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.

Friday, March 2, 2012

What are we looking for?

Its is striking to me that when you look on Sittercity, you can find babysitters with experience in epilepsy, asthma, autism, and all kinds of sensitivities. All of these specialties, and “will care for sick children,” are drop-down menu items that sitters put in their profiles. As comprehensive as the list of specialties are, you can rarely find babysitters with experience in attachment or holistic parenting - and certainly not on the clickable drop-down menu! I am so glad that children with certain illnesses can find skilled caretakers, and it is also sad to me that overt thought about wellness is not at the forefront caregivers' skill set. One babysitter told me that she had a much harder time finding work until she was certified in first aid and CPR. As important as these skills are, I wonder what other values that are getting ignored when we make prevention and treatment of major catastrophes the top priority.
When we were living in Israel, we visited the Hebron Hills with the organization Breaking the Silence, and we heard the story of an IDF soldier who realized that while he was guarding a small settlement in the West Bank, a terrorist had walked through the dessert to a different city in Israel and people were killed. This soldier felt had his unit been patrolling the dessert rather than guarding the settlement, that attack could have been prevented.
Every place we guard leaves other places unpatrolled.
When we patrol all of our child's environment with gates and locks, we aren't protecting our child's need to explore.
When a woman is in labor, we often patrol the value of making sure nothing goes wrong, but we don't protect the privacy or calm that makes labor go smoothly.
When we make fear-based decisions, we're not guarding our parasympathetic nervous system's need for peace and are loosing the opportunity to make a trust-based decision.
The problem is when the very policy set to avoid damage is doing damage - and it often comes from what I've dubbed titanic syndrome - we are in trouble when we think we've created an unsinkable ship. We let our guard down and forget common sense, and end up in graver danger than if we accepted an inherent risk and worked with it. You’ve prevented all the things you don’t want - but have you taken the right measures to get what you do want?
Next time I leave a babysitter with a list of emergency numbers, I’m also going to leave them with a short check-list of reminders about what we do to nourish our child.
Coming soon - "Check-list for my babysitter...(and myself)."

Friday, January 6, 2012


I find competing values a bigger challenge to navigate than bad habits. Sure, I ate a few latkes this holiday season, and started dabbling in refined sugar again, but my larger issue is when important work takes me away from my other important work. In the past few months, I completed an intro to midwifery course, a hypnobirth training, a women’s endocrinology training, and a few other classes - all of which took a major toll on my yoga class attendance and my family’s schedule.

When I focus on any of my priorities, it starts to feel like the ONE, the issue through which all other topics in life filter. There is a competition between my daily yoga practice, home cooked meals, meditation, getting ample sleep, creating routine, continuing education, diligent blogging, herbalism, volunteering, quality time with my daughter, and date night with my husband. Right when it feels like one has taken root so much so that I don’t even need to focus on it anymore, it starts to shake loose.

The truth is, some of my focal points actually are more important to me than others. Even when I can’t make it out to yoga classes, a daily home practice saves me, and when I loose that everything else starts to suffer. I find it helpful to pause to connect with my top priorities each day, even if I can’t have a longer meditation. I give myself one person to tune into, one task to handle, and one meal to make from scratch - and a few sun salutes - and this addresses the bare minimum for me.

We need some discipline in our daily practices - we deceive ourselves when we pretend it is ok to passively wait for the pendulum to swing us back to our highest selves. When each evening I see more of my computer screen than my husband’s face, I can pretend that I have been more busy than usual - for a few months - but if it continues I know I’m creating a problem. I need to remember that most disagreements I have with my 2-year-old can be handled by giving her a little more time, or by taking two seconds to jump up and down with her.

And yet with a little skill and a little trust, we do ebb and flow toward our highest. Whenever one value knocks another out of the field for the moment, we have to trust the trajectory of our path, and know that when something is in our psyche, we can return to it cyclically. There are some things I have learned and fully internalized as if on a cellular level, and some things I’ll need to review.

It takes a cycle of many years to become who we are becoming. Self-compassion, humor, and noticing the when and how of our small progresses helps.

I'd love to hear if the life coaches on my list agree - do we need swift action or gradual change? Comment below.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jewish. Yogi. Doula.

Allow me to introduce myself...
Cross posted at: Kveller

I grew up in a fairly complicated and very secular latchkey home with Hanukkah bushes, Chinese take-out, and a sick mama.

My mom passed away a couple of months before the Twin Towers fell, when I was 23. Around this time I started practicing vinyasa yoga in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. I got dumped just days before both of my roommates moved out to live with their boyfriends. Yoga helped me feel calmer and healthier, and allowed me to sit with my various sadnesses. It was different from anything I grew up with.

As I continued my search for meaning, I figured I should check my own Jewish background. Though familiar, I didn’t know an Aleinu from an Aleph. I also thought something about Israelis reminded me of what I found edgy and compelling in 90s era hip hop, so I decided to learn a little Hebrew and went on Birthright (a free trip to Israel for 18 to 26-year-olds). I said the Mourner’s Kaddish for my mom the year after she passed, and it served as a mantra that brought change in my life.

I was working in music marketing when I met my husband Jonah on Jdate. When he showed up I thought, “this guy is wearing a kippah, he’s way too religious for me, he’s moving to DC in a few months, and he really doesn’t seem like one-night-stand material.”

And then I got past all that and was present. We both loved hip hop, and comedy, and spirituality (admittedly in a sort of distance-learning way).

People ask if I got more religious because of my husband. I think we wouldn’t have connected if I wasn’t already interested.

At first we traded. I would become Shabbat-observant if he would become vegetarian. Then circumstances led us to new paths. I enrolled in yoga teacher training at and about a year later Jonah started rabbi school. I learned the rhythms of the call to birth when my mentor Sasha, also a doula, needed me to sub for her prenatal and parent baby yoga classes. I had felt a distinct lack of a calling in my life but around the topic of birth, something clicked.

Jonah and I have grown together so much that it’s hard to extract whose influence affected what part of our lives. Jonah’s tzitzit and now payis–are they evidence of his devoutness, or my love of cultivated eccentricities? My sustained interest in healing–a yogic path, my ambition, or Jonah’s grounding presence in my life?

Yoga has taught me that sensation is fleeting, and that sticking with a challenge is a faster path beyond it than avoidance. Judaism grounds me in ritual and mindfulness (blessings over food, Shabbat, family) in a fairly automatic way. Being present and un-alarmed at births helps laboring couples as much as anything else.

I was attending births and teaching new mamas before becoming a mama myself. Now we look after a 2-year-old baby girl Bina, my mother’s namesake, who both revolutionized and validated the ways I understand birth and life. I try to nourish wellness more than avoid illness, and know that being edgy isn’t about being tough–it’s about being true to yourself.

I am a ritual-maker, fiercely-devoted ima (mother), witness, friend, and iconoclast. Birth is my calling, yoga is my soul, and Judaism is my family.


I have decided to begin a mysore yoga practice. The first morning I showed up at Harlem's new Land Yoga I told Lara that I am committed... but... I have to see how it works with my family after the first session. Lara politely told me that if I intend to take class, I need to be committed to 3x a week for minimum of a month.
I have been deliberating whether to babycare swap or pre-school or pre-un-school this fall. I got cold feet when the JCC required us to commit to a class series in advance without a trial session.
Tis the season to take on new endeavors. Sometimes there is a problem with our culture's insistence that down time is a waste of time. We schedule ourselves and our children into a busy tizzy.
But there is beauty in making a commitment of our time, money, and efforts. I often notice myself weighing all the pros and cons of a particular situation only to find later that as much as I deliberated, the one variable I hadn't considered becomes most prominent. Or if I deliberate too long, the opportunity passed, or I lost steam.
When we look for a backdoor, we often find one. But maybe we don't need a way OUT as much as we need a way IN. When we spend our time avoiding getting stuck, we're not spending time in the current opportunity that presented itself.
I was really pleased that Lara pressed me.
I encourage you to commit yourself to something today. Nurture that part of yourself that still has instincts and intuition and trust that you were meant to encounter the ramifications if there are some. It's not being reckless - even if you make a "mistake," it was a mistake that was made in the name of allowing yourself to practice using your intuition, so that there are less mistakes in the future.
I guess I'm saying... seize the day family.
Posted without 108 revisions,
Julia :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

from the campy desk of the yogi doula

After we returned from our year in Israel we spent a month at a camp in Canada, where Jonah taught judaism and I taught yoga. Camp had cool nights, hot afternoons, beautiful lake, a huge open sky, and a few open-minded, thoughtful individuals I will not forget. I learned how children of different ages play and learn and appreciate.
But the cooking spray had butane and propane in it. I missed our organic vegetable delivery in Jerusalem. The highly programmed days and manner of discipline were not my style. Through my own scheduling hiccup, I was busy during free swim. Bina spent mornings at daycare, and even though I worked there, for the first time I did not control her environment. She learned to say MINE like a champ, played dress-up princess barbie, and wanted cookies and chips and dear g!d egg rolls and fruit loops. And it was EVERYWHERE. Our first weeks I was not a happy camper.
"Dear Mom,
The food is bad. I don't relate to these people. I'm homesick."
I was out of my comfort zone.
Then, after falling in love with the special needs campers that I was not even sure I wanted to teach in the beginning, I began to notice how excellent the camp is at nourishing this program. I realized that this institution does have ideals (duh?), even if many of them are different from mine.

I’ve been learning I can't nay-say everything (even when research and intuition are in my favor). Because, among other reasons, I'll probably start teaching my daughter to complain a lot.
And really, why complain? I woke up every morning for a lakeside yoga sadhana. I made a difference at the daycare as morning snack collector (bye, bye candy before noon). My schedule changed and I was in the lake every afternoon until dinner (that was huge). I loved how my 15-year-old girls were so dedicated. I loved how the 15-year-old-boys feigned ambivalence but focused and giggled and asked questions at the end of a session. And I loved watching Bina navigate her environment. I might have preferred different food choices, but I couldn't have asked for any better interpersonal choices. She started saying, "I don't say it's mine. I say, CAN I HAVE IT?" (kvell).
Fast forward to now, where we returned to NY and are finally settled. There are still things that I don't especially want her to have like cheerios and plastic toy strollers. I can explain and model, or take a strong stand when the situation truly calls for it. But as she ages and I have less control, I can learn to accept these gifts: the gift of learning to step back, the gift of time spent watching an intuitive being, and the gift of learning and not always teaching. I want to trust Bina's choices both because she's great, and so she practices making thoughtful choices on her own.
"Dear Mom,
I miss you. I think of all your challenges and idiosyncrasies, and of the way you have managed to continue giving me gifts over all these years."
I have to admit that I actually liked camp by the end. I'm loosing some of my ideals, sometimes. But going with the flow is another ideal that I neglect way too often.

Dedicated to my mother Barbara Gail Uslaner Mannes Walters, who marched to the beat of her own drummer, saw the good in everyone, made thoughtful choices (some more and some less), liked both the mainstream and the unusual, and passed away 10 years ago this summer.

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