Dads, Who Are Parents, Do Not Deserve Praise for Parenting While Moms Marched – Slate
Shame on The New York Times for their “coverage” of the difficulties faced by men whose partners participated in the Marches last weekend.
I am extremely fortunate and grateful to have a stay-at-home partner who takes care of our child while I go to work (which, of course, makes it possible for him to be home). I am grateful that his willingness (and inclination) to stay home also makes it possible for me to do things like train for a marathon, travel for my own professional development, and participate in our democracy by attending events like Saturday’s March in Atlanta.
As much as I’ve always wanted children, once I had the opportunity to really have a career – not just a job- I knew that my one-time dream of staying at home didn’t align with my new reality, and not just for financial reasons. Being a stay-at-home parent, particularly of a demanding toddler, is a hard job, and it is not a job that I’m cut out for – another reason that I’m grateful, because my partner’s inclination to stay home meant that starting a family was possible for us.
Families like ours are becoming more common, but they’re still not the norm – as this article from the NYT demonstrates. I want my partner to be praised for his parenting, not because he is a man “stepping up” to take care of his child. I want my partner to be recognized for the hard, dirty work of childcare because it is hard and dirty, not because he dealt with the occasional nasty tantrum or diaper in public. I want my partner to be respected for the things he uniquely contributes to our child’s life, not because he contributes.
I want this not just because I am grateful for my partner and the arrangements that make our family and our lives work – I want this because we are raising a son who may be a father some day, and who needs to understand that parity in the home goes hand-and-glove with equality in the workplace and in the world.
I ran my first marathon yesterday. And I want to tell you about it, but I want to talk about this first.
I took this photo because I liked my pre-race layers – the Divvy shirt was going to be tossed before the race started – but when I looked at the photo on my phone, I wasn’t happy with it because I didn’t like how my belly looked.
Let that sink in for a minute. I was an hour away from the start of my first marathon, an accomplishment preceded by months of training and hundreds of miles logged on calloused feet and strong legs, all of which was done while working full time and with a toddler who still nurses nearly as much as he did at 9 months. And in that moment, I was upset at the shape of my belly.
I don’t remember when I first internalized that I was bigger, or that my weight was something I needed to be concerned about. Certainly by the time I was 12-13, I believed it to be true. I don’t know when I started understanding that my body had value, or that the value of my body to some might exceed the value of the heart and mind that it contained. But there were certainly long years where that felt true, and unlearning that truth was costly.
Whenever I run a race and see little girls watching and cheering, I think about how important it is for girls in particular to see women of all shapes and sizes doing hard and amazing things that aren’t limited to the traditional confines of gender. Every time I accept a high five from a little girl on the course, I hope that it’s a meaningful moment for her, that my imperfect body will be added to the many many messages she’ll receive about who and what she can be, that she’ll understand that she doesn’t have to have a perfect body to be amazing.
I found this photo from the late days of my pregnancy this afternoon while looking for something else entirely. I was so big, and so tired, and so ready to be done being pregnant, and so scared about what would happen if all of the ridiculous things we were trying didn’t result in the baby turning around. They didn’t work, and he didn’t turn, and I had a surgery that I didn’t want, but everyone was just fine in the end.
On my way to the gym the other day, I passed a young girl with a huge dangly front tooth, and then I realized that my little son would one day lose his front teeth, and that realization made me want to cry because growing those teeth has been so agonizing – so much pain that he doesn’t understand, so many long feverish nights of tossing and turning, unable to get comfortable because bones are poking their way through his tender new gums. And for what? So that he can lose them all and start over?
And then yesterday, I was in the car in the early morning and so caught the beginning of a rebroadcast interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, where he said:
I could not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. I could not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering because, in such a place, they have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. And the kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion, and, therefore, suffering should exist.
And it made me realize, again and again, that these are the pieces of our lives that make us human: the fear of the unknown that turns out to be not so scary, the inexplicable pain (physical and otherwise) that comes from growing, the extraordinary experience of releasing your heart outside your body that helps you understand how to love the world.
People (and books, and the internet) warned us about the four month sleep regression.
At four months, babies’ sleep starts to change in tandem with a big growth spurt. They stop sleeping like, well, babies, and start sleeping more like adults. This is great, right? This means that they’re going to sleep 8 hours (or more?!) like the rest of us civilized people?
No. It actually means the opposite, at least in the short term.
Our son slept through the night* for the first time somewhere between 2-3 months, but has generally been what can generously be described as a reluctant sleeper.
So take our pretty difficult sleeper and add to his schedule the four month sleep regression and you get a baby who wakes up every 45-90 minutes All. Night. Long. For. Weeks. On. End. And you get parents who are so sleep deprived (or sleep interrupted) that they might as well be walking around drunk, except without any of the fun parts of being drunk.
So that is how I feel about the four month sleep regression. Two big thumbs down. Thankfully, four months is otherwise an awfully cute age AND ALSO he will never be four months old again.
*For those who don’t have kids, “sleeping through the night” is defined as sleeping 5 hours** without waking.
**Please note that I fed him at least once during this 5 hour period, so it’s not like I slept for 5 hours. Ever.
Today is the end of my second week back to work. Now that the holidays are over and everyone is back in the office, I’m being asked regularly how it is to be back, how we’re managing, what life is like as a working mother.
I’ll tell you:
There’s all the normal day-to-day stuff from before: waking up with an alarm, making coffee, hunting for parking, endless meetings, trying to avoid ordering take out at the end of a long day, wanting to watch another episode of something but giving into sleep instead.
Add to that a layer of baby activities: nursing before getting out of bed, changing two diapers in the hour before work, keeping the baby entertained while trying to make coffee so that Nicolas and I are both a little more awake before I leave, rushing home to happy snuggles and more nursing, hoping the baby doesn’t fall asleep for the night an hour after I walk in the door.
Also add the angst of separation. And the weirdness and frustration of needing to fit 2-3 pumping sessions into an already busy work day. And half a dozen photos or video of the cuteness (and crying) happening at home. And the constant calculation of whether anything extra – a doctor’s appointment, stopping for groceries, a workout – is worth the extra time away from the baby.
It’s amazing how quickly your priorities change. I was told this would be the case, but I didn’t understand it until I experienced it.
We’re in an incredibly fortunate situation: I like my job, and my salary is enough that Nicolas can be home – full time and indefinitely. We don’t have to bundle the baby and all of his accouterments off to daycare in the morning. Nicolas is great with the baby and also isn’t subject to the sort of cabin fever that would be killing me right about now. Pumping is easy for me. My employer is supportive of families and has a very flexible leave policy. I get to work from home one day/week.
It’s hard to be back. But it’s also good to be back. And there’s not a damned thing that will get between me and the door at the end of the workday now that there’s a sweet little boy who needs his mama waiting at the other end of my commute.
As you might expect, I did a lot of reading in anticipation of the arrival of our son. Some of it was very helpful. Some of it I will need to revisit in 5-10 years. Some of it was pretty useless. Here’s what I found useful during my pregnancy:
Opting In: Having a Child Without Losing Yourself
I read this before I got pregnant. While other friends hated it, I appreciated the discussions of the various waves of feminism, our relationships with our mothers, the decision/value of returning to work, and the challenges for couples who choose or embody different gender roles. Good if you’re still trying to wrap your head conceptually around the many ways having a baby will change your sense of self.
Expecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom Is Wrong–and What You Really Need to Know
If you only read one book about pregnancy, let this be it. This book should be REQUIRED READING for any expecting parents, but will be of most interest to those who are at least a little skeptical of the advice and warnings doled out by books and other media related to pregnancy. The author and her husband applied their training as economists to analyze the recommendations she received from mainstream and hippie sources, as well as from their doctor – which was of particular interest to me as she provided enough detail to make it clear that she went to the same hospital we used. Their findings? Some of the well known recommendations are supported by good data. Many are not. Some are based on frankly terrible science, or on studies that haven’t been repeated or updated to reflect current medical practice. I finished this book feeling a great deal more confident in my ability to trust common sense, good nutrition, and my body – and a great deal less paranoid about the occasional drink, sushi roll, or falling asleep on my back at a time when sleeping in any position is kind of a miracle.
Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy
This was my mainstream medical establishment guide of choice. It seemed to be less alarmist than What To Expect When You’re Expecting, though it did still present a lot of recommendations that we flatly ignored. On the whole a decent reference book. I also consulted Your Pregnancy Week by Week, which I picked up for $1 at a conference, and got at least that much value out of it.
Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby’s First Foods
I loved Nina Planck’s first book and actually bought and read this long before pregnancy was on the table. I talk about this after talking about the Mayo Clinic book deliberately because it contradicts and complements the recommendations made therein. While I’ve softened my stance on supplements over the years, I still greatly prefer to get what my body needs from whole foods – and that’s what Planck does here, talking about what your body needs and where to get it – from conception through your child’s first foods. I worry a little that the data supporting her recommendations is selectively fished out of the great ocean of dietary advice, but it’s hard to argue with her simple, clear, time-tested advice that doesn’t rely on highly engineered products to support something we’ve been doing quite well for millennia.
The Pregnant Athlete: How to Stay in Your Best Shape Ever–Before, During, and After Pregnancy
Including this more as an afterthought – I picked this up at a conference after I’d had to stop running due to Braxton-Hicks contractions and general largeness and discomfort. I wish I’d read it earlier, as it does a better job than any other book I saw at addressing training during pregnancy – not just taking a walk to stay active.