Monthly Archives: October 2011

the mommy contest

So many people have written lately on just how judgmental other moms can be, and Jen has written a great post on letting go of that tendency to be an “Extreme Parent.” And while I could say plenty about that drive for perfection, I’m most interested in contemplating the results of conversations like these.

We have this tendency as parents to be really sensitive about our choices, but we also have tendencies as parents to be judgmental of others’ parenting decisions. As a result, we live in this parenting culture where instead of supporting one another through the hardest job we’ve ever undertaken, we become adversaries. Mary might feed her kid nothing but Super Deluxe Extra Fun Meals from her favorite fast food place while Jane feeds her kid a completely raw, vegan, orange, liquid diet. These two meet, and inevitably both parents feel sensitive about their choices, judged by the other, and even a bit (or more) judgemental of one another’s choices. What is this phenomenon? Why can’t our parenting choices just be our parenting choices?

It seems to begin with pregnancy: who you choose for pregnancy care, the type of birth you hope to have, the type of birth you do have, whether or not you circumcise your boy, what you name your child, what you do with the cord blood, and so much more. And from there, it just escalates and grows to include how we get our kids to sleep, how and what they are fed during infancy, what sort of diapers they wear, where they sleep, who cares for them, whether they go to daycare, what kind of preschool they attend, and on and on and on.

But why does this happen? Why does Jane care so much about the brand of diapers Mary buys, and why does Mary care so much about where Jane’s kid sleeps? How does that affect them?

Honestly, unless they’re living together and parenting together, it doesn’t.

I suppose my theory is this: Parenting is hard. When it comes down to it, while we may all have theories, hypotheses, assumptions about how this should work, we won’t know the outcome for a number of years. We’d like to think we are making the best choices for ourselves and our families, but we’ve got media and family and other parents throwing other ideas at us all the time, so there’s a certain amount of uncertainty and thus even insecurity that comes with parenting. But we have our values and our research and our observations. We have what we know about our kids and our families. We throw all of that together, and we come up with what we think is a pretty good way of parenting our kids.

And then somebody else comes along, and maybe they seem like they’ve got it together better than we do, or at least they talk that way. This makes us question ourselves. We get a little defensive, and we look for something to judge, and we look for ways to elevate ourselves, and the cycle continues.

(Please, at this point, if you’re finding yourself reeling, saying in your mind, “What the hell is she saying? I would never do this!” know that I’m generalizing about our culture of parenting–primarily in the U.S. I am by no means saying this is true of every parent.)

Unfortunately, all of this has created a culture of constant competition. We can’t just be moms in support of one another anymore. Instead, we have to size one another up, and while we’re at it, see where we stand too. It’s exhausting, and it’s damaging, and I wish we could all just stop.

What will it take for us to find that support, to be those supportive moms? Is it even possible? Clearly we can’t all go to group therapy to learn to stop being so codependent, but maybe I can be more mindful. Maybe I can take a step every day to show another mom that I support her in her choices (so long as she’s offering her child love and meeting the child’s basic needs–I’m not saying I need to pat abusive parents on the back here). Maybe I can just be open when I hear a different approach than I would take. Maybe I can show interest in how that mom is using those approaches or how they’re working out. Maybe if I find myself reacting to something another parent does that doesn’t jive with my parenting, I can just stop that reaction and realize that I am parenting my own kid, and that parent is parenting her own kid, and clearly we’re making the best decisions for our kids because, after all, we’re supposed to be the ones who know our kids the best. Right? Right? I doubt my efforts will change the world, but perhaps we all just need a little more compassion from one another, a little acceptance that it does take all kinds of parents to raise the different kinds of kids we’ve been given.

I see this at work to some degree in this moms’ group I’ve joined. For the most part, the moms there share similar parenting philosophies, but there are certainly variations, and when there are, the majority of people respond with a spirit of curiosity. They ask questions and discuss how things work. They encourage one another. The group isn’t perfect, and there are those defensive, judgmental, sensitive moments, but I’m beginning to see what’s possible, and while certainly imperfect and far from mamatopia, it’s pretty fascinating, and heartening.

Now, talk to me about this:

Do you think it’s possible or even realistic to think we could move past a culture of mommy competitions? Or are we all just doomed to continue this cycle forever?

Are you supportive of other parents’ choices even if they aren’t choices you would make yourself? Are there any steps you think parents should take to forward a more compassionate, empathetic culture of parenting? Is there any benefit to this competitive culture–something I’m not seeing?

I really look forward to seeing your responses, and I encourage you to ask other parents you know what they think too.


And finally, a disclaimer: I am not writing this in judgment of any one person, group, etc. I am openly critical of this cultural trend, and I am writing to explore potential answers. Please do not take offense if you regularly enjoy Super Deluxe Extra Fun Meals or follow a raw, vegan, orange, liquid diet. Likewise, please avoid emailing death threats if your name happens to be Jane or Mary. These were merely hypothetical examples and were not meant to offend any group, dietary choice, or naming preference. Thank you. 😉


Filed under parenting


Can I tell you a secret?

No, I’m not pregnant.

My kid slept until 8:15 this morning. I haven’t slept past 8:00 since he was born. Over two years of that, and I thought I was fine, but I didn’t remember what this felt like–“this” being rested.

Now, I still have ample dark circles under my eyes, but this feels like a new world. I had multiple dreams last night. I got to sprawl across the whole bed once my wife left for work. I wasn’t the first person out of bed this morning. And when I got up, I didn’t feel as though the only way I could possibly keep my eyes pried open would be to mainline coffee. I was nice without even trying!

I am under no illusion that this will last. He slept through the night for a whole month sometime during the summer, and we were all kinds of bliss, and then he started waking up multiple times a night again. Even then, he woke up for the day at 5:00 or 6:00, so I still didn’t necessarily feel rested, but this new trend of sleeping through the night AND sleeping later is pure loveliness.

Do you hear me, BG? It would be just fine if you kept on sleeping like this, my boy. Just fine indeed.

But don’t tell anyone. Hell, I shouldn’t even be talking about it. Next thing I know I’ll be up half the night begging him to “sleep in” until 4:00. (Oh but it’s lovely right now!)


Filed under Boy Genius, sleep


My son and I had a little adventure last weekend. We went to visit the grandparents in the country leaving J behind to do some seriously needed catch-up on her grading. I was initially unenthusiastic about the trip, but BG had been begging to see his grandparents for a couple of weeks, so when the opportunity arose, and when it was going to benefit my wife as well, I felt I shouldn’t pass it up. As is so often the case these days, my boy surprised me. He’s growing up, and with that he’s becoming so much more adaptable.

Leaving home and driving through wine country, Nick Drake played on the car’s stereo as we rounded curves and breathed in the first crisp of fall. The vineyards, even greener from our first rain of the season revealed only the slightest hint that soon they would change color. Between the backdrop of the vineyards and my steadfast attention to the road, I stole glimpses of my sleepy boy, his head lolling, his eyelids heavy, falling soundly asleep. His quiet snores soon offered another layer to Drake’s sleepy melodies.

For the first time in ages, I had a full hour to listen to music I wanted to hear and to think thoughts I wanted to think. Driving for me is therapeutic, and even though a good part of the drive consisted of some hairy California freeway driving, it was still just lovely to to be going somewhere. When he woke up, he alternated between “Car driving on street!” and “Going Grandpa Grandma’s house!” This boy was excited, and this enthusiasm was utterly contagious. I fed him car snacks of carrot chips and almonds. I let him finish my sparkling water. We were living on the wild side.

On our way there, my mom was finishing her teaching day, so we met up with her at a gas station before we headed into the foothills to their home. BG hugged and hugged his grandmother, and as we neared their house, my mom stopped at the post office and offered to let BG check the mail with her. He got to put letters in the slot, turn the key, and even bring the mail outside. He grinned broadly the whole time.

The time at the grandparents’ house itself was easy. BG got to visit the neighbor’s donkeys and goats. We took walks to see what was growing in the garden, and he stole not-yet-ripe strawberries, pointed out kale plants, admired the compost and the flowers. He lamented the broken “park swing”–a swing that had been attached to the branch of a huge oak tree twenty-five feet in the air from a single rope that allowed the swing to spin wildly and to swing wide and slow. On our last visit, the rope broke, and while no one was hurt, the swing now awaits Grandpa’s repairs.

The morning brought a visit to Great-Grandma’s, my 90-year-old grandmother. BG protested this visit, but as soon as we entered her warm mountain home, I swear he felt the same joy I did at visiting this home as a child. He kissed his great-grandmother and squealed when she brought out some toy cars for him to play with.

We also met up with my godmother, who has lived in Alaska for years, so that my mom could show off her grandson to her best friend. My godmother claims BG as her grandson too. He was blissfully unaware of our talk of birth and motherhood as he ate chicken and sweet potato fries.

On our way out the next day, BG and I were on our own getting ready as my parents had left for a football game. He helped me ready our bags, and off we went to see my brother and his one-year-old son. “No Baby Z,” my son chanted as we drove the hour to his house, but when we arrived, the boys shared snacks and played, pushing each other and otherwise being their toddler boy selves as my brother and I shared our challenges in our marriages, in our relationships with our father, in maintaining our selves as parents.

BG didn’t fall asleep quite so quickly on our way home. He was excited to discuss his visit. He recounted donkeys and gardens, Great-Grandma and her cars, Grandpa giving him icewater and making him eggs, Grandma letting him check the mail not just one day but two, driving in the car on the street. And soon he fell asleep as I traveled the freeway speeding ahead of the Sunday traffic thinking my own thoughts about the visit, a little sad that it was so short, that there never seems to be enough time with these people I love but so grateful my son has family, the sort of loving extended family that I knew growing up.

The boy continued to sleep as we made our way through the Carneros Valley (between Napa and Sonoma). I listened to Patty Griffin sing about lost spouses and making pies. I witnessed huge flocks of birds dipping in formation into the vineyards in a way they only do this time of year once the harvest is over and the vintners have left clusters on the vines. The birds dipped and swooped and flew in drunken patterns, high on the sugar of late-harvest Chardonnay. I smiled, falling in love once again with this place I call home because nothing compares to autumn in wine country.

Soon, through the rearview mirror, I watched my son slowly blink himself awake. He sipped his water and slowly looked around, and as he spied the vineyards, their leaves turning red and gold after our two short days away, he whispered sleepily, “Going home.”


Filed under family

more on timeouts + a family of sailors

Thanks for all of your thoughtful responses on timeouts. It seems that many of you have used them in a number of contexts with plenty of success, which is great! I also noted that there were a number of poll respondents who did not use them at all, but none of you responded! I’m curious about your reasoning and methods for guiding behavior at this age too if you’re interested in adding to the discussion.

We are at a place where we are exploring other options for discipline beyond the timeout. J and I are both of the philosophy that these new generations of kids are wired differently, that the old positive/negative reinforcement approaches aren’t necessarily as effective on the whole. So we’re trying our modifications. The “timeout right here” is usually BG-enforced, and it’s typically a quick reset, after which we can talk about why the behavior was problematic. This happened yesterday when he bit me while nursing. I set him next to me, and he said, “Timeout right here!” I said, “Yes, BG.” I took a moment to compose myself while he reset, and then we chatted about his behavior. Right now, those chats are primarily about cause and effect. “When you bite, you hurt Mommy!” “When you throw food, it makes a mess!” (He doesn’t like messes.) Honestly, these little chats are really helpful because they get him to start processing–maybe not in any sort of complex way, but kids his age do understand cause and effect, so playing to his strengths seems to be the thing to do right now.

We’re also trying something else we’ve read about, which is sort of this do-over approach. BG has a nasty habit of throwing food on the floor when he doesn’t want it. Today, he did this with a couple of crackers. I picked the crackers up, and put them back on the table. I said, “BG, you know we don’t throw food on the floor. Now, try again. When you don’t want your food, put it in this bowl.” He put the crackers in the bowl. Tonight, when he had some tomatoes he didn’t want, J and I watched in amazement while he placed them in the bowl we had left on the table. We have had perfectly executed timeouts on the food on the floor issue with no results. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but today, the Mulligan was just the thing to make this lesson click.

So perhaps you can see why we’re interested in different approaches. If you’ve got others, feel free to share here!


And now for some adult behavior modification.

My wife is a former sailor. It’s true–sort of. She was in the Navy (okay, so she served entirely on land), and true to form, she has a mouth like, well, a sailor. I have nagged her on more than one occasion to be careful about her language around BG, and in the past year since he has started picking up language, she has gotten increasingly better. More and more her “damns” have been replaced with “darns.” She has come up with creative names to call bad drivers (which explains why we talk a lot about asscots and jackals in the car). She really has done a good job, and I’m proud of her!

I too have long been fond of choice expletives. I have always been able to switch that off, but there are times when I lose my filter. Generally around BG I’ve been pretty good. The car, however, is my one exception. I’m not one to experience road rage really. Instead, I get upset with myself, especially now that we’re living amongst many more people (drivers) than I’ve ever experienced on a regular basis.

Well, the other day in the car, we were pulling across a particularly hairy intersection, and I missed seeing a car that was coming up on us in our lane. It was a freaky little moment (and the car actually slowed to let me in, but that’s irrelevant), and in that freaky little moment, I let it slip: a quiet but audible, Fuck!

My son started giggling uncontrollably. And then, out of his perfect little mouth came, “Fuck! Mommy say fuck! Fuck! Fuck!” And the giggles continued.

I was in the process of recovering from this near-miss in traffic, but all the blood that had just drained out of my face in fear returned to my face in utter shame. Fuck.

A moment later, BG said, “Thunk!” Which is his queue to flip the driver’s side visor (he likes the sound). J said, “That’s right! Mommy said, ‘Thunk!'” BG giggled again. “Mommy say fuck!

I thought I might die. We didn’t react at all. We both stayed silent, just totally silent and poker-faced for as long as we could (although admittedly stifling laughter), and occasionally reinforced the idea that I had said, “Thunk.” Eventually we moved on, and we hadn’t heard anything from him about it in a couple of days.

Today, my wife confessed to me that she had a moment of frustration when she was with BG today, and she blurted out, “Damnit!” Well, our little parrot apparently began spouting, “Damnit! Damnit!” and then seconds later, not skipping a beat, said, “Mommy say fuck!”

So, um, no, he hasn’t forgotten the word, nor that I’ve said it. He knows it’s a “special” sort of word, and he loves it, despite the fact that we haven’t given him any reaction about it to indicate its power. Certainly it will lose its allure at some point, I keep thinking, but no. No it won’t. It clearly hasn’t for me.

We have truly entered a new era with our son. I adore how verbal he is, but oh. my. god. And next weekend we’re going to see my parents and probably my grandmother, and all I can think is that he’s going to tell them, “Mommy say fuck!”

And he will be right.






Filed under behavior, discipline, language