parenting

Unpacking The Bad Seed by Jory John

How have I approached unpacking some popular children’s books with my daughter? Check this post out for why this is important and some general critical thinking strategies.

Now, let’s get started with The Bad Seed by Jory John.

In this book, a darker-colored, more masculine presenting seed is criticized for being bad. Most of the good seeds in the book are lighter seeds. In the end, the bad seed starts trying to be good, but sometimes it’s still bad.

When Roya came home with this book, I explained to her why that book bothered me.

  1. First, the seed can be interpreted as a character like a person. If seeds are described as good or bad, that could send a message that a person is either categorically good or bad. (Children shouldn’t be described as bad or good, although their actions or behavior can.)
  2. Next, we talked about how what one person sees as “good,” another person might see as “bad.” I went really simplistic and used TV for my example. Roya would think watching TV all day is good, but I would think having a child watch TV all day is bad. Then we discussed why we would see the same situation differently. Ideally, analyzing good and bad relies on a willingness to learn about other individuals’ experiences, values, and lenses, and an openness to changing your mind. As Roya has started getting older, I’ve begun to connect all of this to historical and contemporary concepts of power and oppression in age-appropriate, brief ways. (This book made me immediately think of the school-to-prison pipeline and #BLM.)
  3. I expanded on my points to share that all seeds make bad decisions at times, not just some seeds. I came up with a few stories about things that the lighter seeds in the book could have done that also were bad choices. Most people make some choices that are bad, and some that are good, right?
  4. Then I talked about how some people can be scared by other individuals’ differences and view those individuals and their choices as bad.

While I was writing this post, Roya asked what I was doing.

Me: Writing about why I’m not a fan of The Bad Seed.

R: But, I love that book!

Me: I know. A lot of kids do. So, think about what the Bad Seed looks like.

R: It’s a dark seed. You’d rather the seed be a peanut or something.

Me: Yes! Now, why would I think having the seed be dark would be a problem?

R: Hmm…It’s like Carmela’s Full of Wishes. They’re books about Black kids that might make people not like Black kids.

Me: Yes, exactly! The Bad Seed might make people think that Black and brown kids are bad, when everyone makes bad decisions sometimes. And Carmela’s Full of Wishes might make people think that all Spanish-speaking families have the same life and jobs as Carmela’s family. If we read things, we might think they are true or true for everyone who looks like the characters in the books. And that could cause people to be treated differently or unfairly, which isn’t good.

I then talked about how this can lead to people making assumptions about BIPOC families and how sometimes BIPOC children, especially boys, are treated differently at schools. Want to read more about why this is important? Google the crib-to-prison or school-to-prison pipeline. Or, explore disciplinary rates by race, gender and ethnicity in your school district. (See number 11 in my post on Doing Diversity Well at Predominantly-White Schools for how to do this.)

I end this conversation with acknowledging that there are always books and shows we enjoy more than others, and that’s okay. But, it’s worth discussing what’s problematic about them, regardless of whether we like them.

What are your family’s thoughts on this book? How have you approached it? Have suggestions for future books for me to blog about? Comment below.

Unpacking Children’s Books

Last month, my feeds were filled with mentions of antiracist books, social justice movies, statements in solidarity, and diverse book and toy purchases for younger loved ones. Are any of these things inherently bad? Of course not! But, it gave me cause to pause. Tre Johnson’s Washington Post article, “When Black people are in pain, white people just join book clubs,” is a thought-provoking read. I find myself asking, “What’s next?” How do those of us who identify and pass as white listen, learn and contribute in a way that doesn’t center whiteness or frame diversity as “diversity for white people”?

In thinking about children’s books in particular, there are significant concerns about how Black writers are treated and paid by the publishing industry and the lack of diverse representation in the field as a whole. 86% of children’s books have white main characters. This is the case despite the fact that children’s books with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) main characters sell, as reported by Dashka Slater for Mother Jones.

I hope that children’s books are unpacked with children. How do parents learn what and how to unpack concepts of race, gender identity, ableism, and class? We need to do our own work first. Read anti-racist resources. Complete an implicit bias test. Research to learn more. I’m thankful for those friends and students who were willing to teach me, but I had to do my own work, too. As a cisgender-heterosexual-white female, I’ve needed to unlearn biases and messages that I’ve received throughout my life.

A book or movie is more than just that. When we read or watch things, they become part of our moral imagination. We began to envision a world like we read or see. What we read or watch can reinforce or challenge our thoughts about ourselves and the world. (For example, there was a student who wrote their capstone on how the casting of a black male as US president in the television show, 24, helped prepare viewers for a black male president before the 2008 election.)

There’s also a downside to our moral imagination at times. How do we read stories by a variety of voices about a myriad of experiences and not assume that one person’s experience is representative of all experiences? How many stories that don’t play into problematic tropes and stereotypes get published? Again, I see this as unlearning biases and discussing what and why tropes are problematic. There’s also a need to recognize that one voice or character is just that — the voice for that one real or fictional individual — and not representative of all experiences of individuals who look or identify similarly.

How can we apply critical thinking skills to how we consume information? I approach children’s texts similarly to how I approach texts that I read or teach. Both what is and what is not included in a writing are important. And, parents and caregivers can also unpack the text as it does or does not apply and relate to their own lenses, values and experiences. If you notice in the questions below, it’s imperative to ask not just who and what, but the why.

Next, I think about how I can unpack all of this in an age-appropriate way with my seven-year-old daughter. I typically let her read books on her own, do a fast skim of what she’s reading at some point, and then discuss the text with her at a separate time.

I’ll find a time when we have five-ten minutes to talk that’s not too late and ask her to share her thoughts about the book. I’ll ask a few follow-up questions to discuss the why behind the characters’ decisions or feelings. Then I’ll share my thoughts about the book. If the text warrants multiple conversations or is a longer chapter book, we’ll talk more about it at later points.

Obviously, you know your child best. But, what books and entertainment you expose your child to and how you frame them are worth considering. If you’re reading a fairy tale, can you take a few minutes after to talk about how cisgender women don’t need saving or provide a few examples of people who found their happily ever after without being in a relationship? If you’re a white family and you’re reading a book with a main character of color, how can you discuss the book without centering whiteness or viewing the character as representative of all BIPOC individuals?

How have I approached unpacking popular children’s books? Click here for my thoughts on The Bad Seed by Jory John.

How have you approached these conversations? What resources have you found to be helpful? Any questions? Please comment below xoxo

Doing Diversity Well at Predominantly-White Schools

In my previous post, I asked whether predominantly-white schools center whiteness in a way that “others” black families. I hear from fellow white parents that their children’s school does diversity well. But, how do we know? How does the school know? Is diversity code for diversity for white people?

Here are my thoughts to help spur conversation and hopefully action:

  1. Definitions: What does diversity mean at your child’s school?
    • Does diversity just refer to race or is it more comprehensive? The National Education Association includes “race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, culture, religion, mental and physical ability, class, and immigration status” under the dimensions of diversity.
    • Is there a difference between diversity, inclusion and equity (also known as DEI) in practice at your child’s school? Should there be and if so, in what ways?
  2. Strategic Plan: Is there a strategic plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at your child’s school? If not, why not? Should there be? If so, take the time to read it, noting questions or comments.
  3. Benchmarking against Other Schools: What are similar schools doing with respect to DEI? (By similar schools, if your child attends a parochial middle school in a suburb, then other parochial middle schools would be most similar to your child’s school. But, there is a lot to learn from schools that don’t fit the same criteria, too. )
  4. Facilitated Conversations for Educators: Are administrators from your child’s school in conversation with their peers at other schools about DEI? Who facilitates those discussions? (Ideally, there will be opportunities for individuals to learn and not feel judged by their mistakes. But, there also needs to be some outside facilitation to challenge the status quo and provide more objective assessment.)
  5. DEI Work: Who leads or should lead DEI efforts at your child’s school? How should DEI responsibilities be allocated? What are the responsibilities and limitations of a formal position?
    • Is it worth establishing a Task Force or committee to have more people from different roles at the school (staff, teachers, administrators and parents) involved in these efforts?
  6. Benchmarks and Accountability: What are benchmarks that are or should be established? Having a plan is good, but how do you as a parent or school administrator know if that plan is working?
    • Is there a timeline to meet specific goals?
    • How are or should benchmarks be assessed, and by whom? If the assessment is done by someone at the school, are there checks and balances to ensure that this is done well?
    • What does accountability look like?
  7. Buy-In: Is there buy-in for this from administrators, faculty, staff, the board, and the PTA? (Note that these groups are not monolithic. Every person within each of those groups has their own life experiences, knowledge base and interest in DEI. )
    • How much buy-in is needed for these efforts to be successful?
    • How will buy-in be assessed?
    • What support and resources are needed to effectuate a plan or the designated benchmarks? Recognize that support and resources involve time, money and an open mind.
  8. Parent Education: What expectations do parents have for the role that the school will/won’t play in educating their children and parent education?
    • Is it worth setting up a survey (possibly anonymous) to help check the pulse of the community?
    • What programming is of interest for parents, for children and for the whole community? Should the school encourage and provide a space for parent/family education such as a monthly book club? There could also be a secure parent education portal with vetted articles and resources divided by topics (like disability, class, race, gender identity, intersectionality, talking to kids about [X] topics, etc.). This could be a standing and living repository.
    • Are PTA meetings and newsletters accessible to all parents regardless of technological access, visual and hearing impairments, and English-language literacy?
  9. Curriculum: How does the curriculum work with DEI goals? Ideally, the DEI strategic plan and assessments will work with the larger strategic plan and assessments for the school.
    • Love Sees No Color: For some, in-class exercises and books that stress how we’re all the same on the inside are viewed as good thing. But, what is problematic about these exercises? How can DEI be taught in age-appropriate and more realistic ways? How can DEI incorporate discussions of power, agency and oppression?
    • Community service: How can community service, volunteering and service-learning be connected more effectively to DEI and curricular goals? This could be anything from presenting on othering language to discussions about power and wages
      • Can there be a fact sheet or myth busters to connect with community-service assignments? How can the community (parents, students and staff) be educated along with their children? How can service be framed in a way that doesn’t perpetuate othering and the white-savior complex?
    • How can DEI be infused in the curriculum and programming throughout the year (not just MLK Day or Black History Month, and not just related to race)? Why is this important?
  10. Grading Equity: How does your child’s school currently assess grading and feedback? How does/should that assessment factor in bias?
    • Should professional development for administrators and teachers look at bias in grading and feedback (everything from the words we use to describe work by girls over work by boys to evaluating non-native English speakers to racial bias)? In his article in Education Week, Joe Feldman provides the following example: In classrooms taught by white teachers, African-American students are typically rated as poorer “classroom citizens” than their white peers, and thereby are more likely to have a lower grade for those behaviors because of the teacher’s biased perceptions.
  11. Discipline and Opportunities: How does your child’s school approach student discipline and which children have access to certain opportunities (advanced coursework, leadership roles, etc.)?
    • You might wish to go onto Ed.gov’s Civil Rights Data Collection to search for a public school in the US. I find the site easiest to navigate by just searching by zip code and then clicking on the link for a specific school.
    • What are the demographics of the school you chose? What are the rates of AP classes by gender identity, race and ethnicity? What are the rates of school suspensions by gender identity, race and ethnicity? What does this data tell you?
    • If your child’s school is on this list, are these numbers that could/should be improved upon? If so, how and by whom?
    • If your child’s school is not on this list, has the school gathered and analyzed demographic data on disciplinary action and access to gifted classes and leadership roles? If so, what has the data shown, and what are the school’s next steps? If not, is there a plan to do this, and by whom?
    • Whether or not your child’s school is on this list, what are the school’s objectives related to this item?
    • Does your school utilize healing circles or restorative justice practices?
  12. School Demographics and Retention: What is the school’s demographic breakdown in terms of student body, teachers, staff, and administrators? Are those percentages similar or different from comparable schools? Have these percentages been stagnant?
    • Is the school retaining teachers, staff and students of color?
    • Is the school promoting and hiring teachers and staff of color for administrator roles?
    • Are administrators and staff trained to prevent or reduce bias in student admissions, hiring and promotion decisions?
    • Are there exit interviews when families and school employees leave the school?
  13. Bias Reporting: Is there a clear procedure for reporting bias concerns? Are these procedures the same or different for students and school employees, and why? Who handles bias concerns? Are school employees required to report bias concerns to someone in their chain of command? How are bias concerns addressed?

Again, my hope in writing this post was to start a dialogue. What did I miss? What are your thoughts? What are schools (without naming them) doing well?

Decentering Whiteness

As a white parent in Upper NW DC, my feed has been filled with discussions about how to be an anti-racist parent. But, how do we know what we don’t know? How can we recognize our biases? What does accountability look like to know we’re getting it right or that we need to do better?

My intent in writing this series of posts is to start a conversation, not write a definitive treatise on anti-racist parenting. As a white, heterosexual, cisgender parent and educator, I need to listen and learn, too.

Parents and educators can and should talk to young children about race, as Katrina Michie recommends. But, before talking to children, you might want to think about how that statement centers whiteness. What do I mean about that? Think about how and why whiteness is viewed as the default and the norm.

For example, a publication only mentions a person’s race if that person isn’t white. Or, a show has a token or short-contract character of color, or your workplace has very few black individuals in leadership roles. Think about which parents teach their children about colorism and racism to survive and which parents teach their children about colorism and racism to be a (seemingly) better person. Then think about the why behind these realities and how they relate to systems of power and oppression.

How are and how can you model anti-racist behavior? There are so many examples, but one from Rachel Garlinghouse is: Do you have true friendships with others who don’t share your race, religion, age, or ability?  Margaret A. Hagerman asks parents to think about who they invite over, what media and books they consume, how they handle race questions, who/what they roll their eyes at, and when they lock their doors.

I think about how whiteness is centered in what books and entertainment are labeled as “multicultural” or “diverse.” A children’s book by a black author with a black child as the main character should not be regarded as a “diverse” book. A box of crayons to represent a range of skin tones shouldn’t be labeled “multicultural.” Books or lessons that talk about how we’re all the same on the inside ignore how racial differentiation was created to serve social and economic purposes. How can parents unpack what our children read and play with in age-appropriate ways?

At predominantly-white schools, is whiteness centered in a way that “others” black families? I hear from fellow white parents that their children’s school does diversity well. But, how do we know? How does the school know? Is diversity code for diversity for white people? Check out my next post if you’d like to explore this topic more.

Join me if you’d like to share and learn about resources and approaches. Comments and criticism welcome.

Most importantly, I hope you and your loved ones are safe and well. And, a special thank you to my former students and colleagues who helped me become a better educator, person, and parent. I wouldn’t be where I am on my journey without you. xoxo

Time To Soar, Dearest A

It was October 2014. 

Roya was up two-three times a night every night. I was in my first semester as a full-time faculty member and teaching three classes. The nanny that I had hired for the year decided to leave the DC area. I managed to piece together a schedule with four babysitters – all of whom were full-time college students.

It was clear that I needed more consistent childcare. I took a chance and reached out to Nanny A, a friend of a friend, to see if she had some hours to spare. She thankfully did, and she began to watch Roya a week later. What started as occasional grading help grew into more hours and days with each passing season.

It was October 2014. 

I parted ways with Roya’s biological father without any tears or drama. I had wanted to be a 100% parent of a little girl, and thanks to God and him, I was.

A little over three years later, I’m reflective as to what an eventful month that October was. Back then, I didn’t know then what I know now…that having Nanny A join our family would be far more impactful than having The Man leave our family.

The love Nanny A has shown both Roya and me is unparalleled. The willingness to be there for us in our highest of highs and our lowest of lows has been unyielding. Nanny A is so much more than a nanny. She is my friend, she is the closest thing to a co-parent that I’ve ever had, and she is our family. She didn’t have to assume all of these roles, but she did. And, for that, I’m truly grateful.

Earlier this year, Nanny A and I talked about her professional plans. She is a successful writer and event planner, and at some point in the future, she wanted to focus on those endeavors exclusively. I knew that she needed to spread her wings, and her responsibilities with us would make that difficult to do. Her end date was on the horizon, but thankfully, she extended her time with us through the summer and fall. In October 2017 (three years to the week after she started with us), I again asked her about her plans. Nanny A would be moving on at the end of the year. It was official.

I cried on and off for 48 hours. Correction, I sobbed. (Picture that messy crying where you can’t form a coherent sentence and your eyes are puffy when you wake up the next day.)

Nanny A’s last date is getting closer, and moving the calendar to December has brought me to tears yet again. There is so much that I will miss about her, but to highlight just a few things:

  • How I can text her at any hour of the day for advice, a laugh or just to say hi
  • How Roya can literally hug her for hours
  • All the special things that she and Roya share together from their favorite restaurants to taking the bus to reading certain stories
  • How she turns into Mama Bear when anyone tries to mess with Roya
  • Our dance parties in the hall
  • How many times we have laughed until we had tears in our eyes

I haven’t wanted to finish this post for a week because that makes this truly real. After next week, Nanny A will no longer be in our home on a regular basis. Last night, as R went to hug us both she said, “Family hug.” She knows now, and I will make sure she always knows that Nanny A is a part of our family.

Stef Woods, city girl blogs

There are no words to do justice to what Nanny A has meant to us nor what she will accomplish. But, the words of the scholar Rumi come to mind:

You were born with potential. You were born with goodness and trust. You were born with ideals and dream. You were born with greatness. You were born with wings. You were not meant for crawling, so don’t. You have wings. Learn to use them and fly.

I anxiously await all the tales of how you will soar, Dearest A. And, until you return to visit, know you are loved and missed every day in big and small ways.

Stopping And Recognizing

“And yet we know that You have already come, to a forgotten corner of the world, to a people on the verge of losing hope, to a woman no one thought could bear a child, and the world has never been the same.”

At church this morning, I read this portion of the Prayer of Confession with the rest of the congregation. I looked down at Roya drawing in the pew, when I realized something:

On a far more individualized scale, I was the woman no one thought could bear a child. And, since Roya arrived in 2013, my world has never been the same. My life as a 100% parent is vastly different from when I only answered to myself and set up whatever schedule I wanted.

I don’t doubt that any of this is God’s plan. But, I wouldn’t describe the past three-and-a-half years as easy. Rather, they’ve been a blend of eventful and mundane, incomprehensibly joyful and incomprehensibly exhausting. (Come to think of it, that might be how I would define parenting!)

Parenting also has been an exercise in patience for me. (For those of you who didn’t know me pre-Roya, patience wasn’t my strongest virtue.) And, I’m also learning to accept how little I have control over, while still managing to successfully juggle several balls in the air at once.

At church today, Reverend Laura’s sermon focused on stopping and recognizing God when He is with us. Well, thanks to Roya, I was fully present today!

Prior to the start of Sunday School, Reverend Laura brings all the children – and the parents of the younger kids — up to the front of the Sanctuary. Roya was sitting in my lap, but then moved to sit next to one of the older children. Two minutes later, while Reverend Laura was talking about angels, Roya proceeded to move to the floor and spin around and around in front of her.

My first thought was to jump up and grab Roya as quickly as I could and head out of the Sanctuary, but then I looked around. The older kids were giggling, the people in the choir were smiling, and the reverend was calm and unfazed. (In fact, Reverend Laura incorporated a complementary mention of Roya’s acrobatic skills into her sermon!)

No one seemed to mind that a silly toddler was being a silly toddler. It reminded me of a scene from Parenthood, the movie, without anyone claiming that Roya was ruining anything.

As Reverend Laura continued to talk about angels, Roya then began to move her body on the wood floor of the Sanctuary, as though she was making a snow angel.

I began to laugh (as quietly as I could, of course). Before I knew it, I was laughing so hard — while simultaneously trying to stifle my volume — that tears filled my eyes.

When the children’s sermon was finished, I thanked the reverend, retrieved Roya with a smile on my face and took her upstairs to Sunday School.

After church, several people, including the reverend, commented how wonderful it is that Roya feels so comfortable there. I’m thankful for all those in our church family who have welcomed her with open arms and smiles, rather than eye rolls and shushing.

And, yes, God, I get it. Angels are really just messengers. And, today, thanks to Reverend Laura and my little no-snow snow angel, You made it very clear what message I was meant to get.

My 2015 Recap

A year ago, I focused on how my glass was half full. I was – and am – thankful to be a mom and an educator. Nonetheless, as 2014 drew to a close, there were still a lot of loose ends in my life:

  • Was my breast cyst benign or malignant?
  • Could I physically handle my job? (I only had six days between my lumpectomy and the start of the semester. I had three new classes to teach and 30 more students than the previous semester. And, I still had my usual two migraines a week.) Assuming that I could handle the added responsibilities and that the cyst was benign, would my full-time contract be renewed?
  • Was I really at peace with no longer being in a relationship with The Man? Or, would I return to my old pattern of going back to an ex-boyfriend?
  • How would I fare at being a single mom?
  • Where would Roya get into preschool? (The DC preschool hustle is an interesting process with applications, recommendations and interviews.)

Today, I can reflect on all of those questions and stressors with a huge sigh of relief.

Most importantly, surgery in January revealed that the cyst was benign. My November MRI showed no evidence of cancer. According to my oncologist, I now have the same risk of anyone else my age of getting breast cancer. Breast cancer thus becomes a disease I had, not a disease from which I’m in remission. That matters clinically and psychologically.

On the work front, I’ve been able to handle all of my responsibilities effectively. My contract has been renewed through May 2017, and I get excited every time I head to campus. I recently was asked what I liked best about my students. I paused as I tried not to shed any tears and replied, “How much time do you have?” I know how lucky I am to truly love what I do.

I also appreciate where I am professionally. If an opportunity as a panelist or expert doesn’t benefit my continued role as an instructor, I have the ability to respectfully decline. Choosing what’s been the right fit has led to some amazing opportunities, though. A few highlights:

  • Speaking about The Hunger Games to a sold-out audience at The Smithsonian;
  • Being interviewed by Associated Press about drone technology;
  • Filming a short video for WebMD about what to expect when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer; and
  • Talking about selfies for American Magazine.

With respect to The Man, I do not doubt that we were meant to meet and fall in love. I also do not question that we are no longer meant to be a couple. He was put in my life so that Roya would be born. He was a love in my life, and there will be another in the future. She is the love of my life.

As far as being a single mom, I don’t view that term — or my reality — as a negative. Roya is a great kid, and I’m thankful to be in control of every day and every decision in her life. And, I can exhale, knowing that she ended up in the right preschool for her.

Is our life utopic? Of course not.

Parenting is joyously exhausting (or exhaustingly joyful?). Between Roya’s sleep patterns, grading and curriculum development, a five-hour stretch of sleep is a good night for me. And, it would be nice to have time to see my friends, work out and write. But, I know how privileged I am to say that the toughest parts of my year were lack of sleep, missed brunches, and wanting to fit into my skinny jeans.

stef woods, city girl blogs

As we change the calendar to 2016, I pray that the new year brings Roya and me more of the same. I am truly content with my relationships, my family and my job. I go into 2016 without any loose ends. Roya and I are blessed to be happy and (knock on wood) healthy. I hope the same for you and your loved ones, too. xoxo

Flying and Falling

Recently, I spoke to students at Georgetown University’s OWN IT Summit about social media activism. I also held “Office Hours” for a smaller group during which we discussed everything from my curriculum to the law to sexuality studies to blogging. The last question of the day was:

How do you deal with having a daughter? I don’t want a daughter because I would be too scared of what would happen to her.

The timing of that question was fortuitous, as I have been thinking about my parenting style and fears. My reply to the student follows:

Since Roya was 15 months old, she has liked to go down the biggest slide in the playground…face first…with her legs in a herkie jump position. Any time I’ve tried to go down the slide with her, she emphatically tells me, “No, Mommy!” She wants to do it all by herself, as she smiles and laughs every inch of the way! I let her do it, but I make sure to run as fast as I can from the top of the slide to the bottom to spot her.

The playground we frequent is designed for children between the ages of two and five. Other parents have asked me how old Roya is or commented that she is a “daredevil,” and her moves “death-defying.” I just nod my head, and say that I don’t want to squash her spirit.

I’ve realized that this also needs to be my approach to parenting her off of the playground. I want to be an involved parent, but I don’t want to be a helicopter parent. I want her to feel free to take risks and try new things.

It’s tougher to conceptualize the downside of this, but unfortunately, there’s only so much that I can control. Think about it. We can let fear control our lives or we can live our lives. It’s a choice that we must make for ourselves, and if we are parents, for our children. Hovering over Roya won’t help her live her life, and it won’t allow me to live mine.

She will be wronged, and she will wrong others. She will fall, and she will fail. These are understandably difficult experiences for any parent to observe happen to their child. However, despite my best intentions, I can’t protect Roya from every bad thing that could possibly happen to her. So, I will continue to do whatever I can to spot her to the best of my ability.

I will let Roya fly, and I will comfort her when she falls. I’ll also remind her that I have soared high and fallen low. I’m thankful to have picked myself up and dusted myself off after my falls. I’ll keep picking her up and dusting her off until she can do that on her own.

FLY1

Enjoying Every Moment

I recently wrote the following as a Facebook status update:

Many tell me to “enjoy every moment with Roya.” I assume they mean, “enjoy every moment that’s not sleep deprived, covered in spit up, or involving you cleaning poop off of places poop shouldn’t be.” (I’m thankful to have a very good baby, but she’s still a baby!)

Several of my friends responded in agreement. Quite a few others tried to assuage my guilt or feelings that I wasn’t a good parent.

From a sociological perspective, the latter reaction both fascinated and disappointed me. Parenting is simultaneously joyous and exhausting. Most people with children wouldn’t deny that being a parent is the most rewarding role they’ve ever had and also the toughest role. Why is it a bad thing to admit that the joys and the difficulties of parenting aren’t mutually exclusive? Why is this yet another occasion when women are expected to feel guilty because every minute of every day isn’t perfect? Is a female less of a mother if she acknowledges that parenting is the hardest work out there? Isn’t it time that we – as mothers and as a society – stop making women feel guilty for how they parent or how they feel about parenting?

I don’t feel like a bad mother for admitting that cleaning poop off of the wall at 6 a.m. isn’t a moment to be savored. In fact, it’s the antithesis of fun! That’s just the reality. It doesn’t need to be sugarcoated or packaged up in a nice gender-normative pink bow.

In the overwhelming majority of households, mothers are expected to perform most of the childcare duties. It’s time that we didn’t add the need to feel guilty to our already overflowing plates! Having a healthy and happy child is all that matters! We owe it to ourselves to not give into the pressure to feel bad about whether we work outside of the home or not. whether every item on our to-do list has been completed, and how we measure up to any other mother we know. There is much in life as a parent that we can’t control, but we do have control over whether or not we feel guilty about making the right choices for ourselves and our families.

When it comes to parenting, all that matters is that we do the best we can. If we’re on the receiving end of a well-intentioned comment to enjoy every moment, just remember that nostalgia is a powerful elixir complete with rose-colored glasses. Then, just smile and say, “Yes, as much as I can.” At the end of the day, we shouldn’t be expected to do more, and our children deserve nothing less.

I Can’t Breastfeed…Nor Would I Want To

“I wish I had gotten a double mastectomy so I would have had an excuse for not breastfeeding. I was in tears when Emily couldn’t latch, and the nurse kept forcing me to try.”

“Well,” I told my friend with an odd look in my eyes, “I’m very thankful that you didn’t have breast cancer or a double mastectomy. I just wish that there wasn’t such societal pressure to breastfeed and you hadn’t felt as though you were an inferior mother when it didn’t work.”

Since I announced that I was pregnant, I’ve received a lot of questions about whether I could breastfeed. I typically answer with a version of the following:

No nipples. No milk ducts. No desire.

If someone probes further, I let them know that even if I could have breastfed, it's far from ideal to pass more of my immunities onto my daughter. (I fully appreciate that there are proven health benefits to breastfeeding, but I don’t think women with my health issues were the subjects of any of these studies!)

Other factors that contribute to my views that the breast isn't always best:

  • Several of my friends who breastfed were exceptionally sleep deprived. That, in turn, played a contributory role in them suffering from Post-Partum Depression;
  • Since breastfeeding is the mother’s responsibility, I've noticed that the father often feels excluded or disconnected from parenting in the early stages. For numerous couples, that has led to resentments and relationship problems in the first months after having a baby;
  • Breastfeeding is linked to significantly lower libido in women; and
  • Quite a few friends found breastfeeding problematic because their children needed more milk than their breasts produced and/or their babies had trouble latching. They thus needed to introduce formula to supplement their breastfeeding while they were in the hospital. A desire to breast feed doesn't necessarily translate into the ability to do so.

(The above list is a collection of my observations from a dozen friends who have struggled with breastfeeding.)

Pediatricians recommend breastfeeding as the preferred option, but it concerns me that it's viewed societally as the only option. I don’t regard such absolutes as healthy, as they exacerbate the pressures of caring for a newborn in the midst of dramatic hormonal changes. A woman is not less of a mother if she doesn't breastfeed, and no one has the right to make her feel that way.

Throughout my pregnancy and since giving birth to Roya, I was never asked the simple question, “Are you breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or both?” Everyone assumed that I was breastfeeding. Telling people, even health care professionals, that I’ve had a double mastectomy tended not to resonate either. A double mastectomy isn’t a boob job! During a double mastectomy, everything under the skin is removed. Everything. I also didn’t have the luxury of having nipple-sparing surgery since I was diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Despite the biological impediments to me breastfeeding, I still find it fascinating that people automatically presume that I would want to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding like so many other parenting decisions is a choice. Choosing to bottle feed should not be met with judgment regardless of the reason for doing so.  I’ll respect your choices as to what’s best for your family. All I ask in return is that you respect mine.