Occupy Motherhood

Unless you are living under a rock, chances are you’ve been exposed to the Occupy movement that has spread across the United States in recent months.  According to the Occupy Wall Street website they are fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.  Their fight is a noble one, they are passionate about their cause and standing up for what they believe in peacefully.  Do I want to grab my tent and join the cause?  Probably not, but it does make me think about what I’m passionate about and what I would be willing to stake my tent for.

There is a major problem in this country that no one is protesting about but lots of moms are talking about: maternity leave in America.  Our leaders and prospective politicians build campaigns on “family values” platforms and they aren’t afraid to clearly define their positions on heavier, more divisive issues such as abortion or what defines a marriage.  Yet, somehow, the importance of moms and the issues that surround us seem to slip through the cracks.

Members of congress are more than happy to collect their tax payer funded pensions long after they leave office.  Money well spent, anywhere from $41,000 to $85,000 per elected official per year beginning at age 62.  Meanwhile, American moms work harder, juggle tasks and accomplish more in one week than most politicians do in a lifetime.  Why is it that we, who are raising the future leaders of this nation, are getting the short end of the stick?

Did you know that the United States is THE ONLY industrialized nation that does not mandate paid leave for parents of newborns?  Did you know that just a few of the countries offering a fully paid maternity leave include Mexico (12 weeks),  Malawi (8 weeks) and India (12 weeks)?  That’s right, while senators enjoy a cushy retirement on our dime, moms across the country are breaking their backs to care for their newborns without much support and/or time before being thrust back into the workforce 12 weeks or less after giving birth.  If you are a mom, you know that any time with your child is precious but in terms of bonding with your child, 12 weeks seems minuscule.

Would you like more time off work?  You may want to pack your belongings and consider a move to Sweden.  According to a recent NPR story,  Sweden has some of the most generous leave laws in the world – and the government not only considers the mother, but also the father.  Parents are allocated a total of 480 days per child, which they can take any time until the child is 8 years old. They can share these days, although 60 are allocated specifically to the father. And they are entitled to receive 80 percent of their wages, although this is capped at a certain level. It seems that this little Scandinavian country is light years ahead of us on this issue.

Even when you remove the monetary factor out of the leave equation, we still pale in comparison to other countries when it comes to the number of weeks we give new moms to bond with their babies.  In the United Kingdom and Australia moms can take up to a year of leave to bond with their newborns.  In fact, our nation trails behind Russia, most of Europe and many African nations when it comes to the amount of leave time that we give new mothers.

People are filling the streets, protesting and risking their safety all across the nation to stop corporate greed.  Aristotle Onassis once said, “If women didn’t exist, all the money in the world would have no meaning.”  Money is just that, it’s money, you can’t take it with you and in the end it has no real meaning.

Now, being a mommy, you can carry that forever in your heart.  Time with your child, that holds true meaning.  If you’ll excuse me, I need to make a picket sign, it seems I’ve found a cause I can truly stand behind.  Will you join me?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Parental Looking-Glass

I can’t go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then - Lewis Carroll

Nearly two weeks after my 31st birthday I became a mother.  I believe that anyone who becomes a parent can clearly divide their life into two parts, the first section consisting of your life before children and the second, your life as a parent. There is nothing that compares to that moment when you meet your baby for the first time.  You hold a new life in your arms, your old life just drifts away and a new one begins.  From that moment on your perspective changes, our choices are no longer our own and our decisions bear twice the weight.

There are many roads that lead to parenthood: giving birth, adoption, surrogacy and fostering.  We each carve our own path and ultimately end up at the same destination – our own rebirth not only as an individual, but as a parent.  I find it fascinating that we are not merely bonding with our child and learning all about them, but in a way we are mirroring their maturation by experiencing our own path of growth and self-discovery.  Having a child can awaken parts of your spirit that have laid dormant since childhood or bring forth qualities in yourself you never even knew existed.

Since my daughter Lillie was born, the way I see myself and the world around me has changed.  Much like Alice, I feel as if I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole or am gazing with bewilderment into a looking glass only to discover a whole new way of life.

In the first year of life, your baby grows and develops their own personality. They become familiar with the world around them and begin to form words and mimic gestures.  It seems that overnight my daughter became acutely aware of my actions, big and small.  Whether I was brushing my hair or drinking my coffee, she wanted to be a part of it.  When she started eating solid foods, she extended her hand and wanted a bite of whatever I was eating.  When she began drinking from a cup she always needed to inspect my beverage to see if I would offer her a sip.  These developmental milestones made me reevaluate everything I was putting into my body, with good reason.  My new rule became if I wouldn’t feed it to my daughter then I wasn’t going to eat it myself.  It’s not the easiest rule to live by, but at least I’m becoming more aware of the everyday choices I’m making and in turn making healthier choices for Lillie.  I have yet to give up my coffee.  Don’t worry, she’s never had a sip, I drink it during nap time.

Being a parent also means being a teacher.  When you have a very young child who is just discovering the world around them this in itself can be a full time job.  Lillie is 16-months-old now and she spends much of her time exploring her world and asking, “What’s that?  What’s that?”  This means that much of my day is spent answering the only question she knows how to ask.  She is entranced watching birds fly across the sky, takes her time inspecting a single blade of grass and easily becomes enamored with bulging tree stumps and rocks of all shapes and sizes.  She loves the world around her, finding beauty and showing interest in the everyday things that I can very easily ignore.  I love watching her learn about the world that surrounds her, but I also take pleasure in all that she’s teaching me along the way.

Having a child can most definitely turn your whole world as you know it into a topsy-turvy wonderland.  In the past 16 months my life has been changed for the better.  There is much joy in having a child; I find so many reasons to smile everyday and I laugh harder and more often than I ever have before.  Most importantly, I love.  I love in a way that I’ve never, ever loved before.  It’s a beautiful thing.  I really can’t go back to yesterday.  I have no interest, I’m having too much fun chasing the white rabbit….aka Lillie!

Posted in Parenting | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Technology vs. Parenting

The year was 1990: I was in the 6th grade, Wilson Phillips was my favorite band and my Dad got his first cell phone.  I remember thinking how cool it was that we could now call people while we were riding in our car.  It was bigger than any phone I’ve owned in the past 15 years and was housed in a pleather shoe box between the driver and passenger seats.  Its novelty wore off within a few months but the memory of my excitement about that new techno-toy still lingers to this day.

We’ve come a long way since then. I would have to superglue about six smart phones together to represent the overall girth of that initial cell phone.  What remains, however, is that child-like excitement in adults when we are presented with the newest in technology.  What else would drive grown men to camp outside of an Apple Store and line up in droves to secure an iphone that within months will be outdated?  In an age of tablets, smart phones and E-readers how can parents learn to put down their Blackberries and pick up their children?

As the mama of a toddler, my home away from home is the playground.  The playground, a place where children laugh and play while their parents sit and gaze adoringly at the screen of a smart phone.  In case it’s been a while since you’ve been to a playground, the theme is universal: the scenario of parents paying more attention to technology than their children is playing out all over the world.  Are you guilty of this type of passive parenting?  If you’re a parent of a minor child in the 21st century, chances are the answer is yes.  We all do it; we text while we “play” with our kids, we talk on the phone while we “help” with homework and how many times has your child had to practically twirl flaming batons before you can tear yourself away from your computer?

Don’t worry, even the best of us are guilty of this offense.  As they say, the first step in getting help is admitting you have a problem.  We can all overcome this passivity and focus more on our family.  It’s easier said than done, as we are so attached to our phones that the they’ve become somewhat of an appendage.  They are always by our side and we reach for them whenever they make a noise.  It’s almost like we’ve adopted an electronic infant equipped with bluetooth, navigation and internet capabilities.  How can we wean ourselves from these techno-babies and find the super attentive parent that lies within each of us?

Step away from the phone!  Leave it at home.  If you need to take it with you leave it in the car or turn off the ringer.  It’s really sad that my one-year-old daughter takes any rectangular object that mildly resembles a phone, holds it to her ear and starts chattering away.  I admit I’m to blame.  I think as parents we tend to underestimate the effect that our actions have on our children.  They are quiet observers of our everyday life and pick up far more than we realize.

So my advice is to take a break from technology and turn your attention towards your child.  Before you know it, the tables will most certainly turn and you’ll have a texting teenager to contend with.  Take the time today, because tomorrow will be here before you know it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 1 Comment

Calculated Risks in Parenthood

I’ve always been a risk taker.  When I was about five, my two older brothers dared me to jump off of the top of their bunk bed.  Without missing a beat I stretched my arms out in front of me, yelled “SUPERMAN,” and belly flopped onto the carpet below.  Aside from a mild rug burn and a kick in the ego (I sincerely thought I had the power to fly) I was relatively unscathed.

Through the years, other risks have followed but none seem as bold as my initial dive from the top bunk.  Is it possible that my ability to take risks peaked at the age of five and it’s been steadily going downhill ever since?  Is risk in general becoming more and more calculated with each passing year?  If so, will I no longer be brave enough to take any risks one day?

I’m then reminded of my boldest risk to date.  I chose to become a parent.  Parenthood is more than a leap off a top bunk, it’s more like jumping blindfolded into the Grand Canyon in the middle of the night.  Now that I’ve made this huge leap into the unknown, why am I even more terrified to take a risk now than I ever was before?

It’s possible that it has something to do with that adorable little one who shares half of my DNA and depends on me for just about everything.  Once you become a parent, it not only affects your sleep habits but it changes the way we look at life in general and forces us to closely scrutinize each choice that we make.  Each decision we make, big or small, now takes on some inherent risk.

Your decision might be a very simple one, like whether or not to let your child indulge in a cupcake after dinner.  You may be trying to decide if you should take a higher paying job that might afford your child more opportunities, but will ultimately take you away from your family more than you would like it to.  These are decisions we must make as parents, some more difficult than others.  With each comes varying degrees of risk.  How can we set our fears aside and make the best decision, regardless of the issue, for ourselves and our children?

I think the key to problem solving and decision making in parenting is simple: trust your gut.  As parents, we all have an innate intuitiveness when it comes to our children.  Even before our children are born, this intuition takes hold and we instinctively know what’s best for our little one.  This instinct grows deeper once your child arrives, and gets stronger with each day that passes.  For every decision you have to make, regardless of the risk, you ultimately know what’s right for your child and your family.

Parents get a lot of unsolicited advice, usually from well-meaning friends or relatives.  Learning to filter this advice and trust yourself as a parent can be difficult.  A lot of people will give you guidance and will be happy to tell you what they think you’re doing wrong.  Remember that you are the parent and whatever decision you make for your child will be the best one.

Everyday I try to make the best decisions for my daughter.  As the old adage goes, no one is perfect, and this is especially true of parents.  We all make mistakes.  Accept your imperfections, learn from them and move on.  Continue to trust yourself as a parent, make good decisions and take the kind of risks that you believe will benefit your child.

There is a quote that reads, Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body. I can’t imagine a risk greater, more worthwhile, than this kind of love.  Love your child, trust yourself and everything else will fall into place.

Posted in Parenting | 1 Comment