Saturday, August 25, 2012

Holiday season?

I know the Christmas season begins earlier every year, but I was still surprised to see wrapping paper and nametags in the store today. I thought it was too early to buy a Halloween costume even. Yet we got sucked in. I promise we went in only for diapers and formula. That costume just jumped into our shopping cart. And I may or may not have purchased a three foot tall stuffed Rudolph with a nose that lights up.

Somebody's going to be spoiled this holiday season.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Very Important Election

Please forgive me this election-related post. But I just can't keep quiet any more. There are very important matters at stake in this upcoming election and you need to make an informed decision about the person who will have such a profound impact on our future. The stakes have never been higher than they are now and most people are ill-informed about the candidates.

That's right. I'm talking about the County Clerk election.

I am not sure how it works in other countries, but here in the USA, the person who oversees much of the daily workings of the county court system is an elected position. Most of us probably don't even know who our county clerk is. The only thing I could tell you about my county clerk is that he replaced someone who was run out of office for calling in sick about 3 out of every 4 days. But that gives you a sense of how little attention we pay to the county clerk. The only time we take notice is when you fail so miserably at even showing up for the job.

But I am learning this year there is one very important thing that county clerks have authority over:  Adoptions.

And this is how I've learned first-hand how important it is to elect the right people to this job. And by right people, I basically mean people who understand and are willing to follow the law. Because there is nothing really unusual about our adoption situation. Our lawyer is completely perplexed because there is nothing he sees about our case that would cause anyone to flag it or give it any closer look than any other adoption case. Everything that has happened has clearly followed the law, not even dropping into any gray areas. But yet not one, but two county clerks (in different counties) seem unable to understand what is going on with our situation.

You may remember the drama over the first county clerk that held us up in Seven's birth state, unable to leave the state even though we had passed ICPC. That clerk just refused to deal with us at all. Well, we eventually got a county to accept our petition, but now the clerk is worried about how the birthfather was served. The lawyer is trying to convince that it was completely acceptable (which it was-no gray area). But the worst case scenario is that the county clerk require us to serve him AGAIN. Which would mean another 30 days of being on pins and needles wondering what will happen.

County clerks are elected officials. The only way they are held accountable is at the ballot box. There are guidelines they are supposed to follow and this little thing called the law that should be the foundation of everything they do. But as long as they keep getting elected, they can do whatever they want.

So the next time an election for county clerk comes along, be sure you do your homework and vote for the most qualified candidate. Don't skip over it to focus on the more high profile posts like president, Congress, or mayor (I'll admit to being guilty of that in the past). Who you elect as county clerk can have real implications for families.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Screen Time

My relationship with screens has evolved over time. At one point in my life, I watched TV all.the.time. I knew every episode of every show. But more recently, I hardly watch TV at all. Or at least I don't pay attention to it. I rarely watch specific shows and can hardly remember the days/times of the shows I mean to watch.  But yet we still had the TV on almost all the time. For example, right now, E and I are both paying close attention to our laptops while sitting on the couch, vaguely listening to the TV in the background. That's pretty much been our screen time recently, with the occasional swap of iPad for laptop.

Things evolved yet again when Seven came into our lives. I pretty much spent my entire maternity leave catching up on years of TV (thank you Hulu!). Seven insisted on being held all the time, often being fed, and so using the laptop (which required my hands) was not a great option. But TV was on all the time.

Until one day, when Seven suddenly appeared to take notice of it. It happened right at the end of my leave, so we turned off the TV for good. The plan was to not let him watch TV. Of course, we were on our various electronics all the time, but somehow TV seemed different.  We did not set any absolute rules or make a decision about how long the TV would be off, but we most definitely did not want to have it on as background to daily life. And since TV was not really a big deal for us, we didn't think anything was being lost.

The hard part was getting the rest of the family to recognize how the interact with TV. My ILs in particular. They have the TV on all the time. All the time. Sometimes they mute it, but even during dinner, the picture is on. My philosophy is "someone else's home, someone else's rules," so I never said anything about it before. But bringing Seven other to their house was a challenge. They did make an effort to use the TV less, but they are so used to having it on, that they don't always notice it.

We do have one funny story about the TV and Seven. The first exception we made about having the TV on when he was still awake was the day of the mass shooting in the Colorado movie theater. We wanted to watch the news to learn what was happening and so turned on the TV. After several minutes of reporting on what happened, they had a segment about the tragedy's impact on kids. A psychologist was interviewed to talk about how to help children through this. The first piece of advice? Don't let them watch the news about it! The sensational nature of news will do more harm than goods to young children. Seven had been playing on his playmat when we turned the TV on. We look over at him and he was absolutely enthralled with the news. Couldn't take his eyes away! Yeah, we pretty much felt like the worst parents ever.

As for other screens, I am less sure what to do. I do think there are ways kids can interact and learn from apps on the computer or iPad/iPhone. But too much of anything can be a bad thing. When I see iPhone covers designed for kids (shaped like monsters, with easy kid handles), I get worried that the benefits of these learning activities are overwhelmed by the use of them as babyminders. This may very well be something I totally do once Seven gets older. But as with the idea of the TV as a bad babysitter, the problem with screen time is not the screens themselves or the programs on them. It is the absence of a parent/adult paying attention to the child.

This post is part of the PAIL monthly theme.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Well, we've made it past yet another milestone, although this one was not so cheery. Poor little Seven had his first real illness. There was at least one other infant in his class that was sick, so this is due to his daycare. In the grand scheme of things, it was not so bad. His fever was never above 100 and there was no vomiting (although some of the most disgusting diapers ever!). But it was just so heartbreaking to see him so lethargic and disinterested in anything. When he finally started feeling better, his smile was the best thing in the world.

Yet another milestone has to do with my mother. After years of being the child she gets to see as a bonus when visiting my sister and her grandkids, the script has changed and she is planning a trip where the primary purpose is to see me (OK, Seven). My mom is really great, and doesn't play favoriates, but it is nice to finally be the main attraction.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Women and Mothers: No Conflict

I am participating in the PAIL book club. This month we read "The Conflict: How Modern Motherhood Undermines the Status of Women" by Elisabeth Badminter. I was really looking forward to reading this book because there is something about the expectation on mothers these days that ratchets up the stress and anxiety and I wanted to explore. But I think the author completely misses the bigger picture. The cynical part of me thinks she was so eager to blame feminism for "ruining motherhood" that she overlooked larger social forces that I think are driving these changes.

Here's how I see the situation. There is a large general trend of raising the stakes and increasing the expectations on parents, and mothers in particular. Since Seven was born, I've had many conversations with my mom and grandmother about decisions we are making. Their response was always along the line, "yeah, we did that, but it was no big deal" or "I remember that, we just didn't have a term for it." Just think of all the time new mothers or mothers to be spend researching parenting styles (attachment, free range, baby wearing, babywise, etc). How much time have you spent trying to make the absolute perfect decision about some aspect of raising your baby? When in the large scale, these decisions really don't matter. But they seem such high stakes and so important to get right! This is the rise of helicopter parenting, where even those who disavow helicopter parenting, do so on purpose by adopting a contrasting parenting style. But yet it is all part of the same tendency to believe we can engineer perfect children.

Another symptom of this societal trend about motherhood is the rise of mommy bloggers (of which I guess I am now a part). I think women (at least some of them) have always stayed at home taking care of the home and children. Maybe doing some crafts or other activities. But it seems now the pressure is not just to do these things (even if you also work outside the home) but to do them online to showcase your achievements. I say this not to criticize mothers (I do all these things, too!) but to point out that even though we haven't achieved the elusive family-work balance, mothers are expected to get home from work, decorate some cake pops, feed their family an organic meal, "help" their child write that college essay to get into Stanford, all while driving the other kids to Olympic development sports activities, cloth diapering, and blogging about it (and in heels!).

I view the cause of this change not on feminism or naturalism, but in larger social forces that emphasize individual achievement, competition, and mass consumer goods. As a culture, we prize competitive individual achievement so that you are only valued for your latest achievement. Or the latest achievement of your kids. We are over busy and over scheduled, striving to distinguish ourselves. It is hard to just be happy with simple pleasures. Do you enjoy running? That's great, when are you doing a marathon? Do you enjoy writing? Terrific, there's a national book writing month so you can get that book published. You mean you cook and you don't blog your favorite recipes? These are small ways that our culture is sending a message that we can't just enjoy things. We have to excel at them and rack up accomplishments. And with consumer goods no longer being enough to distinguish ourselves (who doesn't have a gucci purse, or at least a good knock-off these days), I think of children as the new status symbol.  We pump so much effort into our children because they become extensions of ourselves. Their achievements become our achievements. Badminter even acknowledges this on page 13 when she says "'I want everything' becomes 'I must do everything for my child.'"

Naturalism, which the author devotes a lot of time to in the book, is to me a subtheme of this larger trend. The pressure to be natural is one that puts a lot of pressure on people in general, not just mothers. And even not just parents. Just look at all the organic food stores in  urban hipster neighborhoods that tend to have more single people than families.

Another broad social force that she overlooks is the well known psychological burden of choice. This has been shown to affect men and women, about even mundane things like what type of toothpaste to buy. Even though we think we want choices, often we have too many choices these days, and it creates a psychological paralysis. Going from one to three options for something may make us happier because we can buy something that better suits us. But now we've moved from three to 12 choices and it is overwhelming to know how to choose.

Also, I found the argument pretty thin and hard to follow. And the evidence was rather spotty. France was held up as an example. But of what, I was never clear. She made a big point about how the birth rates in France ran counter to trends in other countries, but the table she presents puts them very much in line with several other countries. It just seemed she was trying to pin a lot on a thin evidence base.

OK, now the PAIL questions:

  • Would you call yourself a feminist (either publicly or as you think about yourself), and do you think that choice influences how you read this book?
    • Yes. I am most definitely a feminist. What that means to me is that I believe in equality between women and men. I believe that women should have the same options as men. It also means that I see women and men making different choices, I question whether there is an underlying tension that is shaping these choices. I am also sensitive to statements made about women without also thinking about whether they apply to men.
    • I also think this influenced how I read this book because I had a gut reaction to the assumption that motherhood and woman-hood are fundamentally at odds. I don't believe that any desires I have as an individual woman (such as to succeed in my career) are at odds with being a good mother. There is not something inherent in wanting to do something outside of raising kids that makes you a bad mother, any more than doing something outside of raising kids makes my husband a bad father. In fact, I think having interests outside of motherhood make me a better mother.
  • What was your motivation for having a child? Badinter seems to think that most women do not really articulate their reasons, and those who do think it through often decide it is too onerous to have a child, at least in many societies. Did your experience of infertility force you to evaluate your motivations and expectations for motherhood? Do you think this influenced your experience of motherhood?
    • I admit I can't give a detailed reason for having a child other than a desire to nurture a child. But I don't think that is a problem. Why do we need a reason? Are some reasons better than others?
    • It is onerous to have a child. Maybe onerous is not the right word. But it takes significant financial and emotional resources to raise a child. Not to mention the resources it takes to have/adopt a child in the face of infertility. That doesn't mean I wouldn't do it again in a heartbeat. 
    • But I also don't question women who look at the pros and cons and decide they (and any potential children) are better off if they become mothers. 
    • The reason I think most women don't have "good" reasons to have a child is that it is not a conscious choice for many women. Yes, there are plenty of people who decide one day to try to get a baby; some are successful right away and others are not. But there are still many women who find themselves pregnant without intending to and so start the journey to motherhood. The NY Times recently had a story that highlighted that most births to women under 30 are to single women (not married couples). Many of these women go on to be wonderful mothers, but that doesn't change that they probably didn't spend any time thinking up reasons for or against having a child before becoming pregnant.
  • Badinter condemns the movement towards breastfeeding as forcing women to make themselves available to their babies constantly. How have you experienced breastfeeding (or not breastfeeding)? Are you someone who is happy to be at her child’s beck and call, or have you found ways to be an individual and a mother? How have societal expectations influenced your decisions?
    • Not being able to breastfeed was one of my biggest concerns about adopting. I know many women relish being pregnant. But pregnancy was never that big a deal to me. Breastfeeding was. I did go through a lot of effort to do adoptive breastfeeding. For a while, there was nothing that made me feel more like Seven's mother than breastfeeding him. That is, until he got a little older and started attaching to ME and not just my breast. I do think my experience with adoptive breastfeeding made me less militant about breastfeeding than I would otherwise be. I did let breastfeeding stop me from getting out and about with my newborn. In fact, I think being a mother through adoption more generally has influenced me from feeling too "tied down" with the baby. I have friends who isolated themselves with their babies, too overwhelmed to do anything. But we were living in a hotel, lacked a basic support system those first two weeks, and had to figure things out for ourselves. Staying inside all day wasn't really an option.
  • There are several points in the book in which Badinter categorizes women (or cites other authors’ categories). Do you feel you can be typed? Have your ideas of what you find fulfilling changed since you had your first child?
    • I am a crunchy, creative intellectual. There are certainly types I fall into. Using typologies doesn't bother me. I do think she made many assumptions about women in these typologies on very little data. Her categories were so broad that the variation within them is huge.
  • Do you consider yourself a “naturalist” when it comes to motherhood and child-rearing, and if so did you feel hurt/offended by this book? Did it make you question your decision to be a naturalist parent or stir up feelings of regret? Do you feel the author made some good points, topics for discussion, or did you just want to hurl her book against a hard brick wall?
    • Yes, I am a naturalist. I eat organic as much as possible and want to be as natural as possible. I was not offended by the book as a naturalist. I do think she misses the mark in many ways about it. My husband is very much a naturalist as well, yet there is no acknowledgement that men/fathers may also value being natural.As I note above, I think naturalism is just a part of a larger societal trend.
  • Do you feel the author is right to assume that there is always a struggle or negotiation for women between their role and desires as women and their role and desires as mothers?
    • Not at all. This was one of my biggest complaints with the book. I don't see my desires as an individual as in conflict with my role as a mother. At least not inherently. I see larger societal forces that ratchet up the expectations on women and on mothers that creates the illusion of conflict only because demands are for perfection.
  • If you left the workforce to be home with your kids, temporarily or permanently, did you find the need to continually rationalize your decision to yourself and others? Do you/did you feel pressure to return to the workplace or vise versa and have you ever felt threatened or made vulnerable by a dependence on your spouse for income?
    • I returned to work after only a short parental leave. This was not an issue for me, other than the sense that I am supposed to feel guilty about it.
  • Did you find yourself agreeing with Badinter’s assessment that if you fail to be a natural parent who eschews drugs during birth, breastfeeds, cloth diapers etc. society deems you an unfit mother?
    • Yes, but I think society's judgment also comes down on people as bad parents for things other than not being natural. Think your kid should write his own book report? Don't want to spend every day transporting kids to sports practice? I also think these are mostly problems by more affluent parents.
  • Badinter makes a poignant point regarding women who experience infertility and are childless, stating that “those who can’t have children are expected to put up with it nobly.” As someone who has experienced loss and infertility, how did that statement make you feel? 
    • I disagree. I think that women who don't have kids are considered odd and their status as women are questioned. They should "just adopt".
  • Badinter talks a lot about family-friendly policies around the world, sometimes intended to shrink the equality gap between mothers and fathers–she uses Sweden as one of the most progressive examples. Do you think it’s possible for any government policy to bring equality to the sexes? Or does the role that mothers play trump any attempt to level the field?
    • I think government policy can help to bring equality between the sexes. I disagree with the assumption behind the second question. This is my feminist side coming out. I don't think that there is anything inherent about being a mother that precludes equality between the sexes. If men can find a way to be both breadwinners and fathers, women can do the same. If a couple decides they want one parent to stay home (and I can see the benefit to that even if we didn't go that route), I wish it was not always the woman that ended up doing so. I wish the US adopted many of the family friendly policies that are seen in other countries. That, to me, exemplifies family values, much more so than what is usually put under than label.
  • Does it matter you, as a mother, that your choice to breastfeed, stay home etc. might undermine your status as a woman? Do you feel it’s your duty to help further the status of women by not giving into the pressures of modern motherhood?
    • Again, I disagree with the premise of this question. I don't think being a mother and being a woman are at odds. When I do feel these pressures, I ask myself whether the decision I am making is really my true desire, or something that society is telling me I should want.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...