Friday, December 30, 2011

Mamas be damned.

I've been thinking about our culture's common perceptions and judgements about moms; working and "stay-at-home;" and how often I hear obvious or underlying arguments among moms about whose life is easier and whose is more stressful, and how one thinks the other should feel about her situation. (I don't know any real stay-at-home moms; we're always taking our kids somewhere or running errands.)

I feel like it's become a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation.

I feel like women who "stay home" are often devalued by society in general. It feels like we don't get the same respect that career women get. We're constantly belittled, albeit often unintentionally, because, you know, we're "just moms," and our job is commonly perceived as being so much less stressful than that of other working people. We are regularly told how grateful we should be, how blessed we are, how much easier our life is. There is constant pressure for us to be "more than," "better than," "more successful than" just a mom. I feel like that's unfair, because our job is significant, important, challenging and really stressful sometimes. Probably more fulfilling than most other jobs, but seriously stressful. I've read about and talked to moms who chose to go to work because they found being a "stay-at-home mom" too stressful or overwhelming; being a full-time, round the clock, on call care provider, cook, housekeeper, chauffeur, secretary, etc. I've written before about how I get tired of hearing women tell me how blessed I am to be able to "stay home" while they "have to" work, when in reality, they could "stay home" too, if they tightened their budget like we did and gave up some luxuries, whether it's purses and sunglasses, eating out, ski trips, new kayaks, Hawaiian vacations, etc.

On the other hand, it seems like full-time working moms get judged harshly, too, for "having someone else raise their children," on top of the guilt and/or regret they often feel for spending so much time away from their kids, or inadequacy they may feel for having found it too stressful to be full-time care providers for their own children. It seems like many people assume they haven't made their kids their priority, and while that does seem true in some cases, it's certainly not true in anywhere near all. I know my mom wouldn't have worked and sent my youngest brothers to public school if her income hadn't made the difference between being able to pay bills and not being able to pay them. There's even been some studies that showed that, at least among certain demographics, people perceived full-time working moms as not being attached enough or as having a more strained relationship with their children. That doesn't seem true or fair either.

It feels sometimes like all we really got from the women's rights movement was the right to vote, and plethora of more subtle and insidious double standards and societal pressures, continued domestic and sexual violence, sexual objectification, and rampant eating disorders, (but that's another blog post or hundred). It seems like noone really quit expecting us to keep filling traditional feminine roles, society just started gauging womens success on how well we perform in traditional male roles while also filling traditional female roles. These "mommy wars" often seem to me another symptom of those inequities and unreasonable expectations. It seems like we're all being told we're inadequate no matter what we do, and we're retaliating by going on the offense. We're like politicians. We're not talking about our personal strengths, the positives in our situations, and pursuing opportunities to better ourselves, our situations, our communities, and our world. We're too busy throwing insults, pointing out how much worse our perceived opponents are, dragging their weaknesses, mistakes, and families into it, claiming that their success is not their own but luck of their privileges, claiming that our own shortcomings or circumstances are not our own but the result of our lack of privilege.

We are perpetuating the rampant separation of, isolation of, and depression among ourselves. As a result we are robbing ourselves and our world of all the amazing, healing energy we have to offer and the good things we could accomplish as women, mothers, appreciating eachother and ourselves. If we could get the fuck over this inane, offensive, "you've got it easier" bullshit, take the credit or the blame for our actions and outcomes, forgive ourselves and eachother, and above all support eachother, regardless, through physical and emotional resources, through information, education, exposure, and acceptance...

...oh what a world it could be.

We could put our cumulative energy into making sure every kid gets fed from a healthy, sustainable source, that they're all being adequately clothed and equally educated, and are all physically, emotionally, and mentally safe and nurtured. We could be offering them respect and acceptance instead of judgement and inadequacy. We could be helping our daughters to view themselves as more than their appearance and simultaneously that embracing their natural femininity, whatever that means to them, doesn't equate to being inferior; and helping our sons work towards respectful, meaningful relationships with other people rather than cultivating objectification, superiority, and greed. We could be helping our children and eachother to be strong interdependent people.

I don't really have an answer as to how to get people, moms, to give eachother more respect and to be less defensive; but maybe encouraging us all to take a minute to evaluate our own paradigms, to reconsider our perceptions and behavior, is a good place to start.

Have you ever felt attacked for your mommy-choice, whether it was personal choice or circumstantial? How do you resolve the "mommy-battles" you encounter? Ideas for encouraging connection and support instead of separation and resentment?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

There Is No Good Reason Not To Breastfeed.

Yes, I just said that. There is no good reason for any baby not to be breastfed at a mother's breast. (Breastmilk from a bottle is still only second best.)

Now before you get all bent the F out of shape about me saying this, I ask that you hear me out. I believe in in assisting women in empowering themselves. I advocate for education on and legal protection of womens' reproductive rights. I also advocate for babies' rights to the healthiest life they can be provided with, physically and emotionally. I believe many women have valid reasons for choosing not to breastfeed.

Still, I believe there is no good reason for any baby to not be breastfed.

I believe formula fed babies can grow up to be generally healthy, well-enough adjusted, contributing members of society. I believe that mothers who don't breastfeed can bond with their babies, and absolutely love them immeasurably and unconditionally.

Still, I believe there's no good reason not to breastfeed.

If you chose not to because it was inconvenient with your work schedule, and you couldn't quit working, for whatever reason, than while valid, it doesn't seem good to me. Quite the opposite, it seems no good to me that we live in a culture that would coerce you, by peer pressure to be more "successful" or through financial burden requiring your income, to leave your newborn, to be fed pumped breastmilk, or, even more nutritionally inferior, milk from another species or from a (probably genetically modified) bean or other plant.

Maybe it wasn't peer pressure or financial burden. Maybe you genuinely wanted to leave your baby. Maybe you genuinely wanted to let someone else do the childcare and child-rearing. If so, than why not also let someone else do the breastfeeding? Why not hire a safe, tested, responsible wet-nurse for the hours you are unavailable? Oh, right, back to cultural influence and taboo.

Maybe you, like me, like 40% to 80% of women worldwide, have been sexually assaulted or abused. (Yes, an estimated minimum of 40% of women in The United States of America have been and/or will be sexually assaulted or abused during their lifetime.) Maybe as a result even the thought of breastfeeding triggers post-traumatic stress symptoms or disorder for you, so you don't, or you stop, for your own mental and emotional health. That is an absolutely, unquestionably, valid reason. A horrible, enraging, absolutely no-good reason. It is the opposite of good.

It infuriates me that we live in culture that raises these predators in such abundance; that lets rapists and child-molesters live, let alone walk free in society. They have an astronomical rate of recidivism. They commit an average of over one-hundred "offenses" before being caught. I am sorry to you. I am sorry to my little-girl self, and to all of the other little girls and women who have been affected by these violations. I am sorry that you and your baby are missing out what can be such an intensely satisfying and maternally-validating, (not to mention nutritionally, mentally, and emotionally nurturing) experience, because of our society's failure to raise respectful people and to be rid of such predators. This is not a good reason. It is gut-wrenching, tragic, infuriating reason.

Maybe you think it's "ewwy." Maybe you view your breasts as purely sexual, and the thought of anyone other than a lover putting their mouth on your nipple makes you uncomfortable or "grossed out." I'm sorry you have been so objectified, and adopted such an objected view of your own body. (Media and our culture at work again?) This is not good.

Maybe you are physically unable to breastfeed your baby. Maybe you are not your baby's biological mother. Maybe this baby's mother was a tragic casualty of childbirth or other fatal event. Again, where is the wet-nurse, paid or volunteer? I have voluntarily breastfed the infants of women, and I know other mothers who have done the same. We would all be willing to do it again. Where are the other mothers, forming these connections and bonds, getting past the cultural taboos, recognizing not only the nutritional, but also the emotional and mental benefits of breastfeeding, for the baby if not for the woman providing her breast? I loved that my breastfeeding baby/toddler had the added emotional security of having another adult she trusted so implicitly; a woman who told my baby, with her body, in the only language an infant can understand, that she would have her needs met, with not only milk, but also with the comfort of the soft, soothing, nurturing presence of a mother's breast. I appreciate the additional affection I feel towards the parents who shared their nurslings with me, and especially towards those nurslings themselves. What could be wrong with a broader support network for our children, and thus a more bonded and appreciative society?

Maybe you are the "lover," the relative, neighbor, or other person, contributing to a mother choosing not to breastfeed. Maybe you're doing it knowingly. Maybe you're not. Maybe you are simply not supporting mothers in choosing to breastfeed. I beseech you, for the physical, emotional, and mental well-being of the mothers in our world and the generations they are bearing and raising, to institute change. Educate yourselves. Support these women. Women, mothers - stand up for yourselves and eachother, and for our babies.

There are many valid reasons for choosing not to breastfeed. There are no good reasons.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Saint Nicholas Day 2011

(A boot full of goodies from Saint Nicholas.)

I wanted to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day, just as we did when I was a child, but I also wanted to keep it simple. It's way to easy to go overboard with this and Christmas. I settled on baking gingerbread cookies yesterday, from the dough we'd prepared the night before. Last night after dinner we talked about Saint Nicholas of Myra (again), and told stories of the miracles he performed and kind things he did for people. We wrote a story on big paper and left it clipped to the easel for Saint Nicholas to read, left gingerbread cookies for him and "Black Pete" (Zwarte Pieten) on the mantle, and put the children's shoes in front of the fire place.

In our house, everything made of gingerbread gets eyes.

This morning they awoke to find in their shoes an apple, chocolate, a lollipop, a Schliech horse, and three quarters (like the three bags of gold Saint Nicholas left for the poor man's three daughters). Assessing the goodies, Maeve declared, "I did not expect so much stuff! Three quarters means I can buy three more lollipops!" Whimsy carried her little Shetland pony around for hours, and asked to buy a steamer with her coins when she and I went on a "date" while Maeve was at lunch with a friend.

(Enjoying her dark mint chocolate. I unwrapped one of the big organic bars from the natural market, halved it, re-wrapped the two smaller "bars" in custom "Saint Nicholas' Workshop" wrappers.)

The only disappointment is that the Saint Nicholas books that I ordered from Amazon didn't get here in time. I really thought they would. There's one (The Real Santa Claus) that looks like a compilation of history, folklore, and art, compiled and written by Marianna Mayer. If you know me and my love of children's picture books, you might know she wrote some others that I adore. Oh well. We'll probably celebrate again, with my parents, brother and nephew, when my nephew gets back later this week. My mom can get her wooden shoes out for that one, (the little expensive decorative ones that I bought her just so she could take them to school and tell her kids about Saint Nicholas, which she hasn't done yet. If your child attends her preschool, please tell her you're disappointed.) Hopefully the books will be here.