Category Archives: Partnership

Being There: The nitty-gritty details & the rest of Mom, JD’s review

Clarity, part two of three-ish…

This is part two of my review of Erica Komisar’s book Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters. You can find part one here.

I want to make my point clear from the start, because I think it’s so important (… & sometimes I get long-winded & my arguments get lost…): The reason I think a project like Komisar’s is so dangerous is that it robs working mothers of quality time with their children. The guilt is insidious, like a parasite roaming your thoughts at the least opportune times. The result is not presence (Komisar’s claimed goal), but anxiety. Instead of enjoying the protected time we have with our young children, the danger is that we start analyzing every interaction.

Don’t just take my word for it. In an article aimed at a particularly “intensive” interpretation of attachment parenting, Diana Divecha, a developmental psychologist, writes on her blog:

This all might sound daunting for a new parent, who could still be tempted to overdo the focus on the infant and how the connection is going—potentially leading to the same kinds of stress and guilt that the attachment parenting movement creates.

The same could be said of Komisar’s brand of focused mothering, which is demanding & all-consuming (not least because “outcomes” & the resultant pressure to be “present” fall solely on the mother, as opposed to being shared equally with a partner or other caregiver… even if other caregivers are allowed in Komisar’s model, it is clear that she is advocating a model in which mothers alone bear true responsibility for the well-being of the child).

My wish is for mothers to feel empowered to learn to understand their children so that they can in turn trust their gut to know when something is amiss & adjust course. You can get there. And Komisar is right on one thing: Presence is the key to nurturing a relationship with your child that becomes a feedback loop. I just don’t think you get more mothers to that sweet spot by inducing guilt in working mothers or criticizing women for being “ambitious.”

*****

In the rest of this post, I am going to present the three concrete reasons why I think that Komisar’s overall argument is wrong:

1. Science may sparkle, but it’s not always gold.

Science! How it dazzles & impresses. Yet, in this book, Komisar engages in a pattern of relying of scientific studies that do not actually support her overall argument. She often (a) cites to scientific studies that do not say what she says they say, or (b) cites to a scientific study & then draws an additional conclusion that is not supported by the study cited.

For instance, right there on page one of the main text:

A new study released by the Stanford University School of Medicine showed that a child’s brain responds more strongly to her mother’s voice than the voice of strangers; the brain regions engaged are involved not just with auditory processing but also with emotion and social function, among others. (At p. 3. Emphasis mine.)

Interesting. But what is the possible take-away? For optimal brain development, do not leave your child with the nice lady you meet at the park. Or, possibly more applicable, talk to your baby when your with her & don’t just plop her in front of the radio, which is full of the voices of strangers.

In the context of Komisar’s argument (which is that birth mothers specifically must be present physically & emotionally during the first three years to avoid children falling into the bottomless pit of terrible outcomes…), this study is not only meaningless but likely deployed to induce guilt in mothers. Because here is what the study does not say: That a mother’s voice is the only voice to activate these areas of the brain. 

When Stanford (or any other reputable research institution) does a study comparing a child’s reaction to a mother’s voice versus that of her father’s or consistent caregiver’s voice, then I might pay attention.

I would love to hook my infant-toddler daughter up to some science-y technology & see that her brain does not light up when she hears her father’s voice. Her brother’s voice. … Voices she has known since she was womb-side.

But the study actually cited does not support Komisar’s argument.

Because a stranger is not equivalent to another parent or caregiver. Period.

(Also, chalk this up to yet another study confirming the perfectly obvious… Of course a child’s mother—or, likely, other primary caregiver—is going to get more of a reaction than a perfect stranger… Yawn…)

I am grateful that I’m in tune with my children & don’t need science to give me the answer. I see the twinkle in the baby’s eyes when she senses her dad is near, when she hears his voice approaching. And when she hears her brother’s voice… cover your ears because the delighted squeal she’s about to emit is loud.

There is, as far as I am aware, simply no “scientific” proof that a birth mother is the only proper parent for a young child. Probably because that’s just not true.

So, here is the study that Komisar’s book lacks, because it doesn’t exist: outcomes for young children raised by two or more “primary” caregivers, all of whom are responsive to a child’s emotional & physical needs, present most of the time, attuned to baby, & providing a sense of safety & security.

Even the studies she cites to for the proposition that mothers, alone, are responsible for their young children’s long-term outcomes, lack enough important details to make me strongly doubt that caregiving by other-mothers is even remotely responsible for the rates of mental illness we are seeing today.

For example, Komisar also cites to a study that

[…] noted that children of full-time working mothers were more likely to show signs of behavior problems and insecurity than the children of mothers who were not employed during their first three years.

However, this “finding” is not a conclusion at all & simply prompts more questions than it answers. Were the children studied receiving care from a single or small group of consistent caregivers? Were they attached to their other caregivers? How much time did the full-time working mothers have for bonding after childbirth? What were their economic & work situations like? 

In other words, for such a finding to truly mean something, we’d need to know how secure the living & caregiving situation was for each group compared to the other, and whether there were opportunities for attachment with primary caregivers.

To ask these types of specific, probing questions, I think, would get us closer to reality & to the best possible outcomes for children: identification of the precise needs of young children (which are actually already pretty well-documented in the best parenting literature out there) & ideas for achieving those needs, whether that’s through real, paid leave, higher standards for childcare centers & paid caregivers, compassionate parent education, or some combination of all the above. But Komisar’s doesn’t go there… Instead, it’s all foisted on you, mama!

But suggesting that women are damaging their children by working is both disingenuous & ignores the fact that women have always worked. The myth of the ubiquitous stay-at-home mother is just that, a myth.

And then there are the non sequiturs. Komisar’s writes:

We would like to believe that our children are “just fine” when we leave them, so we can hurry back to our careers and social lives as quickly as possible. The truth is not always this simple. In an article published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, researchers James F. Leckman and J. S. March were emphatic on this point: “All children are not ‘resilient’ and there is now compelling evidence that adverse developmental and biological disruptions occurring in the early years of life are rapidly increasing, as is their consequences in the declining mental health of our children.” As we struggle to explain the increase in the numbers of children diagnosed with conditions on the autism spectrum, ADHD, and other social and developmental disorders, we have to consider that this rise may be directly related to increased maternal stress and the lack of consistent, intimate engagement of mothers (and other caregivers) with children.

So, you want a social life or a career, which leads to some sort of “adverse developmental and biological disruption” in your child, which may be your partner’s disengagement (‘cause, you know, you’re out socializing…), and that is to blame when your child is later diagnosed with a social disorder. “Simple,” right?

There is so much to unpack in that paragraph, but it’s all nonsense, so I’m not going to bother. But since I’m primarily critiquing Komisar’s use of research, I’ll just point out that without defining “adverse developmental and biological disruptions” the citation to the fancy sounding “article published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry” is completely meaningless.

But Komisar is relying on your tendency towards guilt for you to connect those adverse events to your leaving your child with some other caregiver. After all, mere pages before, she discusses research about how infants “mourn” their mothers’ “absence.” (So you’re primed for the guilt…) But there again, she engages in this discussion without defining key terms like “absence” (are we talking about babies separated permanently from their mothers at birth or a solo run to the grocery store?) & “mourning” (how are we measuring what it means for an infant to mourn? and who are these mourning infants left with?).

I could go on, but I hope it’s clear enough that Komisar’s use of research & “science” does not advance her argument.

2. Gender essentialism is essentially lame (even if moms have boobs & dads don’t).

The fallacy of gender essentialism as it pertains to parenting is apparent by the fact that this book exists. If mothering were so instinctual (a simple function of hormones), women wouldn’t need books on how to be a proper mother!

The fact that Komisar believes that fathers need lessons (or even drugs!) to “mother” (aka, nurture) is ironic considering the fact that she has written a manual for women on how to do the same.

And, seriously, Komisar actually advocates drugs for dads, writing that “in the future, a single father, or a two-father family may be prescribed intranasal oxytocin to improve their sensitive nurturing.” (At p. 39.) (Unsurprisingly, this is the point at which I finally stopped taking this book seriously…)

But there is no there there. Nothing I have read about attachment suggests that oxytocin is necessary for the creation of a secure attachment. In fact, Meredith Small, in her excellent book Our Babies, Ourselves, deftly debunks the myth or hypothesis that oxytocin (or a cocktail of birthing hormones) is the necessary ingredient for human adult-infant attachment. Small recognizes that attachment is possible (even necessary for human survival given historically high rates of maternal death in childbearing) between an infant and an adult who is not the child’s birth mother.

The truth is that we all have within us the instinct to bond. We simply need to foster that instinct & allow it space to develop.

Further, if we want to play the game of isolating hormones & chemicals, why not offer “intranasal oxytocin” to c-section mothers, adoptive mothers or the like, since those mothers don’t experience the rush of oxytocin that laboring mothers get during the course of a vaginal birth? If oxytocin is necessary for facilitating bonding in those first moments after birth & for mothering later, don’t we have to determine if these mothers are also lacking in the optimal amounts of the hormone? (Of course, I’m not serious … just taking Komisar’s suggestion to its ridiculous extreme.)

I’m not saying oxytocin doesn’t serve a real purpose. I’ve experienced its effects first hand. I’m also not saying that a woman’s experience of birthing & mothering isn’t unique or special.

My ability to nurse my children has provided me with a very special relationship with them. Obviously, that’s not something my male partner can enjoy. I don’t think there is anything like the experience of nourishing your child from your own body, staring into each others’ eyes. But do I think that experience makes me a better mother? A better parent than my partner? No. It is one opportunity for attachment among many.

For someone who puts so much stock in “choice,” Komisar seems awfully willing to accept that human behavior is simply driven by hormones. I, for one, do not want to be defined by my hormones, even though I am happy to accept that they provide a strong influence in my life.

And I’ve known some truly sensitive & nurturing dads, so there’s no way I’m buying into the “dads need drugs” argument. My partner is amazingly patient & “mothers” beautifully. My own father had always been sensitive & loving. More publicly, check out Scott Noelle, an advocate for gentle parenting & unconditional love, or the men (& fathers) who wrote Raising a Secure Child, a fantastic new book on nurturing your child’s secure attachment.

(A bit of unsolicited advice on “training” dads… No mother trying to engage her partner should attempt to train him to parent in a particular way. That tactic is sure to backfire. Every parent deserves to be empowered & supported in their parenting journey. Don’t treat men as if they can’t be gentle parents when their truest & most earnest parenting is fostered. Dad’s have paternal instincts, too. Give men space to find themselves as parents.)

3. The “strange situation” is strange… Do not let it into your home!

In another gross misuse of scientific research, Komisar imports the “strange situation” experiment into your home. Again, she does this to create fear & guilt in working mothers.

The “strange situation” is a lab experiment used in attachment theory work to classify different attachment styles. It is not a diagnostic tool, though a researcher’s observations of a particular iteration of the experiment might lead to classifying a child’s attachment type in relation to a particular caregiver.

You can read a great description in this New York Times article (fascinating in its own right). But, in short, the experiment involves bringing a young child (the age range possibly doesn’t go later than 18 months) with a caregiver, usually his or her mother, into a lab. They play a bit, then a stranger enters. The caregiver leaves after just a few minutes & the stranger tries to interact with the child for a brief time. The caregiver returns & is reunited with the child. Then the whole thing plays out one more time.

The thrust of the experiment is the child’s reunion with the caregiver. The researcher classifies the child’s attachment type based on this reaction. There are, generally, four accepted attachment styles, but there’s only one golden ticket & that’s the secure attachment type.

Some argue, pretty convincingly (as in the Times article linked above), that attachment at this young age has a big influence on future relationships & learning & all sorts of important stuff.

But while attachment is important, using the strange situation protocol as a DIY, on-the-fly test for your child’s attachment to you, as Komisar suggests in her book, is actually a really bad idea. Not only will doing so do nothing but wrack you with worry & guilt, it will lead you further afield from your instinctual feedback loop with your child. It’s also probably not going to be all that accurate.

Here’s why: Usually, I’m sure, your baby or child is going to be happy to see you when you come home from or pick up your child after work. Seems like the normal, baseline reaction to seeing mom or dad after a day apart.

But sometimes, you walk in the door & big brother is tickling your baby. Or your toddler is deep into an activity with his daycare teacher. Or your nanny is feeding your child delicious (& very messy) blueberries.

Guess what? In those moments, your child may react to your sudden appearance as an intrusion. She might give you a look of a teenager (“Oh, hey, Mom…”) & get back to giggling. Or, he might be upset when his nanny or teacher says goodbye.

Komisar says that these reactions would be cause for concern. Possible signs your child is not securely attached, even!

I call bullshit.

Komisar’s importing of the “strange situation” into your daily routine is specious at best & reeks of fearmongering. That experiment was designed in a lab, with strangers. Perhaps if you were asking a complete stranger off the street every day to watch you child while you worked (not a good childcare strategy, by the way!) the “strange situation” experiment would have something to say about your after-work reunion with your child. But, hopefully your child’s caregiver is not a stranger. Hopefully, you’ve gently transitioned to a loving, engaged caregiving situation. In which case, the “strange situation” has nothing to do with picking up your child after work.

Komisar cites to no research to back up her claim that you should worry if your child displays certain reactions at that transitional moment when you return to your child after work. Not even the “strange situation” research. That’s probably because there isn’t any research to support her incindiary fear mongering!

Your child loves you & is most likely securely attached. He or she comes to expect your return each day. That return, therefore, will sometimes be a non-event for your child. That’s ok.

Do I have any fancy study to back me up? No. (I have a pretty serious day job & lovely children, so the time I can spend slaying terrible parenting advice is quite limited.)

I can say that I have experienced the non-reaction & even the very occasional adverse reaction (as in, my child briefly preferring a nanny or grandma… if baby prefers my partner, that’s not an adverse reaction). My children are securely attached. My oldest is a confident child & he still loves me. My baby-toddler seems to think I’m ok, too.

*****

So there you have it. Three concrete reasons why you should pay this book no mind. Enjoy your child. Learn her language & needs. But chuck the guilt. You don’t need it & you deserve a better shot at enjoying motherhood!

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Read, Simplicity, Working

Choosing to be here: a post in which I explain why I quit reading Erica Komisar’s book, Being There

Clarity: part one of three-ish

It is unfortunate, though perhaps ironic, that Erica Komisar’s tone-deaf book on mothering shares a title with the classic Peter Sellers movie about a naïve (& completely tone-deaf) gardener’s adventures in the world of the wealthy & politically connected. Unfortunate, because, now having encountered Komisar’s book, Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters, my pleasant memory of the movie is tarnished.

I have spent more time than I’d care to admit trying to patiently read & digest Being There (the book, not the movie). Heck, I even schlepped the book across the Atlantic Ocean & back! But I’ve finally realized that the best thing I can do for my sanity & time management is to give up, finish the two-part blog post I’ve already started, & gleeflully drop the book in my library’s return box.

My executive summary: If you are a mother & you work outside the home (or if you simply have any ambitions or desires outside of your children’s lives) do not read this book. It will be a frustrating waste of time. And it might make you a bit crazy.

And I say this as someone who tried really hard to glean something useful from the book. I am an attachment parenting mom who believes in the biological & emotional (& often inconvenient) needs of my children. And so, even though I work full time as an attorney, I am no stranger to the idea that presence, especially in the early years, is extremely important.

However, I am also no fool.

I don’t go in for junk science. And nothing I read in Komisar’s book has convinced me that our family arrangement is harming my children.

So, why am I writing about this book anyway? I’m doing a mini-dive into Komisar’s book because I believe strongly that her book is damaging to working mothers (& the sense of confidence we all need & deserve).

At the outset, I have to admit that I agree, at least in theory, with Komisar’s premise: that mothers are extremely important for their babies & toddlers; that parents should (to the extent they can) make choices that prioritize their family, especially in the early years; & that most parents (myself included) can use a reminder to be more present with our young children. Some of the practical tips that Komisar offers aren’t half bad. Some (though not all) of them fit with attachment parenting.

In other words, I am all for trying to achieve better outcomes for children by educating & supporting parents on the important role they play during infancy & toddlerhood. Ultimately, our projects are the same: Empower women to be more confident & happier mothers.

However, I found that this book is decidedly not supportive & its advice relies too much on a common but misguided view of choice. Just the introduction (where the book & my critique begin) is inflammatory & sensationalist, an obvious & self-congratulatory grab for the attention of an anti-woman audience. The allure was lost on me.

I have already tackled, long ago, some of the nonsense out there regarding a line of thinking that would essentially lock mothers in the house for the first three years of a child’s life. Though Komisar makes claims to the contrary, Being There presents more of the same, dressed up with ill-fitting citations & research.

Komisar sets the tone on page one: The first page paints a portrait of a writer who put off the project of writing her book in order to focus being a mother to her young children. She contrasts herself with mothers who she claims are the focus of her project: Those who “devalue, deprioritize, and neglect mothering.” (Also page one—technically page xi—emphasis mine.)

What a way to catch my attention & connect with me as a reader. Oh, wait, she’s talking about me?!

In all seriousness, a mother who honestly neglects mothering & devalues her children is probably dealing with demons that require & deserve compassion & professional intervention, not a finger-wagging “you should do better.”

So, from the very start (like, we’re still on the first paragraph…) we understand this to be a book about the choices mothers make. It is not primarily about a society that devalues children & caregiving; it’s about the choice we mothers make to neglect our own child(ren). Komisar starts with this rhetorical flourish, all while setting herself up as a (self-)righteous example of how to make better choices & structure those early years as a mother with (hypothetical) interests outside of family life.

But wait! She claims: “I am deeply saddened by the mommy wars still waging across this country between working and nonworking mothers.” (Speaking of “mommy wars,” who still considers, let alone calls, primary caregivers to be “nonworking”?! I mean, unfortunately, “working parent” has become the shorthand for a parent who is employed outside the home or otherwise works for a paycheck at home, but I think “nonworking parent” is really poor shorthand for a stay-at-home parent…)

We’ll get back to the issue of choice, but it’s her next move that really sets up the fallacy underlying the book. Komisar lists a lot of scary (& serious) statistics regarding the increase in reported mental illness in our children. Everything from ADHD to anxiety to bullying to eating disorders are on the rise. This is a serious trend, no doubt, and of primary concern to parents & mental health professionals like Komisar. But then Komisar suggests a single reason for this unsettling increase: It’s because we (women, not men, mind you…) are spending too much time “ambitiously pursuing our own individual needs” (at page xiv) at the expense of our children’s needs.

Now, while she cites statistics documenting the increase in the problems children are encountering these days, her evidence for the link to a lacking maternal presence is (almost) purely anecdotal. In other words, she provides no research to back up this huge claim. (She does try to cite to a number of studies later in the main text of the book, but I’ll share in my next post why many of her citations are deeply flawed.)

What exactly are the choices & ambitions that Komisar is talking about? Those distractions from mothering that she claims are at the heart of all that is wrong with children these days? That’s the real heart of the matter.

It’s easy to say that we should give up our ambitions & dreams & even our needs while raising very young children, that the trade-off is temporary (as in, just the first months, years of a child’s life…), but is that shift really so easy to make in the reverse? And what if you have multiple children & those early years start to stretch into a decade or more? Finally, what is the magical age at which it’s acceptable to be a person again?

I’m not going so far as to say that you should fall to the opposite extreme… that you should spend unproductive long hours at work if you can help it or that you should attend every spinning class your legs can handle, while leaving your children (of any age) in someone else’s care. I do not doubt that some women avoid mothering because of some real pain they experienced in their own childhoods or other mental/emotional roadblock. These women need support, not derision. A mother’s (or father’s) inability to form a proper attachment with a child is a real problem that deserves attention, but lack of attachment & presence is likely not a choice.

The fact is that mothers are individuals, with varied (& very real) needs & ambitions, which lead us to make any number of varied & legitimate choices. And some of us have concrete & very real (& I mean real) needs that severely limit the choices we can make. Not to mention the things we may choose to do to keep our sanity or be, you know, remotely happy. (As my partner says, a miserable parent will pass their misery onto their child!)

Of course, as Komisar correctly points out, we can only do so much at any given time, but that only gets you so far, as every parent knows. Life goes on.

What does “choice” really mean, anyway? In the “mommy wars” (& Komisar’s book is firmly situated in “mommy war” territory, despite her claims to the contrary), “choice” is usually a code word for some fatal flaw that other moms make & that will absolutely fuck up their children.

But what if we talk about choice differently? Instead of using “choice” as a battle cry, what if we discussed the myriad & varied choices any parent is faced with every day & every night? What if we empowered parents with knowledge & an understanding of their children that would assist them in making a few better choices every day, instead of insisting that mothers must make the ultimate, correct choice, as if there is only one?

Look, I like to think I’m important. That my role as parent, a mother, is making a difference for my kids. In fact, I know I’m important. But by elevating mothers above everyone else, we implicitly & necessarily devalue not only fathers (partnered straight dads, partnered gay dads, single dads, all dads…), but also adoptive mothers, foster mothers, grandmothers… any other mother.

The truth is, what matters is compassion. Love. Deep parental love. Consistency. Responsiveness. Unconditional acceptance.

Straight, upper-middle class birth mothers (because, let’s get honest… that’s Komisar’s target audience) are not the sole owners of rearing young babies & toddlers. They never have been.

And shame on Komisar for even suggesting that, where there are two parents, “an emotionally disengaged or physically absent mother” is solely responsible for the mental well-being of her children. Without any real science to back up her claim.

By blaming mothers for their so-called choices, she lets everyone else off the hook: fathers, employers, the government, mainstream culture, etc. Mere lip service aimed at these other responsible entities (as Komisar engages in) isn’t enough. We have to stop blaming & shaming mothers.

As if to drive my point home, toward the end of her introduction (at p. xv), after using scare tactics to get her reader’s attention, Komisar writes:

We see extensive discussion in the media about the needs of working parents, but the subject of children’s needs is noticeably missing from the conversation. For example, in a recent article in the New York Times, “Wall Street Mothers, Stay-Home Fathers,” we learn about parents reshuffling their roles as provider and caregiver, but we don’t hear how these power couples’ children feel when their mothers are not present.

First, this is just not true! There’s a whole movement fighting for family issues affecting work-life balance for parents along with numerous issues affecting the well-being of our children! Just take a look at the work of Moms Rising. The needs of working parents are closely linked with the needs of children. Paid sick leave for all (aka the ability to take the time necessary to care for a sick child with compassion) is just one example. Real, paid maternity leave (aka the right to have the time & space to bond with a new child) is another. Quality, affordable childcare. Need I go on? Children, not just parents, benefit from such policies.

Also, to pick this particular article out of all the possibilities is a bit disingenuous. Just the title of the article reeks of the problem of affluenza. “Wall Street mothers” are no less deserving than “minimum wage mothers” & “barely-middle-class mothers.” In fact, we should probably be more concerned about how the latter two are coping. (Engaging in such an inquiry might also shift the discussion of “choice.”)

Finally, since I’ve been “absent” (Komisar’s words, not mine) for most of my son’s life & he’s old enough to speak his (often very strong) opinions, I asked him how he feels about this. He said he loves me. He called me Wonder Woman. (Swoon!) And, upon further reflection, he was upset by the notion that men can’t raise babies (maybe because he sees his own dad knocking it out of the ballpark most days).

I will agree that we (as a society) need to talk more about what is best for our children. A culture that puts pressure on women to spend an outsize amount of time exercising soon after birth to “bounce back” is all sorts of upside-down when it comes to what is best for young children. A society where employers can demand mothers return to work six weeks postpartum (or less!) or lose the job that will provide food & diapers & fucking shelter for their families has serious problems… problems that just might be largely responsible for the list of horrors that Komisar presents at the outset of her book. A culture that treats children as pets to be trained, as accessories to be decorated certainly has room for improvement. A world where social media reigns & mothers must curate a picture-perfect family life is (I’m going to go out on a limb here…) probably not “best” for children.

Mothers who work (even if by choice)? Moms with ambition? We are not the problem.

Ok, that’s more than enough for one post, but these are some of the reasons I finally just had to stop reading the book (no one pays me to write this blog & there are only so many hours in a day for a working mom who is also a present mom…). In part two I’ll get into some of Komisar’s research, tackle the problems with gender essentialism as it relates to parenting, explore the “strange situation,” and more.

PS: As partner to a poet, I have to say Komisar’s reading of Philip Larkin’s poem, “This Be The Verse,” is incomplete, to say the least. Even if we could be eternally present for our children, guess what? We will still fuck them up. And, by referncing “soppy-stern” & “half at one another’s throats” they seem to be the sort of unhappy parents who just might benefit from indulging in their own needs or ambitions for a bit. Just sayin’.

3 Comments

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Feminism, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Read, Simplicity, Working

A gift of a different kind

I did finally make it out the door, laden, as usual with pumping equipment & snacks.


The morning started promisingly. I woke up just before my alarm & successfully snuck out of bed without waking the baby. 

For a second, as I descended the stairs to the kitchen, I thought to myself, “How great! I’ll get ready in no time, nurse the baby upon her waking, & be out the door early!” 

But it’s not every morning that I wake without the baby. 

My actual instinct upon entering the quiet kitchen was to tidy up. It’s the kind of productivity that’s impossible with a one-year-old on your hip or under foot. For example: an open dishwasher that invites climbing rather than emptying dishes. 

So I did what any sane working parent would do. Rather than get ready for work, I put away the clean dishes. 

Having accomplished that task & still no sign of small humans being awake, I made myself a well-deserved pot of coffee. I sat down with my steaming mug of coffee and a magazine. And I savored it all. The quiet, especially. (Incidentally, I read the new Harper’s & Seyward Darby’s new article, “The Rise of the Valkyries“, which is terrifying for any woman who has read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.)

A morning like this is a gift, and a rare one at that. 

Eventually, I gathered my things & actually started to prepare to leave for the day. Of course, at that point the baby was awake & on my lap as I tried to nurse, read M’s favorite book, and guzzle the last of my coffee. Oh, and catch up with my partner, who woke up with the baby. 

Our first attempt at nursing (& by first attempt, I mean the first conscious nursing, since we have an open milk bar all night long…) was distracted & so as I was saying my goodbyes, M unsurprisingly gave me the sign for mama milk. … Okay… Hike up my dress, adjust my non-nursing bra & we nurse. Quietly. Staring at each other in the sun-lit room. 

Then my work phone dings & buzzes. A reminder that the early birds in my office have started their work days already & a reality check that this mostly-blissful morning cannot last. Baby M wriggles in my lap, signaling she’s done nursing. I holler at my partner & I’m out the door. 

Leave a comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Gentle Discipline, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Simplicity, Working

Sarcasm in trouble 

Ancient rock for breakfast


I am snarky. IRL. On this blog. I’m irreverent & my sense of humor tends sharply toward sarcasm. 

Pro tip: kids do not get sarcasm. 

Even big kids. Like my 8 year old.

Kids (big & small) are busy making sense of this world every moment of every day. Their brains are categorizing, compartmentalizing, absorbing. It’s all so darn real & immediate. 

So sarcasm is usually lost on them. 

Except it’s not. 

Turns out my son has been observing my sarcasm quietly & taking me at my word. And I need to stop! I’ve known I need to stop forever

One recent morning, I was joking (or so I thought) with my partner, MFA Dad. I threatened to burn his toast in jest. I forgot the exchange all together, but my son did not. 

As we sat down to eat (MFA Dad’s toast perfectly done… or burned entirely by accident… I can’t remember which…) T asked me (all sincerity & seriousness) why people just can’t get along. 

Me: Huh?

T recalled for me my very recent threat to ruin his father’s breakfast. 

Me: Oh. 

So, because of my sarcasm, I’ve basically ruined my son’s sense of loving partnership & human relationships. Probably forever

I explained (& apologized for) my weird sense of humor. I tried to rehabilitate my foibles … 

Truth is, he’s 8 & he’s basically an anthropologist. He is observing human interactions. Testing the limits of love & acceptance. (He also tests this by being a complete jerk & seeking love at the same time… That’s a whole other topic…)

This morning, bleary-eyed with lack of sleep & caffeine, I almost let my snark slip as I made coffee. I caught myself. Instead, I thanked MFA Dad for helping me get ready for work. 

They both deserve more sincerity from me. Not that I’m not sincere. I have my sarcastic moments & I get more sarcastic the more I feel overwhelmed or stressed. It’s definitely a crutch. But I’m also a smother-you-with-love type of parent. Still, in the hustle & bustle of work & parenthood, I realize it is my partner who needs more random kind words. More thanks. 

I can thank T for forcing me to be more present with him & my partner.

Leave a comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Gentle Discipline, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Simplicity, Snapshots, Working

Leaving the little one, redux

Still life, with one-year-old’s toes & eight-year-old’s craft project


Ages ago now, I wrote about leaving my son to take the bar exam. He was almost 2 years old at that point. Prior to that, when he was closer to one year old, I had left him for one night, to visit two of my dearest friends. He is now 8 & those days are long behind us. (Spoiler: He survived.)

Now our youngest family member is a newly-minted one-year-old & I’m gearing up for a work trip. I have to admit, I am nervous. Nervous simply to leave her for more than my normal work day. Nervous to be so far apart. Nervous for the nighttime parenting my partner will have to do without me (& without fully functioning boobs). 

Vaguely nervous that she’ll somehow wean due to my short absence. That I will somehow traumatize her & she’ll hate me forever afterward. 

I’m definitely nervous that I won’t find time & space to pump at our meeting. Nervous that I’ll get another plugged duct. Nervous that I’ll have to spend unnecessary time away from her due to flight delays, etc. 

In reality, I know that she & I will be fine. It is (in the grand scheme of things) a brief separation. 

My son didn’t miss a beat when I left him for those limited times when he was still so young. My daughter’s disposition is quite similar & I’m sure she will be fine with her dad and her grandma and her brother (who I’m certain is her most favorite person in the world…). 

Still, the fact that I love her so much makes me loathe to leave her. And I know she depends on me in ways that are unique from the other caregivers in her life. That’s just a fact of life & biology (mostly biology). 

Plus, the pressure on moms to be ever present is just so persistent! Under normal circumstances, I feel I’m more or less immune to such pressures. At least I like to think I am. But I know that gnawing voice in the back of my head sometimes speaks up, reminding me that I’m not immune to such cultural expectations & stereotypes & pressures that are unique to motherhood. (For example: As a friend reminded me recently, no one asks fathers if they’re returning to work after a baby; that question is reserved for mothers alone. Why? Because moms are expected to stay home during those early years, or at least to want to. Dads? Not so much.)

As an attachment parenting mom, I suppose I’m a bit overexposed to the line of thinking that prioritizes maternal presence over all else. It’s a fallacy that AP dictates an endless physical attachment of mother & child, but that doesn’t stop folks from falling down that rabbit hole. AP or not, I’ve called them out on it before & will do in the future (stay tuned for a review of a new book that makes some pretty silly arguments about maternal-child separation.)

I try to maximize the time I spend in full-on mothering mode, because I know it’s important work. But I also know (like, for a fact know) that some separation is okay, even healthy (particularly if it makes you a happier parent, which will almost always makes you a better parent). (Of course, how much separation is appropriate & when is something only you can figure out. But if you work on honing your baby language skills, you’ll figure it out.)

So, I said “yes” to this trip, which I think will offer important networking & career growth opportunities. Which isn’t to say that I’m particularly looking forward to it. This kind of separation is definitely different from that of our daily routines.

When making the transition back to work after giving birth (whenever that happens to be), I think it’s important to prepare. Practice the hand-off/drop-off routine. Start part-time if possible & increase the length of your work days (& resultant absence) over the course of a couple weeks. In short, make sure dad or grandma or nanny or daycare provider is a part of your baby’s life. 

That said, the goal is not to make your baby independent before he’s ready or to toughen her up. The goal is to gently expand his or her universe in a loving & gentle way. 

In other words, we shouldn’t be afraid of attachment or separation. They are both normal parts of infancy & life. (Heck, that eight-year-old I wrote about leaving so long ago… He was practically in tears when I left for work this morning… Yeah, this shit is never easy.) So, be attached when you’re together. Be comfortable with appropriate bouts of separation. 

As an example, I’ll tell you what I’ve done to prepare baby for my trip: Nothing. 

Well, I’ve made a meticulous list of pumping gear I need to pack. I’ve researched space for pumping at airports & at my destination. I’ve reviewed TSA policies. 

MFA Dad & I talked about him practicing putting the baby to sleep at night, but there was no follow-through. When I’m away, the routine they figure out will be theirs (hopefully with minimal tears). When she knows I’m there, she wants me & I want to cuddle her for nighttime nursing. 

Separation is about more love, not less. It’s not a deprivation. It’s just different. Sometimes we may not like it. They may not like it. But, usually, it’s gonna be okay.

Leave a comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Lawyering, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Working

Life with a one-year-old (part two)

Cowgirl in motion, losing a diaper


I’ve decided to share what a couple random days in our house looks like. I mean these to be a glimpse into what attachment parenting might look like for a working* mom (or other parent, save for the nursing). I don’t think there’s any right way to be an attachment parent, so I wanted to share some of our experience, mistakes & all. 

Day #1 was actually a really nice day, despite being a bit over-busy. Day #2 looked quite different (& decidedly less idyllic), which is mainly why I decided to document a second day. 

Early morning: Baby wakes & MFA Dad takes her downstairs; apparently, he tries to wake me later, but I remember nothing…

7:30: I hear MFA Dad getting ready & realize it’s super late. I jump out of bed. It’s actually not such a big deal, because I’m working from home today & I’ll still get to work during my office’s core hours. I go downstairs & Baby M is happily playing with her big brother & Grandma, who is visiting to help with childcare. 

8:15: I’m logged in & getting to work, with coffee in hand, though I’m still in my PJs. MFA Dad is off to work. 

8:30: My mom leaves with the kids to drop my son off at summer camp. I dig in to my work & have a call with my boss about a particularly tricky case I’m advising on.

9:15: My mom returns. Baby M took a micro-nap & is really tired. I try to nurse her back down, but no dice. The hand-off to my mom is messy & baby is upset. I suggest distraction instead of fighting for the nap. She quiets down.

11:00: I have a conference call & have just finished nursing the baby. Now she’s really upset & screaming. Sometimes working from home makes things confusing for her, particularly when she’s overly tired, & today is one of those days. She screaming at her grandma, but I have to get on this call. She’s safe in my own mother’s loving & capble hands, I tell myself. I wish I could focus on her, but sometimes work has to take a priority. (That’s life for a working parent. I feel a twinge of guilt, but I know these individual moments don’t matter as much as the overall patterns of loving care this child receives from me, MFA Dad, & others.) Anyway, soon I hear my mom take the baby to her big brother’s room as a change of scenery & she immediately quiets down. I put on my headphones & dial into my conference call. 

12:15: By the time I’m off the call, the baby is sleeping. Which is a good thing, because I have a fire to put out in one of my cases. 

1:15: Baby is awake, my mom fetches her & she’s her happy self again. I nurse her, make myself some lunch, chat with my mom & get back to work. But I have to run to the kitchen for something & baby sees me & wants me again. I let my mom distract her & then I disappear. (I generally don’t like “disappearing” as a transitional tactic, but when I’m close by & ultimately available if things get rough, I think it’s ok. At least, it works for us.) 

2:30: It’s quiet & they’ve apparently left to pick up big brother from camp. They’ll run a couple errands, so I’m certain to work uninterrupted for a good stretch. I’ve been sort of productive today, but it’s a battle to be as organized & focused as possible when I’m at home—There are different distractions than there are at the office; and the distractions at home are more likely to knock me off my game if I’m not intentional about my goals & to-do list. 

5:15: Finally done working. Seems like it was a long day even though I was still in my PJs at the end. Baby is home & seems really tired, so I give her a little in-arms catnap to reconnect & decompress. 

6:00: Leftovers for dinner, thankfully! After baby wakes up, I let her play with her grandma & brother so I can shut down my work for the day. Pull together the leftovers & then MFA Dad is home! Family dinner. 

9:00: Both kids are having trouble settling down tonight. After I get baby to sleep, we have a family gathering in my son’s room as he’s having some worries about death (& what comes next). We end up distracting him by talking about the future, which he is certain will include flying cars. I lay down with him for a little while in the dark, but he crashes hard & fast. 

9:45: Baby is awake & unsettled again. She is working on walking & her sleep is disrupted & very physical these days, so it takes a while to get her back to sleep. I’m nodding off too…

Today was more challenging than yesterday. I love that I have the option to work from home a couple days each week, but I don’t like not leaving the house all day & not having a break to take care of myself (who would?!). It’s so great to be able to cut out my commute & have that extra time to spend with the kids. It also gives me the flexibility to nurse rather than pump during the work day, which is awesome! When I’m at work, though, I have a very well-honed routine to help me take good care of myself (drinking water, getting up to walk around or get a breath of “fresh” (city) air… you know, the simple things…). I’ve always been more organized at work than at home, generally, & I’m working on importing some of that structure into my (work at) home life.

* See my day #1 post for an explanation of the problems inherent with this term. For simplicity, I often use it anyway, which I don’t intend to diminish the real work primary caregivers do on a daily basis.

1 Comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Gentle Discipline, Lawyering, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Simplicity, Snapshots, Working

What life with a one-year-old looks like in this house (part one)

Sweaty head hair flip


There aren’t too many examples out in the world of working* attachment parenting moms. At least, I think we’re woefully underrepresented in the blogosphere (do people say that anymore?!), parenting websites & books, social media, etc. So, I thought I’d post about some random days in our life. On AP mom’s play-by-play, so to speak…

Random day #1, which was pretty productive & sweet, was followed by random day #2, which was stressful & less productive. 

And that’s pretty much how we roll around here… The good & the bad, the dark & the light (for you Star Wars fans), the sweet & the challenging. In other words, (a fairly privileged, very lucky) life. Here’s a peek…

5:30/5:45-ish: Baby M wakes up, or at least starts to… She alternately flops around the bed & nurses, sometimes getting quiet & still. Foolishly, I think she might fall asleep again, but she’s awake awake. A little cranky, but sweet, too.

6:15: I’m making coffee & breakfast while she explores the pantry & tries her hand at unloading the dishwasher. No broken dishes but I shut down the operation before it gets dangerous. She’s not happy with the fact that I’ve thwarted her two preferred activities this morning. I’m half-listening to the news on the radio & for some reason keep missing the weather report. I enjoy a few sips of warm-ish coffee & quickly eat breakfast while packing up my lunch & work-related things. Mentally, I’m planning what I’ll wear since I finally caught the weather report. 

7:00: My mom is visiting & she wakes up. Then my partner, MFA Dad. I take my coffee & baby to the living room to nurse one more time. I wake up my son, show him how to use hair gel (a new experiment for him) & get myself ready. 

7:30: I’m off. I get a nice morning walk in to the train. I plug into my music (TV on the Radio today) & work on my blog. 

8:20: I arrive at work. Meetings. Email. A few minutes of meal-planning before MFA Dad heads to the grocery store. 

11:00: I pump. I’m trying to slowly cut out pumping at work now that baby is one. I have a private office & I can work while I pump, which makes me incredibly lucky, but I don’t like being unavailable for those solid chunks of the day. M is eating a lot of solid food & loves water, so we’re at a good point, I think, to transition away from bottles of mama milk. I was down to once a day; however, I just had a run-in with a clogged duct (seriously?!) & so I’m rethinking things. Extra pumping today to make sure I empty out enough since I’m just recovering from the plugged duct & still experiencing some pain. 

12:30: I’m getting over a stomach bug, too (double whammy!) & the lunch I packed is decidedly unappetizing. I usually don’t eat out (especially following gastro illness) but I need to eat. I find a place that makes broth in-house for their soups. Yum. 

1:00: It’s an afternoon of collaborating with colleagues, working with legal interns, & meeting with my clients. And some legal research. With another short pumping session mixed in.  

5:00: I’m able to punch out on time today. More blogging on the train. I didn’t bring an umbrella & it’s raining when I get off the train (so much for that weather report…) Luckily, I catch a bus. 

5:45: I’m home. M greets me outside with a big smile, a hearty wave, & so many kicks. We nurse a ton. My work dress is not nursing friendly, so I have to strip down so that we can reconnect. She’s at the acrobatic stage of toddler nursing, which is both interactive & exhausting & uncomfortable. … Dinner! MFA Dad has prepared some curried chicken in our electric pressure cooker, which my son amazingly eats with arugula & without ketchup. Baby eats it up, too, but mostly whines because we can’t get her water fast enough. 

7:00: Clean-up & our big boy accidentally knocks our precarious pile of recycling down the stairs. We laugh & stare for a few moments, because what else can you do?! He gamely helps to pick it up & I take it out to the bin. I notice the grass is long & the garden overgrown but it’s too late to do anything about it today. My mom, still visiting to help us with a patch of childcare, leaves to visit her elderly mother—definitely a sandwich generation moment for her. 

7:15: M’s short bedtime routine. A bath is nice but unnecessary every night. Our abbreviated routine consists of a couple songs, diaper change on the bed & nursing in the rocking chair. Baby seems a little unsettled tonight but she drifts off. 

7:45: I lay her down in her crib & join my partner & our oldest child for a few rounds of Pandemic, a cooperative board game. Our son goes to get ready for bed while I load my pumping gear into the dishwasher & catch up with MFA Dad for a few minutes. I read Harry Potter (Book 6!) to my son & snuggle & chat with him about his day at drama camp. He proudly tells me how he wrote a couple jokes for the script they’re preparing. We talk about the roles that might be a good fit (to help prepare him for casting excitement & possible disappointments). Lights out!

9:00: I get myself ready for bed. Oops! Baby’s awake. I rush to get through my routine. MFA Dad has her. She’s quiet but I know she’ll likely want to nurse. Sure enough, I walk in & her head pops up from his arms. We swap. She’s all over the place. Wet diaper. Still unable to settle. Some more active movement & she settles down. I try to write this blog post but fade as I rock with baby in my arms. 

10:45: Finally in bed, just in time for a lightning & thunderstorm to keep me awake. 

Fairly typical day. Non-stop, though I feel I moved only incrementally, if at all, in my work & home to-do lists. I generally find life & responsibility to be overwhelming & today was no different. But the day, as all those before it, is done. Goodnight!

* I am sometimes reminded of the rhetorical clash of language in discussions of mothers, specifically the reality that many of us get a salary from an employer & many of us get no paycheck but engage primarily in the labor of a functioning family. Others manage to arrive at a mix of the two. As many (most?) writers do, I use the term “working mom” as shorthand for those of us engaged in “outside jobbing” (even if we sometimes or always telework from home). This isn’t to suggest that those engaged in family labors do not work. It’s just that our language doesn’t have a great way to sort all this activity out. 

1 Comment

Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Feminism, Gentle Discipline, Lawyering, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Simplicity, Snapshots, Working