Anyone else have days like this?
I was almost finished making dinner when my husband returned home from a long day at work. He spotted our younger daughter, C, playing and cooing in her walker, picked her up and took her into the living room. A short time later the two of them returned to the kitchen and we all ate together. Then, Mr. Mustard went back to the living room alone. By that time, C was getting tired and a bit clingy. I knew she wouldn’t allow me to put her down while I cleaned up the dishes, so I brought her to her dad and sat her next to him on the couch.
“No thank you,” he said. “I already held her while you were cooking.” Now friends, I don’t get much sleep lately and it’s sometimes hard for me to differentiate between acceptable and unacceptable things for a man to say to his wife. I was annoyed, but I picked C up and took her back to the kitchen with me. I realized Mr. Mustard had worked hard all day, but so had I, and it certainly would have been nice if he could have helped me. In hindsight, I see that the problem lies in my ever wanting/hoping for/requesting help from him in the first place. Real men don’t help with their children.
You see, help is something voluntary, which should always be appreciated. The term implies that the helper is doing the helpee a favor, and etiquette would dictate that some form of compensation or reciprocity is in order. To help is to give of one’s own time and energy in order to lighten someone else’s load. Helping is noble. Helping is admirable. Helping is going above and beyond the call of duty and bearing someone else’s burdens. If my teenage niece comes over and plays with my children while I run to the grocery store, she is helping. If my husband entertains our daughters long enough for me to clean the kitchen or take a shower, he is not. He is parenting. He is carrying his own weight, fulfilling his own obligations, and *gasp* raising his own children.
By labeling interactions with their own children as ‘helpful,’ society has made fathers impervious to the guilt and judgement that plague mothers. Men can either decline to help, turning their wives into nags or martyrs (after all, help is not something one can force another person into), or they can comply with our requests and feel entitled to gratitude and accolades in return. It may sound like a win-win situation for men, but make no mistake–it is costing them dearly. The semantics is demeaning to men; it diminishes their role in the lives of their children, implying they are neither essential nor capable of anything more than holding down the fort while their wives indulge in the occasional well-deserved break. This mindset is harmful to both parents, and particularly detrimental to children.
While a mother’s need for help is transient, a child’s need for love and attention from her father is enduring. Dads who see themselves as second-string parents often feel justified in ‘checking out’ when their wives have life under control. Whether they excel or miss the mark in their role as parenting assistants, these men are missing out on the opportunity to act as hands-on fathers. They relish a certain freedom from monotony and responsibility, while withholding their contribution to those simple and priceless memories that solidify the bond between parent and child. In time, these dads begin to question why the children are closer to their mothers, and they withdrawal further as a result of feeling excluded from the family dynamic.
How can we, as families and as a society, bring an end to this vicious cycle and restore a healthy level of accountability and respect to the role of fatherhood? We can start by eradicating the word ‘help’ from a dad’s job description. Let’s not fuss and swoon when we see a man at the local park playing with his children. Let’s not act as if he deserves a medal because our husbands “never help us out with the kids.” Let’s not ask our fellow mothers, when we see them out alone, if their husbands are babysitting. My daughters’ birth certificates (too politically correct now to use gender-specific terms) list my husband as a co-parent. Not an assistant parent, not a backup parent, not an intermittent childcare provider–a co-parent. So the next time I’m tempted to ask for his help with the girls, I will choose not to insult him and shortchange them. I will simply remind him, instead, that his children need him.
What my three-month-old daughter wishes she could say to me:
For the love of all that is tiny, woman, would you let me be?! Stop performing these horrific procedures that compromise my dignity, such at trimming my nails and cleaning my ears. Do you not realize that I came from Heaven exactly the way I’m supposed to be? Your tireless efforts to customize and improve me are fruitless and unappreciated. Until I feel you’ve learned to accept me for who I am, earwax and all, I will continue with our recent trend of 4 am wake-up calls. I trust that soon you will either come to accept my terms, or collapse from exhaustion. In either case, I will at last be free of your constant fussing and able to practice my pterodactyl call without interruption. In the meantime, keep calm and lactate on.
From the moment that second pink line appears, onward into eternity, we mothers are surrounded by parenting experts. They have answers on everything from sleep training to feeding schedules, and while the sudden influx of information can be overwhelming, I’m pretty sure my personal panel of advisors forgot to mention these five facts about newborns:
- Their eyes cross. Newborns lack the muscle control required to focus their eyes for any significant length of time, so you’ll see a lot of crossing early on. For each of my girls, this lasted about six weeks.
- Their tongues turn white. Sometimes it’s a sign of thrush, but more often it’s mill buildup due to baby’s lack of saliva. It’ll only last a few weeks before it’s washed away by an endless flood of baby slobber–woohoo!
- Cradle cap. This was a killer for us. It starts off as just a flake or two in baby’s hair, which doesn’t seem that unusual since you’re already dealing with some acne on her face and some peeling of her wrists and ankles. But as those other skin issues fade away of their own accord, cradle cap is likely to spread over your baby’s scalp and stay there for months on end.
- Their hands can get stinky. I had always enjoyed the clean, sweet scent of other newborns in my life, but it wasn’t until I had my own that I discovered some other, far less decadent aromas. Of course they poop, and even their breath can get questionable at times, but the biggest surprise for me was the odor their hands took on. It makes sense, when you consider the way they’re scrunched in little fists all the time and often slobbered on without being properly dried. Add a pair of mittens covering them up for half the day, and those sweet little hands can get to smelling pretty sour. No one told me I’d be constantly washing hands that don’t really touch anything.
- They shake. This was probably the scariest one for me, because I worried something was terribly wrong with my child. It turns out it’s common for newborns to tremble–not just when they’re cold but at random times. They also flail their hands around when they’re crying. I have no idea why. I only know that it’s very common and it eventually stops on its own.
And of course no one tells you just how much love your heart can hold. They try, but no one can ever prepare you for the exhilaration you’ll feel at the sight of that first smile, the sound of that first giggle. No words can convey the peace and contentment that comes from feeling that soft, warm baby skin snuggled against your cheek. For all its challenges, new motherhood is a profoundly beautiful experience.
There’s no question that becoming a mom for the first time is beautiful. I remember so many quiet mornings spent rocking my newborn, studying and memorizing every detail of her perfect face. Showering one tiny person with all my affection was wonderful–an experience I’m happy to have had–but I’m here to tell you, friends, five reasons why becoming a mom for the second time has been even better:
- I have more confidence and the benefit of strategic expertise. I don’t know everything when it comes to parenting, by any means. I have a lot to learn. But I can now change a diaper in the dark without getting poop all over myself, nurse discreetly while standing in line at the bank, and fold laundry with one hand while building a Lego tower with the other. This baby can hit me with her best shot, because she’s going to need a lot more than a month’s worth of life experience to get the best of me! Ironically, as my level of functioning has gone up, my expectations of myself have gone down. There was a time, not long ago, when I used to wake up every morning and tell myself I’d have the house spotless by dinnertime. I lived in a constant state of stress and saw myself as a failure. Now, I wake up every morning and tell myself I’ll still have two living children by dinnertime. So far I’ve been able to accomplish that every day, and if I also happen to pay a few bills and put the laundry away, I feel pretty impressed with myself.
- I have my older daughter here to keep me company and keep things interesting. Baby snuggles are one of the greatest gifts life has to offer, but sometimes a mom needs a little entertainment to go with them. My newborn sleeps for a good portion of the day, but with my toddler around, I don’t have the chance to get bored or lonely. She’s learning new skills every day, and the things she says keep me laughing in spite of myself. When I hear her thanking the cashier at the grocery store, I’m reminded that all my efforts are paying off–I’m raising some awesome kids here! But the best part is seeing my little girl interact with her baby sister. She’s so gentle, so attentive, so caring towards our new little one it just melts my heart. I couldn’t be more grateful that they have each other to grow up with.
- I have a network of mom friends. With my first, I was making the transition from the workforce to staying at home. As much as I loved spending all my time with my little girl, I missed adult interaction. I had nobody with whom to commiserate over day-to-day frustrations and celebrate small victories. As my baby grew, I took her out more and we got involved in activities like story time at the local library. We met other moms and babies, and over time I made connections that helped me feel more fulfilled at home. Forging those bonds was an awkward and stressful process, and I often felt like I was picking up women in a bar. (The process was completely foreign to me: does she like me? should I ask for her number? am I supposed to wait three days to call?) This time, I already had all those connections in place. I had friends to see me through the transition from one baby to two–there was no awkward period of isolation and uncertainty.
- My husband is more involved. I don’t mean to say that he’s more involved with our second baby than he was with our first. He is simply more hands-on with our family as a whole than he used to be. Part of this has to do with how much he’s grown as a dad. Part of it has to do with our older daughter beginning to verbally engage him, and part of it has to do with my inability to be all things to everyone all the time. He sees that I’m outnumbered now and he rises to the occasion. There’s always something to do, so if he doesn’t feel comfortable giving our newborn a bath, he can read to our toddler and help her brush her teeth.
- I’ve caught a glimpse of what lies ahead. I remember feeling sentimental as each day passed with my first baby, knowing I would never get that day back and wondering how I would ever love a rambunctious toddler as much as I loved my soft, cuddly infant. Now, I understand that a mother’s love for her children grows with them. Instead of dreading the passage of time, I’m grateful my baby has survived another day of being extremely fragile (no small feat in a house with an active two-year-old). Every day she gets a little stronger, a little more interactive, and we get to know each other a little better. One day I’ll take her to the zoo, one day I’ll show her fireworks for the first time. One day she’ll be able to respond to her sister’s questions and return her daddy’s hugs and kisses. I’m not wishing these newborn days away; I cherish every one of them. But now, understanding just how much I can love a rambunctious toddler, and knowing how fun the next stages in her life will be, I can hardly contain my excitement!
I only wish I would have known how joyful this experience as a mother of two would be. I spent much of my last pregnancy tormented by guilt, wondering if my daughter would ever forgive me for disrupting her life, wondering if my heart was big enough to hold two times the love. It is. So is yours. If you’re nervously expecting your second baby, grieving what feels like the end of an era with your first, please know, the best is still ahead.
Last night I laid you down to sleep
And didn’t hear another peep
You slept hour after hour
Long enough for me to shower!
Knowing better than to wait,
I seized the moment and I ate
You were still deep in your repose
While I got dressed (in normal clothes!)
I spent the morning in sweet bliss
Playing and snuggling with your sis
And when I finally heard your voice,
It made my refreshed heart rejoice
I ran to scoop you from your bed,
And kissed you on your soft, sweet head
There’s nothing else I’d rather do
Because, my baby, I’ve missed you!
In this age of mommy wars, when women seem to enjoy criticizing others’ parenting choices as a means to assuage their own insecurities, I would like to try taking a different route. Today, I’m giving a shout-out to all the moms out there who are boldly going where I, personally, haven’t gone before, and who are earning my sincere respect in the process.
- The Exclusive Pumper. Between blinding pain in the first month while baby is learning to latch, constant worries about having an adequate (but not over abundant) supply, and the fact no one can ever help with 3 am feedings, we nursing mothers have it rough. Formula feeding moms, meanwhile, have to deal with measuring and heating bottles at all hours of the day and night. And then, when baby is finally asleep, mom has to wash all those bottles. Keeping baby fed around the clock is exhausting by any method, but you, exclusive pumper, have it the hardest by far. You obsess over your supply while washing bottles, and you have to wake up at night even if someone else feeds the baby. You also carry around electronic equipment everywhere you go, and you schedule your day around pumping sessions, all to provide the best nutrition possible for your sweet baby. Sometimes she cries for you while you’re pumping, putting you in the awkward position of deciding whether to keep her waiting or stop just short of expressing the full amount you know she’ll need for the next feeding. But you persevere, taking on the worst of both worlds and providing your child with the very best.
- The Babywearer. Not everyone understands babywearing, and when you venture out of the house, you can never be certain what reactions you’ll encounter. It could be anything from the side-eye to frantic insistence on confirmation that your child can breathe. Someone may tell you it’s too cold, or too hot outside to be “doing that,” but you know the truth. Your baby is safest and most comfortable close to you–strategically shielded from the unwashed hands of nosy strangers in the grocery store. And speaking of the grocery store, you’re able to make full use of your cart while you’re there. Your baby’s car seat is neither precariously perched over the seat portion of your cart nor taking up prime real estate in the basket. It is securely installed in the car where it belongs, and your shopping is efficient. When you get home, you’ll be able to put all your groceries away the same day you bought them, and you may even finish the laundry. You’ve found a solution that works beautifully for you and your baby.
- The Working Mom. Not to say that moms who stay at home don’t work hard–we do. And sure, we miss out on things like adult conversation, warm lunches and private bathroom breaks, but that’s okay. Our toil is all for the purpose of making memories with our children, keeping our homes clean and cozy, and putting food on the table every night. So is yours. Yet somehow you manage to do all the same things we do in less time, with the added pressures of demanding bosses, annoying coworkers and difficult clients. Something has to give, and never having walked in your shoes, I’m not sure what that something is. All I know is that I admire you, and all you do for your family.
- The Single Mom. Or the wife of a husband who is not around. Whether he is deployed overseas, working long hours to make ends meet, or actually choosing to be elsewhere, you are on your own. Parenthood is hard, and lonely at times, but you roll up your sleeves and do what needs to be done. Breaks, if there is any such thing for you, are few and far between, and there is no other adult in your home to even acknowledge what an awesome job you’re doing. Your only accolades come in the form of seeing your children succeed, and that is more than enough for you. One day they’ll look back in awe at how you rose to the occasion and wore many hats to be everything they needed.
- The Mom of Three or More Small Children. One is more than enough for some people, and it only takes two to wear me out, but small families must seem dreadfully boring in comparison to yours. Whether you planned the close spacing of your children or just embraced the surprises life threw your way, you have a lot on your plate. But it probably doesn’t even feel that way to you, because by now you’ve mastered the art of motherhood. You don’t have the time of day for strangers who ask intrusive questions or comment that you have your hands full. You’re too busy fostering lifelong bonds between your babies and catering to the unique needs of every child. You don’t bother doling out parenting advice to your friends, because you’ve seen enough differences between your own kids to know there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
- The Mom who Nurses in Public without a Cover (especially if she puts a nipple hat on her baby). You have chosen to prioritize your child’s need for nourishment and oxygen over your own modesty and the comfort level of strangers. Good for you! It doesn’t matter whether you forgot your nursing cover at home, your baby pulled it off, or you just hate wearing one–you are doing the right thing. Your act of courage, confidence and motherly love is moving our society one small step in the right direction. The sight of you gives me hope that breastfeeding will eventually return to favor and regain its rightful place as the norm in our society. And if I happen to notice a hat on your baby’s head that in any way resembles a breast and nipple, I will drop what I’m doing to stand and salute your mothering moxey.
- The Unapologetic Formula Feeder. Speaking of moxey, there is no reason a mom should ever want to hide while feeding her child a bottle of formula either. That’s right, I said it. The ‘Breast is Best’ campaign has now crossed the line in some advocates’ minds and led to a practice known as formula shaming. This practice is utterly preposterous and benefits no one. Breastfeeding may not have worked out for you, in spite of your best efforts. Or you may not have tried it at all. The reasons you’re feeding your baby formula are none of my damn business, and none of anyone else’s either. You know this, and you make no excuses. You are providing your child with the exact nutrients he needs to grow and thrive. Some people want to act as though you were feeding him garbage; intentionally poisoning your precious baby. You know that this insinuation is every bit as revolting and untrue as it would be to suggest that a breastfeeding mother is nursing for sexual gratification. But you would never dare suggest such a thing. You don’t want to attack the breastfeeding mother because you know how it feels to be attacked, and you wouldn’t wish that on anyone. So instead you take the high road, tuning out any ignorant comments you receive and continuing to provide your baby with exceptional care. I tip my hat to you.
- The Grandma who Truly Understands. This does not apply to every grandmother. In fact, far too many of them are either pushy and demanding. They insist their way is right, and that we, as young parents, have no idea what we’re doing. But as the grandma who truly understands, you have confidence in us. After all, you didn’t raise a dummy. You realize that many of the standards for safety and baby care have changed since you were in our shoes, so you either listen to us or take it upon yourself to stay informed on the latest product recalls and APA recommendations. You remember how it felt to be a new mother: tired, overwhelmed, and under way too much scrutiny from other moms. You provide emotional support, unconditional love, and advice when we ask for it. You’re patient with us when we try things that you know won’t work. You show us by example, rather than telling us, exactly what it means to be a great mother.
I was standing in line at the store with my babies, waiting to pay for a new pair of transitional pants (for the transition between maternity pants and my pre-pregnancy jeans–wish me luck!) when I noticed the cashier eyeing us with interest. My oldest, a daughter with beautiful blonde curls, was sitting in the front of the cart, all smiles and saying ‘hi’ to everyone. And there in the basket of the cart, nestled into a car seat and barely visible under a tan blanket, was our precious new arrival.
When it was our turn at the counter, I opened my purse and the cashier pointed to the car seat, asking my daughter, “Who’s that?”
Glowing with pride and bouncing with excitement, my daughter exclaimed, “Baby Sissy!”
It was adorable–one of so many heart-melting moments when I’m reminded of how fortunate my daughters are to have one another. But apparently, this answer wasn’t quite what the cashier had hoped for. She turned to me and said, “My daughter had three girls before she got her boy.”
I don’t know what type of response this woman expected from me. Perhaps she was looking for sympathy about having too many granddaughters? Did she want me to commend her daughter’s perseverance? Perhaps she was trying to offer me encouragement that, someday, I too might get MY boy. I’ve actually heard quite a few comments along those lines lately. Friends, acquaintances and my extended family like to tell me about how the next one will be our boy, as if having two girls somehow increases the odds of a third child possessing a y chromosome, and as if my second daughter is some sort of consolation prize–just a detour on the journey toward completing our family with a son.
It would seem that, to these people, having babies is like learning to crochet, with the secret to success being to try, try again until one has achieved the exact result one had mind from the start. The problem with this line of thinking is that they have no idea what pattern I was working from. Who are they to assume that our two girls aren’t exactly the family my husband and I always dreamt of having?
Furthermore, let’s say for the sake of argument that we did start out wanting a boy. One fundamental difference between raising a child and crocheting a sweater is that parenthood has a way of changing who we are how we look at life. If there ever was a time when I imagined a girl and a boy as the ideal combination, that time would have to have been before the arrival of my first daughter. Because once I held that tiny pink bundle in my arms, once I experienced the unique joy that comes from loving a daughter of my very own, there was nothing I wanted more in this world than a second helping of that, and I got it!
Could two baby boys, or a boy and a girl have made me as happy as my two girls have? I sincerely doubt it, but then again, I don’t really know what I’m missing out on by not having a son. I only know that my family doesn’t feel incomplete.
At this point in time, I don’t even know what I would do with a boy if I had one. I’m a ‘girl mom,’ and I’m happy this way. Our status as a family of four is a destination all on its own, complete with the two best grand prizes anyone could dare to hope for. I don’t know whether my husband and I will ever have another child, but I can tell you that if we do, it won’t be because our girls aren’t enough for us. It won’t be because we just had to have ‘our boy.’ It will simply be because we wanted another child to love.
As for that cashier, and anyone else with a less-than-enthusiastic outlook on same-sex sibling sets, I don’t know if I’ll ever understand where they’re coming from. Do they honestly think that once you’ve had one daughter, you’ve had them all? I’ve only been a mother of two for a month now, but I can already beg to differ on that! Do they picture me pacing the floor at night, wringing my hands, crying and longing for the son that life still owes me? If so, they are sadly mistaken. My daughters keep my hands and my heart filled to capacity, thank you very much.
It has come to my attention recently that the general public has no idea how to act around pregnant women. I plan to elaborate on this in future posts, but the issue weighing heavily on my mind today is this: What are people thinking when they just assume they can touch a pregnant woman’s belly? If you ask me, there are certain criteria a potential belly toucher needs to meet–certain questions they should be sure they can answer ‘yes’ to–before extending that hand.
It seems that if most people do ask themselves any questions, they are assinine ones such as the following:
- Does she look like she could be pregnant?
- Do I like babies?
- Are we in a public place, where she is probably unlikely to slap me?
Then again, it isn’t always strangers who do this. Some people out there could be asking themselves slightly better questions, like:
- Am I 100% sure she’s pregnant?
- Am I related to this woman, or to her partner?
- Has she engaged me in conversation at any point in the past?
- Is she generally an easygoing person who probably won’t mind this at all?
Either way, I am here to tell you, General Public, those are not the questions you need to be asking yourself. If you see a pregnant woman and you find your hand is drawn to her midsection as if by magnetic force, get ahold of yourself and ponder these questions instead:
- Am I a trained physician or other healthcare professional, employed by this woman, and has she come to me today for an examination?
- Am I intimately involved with this woman, to the extent that I believe myself to be the father of her child?
- Has she invited me, specifically, to “feel the baby,” or to touch her stomach for any other reason today?
- Would I be comfortable with this person rubbing, patting or otherwise physically examining MY abdomen?
- Do I consider myself to be an equal opportunity belly toucher? After rubbing this pregnant woman, do I also intend to grab the belly of the next human being I come into contact with, even if that person happens to be a small child or an elderly man?
If you could not answer ‘yes’ to any of those last five questions, you are strongly advised to keep your hands to yourself in the presence of said pregnant woman. Alternatively, you may want to use both hands to sheild your face from an impending slap. Please do not try to circumvent these guidelines by asking the woman in question for permission to touch her belly. This is as awkward as being politely asked whether you’d mind if someone picked your nose. Of course you mind! But the entire exchange is now terribly awkward regardless of the answer you give.