Tag Archives: working

The End of Parenting?

There have been a steady stream of articles and studies published lately about how the current generations of parents have somehow lost the ability to parent effectively, spoiled their kids too much, not found the balance they need, can’t have it all, given up their identities to their children, and other damning conclusions.

“Spoiled Rotten: Why do kids rule the roost,” by Elizabeth Kolbert for the New Yorker
“Mother Madness: How motherhood became such a prison for modern women,” by Erica Jong for The Wall Street Journal
“The Man who Remade Motherhood,” by Kate Pickert for Time’s “Are You Mom Enough?” Issue
“How to Land Your Kid in Therapy: Why the obsession with our kids’ happiness may be dooming them to unhappy adulthoods,” by Lori Gottlieb for The Atlantic
“Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest” by Sally Koslow (Viking).
“Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” by Ann-Marie Slaughter for The Atlantic
“With Grown Children, What am I Besides ‘Mom’?” by Risa Doherty for the Motherlode blog at The New York Times

My sleep-deprived brain is starting to synthesize something from all of these topics. I had written a very long and rambling post about the debate between “motherhood is a prison” and “you can never do enough for your children” approaches to parenting. I had started mixing in issues of work-home balance, childhood happiness versus adult happiness, modern attitudes changing vis a vis parenting and childhood… It was becoming a beast of a post.

Rather than trying to take on the hydra that is these topics, embodied by the articles above, head by head, I’d like to start hacking away at what I feel is the neck where all the heads meet. Or hopefully where several of them meet, anyway.

As part of the current group of parents that many of these writers address, I can’t help but be slightly offended when so many suggest that I have it all wrong, that I’ve lost sight of the right way to make my kid successful, self-sufficient, happy, and furthermore how to do so without losing my mind in the process. So many parents are just trying to get by, like they have for all time, with what they’ve got, in the world that they find themselves, all the while trying to keep their eyes and ears open for better ways. So before we get all blame-assigning, it is important to remember that one thing that unites virtually ALL parents is that they want their kids to be happy and have great lives.

The suggestion that modern parenting has become lazier, sloppier, more rushed, way too happiness-driven, or somehow lacking compared to historical parenting, French parenting, parenting of subsistance farmers in the Amazon, is a bit short-sighted. There are several reasons why we don’t want to hold up one particular type of parent as the model for all, why we always hedge when any expert tells us “just follow this example and you’ll be all set.” Imagine for a moment that we raised our children to the standards of the affluent families in the late 19th-century England. Our children may behave very well, they may be able to recite long poems, and they may keep their clothes clean, but they won’t know how to do very many survival tasks (cooking, building, gardening) nor will they be able to dress themselves, talk intelligently about politics, or show far-reaching creativity with their art projects. Similarly, parents in the Matsigenka, a tribe of farmers in the Peruvian Amazon (discussed in “Spoiled Rotten”) may teach their children to be helpful with household and agrarian tasks at very young ages, but their children will not know how to use the internet, form a complex social web with many other children from a variety of backgrounds, use algebra to problem solve, or make things out of legos. And learning how to use online social networking intelligently, for instance, is very much a valuable skill–just take a look at all the careers that are centered around media use.

Much like the argument that our kids are going to have weak immune systems because we are too clean and we don’t let them get really filthy anymore, the comparison between parenting now and “then” or here and “there” only has a tenuous basis in reality. We have different strengths; sure we’ve lost our resistance to some things, but we have gained a lot too. And better to be vaccinated with the dead virus than dig up the live one outside and risk real and lasting harm? People forget how tragic history was. Kids died. All the time. The world was a very cruel and different place. Are kids more comfortable now? Sure, but isn’t that what we wanted? To protect them from harm? Get them to adulthood and we’ve at least done that much?

Parents are raising their kids in an all new context where we are simultaneously being instructed to protect them in increasing ways while being surrounded by a culture that is whittling away at childhood. On one hand, parents are taught to fear the statistically minute and terrifying what-ifs — for example, there is a merciless campaign against crib bumpers, those padded borders that surround your baby’s crib to keep them from hitting their head on the sides. If you find the central study on this subject, you will discover that there were 25 deaths associate with bumpers and their ties over 20 years. How many children then, used bumpers safely? Any death is tragic, but compared to motor vehicle statistics this seems like a waste of fear. Parents are being encouraged to worry about so many low-probability threats and yet we take the high-risk situations for granted. Getting in the car is the most dangerous thing you can do. Yes, we have better and better car seats, but most people wouldn’t think twice about speeding, checking their voicemail, or driving in bad weather with their kid in the car. We go to great lengths to protect our kids from many harmful things, as we should, but the world around us is dangerous in ways we only are starting to understand. Unless you live in a few places in the world, our kids won’t be sent to war, experience famine, or epidemic disease. But they face advertising and media that wants to herd them into a narrow view of cool, early adolescence and adulthood, foster consumerism, and tie their sense of self worth to material wealth or at least good looks. First world problems? Perhaps, but nonetheless, serious problems if what we’re worried about is the health and success of our kids vis a vis our job as parents. As a parent, I can take concrete steps to fight against illness but I can’t fight the media.

For better or for worse, our children frequently are prepared for the society they live in, regardless of our intentions as parents. You can only do so much to control your greater environment, short of removing yourself to an isolated dwelling with little interaction with the outside world. See how well that works for the Amish? Yeah, not really a great solution. Aside from geography, your contemporary influences and biases as a parent will continue to shine through your actions. No parent is an island, or something like that.

While how we parent is scrutinized, how MUCH we parent and to what expense, is also under fire. Parental absenteeism is met with disgust, yet so is over-involvement, though perhaps less so. There are constant conflicting messages. Kids are over scheduled. Kids without after-school activities get into more trouble. French kids don’t misbehave at dinner. Well, you know it’s because they expect good behavior, right? And how do they get this good behavior? By being more distant and less indulgent? You don’t say. In “How to Land Your Kid in Therapy,” the psychologists discuss how they meet these young adults who feel depressed because they aren’t as special as they’d been led to believe throughout their childhood. What’s the solution? Make our kids feel less special? Ignore them more? Article after article on modern motherhood preaching the dreadful concept of “balance” as if we could snap our fingers and find a way to bend the working-world to our true needs to be at home more. The favorable climate for mothers who WANT to work and spend more time at home lies at the end of a very long cultural shift involving some pretty amazing legislation and different attitudes on profitability and human resources. What are moms supposed to do right now? Telling us we’ve got it all wrong, reminding us of all the ways we are not doing enough or doing too much or we need to do everything differently is to suggest that SOMEONE has the answer or that some past generation of parents got it perfectly right.

I look around me at the parents I know. Are they doing too much in general? Maybe. Spreading themselves thin? Probably. Are they overprotecting their kids? Not really. They are doing a lot for them, they are worried about aspects of childhood that generations before didn’t have to consider. They are raising kids in a new age and trying to make the best of it. They are good parents who are trying to overcome the obstacles that they and their kids face. And they love their kids like crazy. Isn’t that the most important thing?

If I ask these parents that I know about their childhoods, if they got enough from their own parents, enough attention, enough support, enough material possessions, they almost all say they did. What they seek to improve isn’t some cushy-comfort level of their kids, but their safety, their relationship-forming-abilities, and their future opportunities in this ultra-competitive economy.

While there will always be examples of extremely over-indulgent parents, absent parents, helicopter parents, and spoiled Veruca Salts who refuse to do anything to help their families, I hesitate to conclude this is the direction we are all moving. Each of us can point to some people we’ve met and say “they are spoiling their kids, they are always working, they are correcting their kid’s every mistake” but not only is it really hard to know from the outside what the real issues are, it is also impossible to draw a direct conclusion about what this means for a child’s future. We look to these studies to help us find our way, but know that childhood is fast and research slow. In the end, it’s just you and your kids and whatever it takes.

Is it impossible to have it all?

\"Have Feminists Sold Young Women a Fiction?\" From the Atlantic, an Interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter

An interesting video, a big topic. Just wanted to repost and see if anyone besides me had anything else to say? I have been working on two different posts along this thread and have not really been able to clearly state what I have wanted to say. There are a lot of perspectives in this discussion, so I’m curious, what say you?

Why Do I Dress Like This? (Now with Mega Important Update)

As some of you are aware [Shannon, rest of my friends, ever], I am kind of judgmental. I’m seriously trying to work on it, really I am, but my impulse to render a judgment on everything and anything I encounter is really hard to fight. I do not know why this is so but I wish someone could follow me around,  read my mind and abruptly tell me to shut the fuck up every time my brain goes into it’s judgy corner. And maybe slap me? That could help…

With that in mind, a few days ago, I was walking from my car into my office when I passed by a probably perfectly-lovely adult woman who was dressed…well, she was wearing clothes. Letting my Inner Judgmental Freak out of its cage, I immediately thought that her clothes were frumpy and shapeless and GAWD how can anyone step out of the house looking like this…

But here is the “He was dead all along” twist. Then I looked down at myself. And I was arguably dressed far far worse.

Here I was, scrutinizing some poor woman, who maybe also has a toddler hanging off of her hip each and every morning. And maybe she would like to contemplate and coordinate her outfits before going off to work just like she did before having a kid, but the days of blankly staring into her closet for 10-20 minutes are behind her. Now she is just rushing to put a shirt and a pair of pants on before the aforementioned toddler loses his patience and/or deposits another one of her gloves into the toilet.

And maybe last week, just like me, she also wore a sweater inside-out for an entire day before noticing it.

MEGA IMPORTANT UPDATE: yesterday, I wore a turtleneck backwards for the whole work day.

Mommy Confession Time


For all of my and Shannon‘s complaining about our respective babes’ stubborn refusal to sleep through the night, I for one, am ready to own up to the fact that I sort of kind of am okay with it…

I know, I KNOOOOOOW! I can’t believe myself as I’m typing this mommy blasphemy. I should be given twenty stubborn awake screaming babies at two AM for the next fifty years as punishment.  The twenty babies should all simultaneously and continually paw at my shirt and scream at the highest decibels. And the very instant that even one of the twenty screaming babies falls asleep, a fleet of helicopters should begin circling just above my roof. With that punishment in mind, hear me out, Mommy Powers That Be!

Virtually every Monday through pretty much every Friday, I spend my son’s waking hours locked away in an office, creating decks, making presentations, looking at at rows upon rows and columns upon columns of data. Through it all, I put on professional airs while totally and completely missing my little boy. He misses me too.

I fly home through an hour of traffic in time only to feed him dinner, give him a bath, read him a book, and sit with him while he drifts off to sleep. We’ve got the routine down pat and by 8:45 every evening, he is out cold.

I trod off to do the dishes, pack my lunch, maybe cook something for the next day before collapsing into my bed. And through it all, I totally and completely miss my little boy.

So when he wakes up crying for me at 3 AM like he did this morning, I am tired and sleepy, but only too happy to hug him and have him lay down next to me. He gently touches my face, my ears, my hair before finally turning away and assuming his ‘little spoon’ position and I think he must be pretty happy too.

A Wednesday Morning Vignette

Give Me ALL Your Boob Now!

It’s 5:46 AM. For the past two hours my son has been climbing all over me and terrorizing my person generally and my boobs specifically.  He wants to nurse while laying next to me on his stomach, then he wants to lay on top of me, then he wants to kneel next to me, then he wants to lay on his back next to me. All of these configurations are apparently unsatisfactory because after a minute or so he keeps unlatching, letting out a few whines, inventing some new impossible position, and going back in.

In 14 minutes I need to get up to get ready for work.

Work-Life-Whatever

I have been meaning to describe in painful annoying detail the realities of working motherhood.

Instead, I shall present an illustrative tale.

I was at one of those women’s networking breakfast thingies the other day. Because I WILL. NOT. pass up the opportunity for a free breakfast, despite it being at a round table of ten strangers at a very early hour and we were all stuffed into suits. Seriously? A Dry-Clean-Only outfit on a Friday??? This aggression will not stand, man!

I must mention that I was very amused to see that in addition to the regular women’s bathroom, the men’s bathroom was also converted into a women’s to account for all the women present at the event. The twenty-or-so men (out of an audience of 400+) had to shlep to some employee-only pissoir. My ass felt very GIRL POWER sitting on that toilet seat!

Anyway, presenting was a panel of five male executives who were all in roughly my industry, all in their 40s and 50s. They spent over an hour talking about the incredible changes their respective companies were making to get more women into executive positions. They each talked about the life-work balance, the half-day Fridays, the whatever other benefits that were designed to make sure that everyone could raise their families AND not have to give up their careers. All very important things.

I’ll skip over the things that sort of irked me. OK, I’ll mention one thing: a panelist stated that the phrase ‘glass ceiling’ should not be used when talking about career development because it makes men so uncomfortable. To which I had to just-about physically restrain myself from groaning out loud. Sorry, well-meaning but ultimately very deluded executives, until we start facing the problem head-on and naming things what they actually fucking are, we ain’t getting anywhere.

Anywayyyyy. The grand finale. Q-and-A time. Messrs Panelists, please tell us if you have kids and what your respective wives/life partners do for a living. Are you all happily balancing life-and-work as per your breathless description of how this is totally possible and achievable? No whammy, no whammy, no whammy!

Ah. They all stay-at-home.

Excellent! I’m going to go ahead and go back to my office, close the door and cry myself into my inbox.

Shannon is the smart one….

So….

Shannon and I need an outlet. A better outlet than the IM conversations we have on Facebook. God knows what good ole’ Zuck is going to be doing with that treasure trove of HILARIOUS and INSIGHTFUL commentary on our daily lives and on the world around us.

I think the name of the blog is the most ‘truth in advertising’ we could come up with. We don’t know much. We know about less about parenting. The things we do know can only be qualified as ‘something.’ Also, always remember that Shannon is the smart, articulate one. She reads SCIENTIFIC STUDIES and interprets results! Seriously.

I, in turn, directly reap the rewards by asking her dumb questions. It really works out wonderfully. I highly recommend that everyone get a well-read friend with a scientifically-rigorous education.

To wrap up this thing that has no structure or purpose, I wanted to make sure we record the fact that my son walked yesterday for the first time. Of course I was at work. Thus begins a long list of things I’m sure I’m going to miss in my son’s life while working at the office, working at the airport, working on a plane, or working at home. The usual disclaimer about me knowing that I am lucky to have a job and a steady paycheck in this very tough economy applies to this and every other post where I complain about working.

PS. Was I pumping when I wrote this? Maaaaybe