Friday, May 11, 2012

Letter to my babysitter...

My Parenting Manifesto

Thank you for looking after my child.  As promised, I want to share with you some of the values I hold highest in my parenting approach.  I respect all of the training and intuitive goodness you are arriving with.  Please just be yourself and spontaneous as you take these ideas into consideration.  I'm already impressed with your demeanor with children, and I’d like to hear your thoughts.  

When Bina does something you think is cool, please say “thank you” or just smile, or describe why it was cool, rather than saying “good job.”  Here’s why:

Please validate her feelings and allow the hard feelings also to come to the surface:

We try to talk to Bina and not about her in front of her...

We value pleases and thank yous and apologies (, and we try to model them and very rarely bring them up directly...  I believe "whatdyousay????" is a little condescending and doesn't really teach genuine gratitude or sympathy.  We only sparingly encourage sharing and do not force it.  I believe forcing it teaches much less about sharing and much more that the biggest person has all the power and rules by might.  So we’ll say things like [sympathizing with one who doesn't have toy] - "it's hard when you want something that someone else is using" or "oh, that's so and so's favorite toy and maybe you can pick a different toy that is just for you;" and to the one who has the toy, "Can you see so and so's face, it seems like he'd really like to use that toy... would you consider sharing it after a few more minutes?"  We generally wouldn’t approach sharing like "you've had a turn, now he gets a turn."

In our family we don't use time-outs or punishments.  I think these focus more on short-term outcomes and desired behaviors than on long-term deep understanding and respect. I also think there are more effective approaches to improving behavior, because I don't know about you, but when I was punished as a kid, I thought a lot more about hating my parents and revenge than I did about the errors of my ways!  If something unacceptable is going on, stay with the child while distancing from the situation.  It is helpful if you stay very calm and un-punitive.

So what should be done about discipline?  Discipline is not a major theme in our home, although I’m aware there are some children who need more help behaving in ways that people can live with.  Please talk to Bina briefly in fairly neutral language about why we don’t want to do x, y, or z, or what she can do instead, and then move on.  I try hard to state a limit only when I really feel it is important - if I’m not yet sure how to respond I’ll take a few moments of silence - because when I say no I want to really mean it and not cave after the pleading comes - then it beckons more pleading and teaches that my word isn’t serious. I don't really like telling Bina that anything from nature is gross or that laying on the floor is gross or anything... she can run pretty much free with regard to these things as long as she's not doing something very dangerous, I like my little jungle baby just as she is!  The major exception is I try to model putting away one toy before taking out many more toys - I need some civilization.  :)

Bina is also a vegetarian, and we keep a kosher home.  Please don't use food as an incentive to get her to go somewhere or do something (bribes in general we try not to do - but I notice life is frequently a negotiation :).

We try to eat healthy, please don't offer sweets or juice or breads or pasta, but when Bina asks for things she sees she generally should be given them.  I don't want to create drama around food or create forbidden fruits syndrome.  The only exception is if it's straight up mainstream candy or adult diet drinks or something really chemically.  You can explain it's chemically or has too much refined sugar and she generally says ok.  Also she doesn't have to finish her food or eat at a certain time, she eats to her own hunger.  I will always tell you what foods we have around that day.

We don't watch TV or play iphone games or look at little cartoons with Bina.  However Bina does ask for music and family photos on the many gadgets we have around the house, so it is helpful when she doesn’t see them too frequently.   Bina initiates all kinds of make-believe games... she sings and paints and uses playdough and cleans and does all sorts of random things that need no major planning.

Oh also we try not to call Bina princess or focus on princess-type qualities as values - nothing really needs to be said about her looks:

Thanks for your interest!  Hope this is comfortable for you.  It's ok if you forget some of these, don't feel shy!  It takes some effort to speak in new ways - it can become second nature if you believe in it.  If you're interested in any topic I would love it if you ask, "what do you suggest I say about x when it comes up." or "what are your feelings about x," it's the best way to learn.

I recognize that flexibility is also an important value!
We can discuss any of this that you'd like, and I'm open to dialogue.

I also created a reading list if you're interested in learning more:

thanks again!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

NY TIMES: Motherhood vs. Feminism

One more voice in the debate... mine!
Here's the forum.

It is beyond distressing to me that the very definition of what a feminine being can do - create and sustain life - could possibly be considered anti-feminist a priori.  I derive a huge amount of my feminine identity from motherhood and the abilities of my body. Please don't blame your baby - hold accountable the laws of the land and your benefits package.  I choose attachment parenting because it is convenient, not because I believe in some major give-fest.  I breastfeed and co-sleep because it is easier to roll over than run to the other room in the middle of the night warming formula - I babywear because it is easier to have a calm baby than a fussy one, and because strollers are unwieldy. I place no judgement on the women who can't or choose not to do the same.  But in the category of women who can't, many would find breastfeeding easier if they weren't routinely separated from their babies shortly after birth.  If  no one teaches women how to wear their babies comfortably, and mass marketers push us to buy all kinds of equipment to make our babies need us less, of course we'll assume carrying them is a sacrifice.

It is curious to me that first year residents are encouraged to devote themselves completely to their hospitals, but women are considered martyrs for devoting themselves to their babies in the first year of life.  Just like residency, the early years of your child's life are fleeting and may merit extra time commitments.   To assert that it is motherhood against feminism means we have gotten used to a very low-bar version of feminism.  Our workforce is largely masculinely-designed without much intent to also incorporate the real needs of mothers.  A true feminism would campaign for access to proper maternity (and paternity) leave, flexible work hours, flexible site locations, on-site daycare, breastfeeding-normative environments, and empowering birth and early-motherhood experiences.  We devote a huge amount of time, money, and effort to our educations and our careers - yet we've rarely held an infant and almost never seen a birth before our own.  It makes sense that we are largely unprepared for motherhood, and if we were as feminist as we should be, it would be more common for women to support other women in all of their endeavors.    

Women are tough - they can do anything a man can do - they can give birth! - now let's see if we can put a feminine touch on feminism. Powerful, AND caring, nurturing, sensitive women affecting global change can be the goal of feminism as well as equal pay for equal work.  If you don't want to breastfeed - don't.  If you don't want to run around to little league games - don't.  If motherhood feels corny and unfulfilling to you, stop playing them canned children' music and ditch a few of those plastic beeping toys.  Pop on some cool music and create a motherhood that feels authentic to you.  Children are adaptable and will recover from warfare, let alone your departures from attachment parenting (and your emotional crises that attachment parenting zealots are making you feel guilty).  Let's stop the mother blaming, "you spend too much time with the kids," "you don't spend enough time with your kids!"  Embrace and support other women.  

I'm not completely gloriously happy with motherhood at all times, and I do recognize that sometimes our children's (and partners', friends', employers') needs come head to head with our own.  But we are really bad at seeing the ways that our children's needs match ours.  At your birth you probably heard- "oh, your baby is a stubborn one, she won't move down..." We are pit against our children right from the start.  If you are made to believe your child needs not just school, and not just pre-school, but also preschool prep, of course we don't trust that we're supposed to enjoy the time we're spending with our kids. We're very comfortable asserting what our machines need to run - and knowing what our companies need to run.  Why can't we be honest about what our kids need?  All people including children need touch, fresh air, nourishment, shelter among other things to thrive. Give women the proper skills to nurture their babies when they're babies - spend time with them when they're toddlers - maybe that investment will pay dividends to our future generation of leaders (not to mention when you wish your kids would want to hang out with you).  

As a birth and postpartum doula, I am privileged to witness firsthand that men and women are different - I know and remember this constantly attending births - so let's spend less time as feminists making women be like men, and more time normalizing the needs and cycles and strengths of women. Call a spade a spade - the modern workforce isn't flexible enough, and our peer learning isn't broad enough to support your parenting ideal.  Let's accept that there is a wide range of acceptable nurturing, and also try to set our mothering goals to a reasonable height.  Better yet, let's stop teaching the next generation that overachieving is appropriate in either the workforce or the home.  Let's idolize the leisure class more than the "I am busier than thou" class.  Don't go blaming your children. Don't go blaming motherhood and other moms. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

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