the heartache of being told I’d never have a biological child. I had endured 48 hours of no sleep following the call that our baby was born. Sure enough, I could handle a new job on top of a new baby. No problem. I knew I would never be promoted in my current job and my salary, even though higher, wouldn’t continue to grow like it would in the new job. There was simply more room for advancement. And while I was completely disinterested in work, I was now a mama bear who wanted to provide for her child and if I HAD to work, it may as well be somewhat rewarding. So, I took the new job. I soon realized, no matter how strong I am, I was not strong enough for this.
In a total of six weeks I had a new baby and now I was walking into my first day of work at a new job…in New York. YES, my first week of work was 3000 miles away from my baby for four days. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. I quickly learned that this new job wasn’t just bigger than my old job. It was 10x bigger, with 10x more work, with 10x more stress. I figured this out on my first day. I felt like I had made the biggest mistake of my life.
It took nearly three weeks (now back in Los Angeles) for me to feel like I made the right decision, even though I am still not entirely sure. I leave for work at 6:15 AM to get to work by 7AM. If I left at 7AM, I’d get to work at 9ish because of Los Angeles traffic. I leave to come home at 3PM and get home between 4:00 PM and 5:00PM on good nights and remain on blackberry til about 6:00PM. I run in the door, grab my baby and try to spend those “quality three hours” with her before she goes to bed. Anyone who has an infant knows, quality time with a baby is mainly trying to soothe her from crying because they are cranky in the evening hours. I, of course, also thought I was SuperWife, trying to cook and clean up dinner as well, and my husband finally put his soft foot down and said, “let’s get Dream Dinners” (prepared healthy dinners which we pick up once a week and defrost as we use them). Once I figured out they weren’t any more expensive than buying all the ingredients to cook healthy meals, I was sold. Still that didn’t alleviate my intense stress.
I’m not working out. I’m not performing as well in my job because I can’t stay late to “get up to speed”– I have a baby who needs me. I’m not having sex because I’m going to bed at 8PM most nights so I can do the 4AM feeding and have at least some time with my daughter in the morning even if she sleeps through it. I’m crying every day on my way to work in the pitch dark, watching the sun rise as I approach the office. I’m crying most days on my way home. I’m not de-stressing in any way possible and I feel like my life is completely out of control…
By: Sheana Ochoa
I happened to be driving around Los Angeles on a Thursday afternoon when my favorite KCRW program, Bookworm, aired. Host Michael Silverblatt was interviewing Nicole Strauss whose novels The History of Love and especially Man Walks into a Room present a voice I haven’t heard before, one of loss and identity and the magical “what if” without belaboring the post-modern tropes of metafiction. At any rate, so I’m listening and I get home and have to take up the groceries just as the conversation gets juicy, just as Silverblatt asks the proverbial question of the artist and the need to sacrifice life for art, the need to isolate oneself at long intervals in order to create, teetering on solipsism. More importantly, he ponders how society’s judgment doubles when the artist is a mother. I’ll have to download the podcast to hear how Krauss responded, but it left me asking myself the same question.
As I’ve mentioned before, I struggle with energy deficiency so I have to put my toddler in daycare. Sending him off all day during the week leaves me with (you’d think) plenty of solitude, reflection, time for writing. In actuality, I’ve found that time shrinks up as quickly as it used to when I was a full-time teacher. When I first came up with the idea of daycare I suffered from guilt as I imagine any mom would who has to leave her child, although the typical reason for putting one’s child in daycare is work. I compared myself to these “working” mothers and felt I did not have the same rights they had because, even though I was also working part of the day, writing, I was doing so from home where my son could just as easily be present if I were healthy. And yet, why, just because I work from home, should I feel more guilty or guilty at all for sending my son to daycare? After the first month, I realized it was a great outlet for him; he was making friends, learning social skills and being more active than he would be with me at home. The guilt dissipates and then returns.
The point is that our society does not hold up the work of artist as seriously as that of other professions. This is due no doubt to the fact that most artists struggle financially in a society lacking respect, support and a sense of purpose for art. There is a lot of material on this issue, the lack of government funds for the NEA just one example, and it’s not my intention to rehash it here.
What I do want to examine is why it is that the artist, devoting countless hours to her work, who also happens to be a mother, could be construed as a “bad” mother, while a mother working outside the home, maybe even taking business trips, is not a bad mother? And what about fathers? How are they so conspicuously excluded from the “bad” label? The answer lies in our deified, puritanical work ethic whose attitude is that breadwinning is synonymous with parenting. The distinction is what needs to be clarified, and none better to do so than third wave feminism, which is still vaguely defined, and now includes more men than ever, while also being colorblind, but not genderblind. Just ask anyone under twenty and the fact that our president is African-American is as natural as the fact that he is a man. Why haven’t we surmounted the same hurdles with our attitudes towards women?
But again, I digress; I’m not writing to correct the bra-burning connotations of feminism in order to clarify where we stand as a nation in our treatment of women, but as an artist who has become a mother and subsequently struggles with guilt. The fact that I chose to have my son on my own, intentionally without a father, magnifies the judgment of selfishness in some circles. As his primary care giver, I am vulnerable to the same feelings of guilt and second-guessing I imagine most moms experience, even stay-at-home moms. Add to that a need for reflection, composition, revision and I’m left doing less writing and more mothering. Not that I would trade one job for the other, but taking the perspective of Joyce’s young artist who grappled with his devotion to his family and his art: “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” Joyce saw how the artist’s work is no different from a parent’s: they both render the individual invisible, sacrificed to a higher purpose. And so the best way I know of being a “good” mother is to remain doing what I love the most (not “beyond or above” but in concert with loving my son): writing, creating, feeding my artistic imagination.
By: Caren Gillespie
When The Next Family approached me to write an article about a special mother, my first thought was, “how do I choose just one?” I know some pretty phenomenal moms, but here is one who really stands out.
Krista is a full-time working mother of three children: Mercer, (almost) 7, Haley, 4, and Kemper, 1. When I say “full time”, I’m not talking about your typical 9-5 day. Krista, who works in sales, is basically on call all hours of the day. She is not the type of person to do anything half-assed -especially mothering…
With all the work she has to do, one might think she’d have no time to be so present in her children’s day-to-day lives. I, being a stay at home mom, have more time than Krista has, but I cannot imagine being able to participate in all my children’s daily activities in the way she does. She is a room mother, a coach, on the preschool board, and attends all school events. She admits that being so involved allows her to have a bit more control of the environment of her son, who has a peanut allergy so severe that he must always carry an Epi-Pen. She is determined to not only make the school district a nut-free environment, she just might take on the world at some point….this is just how she rolls. All the while, she is determined that her son not feel abnormal about his allergy and he takes it in stride.
I am in awe when I watch all she can juggle. She runs her house in a coach-like manner with a “go get ‘em!” mentality and a soft mommy edge. It works for her family, and their “dance” is inspiring to watch. She could not have more generous, thoughtful, loving children. You watch them and you know for sure they know they are Number One in her life. She does get sad if she has missed out on anything with her children, and you can tell she has mom guilt with some of her choices (I tell her it comes with the territory). But one thing you won’t hear from her is complaining. Sure, she gets down or needs to vent, but most of that consists of her trying to figure out a solution for whatever is bugging her or what she could do differently in the future. It’s inspiring really….
I recently sat down over some wine and appetizers to see if I could find out her secret.
Did you always know you wanted a big family?
Yes, I grew up in a big sports family and when one of us was away it didn’t feel like the house was empty because at least two of us were home. It was like our own internal community, which is what I want for my children.
How do you balance your family and working life?
That’s a great question…It’s an answer I hope I will learn someday. Do you know you have balance when you do? I guess I just try to maintain acceptance and try and let go of some of the tactical things. I basically keep two identities: my work and my home.
What is your biggest challenge with maintaining some balance?
Sometimes I wish I had more time in the day and sometimes I wish the day were over. I try and make sure each day includes one-on-one time with each of the kids.
Describe your relationship with your husband.
I feel so blessed to have Steve; we have been best friends for 15 years. I know he is always there for me….He’s my family!
Describe a good day.
A good day consists of no morning appointments so I can walk my kids to school, my work done early so I can play with the kids before dinner and time with each kid. I want them to be tired because we had so much fun that day.
What do you do for yourself?
Not Enough! I just know that when the kids are laughing it’s good for my soul. I do get to sleep in sometimes and am finding more time with my friends, but for the most part I am still trying to figure it out.
What is your 5-year plan?
Part of why I work now is so when my kids are preteen and teenagers I won’t have to work as hard and can spend more time with them.
In a perfect world, how would your life look?
I would vacation every day and just watch my kids having a blast. We would have no monetary responsibility.
What advice would you give someone else contemplating a large family while working full time?
Find what works for you, everyone is different but make sure you laugh every day.
I feel privileged to know Krista. Even with her every day demands she always tells me “are you kidding? I always have time for you.” She truly inspires me to be a more positive mother and to appreciate the time I get to spend with my own children. She does it all so gracefully but she will be the first to admit it is not easy. It takes work, but it’s all worth it to her!
By: Amy Forstadt
There comes a time when maternity leave ends, the bank account is drained, and it’s time for mom to go back to work. For some women, this is a gut-wrenching, heart-breaking experience that involves tearing themselves away from their babies every morning, crying at their desks, and feeling like something is seriously wrong with the world. For others (me) it’s more like, “Hey, check it out. I’m wearing mascara, I’m going out to lunch, and I keep getting paid! Awesome!” I love my son but I also like to work. I never really wanted to be a stay at home mom and since we can’t live on my husband’s salary alone, it wasn’t even an option.
After a few years of freelancing, I got a full-time gig and felt like I’d won the lottery. It was close to my house, close to Benjie’s preschool, paid well, was easy enough, and had cushy hours. Life was good.
But then it all changed. I got involved. I got ambitious. All of a sudden, I’m invested. I hear myself at meetings making suggestions and having ideas, and I know I’ve just volunteered for lots more work. The little voice inside my head is saying, “What are you doing? Stop it! Take the paycheck and run!” even as I’m scheduling more meetings and juggling more deadlines. Suddenly my life is crazy and stressful and I don’t know how I’m going to get it all accomplished. I see women all around me rushing from one place to another, carrying a baby on a hip while taking a conference call with her free hand. I can’t help but wonder, “How do those women do it all? And when did I become one of them?”
The whole work/life balance thing has been a problem for working mothers since the first cavewoman grabbed her cave briefcase and left her cave babies in cave daycare so she could go out and kill something for dinner. It’s not only about balancing your work, your family, your friends, and your occasional need for a mani/pedi. It’s about balancing your ambition with your maternal instinct. It’s about what you WANT to do vs. what you NEED to do, and those things don’t even stay the same day-to-day. I want to do well in my job. I want to be a good mother and wife. I want to bring home the T-Rex and fry it up in the pan. It’s not a new struggle but, for the first time, it’s mine. There’s nothing to do but what countless cavewomen have done before me: square my shoulders, grab my club, and get it done.
Amy also have a podcast The Because Show