Divided We Stand

By now, I’ve written so many posts on women’s groups that I’ve decided to add a category. Why is it so important? As study after study has shown, we humans thrive when we have social support. We are tribal creatures. And the really freakish thing to me is that simply the number of friends we have is predictive of health and happiness. So it all comes down to being popular, which is what any middle school girl can tell you.

My middle school daughter, Vita, was having a conversation with her friend during an interminable car ride yesterday.

Friend: “Are you a girly girl?” Vita: “no.” Friend: “Are you a sporty girl?” Vita: “no.” Friend: “yeah, I think I’m a mix. girly girl and sporty girl and some other things. I’m kind of girly when it comes to boys…” My daughter is not answering, but her friend is working out her identity. She is categorizing herself in a way that fits her personality and that will promote conversation. Unfortunately for her, since Vita has little interest in talking about boys, the conversational bid was ignored. I worried about the silence for a while but they seemed comfortable with it–with the help of some electronic devices.

The night before, I’m having drinks with 2 friends, both working mothers. working mothers!? Just by using the term, I expose all manner of assumptions and cultural values. Of course, all mothers work, really hard, at something. Very few of us are sitting around on our duffs, indulging in bonbons, and watching the tube. Either we are making a living, or we are doing something else. But, sitting with my friends, we join as working mothers to complain again about the unfair demands of the schools and the all-too-ready collusion of the “stay-at-home” mothers.   stay-at-home?!–see comment above.  But, listen!  Some SAHMs have actually advised my friend that her child would be damaged if she did not attend an event that was scheduled during the middle of the day:   Graduation from Social Studies, Part 1, or something along those lines.

As per my conversation with my sister-in-law, I bemoaned the cultural values that cause women to compete with each other on mothering styles.  Of course I have my opinions.  As a militant but still conflicted UnMartyred Mom, I really resent the implication that hovering is the best mothering.  But I know that if I did not have a career that reminds me of my effectiveness, I would sure put all my achievement needs into mothering.

What is mothering, anyway?  Most simply, mothering means having a child.  In that sense, we are all full-time mothers.  But mothering also means the jobs that we do as mothers and home-organizers. We vary in how much we like or value those jobs. I like to clean, bake, and talk at length with my child, but I hate hate hate field trips.  Why can’t we collaborate?

So many reasons.

At this moment in our civilization, we women are deeply divided; some of us breast feed, some don’t; some let our babies cry, some don’t, and on and on and on. And yet we have to stand together. The more value is placed on women’s work, the more we can exchange services fairly. If it is all legitimate, we can all feel good about what we choose to do. Until then, it really isn’t ‘choice.’

Let’s start here.  We can stand together by supporting the right policies and politicians.   We can stand together by noticing when we contribute to disrespectful criticism.  We can stand together by learning to disagree openly instead of covertly.  And we can stand together by supporting each other’s different paths.

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8 thoughts on “Divided We Stand

  1. pegasus says:

    I just ran across your web site, and I find a lot of things about it very interesting. I guess by your definition, I’m an unmartyred mom, too, in the sense that I work, and am in school and have a lot of things going on besides being a mom. And I don’t feel guilty about that. On the other hand, if I thought my daughter was substantially suffering because of that, you bet I’d back off on my other stuff and spend more time with her. The way it’s working for me, though, is that my husband and I both work part time, and we share childcare. It isn’t something that every family can do, but I really think it’s something that should be considered more. If you can scrape by on less than two people’s full time salaries, then it’s a wonderful thing for the kids to spend substantial time with both parents. And it helps balance our crazy gender-unbalanced society, and teach that we are all important as individuals, that dads can nurture and moms produce, etc.

    One thing about your site that is a real curiosity to me, though is that you say you are a clinical psychologist. I also have experience in that realm. I’m wondering how you manage having a blog like this, which gets into a lot of your personal beliefs about your work, society, family, etc. I would think that exposing so much of yourself so publicly would bring up a lot of things for your clients, and

  2. pegasus says:

    oops . . . hit the button to soon. I was saying . . .

    . . . exposing so much of yourself so publicly would bring up a lot of conflicts and concerns for your clients. How do they handle it? How do you address it with them? How do you frame that conflict for yourself between what we conventionally consider the necessity to create an open, safe environment for our clients to explore whatever their issues are in their therapy versus putting so much of your opinions and experiences out there for everyone to see?

  3. Gail says:

    As a follow-up to pegasus’s post, I wondered if you’ve told your patients about your blog, and especially whether you asked the patients whose stories you used as illustrations that you were going to do that. If I were your patient, I could see that making me slightly uncomfortable, or worse.

  4. Hi,

    I especially like the passage: “What is mothering, anyway? Most simply, mothering means having a child. In that sense, we are all full-time mothers.”
    We need definitions of ourselves that are broad enough, so as not to set us in exclusive opposition to others who could be our community, and narrow enough, so as not to do away with what is essential about us and knits us together in a meaningful way.

    About the comments about your practice (from Gail and Pegasus)… You have a movie out, and one more coming: I would say you’re “out there” already (no pun intended!).
    I don’t know about the privacy issues related to your profession – I’m sure there are some thorny ones – but it would be a shame if your profession would keep you from having a public opinion about your personal life. Still, I’m rather curious about your answer to the Gail and Pegasus. In a sense, it is a question for everyone who blogs, about their friends, children, neighbors, communities, etc.

  5. pegasus says:

    My opinion about what Katrien says is that when you become a psychotherapist, you take on a fair bit of responsibility for living your life in a way that is compatible with that. There are a lot of things a person could do that would not be compatible. For example, frequently moving wouldn’t work well. Or taking frequent long vacations. Or changing one’s schedule at the last minute all the time. I would have thought that having very public opinions about personal life would not be very compatible with being a therapist. I’m saying this as someone in the profession myself.

    I’m sorry to be judgemental. It’s just that we’re taught to always consider the best interests of the client, and this seems likely to not be in the best interests of Elena’s clients. You can be sure that most of her clients are reading this blog (unless she specializes in a population that isn’t internet savvy). Yes, it’s too bad that her chosen profession would be incompatible with her personal interests in publicly discussing her personal life. And yet, I guess I’m suggesting that maybe that’s a choice that really does need to be made.

    I’m interested in alternate points of view on this, though. Which is why I’m bothering to post. I don’t mean to be trashing the unmartyred mom idea or anything. But I am concerned for her clients, and wondering how she handles it to mitigate the obvious problems..

  6. Oy! Last week, I wrote a thoughtful and balanced response to Peg’s and Gail’s queries about public exposure and psychotherapy. Sadly, I see that my reply did not get posted (what up with that, word press?). Happily, my non-response led to even more interesting comments and debate.

    However, here’s a quick summary of where I am with it: I have worried and pondered and consulted and vascillated and frankly suffered quite a bit over whether to become public. At NYU, we were told as a class by Ruth Ochroch that we are “no longer private citizens.” This means that I am, indeed, obligated to consider the well-being of my patients/clients as I make every decision.

    Here are the reasons that I decided to go public: First of all, this is a message that feels important to deliver and I have a unique background in theatre and psychology that allows me to deliver it in the way that I do. Second, recent research has actually supported the relationship between therapist self-disclosure and positive outcome. Third, as one colleague noted, patients tend to know more about us than we realize. How we work with that is a loong and complex story of training and personality.

    Here’s how I came out: I announced to everyone what I was doing, gave the address of my website and invited people to check it out and ask me more about the movie if they wished. People reacted in their unique ways and we talked about their reactions, as per my training. Only a fraction asked to see the movie. Among those who did, there was a deepening of trust and an opening to talk about issues of motherhood and sacrifice, where relevant. Yes, it changed the relationship (certain fantasies were dashed), and I believe it enhanced the work.

    But mostly, I remain focused on my clients’ lives and issues. I don’t insist that we process mine, unless it is helpful to them. My practice is small now, and I am confident that the people I work with can handle the existence of my public life. If they have trouble, we’ll talk about it. I do sometimes worry about people that I used to work with–who terminated (terrible word, eh? but still in use) before all this happened. I wish I could invite them in to talk about it, but I’m not going to call them up, right?

    Well, this was neither brief nor complete, but it will have to do for now.

  7. pegasus says:

    Hmm. That gives me a fair bit to think about. I think that I still feel that going this route is dancing a bit close to the ethical line. But I’m glad to hear that you discussed it with your current clients. At least that way it’s out on the table.

    I do think that you’re generalizing the recent research on self-disclosure a bit generously. That reasearch (at least what I’m aware of) focused on limited self-disclosure that was relevant to the issues of the client, and, in fact, chosen because the therapist thought it was likely to be helpful for the client. This type of thing (therapist having a personal blog) is certainly well outside those limits.

    I do worry about your old clients. Surely some of them are finding your blog, if they’re anything like the clients I know. How it affects them is anyone’s guess. But my guess is that if any of them had unresolved issues regarding their therapy with you (which seems statistically likely), coming across all of this would be triggering. But I agree that you can’t exactly call them to talk it over. I guess that’s one reason that I’d personally choose to stay away from blogging.

    But that’s me, and you are you, and there certainly is no law agains therapists blogging. I’m glad that it is at least something that you’ve considered, and addressed with your current clients. It’s amazing what some people in the profession do and don’t do sometimes.

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