Tag Archives: mommy wars (sigh)

A Few Meditations On Being a Feminist Parent

25 Sep

My kid has a tractor obsession. Like, he goes bananas any time he sees one of the damn things. This bit of information will, hopefully, help explain why I found myself at the International Plowing Match And Expo on Friday with Theo and my mother.

The plowing match was held not far from where I grew up in Kitchener, Ontario, and was filled with men who looked like this:

The pipe is my FAVOURITE PART

It was basically a whole day of mingling with old white farmer dudes, watching people use old-timey plows and admiring farming equipment. In a way, it was oddly comforting, or at least comfortingly familiar – I feel like a lot of my Kitchener childhood was spent around old white farmer dudes, so seeing their mutton chop beards and dingy overalls definitely gave me the warm glow of home.

Anyway, Theo basically had the time of his life. There were so many dang tractors at the show; there was even a tractor square dance. I kid you not. I bought Theo a toy tractor, which he promptly named Go and hasn’t put down since.

That night, after we got back to Toronto, I went over to my friend Caitlin’s place to help her pack for an upcoming move. Afterwards, I texted Matt to let him know that I was on my way home, and asked how Theo was doing.

The response I received was less than encouraging:

Bad. He just threw up.

Theo spent the rest of the night throwing up, and part of Saturday. Weirdly, he seemed totally fine in between bouts of vomiting – he would get ‘er done without much fuss, then run off and go about his business. He was fine all day Sunday, so we brought him to daycare this morning.

Unfortunately, Theo-the-puke-machine turned into Theo-the-poop-machine this afternoon. Which means that one of us has to stay home with him tomorrow.

So here’s where things get tricky: as Theo’s mother, and the person who has been his primary caregiver for, oh, pretty much his entire life, I feel like I should be the one to stay home. But I won’t be, because, as a person who has recently joined Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Club Of Serious Grown Ups And For-Real Feminists, I have to, you know, go to work. Matt’s job is in some ways more flexible than mine, and it was easier for him, in this particular instance, to take the time off.

This made me feel guilty. Because, really, doesn’t a sick baby need their mother most of all?

I’ve been feeling a lot of guilt lately. Granted, we’re only about two and half weeks into Theo’s daycare career, but I’m frustrated that I’m having so much trouble ironing out the bugs in our schedules. The hardest part is that I feel like I barely see him.

In a perfect world, I would only have to work two evenings a week, and would be able to pick him up mid-afternoon most days. In the real world, I’ve had to jump at a few subbing opportunities that have come my way (the first rule for new yoga teachers being Make Yourself Available), and I often find myself coming home before going to pick my kid up so that I can get a bit of housework done before Hurricane Theo returns.

I guess that what it boils down to is, what’s most important to me right now: being with my kid every moment that I’m not managing the studio, or trying to balance my Theo time with my building my career as a yoga teacher time? More and more often, I’m finding that building my career is winning out.

Why? Well, I spent the first nineteen months of Theo’s life devoting the vast majority of my time and energy to his well-being. I’m glad that I did, because that was what worked best for me and my family. But now that Theo is older, and really beginning to assert himself as his own person, daycare seems to be a really good fit for him. He’s excited to go, and he often talks about his friends there: Ella, Anand and Eliana have all come up recently in conversation. Oh, and my favourite, Jonah, which Theo pronounces “Gonad”.

It’s not that Theo and I didn’t have fun when we were home together, but I’ve realized something: this is a tough age for me. I don’t mean that Theo is difficult to be around, or that he’s throwing terrible tantrums (not yet, anyway), but I often find myself unsure of what he needs from me as a mother these days. When he was a tiny baby, it was easy to know what he wanted: me, and plenty of it. When he’s older, and we’re able to have proper conversations, I think I’ll find that easier, too. But this stage, this in-between I-need-you-but-don’t-need-you stage, is tough.

I have a hard time knowing when to inundate him with talking and singing and general in-your-faceness, and when to just let him play quietly. I feel like I spend so much of our time together chasing him away from things he’s not supposed to be touching, and trying to convince him to do whatever it is I want him to do. Maybe I’m kidding myself, but I think that being in daycare for a good chunk of the day makes him more eager to listen to me when he does get home. And instead of spending my time half-assing my way through housework while he desperately tries to get my attention (or dragging myself through it late at night, after he’s gone to bed), I can get it done quickly and easily while he’s not there.

And then there’s the whole work thing: these early days are important for networking, and I need to build a reputation as someone who is eager to work, and able to pick up classes on short notice. I’m creating a foundation for what will hopefully be a solid career. This is something that will, someday, benefit not just me, but Theo, and Matt, and any of our future kids too.

And, finally, it’s becoming increasingly important for Theo to learn that it’s not just mom who’s the solution to all of his problems. As Matt spends more and more time with him, Theo is learning that his father can be just as much of a source of tenderness and comfort as his mother can. He is learning that the world is much bigger than just one person and her boobs, and that people other than mama can be relied on to fulfill his wants and needs. The more time he spends apart from me, the better Theo is becoming at communicating just what those wants and needs are.

You guys, Theo is growing up.

I guess that what I ultimately want to say here is that being a feminist parent is about balance: learning to balance your kid’s needs with your own, and figuring out how that will shape your life. It’s about realizing that you, as a mother, do not need to be the be-all-end-all of your child’s life. You can learn to share the responsibility. You can figure out when to step back and say, I’m going to focus on myself for, like, five minutes and my kid will be just fine.

Most of all, it’s about accepting the fact that you have needs, too, and your kid does not always trump those needs, no matter what some magazine or parenting blog or conservative politician wants you to think.

Now, if only I could beef up Theo’s immune system and get him to stop bringing home these daycare bugs, I would be totally set.

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An Open Letter to Nicola Kraus (or, another day, another angry-making article)

18 Sep

Dear Nicola Kraus,

So! I understand that you have discovered the one single method of parenting that works for everyone and you are proselytizing this fact via the Huffington Post. Well, that is good news! Please, tell me more!

No, but seriously: I find articles like yours incredibly difficult to read. Not only is the tone rude and condescending, but the content is full of assumptions and misinformation.

First of all, let’s talk about a few personal pet peeves that I have with regards discussions surrounding attachment parenting:

1. Dr. Sears did not come up with attachment theory. John Bowlby did. Doctor Sears may have popularized the idea and coined the phrase attachment parenting, but it’s a concept that’s been around since the 50s.

2. I bet that you actually practice attachment parenting, even if you don’t want to call it that. In fact, I guarantee it.

The basis of attachment theory is this, which comes from Bowlby’s seminal 1951 work, Maternal Care and Mental Health:

… the infant and young child should experience a warm, intimate, and continuous relationship with his mother (or permanent mother substitute) in which both find satisfaction and enjoyment.

Keep in mind that in the first half of the 20th century, women were getting a lot of not-so-great advice form doctors. They were told to put their babies on a schedule as soon as possible, feeding them only every three or four hours instead of whenever the baby was hungry. They were advised not to pick up their crying babies for fear of spoiling them, and there was also a pervasive belief that crying strengthened the lungs. I have a friend whose grandmother was instructed to wheel her infant son out into the garden every day and let him cry for half an hour. While her baby cried, she would sit at the table and weep because she hated it so much. But she still did it, because her doctor had told her to.

Attachment parenting, by contrast, suggests that you respond to your baby’s needs in an appropriate and timely fashion. Which, I am guessing, is probably something that you do.

Breastfeeding, cosleeping, babywearing, etc. are not necessary for attachment parenting. They’re tools that can help form a bond between parent and child, but they aren’t by any means required. Your friend Dr. Sears says the following:

AP is an approach, rather than a strict set of rules. It’s actually the style that many parents use instinctively. Parenting is too individual and baby too complex for there to be only one way. The important point is to get connected to your baby, and the baby B’s [his term for the set of tools mentioned above] of attachment parenting help. Once connected, stick with what is working and modify what is not. You will ultimately develop your own parenting style that helps parent and baby find a way to fit – the little word that so economically describes the relationship between parent and baby.

So even Doctor Sears says that you need to go with what’s best for you and your family.

I guess that what I really want to say with you is this: I’m happy that your kid is a great sleeper. I’m happy that you found a method that works for you. But what you should realize is: every child and every family is different.

For instance, my kid? My kid is 19 months and still sleeps in my bed, which I’m fine with. He didn’t end up there because I had romantic ideas about forming a bond with him. We have a crib for him. He hated it.

From just about day one, my son point-blank refused to sleep in his crib. He would fall asleep after nursing, I would swaddle him back up and gently (so gently) lie him down in his crib. Within ten minutes he would be screaming. I tried everything – waiting until he was deeply, deeply asleep to move him, putting him down when he was drowsy but still awake, keeping his spot in the crib warm with a heating pad – nothing worked.

On top of that, I was struggling with postpartum depression in the early months of his life, which was made much, much worse by my lack of sleep. Even if I had been comfortable with the idea of letting him cry it out (which I wasn’t), it would have meant several days of even less sleep. The idea of that would have made me cry, except that I already spent most of my time crying.

Once my son started sleeping in my bed, I found that it actually helped with my anxiety. For one thing, it was easy for me to check on him during the night to make sure that he was still breathing. It also made nighttime feeds easier – they were no longer this big production of getting him out of the crib, getting the nursing pillow in place, feeding him, then getting him back to sleep, putting him back in the crib, etc. Once he was in my bed I literally just had to roll over to nurse him and then roll back over once he was done.

The way that my husband and I parent isn’t for everyone. I get that. I try to be respectful of the way other people raise their children, and I think that by and large I’m pretty successful. As long as your kid is healthy, happy and well-fed, I think you’re doing a bang-up job. I would really appreciate it if you could extend me the same respect.

Oh, and by the way? When you let a 12-week-old cry it out, you are not teaching them to self-soothe, you’re teaching them that no one is coming to comfort them (and, by the way, there’s a world of difference between those two concepts). Science is behind me on this one. Science is awesome!

I totally agree with you on one thing, though – parenting is really fucking hard. The hardest part is that you have no idea what you’re doing, and you have to make important decisions on the fly while operating on little or no sleep. But the thing is, everyone is trying to do their best working with whatever they’re given. So why are you making people feel badly about the way they parent, when you already know that they’re doing their damnedest? How is your judgment and condescension helpful in any way? Just a few things you might want to think about.

Anyway, for the record, I don’t think that attachment parenting has made my kid clingy, or, you know, overly attached. In fact, I think the opposite is true: he’s so confident in our bond, so certain that I’ll be there to help him when he needs it, that he feels totally comfortable running off and doing his own thing. He’s happy to take off without looking back, because he just assumes that my husband or I will be close behind him. Because we always have been.

Sincerely,

Annabelle

p.s. You should maybe advise all of your sex-deprived friends to try getting it on in rooms other than the bedroom. The living room couch or the shower are two good suggestions. Tell them to be creative! If they really want to fuck, I’m sure they’ll find a way.

Theo, trying to claim the whole bed for himself

Ugh. Sleep.

15 Sep

When you have a kid, you soon realize that one of the most frequent (and bizarre) questions you get from family, friends and strangers is: is she a good baby? 

Like, what are you going to say? No? She’s a really shitty baby? I wish I could send her back? We’ve been in touch with some adoption agencies? I hope the next one turns out better?

After the good baby question, the next thing that will inevitably come out of that person’s mouth is: is she a good sleeper? Because for some reason all babies are judged based on their ability to sleep.

My son is a terrible sleeper. He has many sterling qualities, but sleeping well is not among them. At 19 months he still wakes up multiple times a night. I would give you an average of how many, but I’m too exhausted to count.

I’ve discovered that sleep is a really tough subject to discuss with other parents, for several reasons:

1. They all have sleep strategies that they want to share with you.

2. They assume that you have tried zero sleep strategies on your own.

3. They make you feel like having a kid who doesn’t sleep through the night is some kind of horrible failure on your part.

That last one? The one where I am made to feel like a terrible parent and a failure? I am being dead serious right there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve mentioned to other parents that Theo doesn’t sleep through the night, only to be met with an expression that would best be described as total and complete horror. From the looks on their faces, you would think I’d just confessed that he regularly swills gin and plays with knives. Which, I mean, that is totally inaccurate, because we only sometimes let him have gin.

It sucks, because not only do I feel like I am getting grief from other parents for having a sleepless kid, but also being this tired all the time makes me want to stab things. Matt likes to tell this story about how, in the first week of Theo’s life, he was so exhausted that he started hallucinating. At one point he turned to me and said, I understand now why sleep deprivation is an effective torture technique.

Theo was a fledgling insomniac even in those early days. He grunted and wriggled around in his sleep, and he absolutely would not sleep in a crib. When I tell people that we co-sleep with him, they often assume that it’s because I’m some kind of attachment parenting hippie. I mean, I am an attachment parenting hippie, but really, the decision to share our bed with our kid was born out of the fact that we couldn’t figure out how to get him to sleep, and we were desperate.

Since then, we’ve tried a few different types of sleep training. Some we’ve had moderate success with, some we’ve been too tired to implement properly or regularly, and some have just flat-out not worked for us.

One thing that’s helped recently, though, is re-evaluating what my expectations are for Theo’s sleep. Part of that comes from the fact that I’ve struggled with insomnia since my early teens; if, at 30, I can’t remember the last time that I slept through the night, why am I expecting my kid to be able to? Theo got Matt’s blue eyes, adorable nose and laid-back personality – it only makes sense that some of my genes would start showing up sometime. I can only hope that he also got my killer fashion sense.

Thinking all this doesn’t make me any less tired, but it does make me feel a little more sympathetic towards him. Because the thing is, I know what it’s like to not be able to sleep. I know how rough that is. There are nights when I, a highly verbal and fairly capable adult, still cry from frustration because I can’t seem to turn off my brain. Given that, I don’t know why I would expect my sleepless toddler to just be able to roll over and start sawing logs.

I know from experience that I can’t force myself to sleep, and, the fact is, I can’t force Theo either.

So where does that leave us? Mostly it leaves me with a sense of it is what is is, which is oddly comforting. We’ll keep trying different strategies to get him to sleep through the night, for sure, but I’m going to try to stop feeling bad about it. He’s a sentient human being, wholly separate from myself, who, while able to know his own wants, totally lacks any ability to be reasoned with – at this point, if he doesn’t want to sleep, it probably isn’t going to happen. And it probably isn’t my fault.

Maybe this is a good parenting lesson for me. Because sometimes, my kid is going to want (or not want) to do something, and I’m not always going to have perfect control over the situation. I’m not saying that I’m going to give into him, but I am saying that maybe I need to be more flexible. Maybe I need to learn to look for a different approach to any given issue, or work to find a compromise. Hopefully, rather than seeing me as someone who is trying to impose her authoritarian will on him, Theo will come to see me as someone who is trying her damnedest to understand him, and only has his best interests at heart.

Because that’s the parenting dream, isn’t it? To have your kids respect and obey you without resenting you. To have them understand that sometimes you have to do things that they won’t like because, for whatever reason, it’s good for them. Is that even possible? I’m not sure.

If all else fails, we’ll just blow his whole college fund on therapy and sleeping pills.

The so-called Mommy Wars (or, what I learned from watching the X-Files)

15 Aug

If you are a person living in the world who has children, knows people who have children, or has ever spent any time on the internet, you’ve probably realized that people like to debate various parenting ideologies.

Now, for most of human history, I would say that the dominant parenting philosophy has been do the best you can with what’s available to you and hope that your children survive until adulthood (and also it would be nice if they didn’t turn out to be serial killers or Rob Ford or whatever). In fact, this same philosophy is still employed in many parts of the world today. However, for those of us living in the western world, most of us have more options when it comes to how we raise our kids. More options should equal everyone is happier and has a better time, right? Wrong.

Maybe I should rephrase that first sentence: if you are a person living in the world who has access to the internet, you have probably heard of the (sigh) Mommy Wars.

Can I just take a moment to say how frigging much I hate the term “Mommy Wars”? Like, a lot. For one thing, who put the mommy in mommy wars? Yes, every child has a biological mother (I mean, probably – but I’m not super up on science or whatever, so I could be wrong), but many children have other styles of parents or guardians, mostly fathers, but also sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. So why the focus on mothers? Oh right, because women are crazy and can’t control their emotions society loves to crap on women.

Full disclosure – I watched a lot of X-Files growing up. Like, I could probably still recite entire chunks of dialogue from that show. Because I am aware of Mulder’s lasting influence over me (paranoia! the unexplained! the government is up to something!), I am hesitant to be all THIS IS A CONSPIRACY. But, you guys, I think this might be a conspiracy.

Here’s the thing: I really do believe that one thing holding women back from achieving equality with men is the fact that we’re too busy fighting viciously amongst ourselves. The energy we spend snarking and nitpicking and flat-out attacking each other could do so much good in the fight against the injustices that we face, if only we could see the bigger picture. And who does it benefit the most to keep women from seeing the bigger picture? Well, you know, the patriarchy.

Although men don’t often participate in the more vitriolic discussions surrounding parenting, many of the things that perpetuate the “mommy wars” (you have no idea how much it makes my skin crawl to have to keep typing that out) come from men. Men in the media who continue to remind us that breastfeeding beyond a certain age is weird and gross (for example, Martin Schoeller, the photographer whose contentious oeuvre recently graced the cover of Time Magazine), men in politics who think they should tell us how, when and why to have children, male doctors weighing in on parenting philosophies that really have negligible impact on children’s physical health, and even the frigging Pope who somehow thinks that he gets some say over our sex lives.

The patriarchy doesn’t want us to be better mothers; it wants us to become so consumed by the idea of doing it “right” that we don’t notice how little power and agency we have in our lives. It wants us to continue to be distracted by busy work so that it can continue to do what it does best: try to run our lives.

Let’s face it – most of the debates that fuel the “mommy wars” (stay-at-home mom vs. working mom, breastfeeding vs. formula, babywearing vs. not babywearing, bed-sharing vs. cribs) are just one valid choice pitted against another valid choice, with the same arguments being repeated over and over, ad nauseam (no, seriously, I actually feel a little nauseous sometimes). The thing is, all of the above parenting choices are fine. No one is a bad parent because of ANY OF THESE THINGS. Every parent is different, and every kid is different, and same style of parenting isn’t going to work for everyone.

So let’s all step away from our computers, take a deep breath and realize that being a parent is really fucking hard work. And you know what the best way to get through these tough times is? Supporting each other, and supporting the choices other people make. Let’s all hug it out and promise to have each other’s backs, okay?

Oh, and let’s get out there and kick the patriarchy right in the balls, you guys.

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… that it’s possible to be a parent and not be a dick about it