Dear other parents at the playground…

Please stop mentally composing smug passive-agressive blog posts that you can’t wait to run home and post from behind your laptop screen so we can all be assured of your parenting superiority, but which risk nothing in terms of furthering relationships or building community.

Phew, that felt good.

And that’s the point, isn’t it.  These “dear mom on an iPhone,” or “don’t help my kid to the top of the ladder” (yes, that’s the one I read this morning), or all the myriad other “Dear Parent’ public service announcements aren’t really about helping other parents and kids (including the ones that are just opposite-side rebuttals to the originals). They’re about the writer’s own desire to vent.  Like this post here.  I’m venting.  And as a side bonus, I hope I’m wooing you with my clever insightfulness.


photo credit: MikaelWiman via photopin cc

What I’m not doing is meaningfully interacting with another parent in front of me. Or sharing my own failure to keep my 16-month-old from climbing on top of the kitchen table, no matter how many time-outs I put him in.  Or the way I can get so angry at his refusal to stop squirming at diaper changes that I throw wet wipes across the room.  Nor am I listening to other parents’ potty-training triumphs or nap schedule struggles. There’s no tangible community being built out of my cleverness.

I think venting is necessary, and blogging is a major outlet for many of us parents who don’t otherwise get much adult interaction during the day. But when I see other families interacting (or not interacting, iPhone mom) in ways I might disapprove of, I hope that my first impulse is not to start composing a self-righteous blog post.  I hope I can learn to pay attention to who at that playground might be lonely, who might have some parenting tricks I can learn from, and who I might just want to go have a conversation – you know, voice to voice, face to face – with.

If I have a parenting insight I want to share (about how maybe you need to supervise your kids in the kiddie pool so they don’t drown my one-year-old, aaagh! for example), there are ways to share it without scapegoating. I say this as an introvert who doesn’t really like talking to strangers, let alone risking an argument with another mommy about whether or not to help her kid to the top of the ladder.

But real community takes risk – the risk of unpleasant conversations, the risk of being open about your failures, the risk that someone might think you’re not a cool mom.

So there. There’s my anti-judgementlist judgementalism.  Can we all just chill out now? And maybe try talking to one another a little more?

(Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons)


How to be a writer and the mother of a toddler

Answer: I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

My son is asleep now, in the middle of his morning nap that usually lasts about an hour and a half. As soon as I laid him in his crib, my internal clock started: unload/reload dishwasher, check. Make bed, check. Quick shower, skip hair washing, check. Move laundry from washer to dryer otherwise the cloth diaper covers won’t be clean when the baby wakes up, check.

Aaand… 45 minutes are gone.  Should I even bother to sit down and write anything? I’ll get a couple paragraphs at most, and I should probably be doing more to firm-up this post-baby belly, so maybe I’ll just hit the treadmill for a few minutes … but I haven’t blogged in months. But, but…. Every mom recognizes this internal struggle. Moms of kids who’ve dropped to one nap envy those whose kids take two, moms of multiples envy those of us who’ve only got one. Note to self: conditions now are as good as they’re going to get!

Writing advice like, “get up earlier,” cracks me up because my little one regularly gets us up before 5 (stupid teething).  “Write after they go to bed,” is similarly hilarious because mustering energy for creative thought past 8 p.m. just does not happen.

I’m discovering I’m not as good a writer as I used to be when I lived abroad and I could assume that my daily routines were tinged with the novel and exotic. Also, years of teaching academic writing has subtly shaped my writing so that I tend to want to pontificate, or craft a fully formed essay (I’ve got a great one languishing in my “drafts” folder), or ramble on way past the 800-words that most blogging experts suggest is the tolerance level of the average surfer. Plus, every time I sit down to work on “the book” I have rumbling around in my head, I end up writing poems instead.

Thanks goodness for poetry. I might be negligent at blogging, but I’m having some fulfillment in the poetry realm.  I don’t have official information to share yet (believe me, I will be drumming up readers every way I can once I do), but good news is that I have had a chapbook accepted for publication AND I will likely be a participating poet in an online “poetry marathon” project in either August or September.  (For the uninitiated, I describe chapbooks as the “EP” of the publishing world – more than a single, less than a full album).

I hope there are still a few of you out there reading because I’m excited to share these writing projects with you! Knowing you’re listening is helping me learn how to BE the person who is both mom and writer.

Look at that – a blog post! Baby’s still sleeping, less than 800 words, check.

Why Being a Mom is Not my Job

Here we go again.

It seems like every few months the Mommy War pot gets stirred and articles start flying back and forth. Is being a mom a job? Is it the toughest job? Would anyone ever actually apply for this job?

This time, the pot got stirred by a viral ad put together by a greeting card company in order to guilt us all into buying Mother’s Day cards for our poor, beleaguered moms. I’ll assume it’s made its way to your inbox or Facebook feed.

Predictably, there were some well-formed reactions to the ad, most of which thankfully recognized it for the cloying, pandering artifact that it is. Mary Elizabeth Williams’ column in Salon probably did the best job of taking down the ad’s argument that mom’s jobs are the worst. But others have responded as well, culling data and surveys that chart the place of stay-at-home and working moms in American society. Tweets like, “every mom is a working mom” show up and gently pat us all on the back during this May season of commercially-sanctioned mom honoring.

I feel like this topic has come up a few times in the past year since I left the world of the gainfully employed to join the mirror world of the stay-at-home parent. At a party or gathering, someone will ask me what I do and I’ll cheerfully say something like, “Right now, I’m being mommy!” Their studied response usually follows the lines of, “Oh, that’s the most important job you can have!” Or, if I respond saying, “I don’t work right now,” they’ll answer, “That’s definitely work, being a stay-at-home mom is a full-time job!”

Somewhere in our attempts to validate the efforts of stay-at-home moms in a world where they are increasingly put-upon, it has become standard practice to default to this way of talking about moms who are not working. We devise euphemisms like “full-time mom” or “non-working mom” or we are “opting out” or “leaning in. All of which just politely tip-toe around the simple fact that what we are talking about is a grown-up, often quite well-educated, who does not get up in the morning, punch a time clock and draw a paycheck from a corporate entity.

On one hand, I think this kind of language shows an admirable impulse to include women and men who are playing outside the boundaries of our economic system. “Your work is the most important work in the world!” we exclaim. We even quantify the value of the work of stay-at-home parents through complex calculations that add up the equivalent costs of home cooks, cleaners and nannies. We’ve all heard the numbers — stay-at-home moms should make over $100,000 a year if all their duties are compensated at a fair market value.

But, no. Being a stay-at-home mom is not my job.

Might I suggest that if we are still talking about motherhood – parenthood – in these terms, we are doomed to continue asking the wrong questions and fighting the same pointless battles.

My experience of being a mother has been so unlike “working” or having a “job” that I find myself resisting the common praise, of “oh you’re doing such important work!” Because the relationship I have with my son and with my husband is nothing like a job, I believe that if I start to perceive and speak of it that way, I will do harm to those relationships and to myself.

What other relationships do we talk about using the language of commerce and business? Yes, we talk about marriage being work, but we don’t talk about it as being our “job” to be a wife or husband. We don’t imagine our friendships, our sibling relationships, our place as sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, or cousins to be places in which we measure our contributions or weigh our input. But somehow, when we start talking about being parents, moms specifically, we start measuring.

I understand the appeal of using work language to describe parenthood. It imbues the task with a sense of meaning, direction and purposefulness that most of my day-to-day activities with my son lack. But if we take these metaphors to their extremes, how does that impact our thinking and our behavior in day-to-day activities?

If we’re working moms, who is our boss? Our husbands? Think about how that dynamic can poison a marriage.

If I’m a working mom, how am I supposed to feel valuable during the vast stretches of early infancy when a day consists of nursing or feeding and lumbering around the house in baggy sweats in a state of neurotic sleep-deprivation? What kind of performance review can I expect for those years?

If I’m a working mom, do I have to justify my keep by reporting my daily activities to my boss at the end of the day? Do I feel pressure to become that most-typical of adjectives, “crazy-busy,” just in order to account for my feeling of worthiness in my job?

We have let the language of the market – the business world which sees us as either consumers, producers, makers or takers – give meaning to our most intimate life experiences. But the market does not have the language with which to understand and value these things. Thus, the temptation is devalue the aspects of parenting, mothering, which can’t possibly fit its paradigm.

Getting up in the night to soothe my teething son is not working overtime. Packing lunches, doing laundry, cooking meals, keeping the house tidy – these are not items on a job description.

These are love. Care. Soul-work. Which cannot be measured and should not be accounted for. To try to do so is like using a yardstick to measure the beauty of a garden. I am more interested in making my garden beautiful, unique, treasured than in being sure my harvest meets quotas.

Reject the language of commerce when it comes to family life. We are moms, and dads, and those are our identities, ways of being in the world in relationship to others. It enriches our souls, not our resumes.