Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why I Don't Like "Things You Should Never Say" Lists

One day on Facebook I posted a list called "6 Stupid Things People Say About Natural Childbirth." I had heard nearly every item on the list and I guess I found it important to share that with the world. But my dear friend Alex, a straight-shooting New Yorker, challenged me. She asked, "How often did this really come up?"

Now, honestly, it came up quite often, though usually not the way you, or she, might assume. It wasn't as if people saw my swelling belly and said, "Are you going to have an epidural, or are you one of those natural birth freaks?" No, what really happened is people would ask if I was going to get induced, because I was miserable and my due date was approaching. Or people might assume I was having a c-section, for whatever reason. Or they might say something about how scared I probably was to have to go through all this again. And since I have a loud mouth and feel VERY strongly about the state of maternal care in this country (which I won't go into in this entry, you'll be relieved to hear), I usually shared that I had an unmedicated birth with my daughter, how wonderful it was, and how I planned (and eventually succeeded) to have a second unmedicated birth with my son. THEN, then they would say the six stupid things on that list.

But when Alex challenged me, it made me think. Is it really so bad if people ask a question about unmedicated birth? Shouldn't I - the teacher - look at that as a teachable moment, an opportunity to share my passion for birth choices and my belief that a woman is entitled to a positive birth experience, whatever that means for her? Isn't informed dialogue a passion of mine, and something I think is sorely lacking from American culture today?

So I started thinking about other lists. And there are many.

5 Things You Should Never Say to a New Mom

13 Things You Should Never Say to a Working Mom

9 Things You Should Never Say to a Stay at Home Mom

8 Things Never to Say to Moms of Multiples

10 Things Not to Say to Moms of Preemies

There are lists that have nothing to do with motherhood, of course.

9 Things Never to Say to Your Husband

9 Things You Should Never Say to Teachers

10 Things to Never Say to a Nurse

The list of lists goes on and on and on.

I don't disagree with the sentiment of these lists. Quite the opposite. Their intent is to educate people, to encourage people to be empathetic and compassionate to others. Unfortunately, though, your average Joe isn't going to seek these lists out. When we repost them on Facebook (or whatever you young kids are using on the InterWebs today), the people most likely to read them are the people who identify with the list themselves. I'll read the ones about plump moms or teachers or natural birth or working moms or people from Kentucky or what have you. I might read the ones about other types of moms - stay at home moms or moms who've experienced c-sections or moms who formula feed - if I have extra time. But will I read "Top Ten Things Never to Say to an Aviator?" Probably not.

My point is while the lists contain a lot of truth, they will most likely never fulfill their intended purposes. These lists alone will not teach people to be more compassionate or open-minded or educated about a topic or what have you. We post these lists and hope people will read them. But when someone says something on the list to us, rather than call them out, we say nothing, then run home and lick our wounds. Honestly, this is passive aggressive.

Instead of posting all the things people should never say to us, why don't we start brainstorming "Ways to Respond if Someone Says Something Offensive about Being ____________ ?" For example, someone might say to me, "Doesn't it kill you that other people are raising your baby?" Sure, it stings, but here's my chance to educate them. Here's my chance to tell them about how the idea that one mom raising all her kids alone is a relatively new concept in the history of humankind. How traditionally extended families and tribes shared the responsibility of child-rearing, and when you find a daycare as fabulous as mine, that's just an extension of that idea. I might also tell them how bad it was for my mental health to stay at home all day with my first kid, that we're all wired differently and I need outside-of-the-mom-gig stimulation. I might even add that I love my job and I like contributing to society as a whole by teaching future generations. I might go on so long that the person really, truly regrets ever making the comment to me in the first place.

Maybe the person made the ignorant comment to hurt me - that's possible - but I find it far more likely that they just need to hear my point of view. And now that they've heard it, maybe they'll think about moms who work outside of the home a little differently.

This is our chance. Our chance to engage in dialogue with people who might view important issues differently than us. This is our chance to educate them about why we've made the choices we've made or why a remark that they barely considered can be so hurtful. This is our chance to stand up for ourselves as women because, yes, nearly all of these lists concern women. Because women still, in the year 2014, find it hard to tell others what they think if they think others don't want to hear it.

Let's stop hiding behind our computers and start telling people what they need to hear. That's how we're going to create a more empathetic and informed society.



Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Only Way Out is Through

There will come a time when I won't recall today. When I'll find it hard to fathom I made it through.

There will be days worse than this. Much worse. Days I can't let myself think about for fear I'll lose my mind.

But someday, there will also be days that are much easier. And I'll forget. I'll forget like I've somehow forgotten the throws of labor, though I swore those sensations would be burned on my brain for eternity.

I'll forget waking up every hour on the hour to a crying baby. Nursing all night long.

I'll forget dragging myself out of bed for good at 5:45am. Getting myself dressed, so groggy I could barely see straight. Waking up an angry and uncooperative Stella. Prompting her to get dressed while Dave dressed Sam in the other room.

I'll forget packing all our bags, our living room looking like we're going on a vacation.

I'll forget how I cried for ten minutes on the way to work, so sad to leave my babies.

I'll forget getting stuck behind a school bus, getting in later than I like, shutting and locking my classroom door frantically, looking at a video of Sam to help my letdown so I could pump.

I'll forget pulling 7th and 8th graders in the hall for individual conferences to see why she's crying, why he won't answer a question, why this one called me that awful name, why the other one has an F.

I'll forget pumping and working all during my planning period, scarfing my lunch down in less than three minutes.

I'll forget the kid who shares the story about something personal that makes me cry. That crushing feeling that I'm not doing enough for those students. That feeling that I want to save them all from anything that could hurt them.

I'll forget pumping a third time after work. Pouring the milk into bags. Labeling the bags. Making sure my hands are clean. Wiping off my pump parts in between. Hoping it'll be enough for Sam the next day. Hoping that if it isn't, there will be enough left in my freezer stash so he'll have plenty to eat.

I'll forget I had a staff meeting after school. Checking my watch while trying to pay attention, overwhelmed that while my work day is coming to an end, I'm still miles away from any kind of rest.

I'll forget rushing to Sam's daycare, dodging aggressive cars on the interstate, nursing him when I get there to try to boost my suddenly diminishing milk supply, packing our stuff and getting us in the car.

I'll forget running to Stella's parent teacher conference, Sam blissfully napping long enough for me to talk to her. I'll forget my concern over Stella's Sensory Processing Disorder and how it's getting in the way of her enjoying school. I'll probably remember, though, that she's in the top group in reading. Because moms like to remember that stuff.

I'll forget rushing to meet Stella in her extended day program, bringing her a bag dinner because just moments later she'd have her Girl Scouts meeting in the same room.

I'll forget how Sam woke up and started to fuss, like he does every day around 5 - 6pm, and how I had to walk around with him the whole time.

I'll forget how Stella had a meltdown over the type of glue they had to use. A five-alarm meltdown - screaming and flailing and general misery. I'll forget being grateful that Dave was there - stopping by after work and on his way out for the evening. I'll forget how embarrassed I was that my kid was loosing it while the others weren't.

I'll forget buying disgusting fast food for dinner, because I didn't know how else I'd get to eat. I'll forget getting two bites in before Sam went insane again, screaming to indicate he was ready for bed.

I'll forget letting Stella watch TV while I spent 45 minutes trying to get Sam to sleep. I'll forget how he's in that frustrating stage where he's getting ready to crawl, so he flips on his stomach then gets angry that he's on his stomach but is too tired to flip back.

I'll forget how I decided to leave him to his screaming while I got Stella ready for bed. I'll forget how she didn't turn off the TV when I told her to, how she gave me attitude about bedtime, how I got really angry with her and immediately felt guilty about it.

I'll forget how I spent another 45 minutes after getting her down trying to get Sam to sleep again. I'll forget how I begged him to just sleep, how I cried, how I prayed for some relief.

I'll forget how once he got quiet, I ran downstairs and scarfed down the rest of my food. I'll forget how I threw my pump parts in warm, soapy water to soak, and how I started making a mental list of all the other stuff I needed to get ready for tomorrow.

I'll forget getting pissed off that I forget to set out our dirty cloth diapers for our diaper service in the morning like I'm supposed to every Tuesday. I'll forget how that realization almost sent me over the edge.

I'll forget taking precious time to write a blog entry, amidst Sam's periodic grunts of unhappiness over the monitor. I'll forget how all I wanted to do was drink a beer and watch that ESPN Netflix video about Tanya Harding, but that I knew that writing it down was good therapy for me.

I'll forget being peeved that Dave was out, leaving me to do all this alone, yet knowing that I was going to do the same thing to him in a few days, so it was only fair.

It's good that I'll forget this. Forget how tough it is. Because today serves a larger purpose. Today will not break me. I am no victim. Today was tough. But I can handle tough. I can put in some work now, some selfless, never-ending, back-breaking work now, because I know what kind of dividends this will yield.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Thankless

I don't feel like telling Stella that Valentine's Day is over. Would you?


I'm a teacher. I'm a mom. Both jobs are described as "thankless." Both jobs can feel that way sometimes.

That moment when you ask the students to create a play in small groups - little skits to show why people joined certain movements in the '60's. A way of responding to an article that seems more interesting than "write a summary." Yet the kids squander the time, very few finish, and many proclaim, "This is stupid!"

The students are sad that a teacher quit mid-year. They internalize it and get upset. So you give them a quick pep talk about how much you love working with them, how amazing you think they are, how you brag on them all the time. And a girl says, "Well, why do you constantly get on our butts about everything then?"

You put your infant in the exersaucer to make dinner - some rice and teriyaki chicken. The baby fusses the whole time, you feel rushed and stressed, but you want to make a nice dinner for your family. You set it out and your daughter says, "I HATE teriyaki chicken!"

Your baby is tired. So you change his clothes to get him ready for bed. He screams and cries and kicks and pinches you the whole time out of frustration.

Your daughter asks to watch TV. You say OK, both as a reward for doing a nice job on something as a way of keeping her entertained while you make dinner (see above). When the show is over, you ask her to turn it off. She yells at you about how unfair it is that she NEVER gets to watch TV.

So then you have a choice. You can wallow. You can feel sorry for yourself. You can wonder why on earth you chose these two thankless professions. Or you can switch your focus.

Think about that one amazing student - the one who pushes himself to succeed, despite many setbacks and personal challenges. Think about how he's read every book in the library and is thirsting for more. Think about how grateful he looked when you handed him some short stories by Philip K. Dick that came from your home library.

Think about how when the students asked who their new teacher was going to be, you joked, "Me. I'm going to teach all your subjects from now all" Think about how that one kid said, "Yay! You're my favorite teacher! I'd love that!"

Think about how many kids show your their writing between classes - stuff that's not required, not for a grade, stuff they wrote because you helped them discover that love of writing.

Think about your baby and that contented sigh he makes after gets his first taste of mother's milk when you come to pick him up from daycare.

Think about the ever-growing number of beautiful valentines your daughter makes you - even though Valentine's Day is over.

Think about how your daughter tells you she loves you every single day. Multiple times a day.

Think about how your husband just packed your lunch for tomorrow.

Think about the lullaby your daughter wrote in the car when the baby cried.

I love water parks.
There's so much you can do.
But I don't love water parks
As much I love you.
I love you Sammy.
I love you Sammy.

And you realize you get plenty of thanks. Just not always in the form of a "thank you."

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Her Gentle Soul

Sam has no idea how lucky he is to have Stella as a big sister.


So, something happened that really depresses me. Yes, I'm probably overreacting.

Stella went to the JCC Parent's Night Out event last night - a great (affordable) childcare option where she got to swim, play, and watch a movie in her PJ's. Overall, she  had a great time.

But this morning, she told me that she didn't get any popcorn during the movie. "They forgot to give me some," she said, playing with her mini-Lalaloopsy.

"But honey, I smelled popcorn on your breath last night," I said.

"That's because I ate some off the floor."

My heart sank. My kid ate popcorn off the floor. Because she was too shy to ask for what was rightfully hers. What the hell is this? Oliver Twist?

This isn't the first time this has happened. A kid gave out cookies for the 100th day of school recently, and forgot to give one to Stella. When I asked her why she didn't tell the kid that she forgot her, Stella said, "I didn't want to hurt her feelings." She didn't want to hurt the feelings of the kid who passed her over, even though Stella's own feelings were hurt.

I love having such a gentle soul for a daughter. Unlike me at her age, she has never once lashed out at her baby brother (I was not so kind to my little sister - just ask her). Even when he pulls her hair and swats at her face, she says, "Oh, Sam, that hurts!" Then she gently pulls his hands off of her.

As a baby, she never once hurt our cats. I was expecting that phase where she pulled their tails or picked them up or what have you, but it never came. She petted them gently, kissing them and snuggling with them occasionally. But never did she hurt them.

On the playground, she's the kid who waits patiently at the top of the slide while the toddlers goof off on the bottom. She's waited so long that I've implored her to just go ahead and slide. I tell her the little guys will move when they see her coming. But she will have none of that.

Last year, she was bullied by another kid in her class. Yes, her preschool class. This kid got two other kids to refuse to play with her, to make fun of her, to treat her like absolute crap. Being the hot-headed Southerner I am, I went off in the car one day, saying something to the effect of, "You need to tell that little brat that you don't want to play with her - that you only play with nice girls!" Stella's eyes welled up with tears and she said, "But Mommy, that would hurt her feelings!"

Stella is a special kid. With that type of overwhelming empathy and love for her fellow humans, I wouldn't be surprised if she moved mountains one day. But for right now, my heart breaks. It breaks to see her refuse to stand up for herself, to lose out on fun things, to stand at the fringe while the other kids have so much fun.

I always swore I'd accept my kids just as they are. I've planned out the loving speech I'll give them should either come out as gay. Or Republican. I swore never to be a stage mother, never to get too involved in grades, never to push my kids to go to Centre College (although that's going to be a tough one for me).

But I didn't expect to have to accept my kid for being reserved. And quiet. And amazingly passive when it comes to standing up for herself. She's a happy kid. She enjoys her life. Me butting in will solve nothing. But it hurts to see this mini-human whom I love more than I can even stand let herself get treated worse than she'd ever treat someone else. When I figure out how to reconcile all these conflicting emotions - I'll let you know. As for today, I plan to hug her extra tight and pop her her own bag of popcorn.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Indescribable Moments

 Entitled, "I'm Losing a Tooth!"
 That Post-Breastmilk Glow

Dave and I were talking at dinner tonight about that old saying that going from zero to one kid is harder than one to two. We wholeheartedly agree with this. When you have your first kid, especially if you wait a bit longer in life like we did, you'll inevitably hit a point where you think, "REALLY? I'm really always, forever, for the rest of my life going to be on call 24 hours a day? I'll have to work all the time? I'll never ever be able to just chill again?"

The second time around, you're used to working around the clock, and you've usually fallen into some kind of groove. Suddenly, keeping a small human fed, clean, and alive doesn't seem too daunting or all-consuming. It's just life.

But, contrary to what the internet will have you believe, parenthood is not drudgery. Yes, there is a lot of work. Discipline. Cooking. Cleaning. Homework. What have you. But then there are these moments. These little indescribable moments that make life intensely enjoyable.

And I had several today.

Stella lying next to me, casually snuggling, talking to me like a peer about plans for her birthday.

Sam looking lovingly at me, stroking my face as he fell asleep.

Stella making up a song about her first-ever loose tooth, and how excited that makes her.

Sam gnawing happily on a piece of red pepper.

Noticing that Stella was having a meltdown at the JCC gym today, most likely due to sensory overload, and pulling her out in the hallway to hold her close, feeling her breathing slow while in my arms.

Sam pulling off while nursing to smile and giggle at me jubilantly.

It's not just that these moments make it worth it. It's much more than that. These moments are life. I wouldn't trade them for all the free-time in the world.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Absolution




How could this adorable goof-ball be a trigger for anybody?



OK. I know I promised to write the next entry about “The Braggart Mom.” That annoying woman who wants us to know how well her kid sleeps, how much weight her kid’s gained, how much milk she pumps, how quickly she lost all her pregnancy weight, how healthy her marriage is, bla bla bla. Yep. She’s annoying. But I’m not going to write about her today.

I’m going to write about someone far more annoying. I’m going to write about me.

I’m really getting on my own nerves lately. I’ll be honest, about 88% of this is hormonal. (If reading about my hormones upsets you, just imagine how experiencing them feels for me.) This is a bad month. And it doesn’t make it any better that I’m one of the rare women who gets her cycle back immediately after childbirth. While breastfeeding. Round the clock. And the first person to suggest that maybe I’m not nursing on command can deal with the back of my hand. (It returned with Sam before I went back to work, so we can’t blame it on that. And it returned quickly with Stella, who was a nursaholic and with whom I stayed home for 18 months. So just TRY to suggest I’m not nursing enough, fool.) 

Anyway, I’m annoying. I’m annoying because I have a really short fuse. And while a lot of this is, as I so long-windedly stated, hormonal, this is by no means the only time I struggle with my patience. It is a daily battle.

People assume because I teach public middle school, I must have all the patience in the world. While I maintain my cool pretty well at work, that is because I can distance myself from the situation. I love my students and they can get under my skin, but I don’t live with them. They’re not my offspring. It’s different somehow.

But from the moment I gave birth to Stella (almost 6 years ago – what?), I found myself staring my short fuse in the face multiple times a day.

First, it was the screaming. Know how Stella has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder, meaning her five senses are heightened to the point that normal sensory experiences can be painful for her? Yeah, well, I think I’m an undiagnosed case myself. As a kid, I’d sob when I got my hair cut, because the brushing hurt so badly. I’ve always been able to smell scents others don’t notice (I really don’t miss smelling hoards of dead rodents in the subways of NYC). My hearing is so good that I hear every snide remark every single student says about me under his or her breath from across the room (most of which I ignore). And when a baby screams, it is my undoing.

Now, I know nobody likes the sound of a baby screaming. Women are biologically wired to want to rush to that baby’s aid, and our bodies make us extremely uncomfortable until we do so. But I’m telling you, it’s different with me.

When a baby starts to scream – really scream, not regular crying or fussing, but ear-splitting screams – I feel like my skin is peeling off. It’s like my body is a tea kettle that is boiling over. I want to jump out a window, to dive into an ocean, to crawl back into a warm womb. I cannot take it.

My therapist tells me that is a lingering effect of my PTSD. I’ll pause while you sigh and roll your eyes. All done? Yes, I know I sound like a guest on Oprah, but I have PTSD due to the crap that happened when I was a kid and helped out by the experience of viewing the twin towers on fire from my West Village apartment. I’m working on it, I’m a lot better, but I still have triggers. And, apparently, screaming is a trigger.

And while I have to endure a day of screaming every 3 months or so with Sam, and that’s bad enough, it was daily with Stella. And it was bad. (There are a million blog entries on how bad, but I’ll just quickly remind you that it was bad enough that I ended up in the psychiatric ER on suicide watch. That really kind of says it all.)

Stella grew out of the screaming, thank God, when she started to learn how to express her needs to us, as well as how to cope with her strong senses. But she still tests my patience every day.

Before any sanctimommies out there want to attack me, let me clearly state something: Stella is an incredible kid. I have been so madly in love with her since the day I met her. I love her so much it makes me ache. Sometimes I just cry when I come in to check on her at night. She is so kind (seriously – the best big sister ever), so funny, so incredibly brilliant, so creative, such a curious and gorgeous soul. I am lucky to have her in my life.

But dear God does she test my patience. And honestly, I think it says more about my small reserve of patience than it does about her.

And this morning was bad. I had both kids, because I had a snow day (I teach in a different district from where I live), and I thought I’d give Dave a break from dropping them off before hitting the highway. We’ve worked on the morning routine, laying out clothes the night before so we can avoid any arguments about that in the morning. So she got dressed pretty well. But she still needs a lot of help with things like buttons and zippers and socks. She’s in occupational therapy to help her with these things, because her SPD has slowed her development down a bit, and I’ve worked on my patience with it, even though trying to snap snaps while bouncing a fussy baby at the same time is not the easiest thing in the world.

But then it was time for her to eat. I poured her some cereal and went to a chair to nurse Sam. I really hate talking about kids’ attention issues, because kids just naturally get distracted (which is why those If You Give a Mouse a Cookie… books are so popular), but Stella’s distractibility is amazing. She would take a bite, then ask me a question about Strawberry Shortcake. I’d answer her question, then direct her to eat some more. She’d take a bite, then get out of her chair to look at the robins walking in the snow outside. I’d confirm that they were adorable, then direct her to sit back down and eat. She’d take a bite, then inform me that Talisker (our cat) was vomiting again, a fact that really upsets her. I’d tell her it’s OK, I’ll clean it later, then tell her to eat some more. She’d take another bite, then get up to look at the amaryllis and tell me she’s worried it’s not getting enough water. I reassured her I’d water it, then directed her to go back to her seat and keep eating.

Yes. It’s cute. And it doesn’t bother us on the weekend when we can lounge around all morning. But when we have a time limit. It can be frustrating.

But, you know what? I kept my cool. I counted down, I gave her warnings, she ate an OK amount. But it was later than I would have liked. I really wanted to drop her off before car pool, because I find car pool so frustrating, and Stella really enjoys going to her before-school program. (Car pool is stressful because Stella has trouble unbuckling her seat belt – another fine motor function she struggles with –  and moves V E R Y   S L O W L Y getting out of the car. So by the time I’ve stopped, unbuckled her, given her her backpack, and prompted her 50 times to walk in the building, there are 400 angry cars lined up behind me. It’s just something I’d rather avoid if I can.)

So, I ran out to the car and started it so it could warm up. (I only do this on the REALLY cold days, everybody. I know it’s a bad habit.) I got Sam into his winter garb, strapped him in his car seat, put on my snow boots, got my coat on, got Stella’s coat on, helped her get her shoes on, and we were ready to walk out the door. And that’s when I remembered show and tell today, and how much Stella was looking forward to bringing Ducky Sue, her stuffed duck.

And I actually had an argument in my head. It went something like this:

Oh! I need to remind Stella to go get Ducky Sue and put her in her backpack!

Are you CRAZY? We’re running late! We need to get out the door. Now! She’ll be OK.

No! Don’t be mean! She’ll be so sad when she realizes she forgot her.

OK. Fine. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So, I asked Stella to run up and get Ducky Sue. I told her she needed to be fast. And then I peeked out the window to make sure nobody had stolen our car yet.

She went upstairs and I waited. And waited. And waited. Then I called up to her. I heard nothing. I called again. Nothing. So…I left my son and my running car to see what was going on.

She had Ducky Sue, but the toy chest she’d removed the duck from was messy. And Stella, my gorgeous Stella who copes with the uncertainty of her world that is filled with very strong sights, sounds, sensations, smells, and tastes by maintaining tight control of everything around her, was obsessed over putting that toy chest back exactly the way it was. And she would not listen to me when I told her we had to leave.

And I guess I was triggered. Or maybe I was just an annoying jerk. Because I lost it. I didn’t employ the 1,2,3 Magic discipline tools we’ve had so much success with lately. I didn’t calmly tell her she could clean it up later. I yelled. And yelled and yelled and yelled.

I got in her face and yelled. I told her how much she tests me. I asked her why she is compelled to move more slowly the later we are. And of course she had no answer for me. She looked sad. She looked scared. And I wish I could have hit myself.

I read an article recently on how modern parents hit less but yell more. It also stated that yelling can be just as bad as physical abuse. I’ve never hit my kids, but I’ve yelled. I’ve gone through better periods and worse periods, but it is what I do when I suck as a mom. It is my weakness. It is the thing I do that makes me furious at myself.

I apologized and told her that while we need to work on her ability to move faster when we’re late, me yelling at her wasn’t the right way to handle it. We hugged. We were late. We had to endure car pool. She got in the building. I pulled away, checked that Sam was sleeping in the back, pulled over and cried my eyes out.

Yes, parents make mistakes. I can’t expect myself to be perfect. But I’m better than that. 

When I was little, my dad would scream at me when I was slow. I took too long in the bathroom, I took too long to eat my meal, I walked too slowly, I dressed too slowly. I was screamed at. And screamed at. And belittled. And hit, from time to time.

So now I’m an incredibly prompt adult. Prompt and stressed out and so freaking concerned with getting somewhere on time that I become an a-hole to my kid. I want to help Stella become a person who is cognizant of time, who is considerate of others, but I never – EVER – want her to feel like she needs to get in and out of the toilet in 20 seconds (like I do) or who scarfs down her meals (like I do). 

I’ve been given a gift: to parent the way I wanted to be parented. I cannot squander this gift.

So, yeah, this is an incredibly long-winded and rambling entry. And this really serves to help me forgive myself, more than anything else. (On a side note, I recently started a thread on the local moms message board where we can confess our worse mom moments and it blew up instantly! I guess so many of us feel pressure to be perfect, so pressured to appear perfect, that the idea of getting to tell all our dark secrets was just too tempting. It is an easy way to forgive ourselves. It is going to confession for us non-Catholics.)

So I hope this helps me forgive myself enough to calm down and move on. I’m going to keep using the tools in the 1,2,3 Magic book (which I highly recommend to both parents and teachers, by the way), and I’m going to remind myself that it’s more important for me to take a deep breath and count to ten than it is for us to be on time. Being a little bit late won’t hurt us, but being a jerk to my kid will.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Dark Side of the Sanctimommy




My friend Sara introduced me to the term “Sanctimommy,” although I was all too familiar with the concept. I was at her house, visiting her adorable twins, complaining about the women on the internet who make the rest of us feel like bad mothers.

She directed me to a specific section of the STFU Parents Blog that deals with such mothers, and I was in heaven. Finally – a place where I could vent my anger out on these women while laughing my head off.

But, truly, there is a dark side to the sanctimommy. 

A sanctimommy is a woman who acts like (or possibly honestly believes) that all the aspects of motherhood – including sleepless nights and poop in your hair and cracked nipples – are little gifts from heaven to be cherished. These women live to jump on threads where a desperate mother is asking for help coping with over a year of no sleep or a toddler that is dead-set on committing suicide (pun intended) or a low breastmilk supply. They then hop on with their “advice,” usually just a paragraph about all the sacrifices they made for their kids which only enriched their lives and how they never once complained about it.

Case in point: I follow the Leaky Boob on Facebook – a group for breastfeeding support that is quite helpful. But recently a woman posted a picture of her baby pulling and pinching her breast skin while nursing. It looked excruciating, and she was asking for advice. Most moms gave solid, practical advice like “purchase a nursing necklace” or “hold his hand while nursing” or “pull him off and say OW!” One crazy mother suggested the woman hit her ten month old (really?). But one glorious sanctimommy came on and said something to the effect of “Ah…I remember when my LO [Little One] used to do that. I always thought it was so precious – like a kitten kneading its mother. Cherish this time – it passes so soon.”

Wait – cherish this time? Cherish getting pinched and pulled? On your breast?
How the hell did she think that was helping? What was her real purpose for posting that?
Now that I have baby number 2, I am impervious to sanctimommies. I still sometimes start threads asking for advice, and every once in a while one of them will pop up and remind me that I’m supposed to lay down my life every single moment of every single day without a whisper of complaint. To which I now laugh heartily.

But when Stella was a baby, I didn’t find it so funny. I was suffering from post-partum depression and anxiety, and I felt like I was messing everything up as a parent 100% of the time. I was miserable and angry and often suicidal, and looking back, I needed serious psychiatric help. But I didn’t get it. Instead, I turned to message boards.

There were some wonderful, supportive women. Definitely. But there was also a herd of sanctimommies. And their words cut me like knives every time.

Stella was the most troubled sleeper I’d ever heard of. Months and months of screaming every hour to 1.5 hours at night. Days of screaming due to exhaustion, yet she almost never napped. I was hysterical – I would have done anything for more than an hour of sleep (this is why it is the most effective brainwashing technique, FYI). But Stella only wanted my nipple. In her mouth. All the time. And yet, she’d start to drift off, and it would fall out. And then she’d scream. Unless I held it in there myself. And I don’t know about you, but I can’t seem to get comfortable enough to sleep while awkwardly holding my nipple in an infant’s mouth.

What did the sanctimommies have to say about this? “Ah, she needs you. Isn’t that sweet? Cherish this time.” Or “This must be really hard for her. Poor thing. Make sure you cosleep and babywear and nurse on command.” (All of which I did and none of which helped.) Or my favorite: “She must sense your unhappiness. Make sure to relax and gaze lovingly in her eyes so she doesn’t feel like you resent her.” 

So I now felt like a terrible mother who was somehow causing my daughter to sleep poorly and who was doubly evil because I really, really, really hated not sleeping at night.

It’s not the sanctimommies’ fault I fell into such a dark place. But what they did – what they do – is never helpful. Is it possible that they really are so grateful and peaceful and happy that they are able to view every irritation as a blessing? Sure. And if that’s so, that’s great for them.

Even I – a person who usually deals with stressful situations through humor and gentle complaining – have my moments when I am filled with quiet gratitude, even over annoying situations. With Sam, I’m not suffering from any post-partum psychological issues, so I am able to look at things more objectively. Like last night, when he awoke every hour to nurse. Yes, I’m frazzled and tired, but I was able to say, “Well, he’s probably going through a growth spurt. Besides, my supply has been a teeny bit low lately, so this will help boost it. And I know this phase will pass, so I’m not going to get worked up about it.”

However, when I see a fellow mom struggling – and a mom is almost always struggling if she takes the time to ask for help on a message board – I will only ever offer support, empathy, and advice (should I have any – I’m not big on giving advice). While it’s true that the infancy and toddler periods are short and should be cherished, it’s also true that they are incredibly difficult and can cause people all sorts of stress. Marriages break up during this time, women go to psychiatric ER’s, people can even convince their husbands to move from NYC to Louisville, KY in the hopes that the simpler life will make handling a baby that much easier. 

So, join me as I laugh at the sanctimommies and puzzle at their motives. Maybe next I’ll make a blog post about the second most annoying variety of internet mommy: the braggart. (You know – the one who fits in her pre-pregnancy jeans at 3 months post-partum, who pumps 20+ oz of milk at each session, whose child slept through the night at 6 weeks due to her sheer awesomeness? Yeah, I think she deserves a post, too.)