It’s a trap!

I wrote about this in my email to you a couple of weeks ago, but I feel like I need reminding, so that makes me think you could use reminding, too: This time of year is a trap for kids. And adults. All of us.

It’s a big set-up. Adults are supposed to provide the perfect shiny happy holiday (whether it’s religious Christmas or Hanukkah or cultural Christmas or some mix) OR hold the line against someone else’s holiday encroaching on your family. But at the same time the larger world is smashing us from all angles: other people’s values, magical thinking in public schools that you then have to figure out how to explain without confusing your kid, church obligations, school obligations, giving gifts to teachers, not ante-ing up into other parents’ expectations/obligations, all your family stuff, all your kids’ other parent’s family stuff, doing all the normal stuff you’re supposed to be doing, spending lots of money, trying to deal with the darkness in the morning and evening, and hyped up kids.

And it’s a huge trap for kids. They’re told constantly that they’re supposed to be excited. SUPER EXCITED. That this all means something. And that they get presents. A lot of presents. Brought by a stranger who comes into their house. (But maybe this stranger doesn’t bring them presents, and does that mean they’re “bad”?) And sometimes they have to go see this stranger and are supposed to sit on his lap, which is the opposite of everything they’ve always been told about talking to (let alone touching) strangers or tricky people, and they’re supposed to tell him a secret. And smile for a picture of it. And go to daycare or school every day and do all their normal work, but have everyone be excited about candy and cookies and the mysterious stranger who’s coming into some kids’ houses but not others’, and it’s all very confusing. And then they’re told that all the presents are coming and they’re supposed to be grateful but they’re not supposed to want all those presents at all. And then they have to go to other people’s houses and be well-behaved while a bunch of adults who know them but who they don’t know touch them and ask them all sorts of weird questions. Or, worse, a bunch of people come to their house and kids they don’t know play with their toys and they’re supposed to be happy about it. And they don’t get enough sleep and there’s too much sugar and their parents are stressed and snapping at them and they don’t know why.


For everyone.

Kids can’t get themselves out of the trap. Only the adults can.

Step back. Think about what it feels like for your kids today. Think about what you’re expecting of them, given what’s happening, and how reasonable and kind that is. Think about what it feels like for you today. Think about what you’re expecting of yourself, given what’s happening, and how reasonable and kind to yourself that is.

Drink a glass of water.

Make a list of everything you Have To Do and all the things your kids Have To Do. Then go down that list and cross off everything you can.

Be kind. Be soft. Be sweet. Let your children be soft and sweet to you. If you have a partner, be soft and sweet and kind to him or her, and allow them to be soft and sweet and kind to you.

Hide out at home doing normal things. When you do the holiday things, be realistic about how they’re affecting everyone in your family.

If it isn’t helping your heart or your mind or your spirit, don’t do it.

You are worth being treated kindly. So are your kids.


Gatekeeping your child’s relationships

I’ve been thinking about the topic of gatekeeping parent-child relationships and how it feels like a loving thing to do but actually creates a cascade of problems that last for decades, so I thought I’d break down how it happens and what the stakes are and how to stop.

Warning: This whole post is going to be really heteronormative, assuming that we’re talking about a male-female partnership. That’s because this most often happens in male-female relationships precisely because of our cultural dynamics. So single parents and parents in same-sex partnerships, you can go get a glass of water for this one if you want, but if you read through it might help you understand your friends and how culture can screw things up for people.

Gatekeeping, as I’m using it today, is when the mother protects the father and the child from each other. The mother takes on the Parent-in-Charge role and the father and child only interact in ways approved by and dictated by the mother.

This happens all the time, and it happens because women think that’s what we’re supposed to do. We’re the baby’s mother, and often we’re the one feeding the baby. The father has to go back to work right away, so we’re the ones spending the most time with the baby. So we develop our systems and our coping techniques, and then in our minds (and in the fathers’ minds) we’re the ones who know what to do, and the fathers don’t. We know how to soothe the baby, and the father doesn’t do it the same way. If the baby keeps crying, we know the father doesn’t know how to soothe the baby “the right way.” It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But this ignores the fact that our expertise is merely circumstantial. At the second we meet our children, mothers and fathers have the same potential for caring for the child. (One or the other may have read more about baby care already, but the other could easily catch up.) It’s only the way our society is structured to channel men into paid work and women into child care that causes this unequal distribution of time that causes unequal distribution of expertise. We do not have to go along with this, and indeed, we shouldn’t.

Gatekeeping also assumes the men inherently don’t know how to care for children. Yes, it can be scary to be with a baby when you don’t feel like you know what to do. Dealing with toddlers is excruciating. Preschoolers can be super-frustrating. But when a mother takes over most of those duties to “protect” her partner from having to deal with them, she implies that he’s too weak/stupid/incompetent to go through a normal learning curve. And she implies that there’s something wrong with the child, that the child is something the father shouldn’t be forced to deal with.

We know what happens then: The mother takes over child care and the emotional relationship with the child. The father becomes the breadwinner (even when the mother is fully employed, too) and feels like he doesn’t have much to contribute to the child’s emotional life. The father and the child never establish a true, honest emotional relationship. The parents resent each other for unequal distribution of work and emotional connection. Everyone’s siloed.

(It looks like the relationships in Mad Men.)

Men are smart. They are strong and resilient and resourceful. They have clear voices to sing lullabies and speak discipline, strong hands to change diaper blow-outs and braid hair, fast feet to run to latch a baby gate and play chase with a toddler. They have broad shoulders that children ride on. They are tough and tender and smart enough to know when to listen and when to help. They are the best fathers for their children, from birth through adulthood.

Fathers do things differently than mothers do, and that’s ok.

If you are a mother who wants to give your child a gift and give your child’s father a gift, the best gift you can give them is to leave them alone together, for extended periods of time, so they can work out their own relationship. And work on the assumption that your child’s father is an equal parent who can and should be able to care for your child seamlessly (even if it’s not the same way you’d do things). This is also the best gift you can give yourself, because then you don’t have to be the only expert on everyone.

You’re worth it. Your child is worth it. Your child’s father is worth it. And you’re worth it as a family.


Mothers are women with complex lives (why I write)

I’ve been answering questions about how to parent kids for eight years. The question-writers sometimes think their questions are about details of parenting, like sleep issues and feeding problems, but the real undercurrent of every question is “I want to do this right, and I want how I care for my kids to feel aligned with all the rest of me.” Being able to help people think about the questions that help them stay aligned during the challenging stages of parenting is important to me, and has given me purpose when I otherwise didn’t have it.

I started writing Ask Moxie when I had a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old and a failing marriage. I did not feel like a full human being at that point, let alone a woman, and yet I was a mother. At times a mother was the only thing I felt like, because the only reason I got up in the morning was for my kids. It was perplexing. It felt like a trap, like I’d enlisted in this relationship that I couldn’t leave and didn’t want to leave, yet I had nothing else that made me worth the breaths I was taking, and being so empty made me not good at being the mother I wanted to be.

I didn’t ever want another woman to feel like her total worth was in being a mother. Being a mother has transformed me, but it is not the only thing that defines me. Women have a right to decide who we are, and to live our lives, with or without children, contributing fully. When I started Ask Moxie I thought I was helping people trouble-shoot their own individual problems, but it soon became about approaching the intersection of being a woman and being a mother and how we design and respond to that.

I am interested in how we are women who are also mothers. I am not interested in dwelling on the minutiae of parenting, of leaning in so hard to the idea of “being present” in every task associated with child-rearing that we lose sight of our own narrative arcs. I resent the idea that we should care so deeply about time-delineated parenting problems that we put our own thoughts on hold while we pour everything we have into solving the problems of potty-training and night-waking and answering twenty “Why??”s in a row.

Women are artists and workers. We create things, whether those things are paintings, or books, or code that runs satellites or websites, or balanced accounts, or beer, or campaigns that sell paintings or books or satellites or beer. To be artists and to live lives creating things, we have to be able to flex through periods of learning and of creation, of focus and unfocus, of rest and work, of observation and production. Raising children is part of this. Children require unwavering focus and tending at certain periods, but need us to let them find their own paths in others. If we’re told that we have to be focused on the neverending details constantly, for years at a time, not only are we doing the children a disservice by not allowing them to develop normally, we’re also saying that women who are mothers are no longer artists, that we sacrifice our right to create things when we have children and bind ourselves to only serving children.

There is something deep and profound about being awake with your baby at 3 am. But that moment isn’t the sum total of your life, any more than it is the sum total of your baby’s life.

It is so easy, when all you are allowed to look at is breastfeeding or how your baby sleeps or whether your baby uses a pacifier and what kind of diapers your baby wears, to develop strong opinions about those things. To need those things to be everything, and for your opinion on them to be defended like Fort Knox, impenetrable and stable. But this disconnects you from other people, and from the rest of you, because it gives those positions more importance than they should take up, and blocks the rest of your life.

And this is why I’m not interested in telling women the right way to parent any more than I am in telling them the right way to be women. I am interested in giving them tools and rubrics and structures to help them recognize patterns, to define themselves as women and as mothers, to start investigating and solving problems according to their own skills. I want to give women permission to be who they are. Not because they need my permission—they don’t. But because when someone else gives you permission sometimes that helps you find the horizon and give yourself permission to become yourself and support other women in becoming themselves. What if we could all be really ourselves, even in the crappy moments of parenting, and even in the boring moments of work, and even when we’re tired and need to sit down?

No more polite apologies. We need our full strength too much.

Originally published at MotherWoman.


Taking care of yourself but watching for others

This year we’re focusing on the word NOURISH and on taking care of ourselves. I’ve been urging all of us to try to find some time to do things that are good for us and that make us feel more like ourselves. But I’ve been realizing that for some mothers/parents that might be a bit of a trap. Let me explain why.

There’s a cultural pressure to be a perfect mother, and part of that mythology is being self-sacrificing. Which is fine when it means sacrificing your want to meet your child’s need, waking up with a sick child, giving your kid the big piece of cake, etc. But when we start to take that to mean that we deliberately don’t do things we like or take any time for ourselves or maintain our friendships and physical health, etc. as a way of trying to prove what great moms we are, well, that’s messed up.

So my reminder to nourish yourself is also a reminder to stop buying into this weird competition in which people are trying to prove they’re good mothers by being mean to themselves. It’s really not ever you vs. your kids. You can all feel great. And your kids will be more likely to be centered and content and connected if you take care of yourself so you’re able to bring your best self into mothering them.

But. This assumes that you already have the set-up to be able to stop the madness and just switch some things up to focus on yourself. It assumes that you have the time and resources and energy and support to shift the focus of what you do. Asking your partner to spend four hours on the weekend with the kids while you go do something for yourself, and knowing that while your partner may be surprised at the request, they’ll do it and you won’t have to pay for it later. Rearranging your schedule so that you use nap time for something you want to do once or twice a week. Going to book club after work once a month instead of being the only one who knows how to put the kids to bed.

If you don’t have a setup that allows you any leeway to take care of yourself or make choices that nourish you, then my telling you to nourish yourself is cruel and vile. If I continue, it’s blaming you for your own unhappiness. Because if you are in a situation in which you cannot do things for yourself (or you technically could, but the price you’d have to pay would be too high), then my telling you to pull yourself up by your own mom bootstraps and just go get an eyebrow wax is making it even worse.

Note: I’m not talking about being in a temporary situation that sucks, like three snow days in one week or being in the middle of the 9-month sleep regression or family illness or moving house or anything else that means you have no leeway and just have to buckle down and suck it up for a few days/weeks/months.

I’m talking about being caught in the system (with the system being your family situation). Of having no childcare so you’re burned out from constant care of children, and are so burned out that you can’t even figure out how to get any relief. I’m talking about having a partner you can’t trust. Of working a job that pays you just enough to get by but not enough to give you any relief, and not knowing how many more days you’re going to have to wake up feeling like you’re already running late. Of being trapped.

If it’s not depression, it sure feels like depression. (All my fellow depressed people are nodding right now, because what I’m describing is the echo chamber aka “circular thinking” aka the Death Spiral aka circling down the drain.) And it’s really a trap.

If you’re in a trap, you can’t nourish yourself. You need help to get out of the trap.

You know I love action points, so here’s what I’ve got for this:

1. If you recognize yourself in the first category, of not nourishing yourself because that feels like being a good mother, cut it out. You’re a great mother, and you know it, even if you don’t do everything perfectly. Do it, even if you have to take a deep breath before asking your partner to learn the bedtime routine so you can go out with a friend. Just do it. Three months from now I bet everyone in your household is laughing more because you’re being yourself.

Also, we need your improved energy for the next step:

2. If you have extra (energy, motivation, resources, time), look around carefully at the other mothers you know. The ones that are drowning are not wearing signs that say “I’m drowning” so you’ll have to look at the edges to see the signs of white-knuckling. These moms are locked down, so they might seem aloof and they might be invested in making everything look ok and they might even seem defensive (because they have to be). Stay quiet and listen and pay attention, and don’t be hurt if your overtures are rebuffed the first time.

3. If you are drowning, either from depression or because you’re caught in a bad system or both, wave your hand. Even if you can’t keep your hand up until one of us comes to get you, keep waving it when you can, and someone will get there.


When those of us who have the resources to take care of ourselves do take care of ourselves, that gives us more ability to help find the ones who need our help. Then the helped become the helpers, and eventually we’re all free.


It’s a thing: Fear fantasies with babies

Yesterday in the Ask Moxie private FB group I asked about common health problems we have in the year after having a baby, and one of the things that came up was those almost unstoppable fear scenarios that we have about our babies. Sharon Silver called them “fear fantasies,” and I think that’s exactly what they are. Women in the group were shocked to know that this was an actual thing, because they thought it had just been them having these bizarre and scary persistent thoughts and no one else had.

A fear fantasy (as I experienced them and as other have described them) is one constant, specific fear of something happening to our child that we can’t will away or stop having just by force of will. (With my older child my fear fantasy was that a car would jump the curb and hit him in the stroller. With my younger child my fear fantasy was that somehow my older child would accidentally step on him and paralyze him. Others have described fear fantasies of accidentally drowning their child, that the child would be kidnapped, or other variations on harm coming to the child.)

They seem hormonally-based to me. Mine came on at a few weeks after birth with both of my kids and lasted for around six weeks. Others have fear fantasies at certain points in their menstrual cycles. Some women experience them for longer periods, and some for shorter periods.

I decided to ride mine out, because they were temporary (and the second time I knew that they would go away once my hormones evened out). If you are having them to the extent that they’re inhibiting your parenting, making you even more scared, or don’t stop, tell someone. There’s nothing wrong with you. They’re just another one of those hormonally-based mood things (like depression, anxiety, etc.) that can be treated by evening out your hormones by any of a number of methods. Having a fear is NOT having the urge to do something, so you have a little time to figure out treatment. (If you do have the urge to cause harm to your baby or yourself, this is a different illness called postpartum psychosis and it can be treated but you need to tell someone NOW so you can get treatment before anyone is hurt.)

Who has had a fear fantasy? How long did it last? Did you do anything about it or just ride it out?  If anyone’s experienced fear fantasies and some other hormone-based mood disorder (like PPD, anxiety, postpartum psychosis), how did they differ?


Listening for your own answers

What we’ve been doing here at AskMoxie for eight years now: parenting the kids you have. Most of us are here because of our “You are the best parent for your child” philosophy, that reminds us that we need to pay attention and listen and watch and learn about who our specific little human is, from the moment we meet that child, so that we can parent that specific child they way they need to be parented.

Parenting is a really loooooooong conversation with your child. Years and years and years, if we’re lucky. And part of that means that any one episode of screwing up isn’t going to make or break the relationship. But part of that means that we also need to have this conversation–including asking specific questions–with the kid we actually have instead of the ideal child.

No one has the ideal child. But you have someone way better–your own kid. And that’s really really comforting, because it’s hard to dig deep with the ideal, because the ideal is all surface. With a real person with their own quirks and problems, you can ask all those specific questions, give specific care, have the specific arguments, and have friction over specific things. All those specifics weave you together in a way that generalizations do not, and make you stronger and closer as a family.

But part of this, also, is about being who you are, not some generic ideal. YOU are the best parent for your child. YOU. Not some automaton who follows the scripts of the parenting manuals verbatim. Not a Stepford mom who never doubts or questions or worries or digs deeper or follows her instincts. Not a shiny bright robot who does everything correctly all the time. YOU. Even when you don’t think you’re enough.

When my second son was born, I spent the first year and a half of his life thinking I was the wrong mother for him. My first son had been so easy to read, and it was almost effortless for me to give him what he needed. This second child, though, seemed angry all the time, and I couldn’t soothe him. I knew that I was supposed to be keeping him calm and happy, and I’d been able to do that with my first, but this second child just didn’t respond to all my attempts at soothing. And then the therapist I was seeing because I was getting divorced said to me, “Maybe he just wants to be angry. And maybe you might feel better if you let yourself be angry, too.” So I let us both be angry, and it was exactly what he needed. He and I were really really angry–together–until we were done being angry, and then we were really tight.

I’m sure that some of you are getting tired of hearing me say “You had everything you needed in you the whole time.” But you do. You have everything you need for your whole life, including being the best parent ever for your own unique children, inside you right now. Don’t be afraid to tap into your own feelings, negative and positive. Don’t deny yourself your own dreams and desires and preferences. Prioritize yourself and your feelings so you can really bring everything you have to your family.

You are important, bad and good and messy and neat. You are the touchstone for your child, even when you’re cranky or feeling drained. Everything about you has value. You are good and right and true, exactly as you are. Be yourself.

parenting Uncategorized

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)

I’ve seen so many people asking how we go on now, how we parent now. And I’m sad and horrified about what happened in CT, but maybe I’m lucky because I never felt safe before anyway.

I was three months pregnant in September 2001, living in New York City. So before my son was even born I knew that there wasn’t any one single minute of his life that was guaranteed. That has seriously affected the way I parent him and his brother, and how I live my life.

What I know is that there’s nothing external that keeps me or my
kids safe. No building, or government, or lock that keeps the good guys in and the bad guys out. There’s no magical thing or series of things I can do to guarantee that my kids are safe 100% of the time. And that’s frightening, but it’s also forced me to focus on what I CAN do.

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)

And what I can do is look at the essence of my kids and of the world we live in. The first step, for me, is forming relationships. I want to be
enmeshed in my community–my neighborhood especially. I make it a point to talk to the people who live and work around me. I want the people on the street and in the houses and stores and restaurants to know who I am, who my kids are, where they belong, and for me to know who these people are and where they belong and what they need. That also means voting for things that will strengthen communities and families so that we don’t get fragmented and destabilized. There is no such thing as safety, but there’s trust, and the more you use it, the more it grows.

Then I work on the personal. I want my kids to know that they are loved, and to be able to carry that with them. I also want them to trust
themselves and their own instincts. And that only happens if I trust my
own instincts and model that behavior for them. If you haven’t read
Gavin de Becker’s Protecting the Gift, go read it as soon as you finish
this post. It’s a roadmap for helping yourself trust what you know on a
gut level about what’s safe and what’s not, and not getting tricked or
distracted by the things we’re told to fear when the actual dangers are
right there in plain sight.

i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)

So I’ve focused a lot on trusting my instincts about who and what
are safe situations, and then being very overt about describing that and
what I felt to my kids. I want them to grow up not only trusting their
instincts but having language to describe the process of trusting their
instincts. Once when my little guy (he’s in second grade now) was 4, he
and I were on the subway on the way to preschool, and some 20-year-old kids got on the car and started fighting and something about it felt
wrong, not just normal kid fighting. It turned out to be a knife fight.
Because I trusted my instinct that something was wrong, I’d grabbed my son and yelled out at the other mom and kid on the car and the four of us were through the door onto another car before anyone else even heard us yelling at them or noticed the knives. Afterward we talked a lot about how I knew. (How did I know? A prickly feeling and a perception that something wasn’t fitting in right, like when you try to force the wrong puzzle piece in–the same way I knew when I was about to be robbed at gunpoint when I lived in Mexico. I’ve learned to trust that prickly feeling.)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

I also want my kids to look for the helpers, but even more than that
I want them to BE the helpers. My son saw me yell “Tiene cuchillo!” at
the other mom on the car and saw the two of us work together to get our kids out and warn the other passengers. My older son knows that if
something happens I will hand him my phone and his job is to call 911
and describe the situation and hold his brother’s hand while I help the
situation. Remember my friend who caught the child rapist? She and I used to talk all the time about being the helper. If you rehearse it
enough times you don’t hesitate when the situation arises. It’s ok if
you’re afraid, because everyone’s afraid, but there is always something
you can do to make things better.

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

So I didn’t hesitate to tell my kids about Sandy Hook. My ex-husband
called to strategize about how to tell them, but neither of us
considered not doing it. We decided to do it together, and approached it from a “there’s something you need to know” point of view, and that
that’s why adults were all so on edge. Both kids were sobered, but
neither of them were fearful. It was like talking about what you do if
you fall or get pushed onto the subway tracks, or if you get locked into
the bathroom, or who you approach if you get lost, or what you do if
one person gets stuck on the inside of the subway car and one on the
platform, or the house catches on fire, or someone gets hit by a car. It
was like talking about Hurricane Sandy and making more extensive escape plans than we’d had before. It is serious, but we trust you enough to tell you the truth.

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

And here, I’m going to go here, too: We talk about how some kids are
not safe all/most of the time, and how those kids tend to be poorer
than my kids are. And that they need to be aware of that and do whatever they can not to contribute to that problem, and not assume that what happens to them on a daily basis is what happens to everyone else. My kids can’t solve that problem now, but I owe it to them to tell them the truth and let them decide later what they will do in response.

So I am not afraid. My kids know the truth. They know to be ready, and to offer what they can.

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)


[“i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)” is by e.e. cummings]

management parenting

Free but not cheap

Jessica Valenti just wrote a new book called Why Have Kids?: A New Mom Explores the Truth About Parenting and Happiness, and wrote a piece for Babble summarizing her main argument in the book, which is that we keep saying “Motherhood is the most important job in the world,” but at the same time we undervalue it enormously. She buries what I think is the most important point in the last paragraph of the Babble piece, which is that motherhood isn’t a job, it’s a relationship.

If we think it’s a job, then nothing makes sense about it. How is it possible that it’s so important but also so undervalued? How is it possible to be a good mother if you’re with your kids 24/7 but also be a good mother if you leave them to go work for a good part of the day? How can we take such satisfaction from being with our kids but be so bored by all the stuff we have to do for our kids?

But motherhood makes sense when you realize that it’s a relationship. Loving and nurturing your child is the relationship you have with your child. That’s why when you have a bad day as an adult, you still want your mom (if you have a good relationship with your mom) even though she isn’t making your meals, changing your clothes for you, driving you to work, or doing any of the stuff moms of kids do.

All the stuff that has to be done for kids, though, those things are jobs. Changing diapers, researching carseats, driving to soccer practice, washing clothes, catching vomit with your hand, putting to bed, filling out forms, searching out a replacement wubbie on the internet,  making lunches, making dinner, making breakfast, making snacks. Many of those tasks are not that brain-intensive, and are not valued highly, across all societies. That’s why a) motherhood sucks so much, b) it’s devalued so much, and c) wealthy women have always outsourced as many of those tasks as they could, until recently, so they got the relationship but not the jobs.

What we were talking about last week in the discussion of how motherhood changes who we are, and what Randi Buckley helps women figure out in her Maybe Baby program, is this: Do you want the relationship enough to suffer through the jobs?

And that’s not a small question. The jobs almost break some of us. The jobs almost break almost all of us with kids under 3. And how you come through the jobs as your children age and the jobs change is not guaranteed, and it’s different for everyone.

Some people like, or don’t mind, the jobs of raising children. Some people really do not like them at all. We shouldn’t be judging women for wanting to stay at home to do the jobs of raising children if they want to. Nor should we be judging women for wanting to do another job while someone else does the jobs associated with her children. That would be like judging someone who is a dentist because she’s not a fashion designer and vice versa.

But we do need to make sure that the jobs associated with raising children are valued, financially and socially. We need protections for SAH parents. Protections and better wages for paid caregivers. And respect for everyone who does the jobs of raising children. It’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but doing the jobs of raising children (I was a stay-at-home mom for 5 years) was the most intense sustained thing I have ever done. It makes me exhausted and sad just thinking about some of those periods of unending work, and I hear the exhaustion and overwork from you–especially those of you with little kids–and the suck of the intensity.

But the relationship… That’s why old ladies come up to us when we’re half dead with a 6-week-old strapped to our lopsided leaky chests as we’re waddling into the drugstore at 7 am to buy more diapers and say, “Enjoy this time!” They don’t remember the jobs. They don’t know it, but what they really mean is “Enjoy this person, this relationship that you’re starting and that’s only going to get better but also more complicated, and this love that will make you hurt and make you vibrate with the rest of the universe. Your boobs will stop leaking and diapers are only for a short time and you will survive, but this relationship is your chance to be better than just yourself.”

That’s what those old ladies mean. And why they can’t stop themselves from saying things to stressed-out strangers. Seeing us with teeny babies and a new relationship makes them think of their own children, their own relationships. And they want that same thing for us.

So. The jobs, well, they never end, so you get a million chances to screw up or to dominate. And if you have the chance to do the jobs you want to do, whether they’re kid-raising jobs or some other jobs, you should do them. Don’t feel guilty about making the best choice for you. But at the same time, we all have to fight like hell so that we can all have the choice to do the jobs that we want to do and are best suited for. Because if we’re doing things that make us feel useful and fulfilled, the relationship becomes free and unburdened. The intensity without the grind. And we–and our children–deserve that.


We must, indeed, all suck together, or assuredly we shall all suck separately

It’s been a long time since I really, really thought about breastfeeding.

I breastfed both of my kids, for longer than the US norm is, and I’m glad that I could. It was one (well, two) of the most simultaneously fulfilling and irritating experiences I can imagine.

But I don’t think about it much anymore, because my kids are long past that stage. I’m too worried about getting into Kindergarten and balancing work trips with my custody schedule for the kids and mindfucking the emotional fallout for my kids of my getting divorced and researching karate classes and helping them navigate elementary school friendships.

The only time how I fed my babies comes up in my life (when I’m not answering a question on Ask Moxie about it) anymore is when I’m sitting around talking and drinking with other moms. At some point the conversation will turn to how *big* the kids are now and how we can’t believe it. And then we’ll tell baby stories. Sometimes they include stories of how we fed our kids, especially if the story is horrifying, like answering the door with the flaps of a nursing bra down, or having a mother-in-law mix up a whole days’ worth of pricey formula and leave it out of the fridge to go bad, not knowing. But it’s just part of The Lore of Motherhood, and we commiserate and roll our eyes at each other, the way our mothers still do with their friends.

So it shocks me again, the way it did when I was pregnant and complete strangers would ask me if I planned to nurse, that people are still so tied up in knots about nursing a baby. It is a completely normal function of the female body, and no one should bat an eye at a woman doing it. But, at the same time, sometimes it doesn’t work out for a gazillion reasons that are not my business and in those cases thank God, THANK GOD for formula.

But here’s the thing: Once you’re done nursing or formula feeding, it’s not in your life every day anymore. How it worked or didn’t for you is history. It probably still has some emotional resonance, but it’s not consuming you like it did. Which means that the people for whom nursing or not nursing is important and vital and heartbreaking are the very people who have the least time, energy, and bandwidth to advocate for themselves. So those of us with kids old enough to make their own sandwiches are the ones who really need to be taking up this fight.

The fight I’m talking about is normalizing feeding babies. By the breast or by the bottle. Creating a society in which the culture supports women feeding their babies in any location babies are allowed to be, without shame or fear of reproach. Where women are not asked to justify their feeding methods or told to cover themselves up. Where we’re honest about breastmilk being the best food for babies, and where we don’t use duplicitous methods to sell formula. Where women get accurate information about breastfeeding and formula feeding and are allowed to make the choice (if they have one) that’s best for their families and then supported, no matter what that decision is. Where we as a culture talk routinely about breastfeeding issues without shaming women, those who breastfeed and those who don’t. Where we actually have legislation that allows women to spend enough time to establish breastfeeding and then guarantees that they can pump in the workplace to maintain breastfeeding for as long as they want to.

What if we all became lactivists, advocating for more legal protections and support structures for breastfeeding? And what if, at the same time, we became advocates for mothers who feed formula? What if we all started showing a little more cleavage, because breasts are multi-purpose?

I have a dream in which a woman nursing her baby and a woman feeding her baby formula and a woman who just likes to show off her knockers in low-cut tops can all sit in the same booth at the same restaurant and compliment each others’ shoes while they eat. And the old-school, Flo-like server will walk up and ask them how everything is and tell them how cute the babies are with no subtext. And the old guys at the next booth won’t even pay attention to any of it. That is my dream.

Won’t you help me make it a reality? If we all join together, we can make things better for every mother of a babe in arms.

1. When you see a mother with a baby, say, “Wow–your baby looks so healthy and happy! You must be doing a great job!”

2. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, and you have a choice about where to feed, sit down next to a mom feeding a baby from a bottle, and start a conversation about something not related to feeding.

3. Don’t hide your breasts when you feed your kid, whether you’re nursing or using a bottle. Be as discreet as you personally want to be, but don’t cover up just because someone told you you should.

4. If you’re out in public and you see a woman feeding a baby, give her a smile. And a piece of chocolate, if you have one.

5. Defend and protect. If you see a feeding mom being harassed in any way, step in the way you would if you saw big kids picking on little kids at the playground.

6. Talk about feeding babies with your kids, so they grow up knowing that babies need to be fed and that you fed your children and they’ll feed their own kids. The circle of life.

If those of us who have more emotional bandwidth to think about the long-term effects on us of how society treated us while we fed our kids can be very specific in fighting back, this insane fuck-you to moms who feed their babies will finally end.

Then all we’ll have is the fight for legislation protecting nursing, allowing for decent maternity leave, and protecting pumping time in the workplace.

management parenting Uncategorized

Don’t go

You are important to someone. Even if that person is too little to say it to you yet. Even if you haven’t talked to that person in years. There is someone who will never recover from the you-sized hole you leave if you go.

I know what it’s like, the pain. Every minute of being alive tastes scorched; every breath hurts like the slice of a knife. Knowing that there isn’t really anything good enough about being here, for any of us, to outweigh the bleakness. Feeling the hurt of the whole world channeled through the dull greyness of every 3 am minute.

How did any of us who’ve been there hold on until things got better? I honestly don’t know. For some of us it was a choice. Knowing something was going to change, even a little bit, if we could just hang on. But for others it’s just not going. Wake up, go to sleep. Eat. Repeat that enough times and one day it doesn’t hurt as much. Who knows why.

You are not perfect. You may screw up on a daily basis. You may feel like your efforts don’t do anything. Like everything you touch turns to crap. Like the people around you would be better off without you. But that is not the case. It’s just not. No one is perfect. Everyone screws up. It’s what makes us real and layered and interesting. You are as special for your faults as despite them.

Someone I loved and lost once told me, “It’s no trick for God to work through someone perfect. The more broken you are, the more God shows his glory by shining through you.” Whether you believe in a guiding force or not, the universe creates imperfection. You in all your weakness are exactly what we need.

Please stay. Even if you don’t know how. Just keep getting up in the morning. Eat what you can. Drink water. Go to bed, even if you can’t sleep. Go outside and turn your face to the sun. If you can, do this with Teresa for 3 minutes a few times a day. And tell someone how you feel. A friend. A stranger. Leave it in the comments here.

Don’t go.

This post is for my friend Ray, who went.