Time for Change

stormy weather, by flytoxChange is in the air, and it is mighty refreshing.   Since my last post, energy has been gathering on several fronts:  Women and men are increasingly frustrated with rigid workplace expectations that make it impossible to be both effective parents and employees.  The fight for gay marriage has stirred up much feeling; in the process of hearing from gay parents we have questioned stereotyped gender assignments in families. The economy is crashing all around us, forcing introspection and conversation about what we value.   Throw in climate change, new and old wars, some memorable deaths, and we have some serious turbulence to twitter about.   Who knows what it will bring, but it’s going to be interesting times for a while.

On my personal weather front, our family is being buffeted by adolescence.  This is no easy process in our culture, and there is no map—we can only strive for a steady mind (but not too steady), a firm hand (but not too firm), the ability to let go (but not too much), and a clear vision of what is possible (without being too fixed).   Oh, and receptivity and determination and perseverance and a ready sense of humor.  It’s going great, thanks.  Look me up when it’s over.  Maybe you’ll find me in a deep zen retreat atoning for all my karma.

Meantime, here’s a recommendation for a fantastically comprehensive and readable rescue from what ails Moms:  “Mojo Mom:  Nurturing Yourself while Raising a Family.”  In this new edition, Tiemann integrates the latest research without weighing down the text, charms us with honest anecdotes that remind us we are not alone, and has plenty of good advice about what to actually do about our situations.  Culturally and psychologically savvy, she does not dismiss reality and yet never gives up hope for change.  I particularly enjoyed the arc of her chapters: from self-care to creativity, and finally to leadership.  And interwoven throughout the book is the importance of support—from our partners in parenting, our government, our sisters, even our children.   Read it, buy it for your friends, especially new moms, and let’s change the world together.

Why Crack Your Shackles?

Let’s presume that we are all deeply and inextricably interconnected.   Ok, then what is sacrifice?   If I give to you, I receive in equal measure.  So what are we giving when we are not meeting our own needs?

I love BlueMilk‘s questions (see the last comment on the 1st attachment post) which can be applied to any mother, not just one who identifies as an Attachment Parent. And I add: if we are so tired so brain dead from not sleeping not hearing adult conversation so involved in the success and failure of our child so confused so depressed maybe so limited—what are we giving? How can our children not drink our poison?

And, if that is our condition, how do we adapt to it? When we’re suffering, we begin to value the suffering. It takes on a heroic tone, and it’s pretty hard not to think everyone should be doing it too. I first saw the results of forced altruism when I was teaching medical residents. They take such pride in suffering that it is almost impossible for them to have empathy for their sick patients.

But who in their right mind would admit, even to themselves, that they are suffering if all they hear is that motherhood is bliss? Thankfully, miraculously, people are now starting to talk about how to support mothers so they don’t have to obliterate themselves.

I must be absolutely clear about one thing. I love my daughter more than I can possibly put into words. My film is made for her and dedicated to her. Freeing myself from martyrdom has released me to enjoy her for who she is. If I weren’t trying to give her a good life, I wouldn’t be doing this.

UnMartyred Family

UnMartyred Attachment?

I send my heartfelt thanks to the mothers who posted such thoughtful comments in response to my question about Attachment Parenting. AP UnMartyred Mom tells us that the goal of AP is “to raise infants and toddlers to feel confident enough that their voices will be heard and their real needs met that they develop into capable, independent older children.” The premise that children’s confidence grows from their needs being met encourages the mother to choose the young child’s needs over hers. As Pegasus says, “My priority is definitely my daughter, and I’m happy for that to always be true. Doesn’t feel like martyrdom at all.”

But let’s get real for a minute. Not every mother is happy at every moment to nurse a baby change a diaper listen to a story instead of doing all those other things that non-parents do: chill out read a paper pee in peace sleep until you want to wake up. All of us, not just AP parents, do what we need to do, and mostly we love doing it, but sometimes, SOMETIMES we are stressed out by the combination of work demands, not enough support, and the expectations for mothers nowadays.

I include AP among the expectations that stress us out because I have heard many mothers lament that they failed to measure up to the AP model. (See MoJo Mom and UnMartyred Wannabee, for example.) While it is easy to say that we should just do what works for us, the truth is that in the uncertain world of child-rearing, we look to the experts and to each other as guides. Some of these guides exude so much morality that it is easy to feel inadequate. If you ‘should’ meet your child’s needs so that your child will be confident, then every failure to do so will be a kick in the gut.

So, I have to ask:
Is it true that the more we meet their needs the more confident and independent they will be? Not according to Jessica Benjamin, the eminent feminist psychoanalyst:

“No psychological theory has adequately articulated the mother’s independent existence. [Theories] always revert to a view of the mother as the baby’s vehicle for growth, an object of the baby’s needs.” If the child, she says, cannot see the mother’s separate existence, he will attempt to ‘tyrannically enforce’ his demands in order to continue a “fantasy of absolute control.” Benjamin is not describing a bad child, only a child who has not reconciled with the reality of another being. If the mother identifies with the child’s disillusionment, and does not “accept that she cannot make a perfect world for her child,” she will tend toward “self-obliteration.”

Is that a problem?

It is, according to Benjamin: “The child who feels that others are extensions of himself must constantly fear the emptiness and loss of connection that result from his fearful power.”

Does that sound like a confident and independent child? Not to me.

But this is just a theory, right? Right. And so is the theory upon which Sears bases his detailed advice. I’m not advocating one theory as truth but I do want us to consider the effect on mothers of these differing views.

If I believe that a good mother never frustrates her child, I will take my child’s suffering personally. If I have an easy child, I will pride myself on my accomplishment. If I have a difficult child, I will berate myself for having failed to meet her needs.

However, if I believe that being a good mother includes existing as a separate person, whose needs on occasion trump the child’s, then I will be free to help my child manage the inevitable frustrations of living in the real world.

One more thing, I understand from the unmartyred and feminist (true, Pegasus, they are not equivalent) mothers who posted, that it is possible to AP in a way that nurtures the mother too, especially when there is support from a father who is unshackled from male cultural stereotypes. If it really works for you, then you are living Benjamin’s theory too. I’m just afraid that in the world as it is—most jobs are not flexible, most mothers have to work, most fathers do not expect to share child-care or housekeeping—the Sears theory punishes Moms for doing what is actually good enough parenting.

Attachment and Martyrdom

I confess to a certain bias in thinking that mothers who follow the Dr. Sears method of ‘attachment parenting’ are Martyred Moms. I tend to be awed and puzzled by the devotion that I see in them. I wonder how, for example, they can sleep with their children until they ‘wean themselves,’ if ever. Assuming they are a different breed (not as selfish as I am?), I tend to stay away from conversations with them.

Here in the blog world, however, relationships are different and my assumptions get to be questioned.  A new feminist friend from Australia describes herself as an attachment parent.  Right there, I’m confused.   In a good way.

Here is what she says: “I think attachment parenting’s great weakness is a failure to adequately deal with the martyrdom trap. I don’t have lots of solutions yet but I think about this issue a lot, particularly from a feminist perspective.”

So, I’m just wondering if there are other ‘attachment moms’ out there who have thought about this. If you are doing the attaching thing (per Sears–I don’t mean garden variety attachment that we all experience) and you are not a martyr, could you explain how you do it?

R&R, or Relapse and Recovery

Did you enjoy my glowing report of the film screening at Rockland Parent Child Center? Well, it was all true! And of course Mamapalooza was fabulous! and Staten Island Film Fest Reloaded was fascinating! Exclamation points are all warranted!!

Here is the back story:

May was a Rough Month.

I must begin with an obvious problem. I admit that I feel happy when people like what I’m saying and agree with me. Yet my mission in life seems to be to speak things that some people don’t want to hear. Yes, you could predict some trouble there. Naturally, I’m working on losing my attachment to self and identity, and when I do, baby, wow, I’ll really be free!

In meantime…my post On Narcissism generated an ongoing stream of hateful comments, which I didn’t post but which nevertheless nibbled away at me. For example, comments like “You should do all your patients a favor by quitting your job and staying home to damage your child full-time” and “your daughter appropriately ignored your tedious self-congratulation” and “you used a bogus interpretation of research on therapy to justify taking your daughter to task for failing to serve your bottomless narcisstic (sic) needs” did end up bouncing around in my head.

Worse, I began to actually try once again to put my child’s needs before mine. (During a month of screenings and email forums and network opportunities, this was particularly challenging.) My daughter, at 11 years, responded sensitively by upping every ante. And is it just my town, or does every school have 6 performances/ceremonies/events that occur in May?
Proud Parents

Well, anyway I tried to do it all, and ended up crabby and miserable, failing to meet either of our needs. It was a rough rough month!

I recovered though. Reality knocked on my door and I let her in. Here’s how it happened:

  • I fell and required medical attention. “Wake up!” Reality said.
  • At a screening, a woman told me that she and her sisters got relief from their childhood misery only when their poor mother was working on an art project. “You aren’t alone,” Reality said.
  • I reread Jessica Benjamin (soon to be reviewed here but in the meantime let me say that she is brilliant and convincing in her argument that the Mother must be more than an object who meets the child needs).
  • After the amazing conversation following the RPCC screening, I rushed to my daughter’s spring concert, caught the end but missed her part. She wept publicly. Wept. Knife through the heart. And here’s where Reality really popped: Several mothers who witnessed the tears did not look at me as if I were a monster. Instead they said, “oh come on, [name of husband] never makes it. At least you had one parent there.”

I empathized with my daughter but I did not apologize. I asked if there was any way I could make her feel better without taking blame. We ended up just holding each other, both a bit sad and angry but close once again. I didn’t put anyone’s needs before anyone else’s. Isn’t it true that we are interconnected? Isn’t it true that all needs co-occur? Isn’t it true that we give what we receive?

If it is, then I can be UnMartyred.

Women’s Groups Crack Shackles!

If you’ve been reading, you know that I’ve criticized groups, apologized to groups, been fired from groups, renounced groups, and re-entered groups on my terms. Sort of . So it was with some trepidation that I offered to show the new cut of my movie, Martyred Mom Cracks Her Shackles, to a group of mothers (and their partners) from the excellent Rockland Parent Child Center.

Well, let me tell you I learned a few things. First off, groups rock! I’ve complained about feeling restricted in groups but now I see that groups also can give permission to speak–especially semi-therapeutic groups who just finished watching a movie featuring a gut-spilling mother/therapist. Thank you to Katie, my co-facilitator, for encouraging me to go through with it.

We heard a dream of a woman being consumed by her breast-feeding babe. We heard about the agony of guilt. We heard about painful choices and the enormous pressure to mother in just the right way. Several women identified with the line about my mother: “She gave me the antidote to her mother. It was poison to me. ….is that what we’re doing?” We try so hard to do better than our mothers did. What came through so strongly was both the power of the love for our children and the immense frustration at having to give up so much in order to give them what they need, or what we think they need.

As the discussion continued, the women’s voices became stronger. Encouraging words flowed: “you don’t have to be perfect…I worried so much and she turned out to be ok in nursery school driving with her father at a playdate on the monkey bars in college…let them clean it up…follow your passions…be proud of what you do at home…”

I asked who would take responsibility if the mothers let go. And that’s when I really learned about women and community–what car pools and play dates are all about. When I asked, “but what if you work more hours and always feel indebted to the other mothers,” I heard “hey, it’s really no problem to throw another kid in the car,” and “it’s a karmic thing…I can’t always be even with every family but we’re all interconnected.” Yes.  Is that really true?

My favorite moment was when a Dad who was helping out at the free childcare next door entered the room with spit-up on his shoulder. He said to one of the mothers (in a cute way): “hey, this is your kid’s spit up on my shoulder.” She jumped up. There was a rousing sound from the group. “What? Sit down. He spit up already… what do you need to do about it now? Let him handle it!”

She sat.

I smiled.