This is the third post in a Sisterhood series by Nina Badzin on gadgets, family and work.
As I reported last month, I’ve made some progress in cutting my iPhone time in half. I started charging my phone in the kitchen instead of my bedroom, which eliminated any phone use in the early morning and during the last moments of the night. (And by “moments” I mean an hour, which is true for many late-night smartphone abusers.) I increased my iPhone-free time on Shabbat and stopped placing my phone on the table when I’m out with friends or family at restaurants and coffee shops.
Progress! Right? From the way I brag about my new habits you would think an awards reception was in order. Unfortunately, my progress has stalled since implementing the aforementioned measures. While I have not backtracked on the changes I made, what’s happening is something I like to call The Spanx Effect.
Motherhood is easy.
Okay, it isn’t really, but doesn’t it feel so good to hear that it might be? That it could be? That, maybe, it should be? Those words, together, motherhood and easy — just writing them allows me to breath deeper. It gets me thinking that, maybe, things really are all right.
Like many new mothers, before I had my first child I was kind of terrified about becoming a parent. This is partially because taking care of children is legitimately quite hard and partially because most of the discussion surrounding motherhood these days is about how difficult it is and how much sacrifice it requires.
I will never forget the day I joined the Israel Defense Forces. It was five years ago, and I remember 18-year-old me, kissing you and Dad goodbye and boarding the bus that would take me to a month-long boot camp. You hugged me close and shed a tear, and I remember thinking you were weird. I could not understand why you were getting all emotional when you’d probably see me that very same weekend, or in the worst case, the weekend after that. I had no idea why you made such a big deal out of me starting my mandatory IDF service, all the more due to the nature of my service, which had me sleeping at home almost every day.
Now, Mother, I understand.
My little brother is now an IDF warrior, and I finally see what hid behind that tear. I saw it the day he went on that bus to boot camp to start his mandatory service — the helplessness that you and all the other mothers who kissed their children goodbye felt. Not because you won’t see your baby boy for two weeks, but because that day you were forced to let go of your natural grip of your child.
This is the second post in a Sisterhood series by Nina Badzin on gadgets, family and work.
Immediately after Passover, I announced my intention to cut the cord on technology — specifically, to reduce my iPhone use in half by next spring. Inspired by the themes of the holiday, I decided to stop acting like a slave to texts, emails, Facebook and Twitter. Instead, I looked for ways I could realistically shave off the time I spend with my eyes focused on that spellbinding screen.
“In half” is a nebulous figure, considering I’m not sure how much time I was connected to my phone before Passover. But I know I’m not alone in suffering from the fragmented, frazzled lifestyle that comes from the “convenience” of having smartphones around no matter where and when.
According to a study presented by University of Worcester psychologist Richard Balding, “the more you check your phone the edgier you feel.” Most fascinating was the fact that “personal interactions via email, text and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter” cause the most anxiety as opposed to work-related interactions on our phones.
The good news? My experiments so far have already proven fruitful and might help others, too. In little over a month I’m spending less time with my phone. The bad news? I still have a long way to go.
After finishing Jonathan Cohn’s new story, “The Hell of American Day Care” about the potential tragic consequences of the abysmal day care policies in the United States, it took everything I had to not get up from my desk and wrest my baby boy away from his caretaker’s arms. The fact that they were only in the other room, and I could hear him happily babbling away, kept me seated. I had a moment of deep gratitude that I could afford a nanny I trusted and had a flexible career that allowed me to work from home. But still, my chest was tight with the vulnerability a parent feels when they entrust someone else with the well-being of their child.
Cohn’s piece begins with the story of Kenya Mire, a single mother who, due to a lack of other options, put her toddler girl Kendyll in a home day care center in Houston. On Kendyll’s second day, there was a fire in the home and Kendyll and three other children died. It was later discovered that the caretaker left the children home alone with something cooking on the stove while she made a quick run to Target.
Mire’s story is a deeply powerful and devastating indictment of our messy and inefficiently monitored day care system. Though perhaps it is a little too powerful and devastating to really make, what I believe, is Cohn’s intended main point: that improving our day care system would help working parents and our economy.
Those of us who have made it our business to achieve gender equality by way of parenting, have long pushed for better paternity leave policies. Quite simply, it is the right thing to do. But it looks like it’s also the economically prudent thing to do, too.
The New York Times magazine had a story this past weekend on how paying daddy while he stays home to take care of his baby can actually stimulate the economy.
To make her case, writer Catherine Rampell refers to a new study by economists at the University of Chicago and Stanford that estimate that “15 to 20 percent of American productivity growth over the last five decades has come from more efficient allocation of underrepresented groups, like women, into occupations that were largely off-limits, like doctors or lawyers.”
She explains that other rich countries have figured out how to keep women in the labor force, mostly through adopting policies that allow parents to request flexible work arrangements (part-time, home-based), guaranteeing paid leave for both sexes, and, in some cases, affordable childcare. While these policies do increase taxes, they ultimately pay off because they keep women in the workforce — the very same women who help our productivity grow.
This is the first post in a Sisterhood series by Nina Badzin on gadgets, family and work.
On the Shabbat afternoon before Passover, I received a frantic voicemail from a friend who had texted me an important question earlier that morning. She was worried (and annoyed) when I had not texted back by noon.
Was I mad? she asked in her message. Was I injured? Was something wrong with one of the kids?
Sadly, I understood her exasperation. I usually text back quickly, on Shabbat or otherwise. It just so happened that on this particular morning, I was at the beginning of what I’m calling My Passover-Inspired Phone Experiment. Why put myself through such an experiment? I decided it was time to rescue myself from the stronghold of my iPhone.
Anyone who’s been pregnant, or knows someone who’s been pregnant, has probably been exposed to the terrifying list of dos and don’ts that accompanies bringing a child into the world. It’s bad enough to be deprived of wine, imported cheeses, wine, smoked salmon, coffee, and did I mention wine? But the most frustrating thing is that these dos and don’ts often contradict each other, which is the whole point of a recent Jezebel post about how to have the best pregnancy ever.
Take fish, for instance. Women are told to eat a lot of it during pregnancy, but they are also told not to eat too much because of dangerous mercury levels. And then there’s the question of alcohol — some doctors say an occasional glass of wine is fine and possibly even beneficial if it decreases stress levels, while others make pregnant women feel as if their babies will be born with an extra limb if they have a single sip. The same goes for drinking coffee. Many doctors and researchers say it’s perfectly fine to have one cup a day, but they also remind us that drinking coffee during pregnancy doubles the risk of miscarriage.
In other words, trying to do the right thing during pregnancy is an exercise in madness, and it will probably result in tremendous anxiety — which, of course, is not good for the baby.
In this week’s cover story in New York magazine, Lisa Miller profiles women whose decision to leave work and become stay at home moms is seen by them as a fulfillment of the grand feminist desire to “have it all.” Jessica Grose over at Slate’s DoubleX does a great job at explaining why the journalism in the piece is a little unsteady. Miller only has one example of a real life feminist housewife and recent Censes Bureau Statistics tell us that these feminist housewives are rare birds after all.
Even if Miller’s claims are untrue, the story still left me thinking about whether the choice to stay at home can really be interpreted as feminist. It might be the best thing for some families, and even necessary for a few. But feminist? Not sure.
My story about the crushing pressures ultra-Orthodox women face to raise large families touched a raw nerve. The story went live on the Forward’s web site on Monday, March 11. By that night, I was sorting through an avalanche of emails from people within and out of the community, from those who sympathized, and those who were enraged.
My words seemed to evoke a strong, visceral reaction. By Tuesday morning, there was an online response written by Rachel Freier, a Hasidic mother and practicing lawyer.
The article was a sincere but formulaic repeat of the worldview I’d grown up in, the very one that led to the nightmare I found myself in as a young, Orthodox mother. Rachel explains that orthodox women feel that it is the greatest blessing to have many children; it is our joy, our purpose, our legacy. She said Orthodox women celebrate this decision, and do not want the kind of life led by secular women, one invested only in her career and profession, something that does not bring true happiness.
I agree. I never wanted a career. I never desired a profession, nor thought it would bring me happiness.
I am not a lawyer. I am a stay-at-home mother of three children. I write my articles starting 9 pm, after my children are fast asleep. But I still do not want a large family.
Within the regimented mindset of the ultra-Orthodox world, there is a neat and tidy summation of the outside world, one that is repeated like a mantra. That wholly inaccurate mantra is that all secular women pursue full time careers, eschew children like the plague, and in the end live lonely, empty lives regretting the happiness they could have had.
All the while, they stare in envy at ultra-Orthodox women and their 57 grandchildren.
It is every chief executive’s prerogative, of course, to institute policies that are best for his or her company, and this may well be best for Yahoo. I have no idea. But it is definitely not best for parents — of either gender — who want or need the flexibility of being able to work from home one or more days a week in order to continue to both be present for their children and do their jobs.
Mayer herself returned to work two weeks after giving birth to her first child. She has every right to make that decision for herself and her family. She can also afford the very best childcare that money can buy. But the day may come when she sees that her child needs her at his school performance or soccer game or to be home with him when he’s sick just as much as Yahoo needs her to be making tough decisions.
One of our most famous endurance breastfeeders, if not the most famous endurance breastfeeder, Mayim Bialik, has decided to retire the boob. Her 4-year-old son Fred has officially weaned.
Fred isn’t going to nurse on his way down the wedding aisle or at his high school graduation. I didn’t need to break him of a “habit” and teach him “who’s in charge.” I didn’t need to set boundaries you thought I should have set when I didn’t want to set them.
Because we did it: Fred weaned.
As you might imagine, Mayim got a lot of criticism for being a strict devotee of attachment parenting, family co-sleeping and allowing her children to self-wean and all. When she titled her book on the subject “Beyond the Sling,” she really wasn’t kidding.
Learning how to write a check, buying hanging shelves for my first apartment (a task that’s taken me four months and counting), and trying out the new churro place near my apartment are all more pressing concerns in my 23-year-old life than deciding when to become a mother.
However, as I wrote in my last post on Judith Shulevitz’s New Republic article on aging parents and its ensuing response, motherhood has been dancing around my head a little more these days. As a child of the 1990s and 2000s, I have been raised to put my career first; I’d be crazy to think about motherhood at my very young age, right? And while neither Shulevitz nor any other medical professional would say my clock is ticking any time soon, I began to wonder about my own mother’s decision about when to have kids (me at age 30, and her last at age 38).
Last week, my mother and I sat together on my bed, a spot we’ve sat together many times before discussing school, work, friendship and family. As she did with all of these topics, my mother, Sharon Shire, a former attorney and mother of three, had her own highly articulate and deeply thoughtful way of discussing motherhood. The fact that we were discussing motherhood and my serious life choices as a woman was both novel and rewarding. Many of my mother’s stories and pieces of advice were neither new nor surprising to me. However, I suddenly found myself understanding the professional, financial and personal considerations at stake. Above all, she taught me there is no magic formula for deciding when to have children and compromise and sacrifice were always going to be involved, regardless of the age.
It was pretty impossible to be a female writer and not be aware of Judith Shulevitz’s Dec. 6 article in The New Republic on the aging of American parents. Not since the premiere of Girls was there such an eruption among the ladyblogs; it seemed as if everyone had her own perspective on the article’s lessons and (to some) insinuations about women and their pesky biological clocks. Yet amid all the blog traffic and fiery debate, my 23-year-old self kept wondering, “So what does this mean for me?”
I didn’t read Shulevitz’s article as a feminist essay as much as a scientific one — and not a particularly shocking one at that. Studies showing increased health risks for babies born to older mothers have been confirmed and in the news for decades. If anything, Shulevitz stressed that the mother’s age wasn’t the only problem at hand; older fathers also increase the risk of health issues in their progeny (again, not exactly news). But the commentary and emotional responses her article churned up made me realize that I should start thinking about my motherhood plans sooner than I anticipated…
First, a message to my family members, friends and suitors: Calm your horses. By no means am I saying I want to have a baby any time soon. It feels strange and ridiculously premature even admitting, at 23 years old, that I want to have children at some point. Though my inability to cook anything other than macaroni and cheese and to properly read a Metro-North schedule reveal just how ill-equipped I am to care for another living creature (potted plants very much included), that’s not why I feel this discussion is so premature. It’s actually because of the way my mother, the woman I respect and admire more than any other, raised me.
To protect has always seemed to me to be the first duty of the parent. Living in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with my husband and three young children, I knew what it was I wanted to shield my children from: violence, fear, social disorder so profound that it would unsettle their very sense of safety in the world.
Last year, when I began to volunteer in an inner-city school in Detroit, my challenge was not to explain to my own children the violence the Detroit kids faced on a daily basis — that did not even occur to me to discuss; it was way too scary. Instead, I had to confront the unbearable injustice of limited opportunity, as well as the effects of an inheritance of racism. It was painful to me to talk with my eight-year-old daughter about the fact that the Civil Rights movement, which she had studied, had left some problems unsolved. “Til today?,” she asked, in disbelief.
In late August, my husband, Ori, and I took our children to Israel, where we planned to spend a sabbatical year. Both of us had lived there previously, Ori for eight years, serving a full-term in the army in the early 1990s, and myself for two years in the same era, with many summers spent in Israel since. I was also born in Israel to American parents who lived here at the time, and my grandparents and paternal aunt and her family all made their lives here. My children have all visited before, too. They speak and understand Hebrew to varying degrees, and when we were still living in Ann Arbor, they attended schools that were replete with Israel-activities and study.
These days, news of a woman’s pregnancy elicits all sorts of shameless demands from people with voyeuristic drives to see her naked stomach. I should know; I’m pregnant.
This is the first time that people I hardly know have asked me to reveal my bare mid-section on social networking sites for all of my so-called friends to see. What was previously an indecent form of exhibitionism has become a standard behavior, the expected conduct of pregnant women. It’s your obligation to show us your stomach, the voyeurs suggest, and it’s our right to see! Instead, I flash a well-practiced look that says, Surely you jest.
I’ve watched others do the opposite. Many conservative women who won’t even wear swimsuits in public jump at the chance to bare their skin on the Internet. I find it particularly puzzling when women only a few weeks along snap photos of their flat naked stomachs in the bathroom mirror, yoga pants pulled so low one can make out the top of whatever Victoria’s Secret underwear they’re wearing, and ask the world to comment on their so-called “baby bump.” And many women post photos weekly or daily, transforming social networking pages into a breeding ground for their new all-consuming identity as a mother.
And you know what? That’s perfectly fine. There’s nothing wrong with proudly self-identifying as a mother. But why must this identification begin with baring our stomachs? Have we no shame? It seems we have forgotten that we are more than just physical bodies, more than receptacles for new life.
A few weeks ago I was at a Rosh Chodesh gathering, and as it often happens in a room filled with women, the conversation turned to families and babies. I began to feel pangs of jealousy immediately. I was jealous of the ease with which women who are married to (or in relationships with) men can have babies. When you’re in a loving and committed heterosexual relationship and both people decide they’re ready to have children, you simply slip into bed together. When you’re in a loving and committed gay relationship and both people decide they’re ready to have children, the next steps are far more complicated.
I am fully aware that many couples, both gay and straight, have trouble conceiving, and I do not make light of the complexities that often arise when trying to conceive. But in discussion these complexities as a gay woman, a completely different set of reasoning is used. It has very little do do with my age or health and everything to do with the fact that a woman is trying to have a child without help from a man.
I’m often reminded that it’s hard for my partner and me to have a child because so many people out there think it is unnatural, wrong, even sinful. But, it’s not just lesbian women who seek out donors, IVF or adoption; many straight couples take the same journey for a variety of reasons. I’ve been reading the “Single Mother by Choice,” a blog series penned by Kveller’s Emily Wolper. In it she shares her very personal journey through donor shopping, IVF treatment and now DWP (dating while pregnant), plus her choice to mother as a single woman — and in the process gives a peek inside of the many, varying ways one can become a parent and create a family. The parenting website Off Beat Mama is another wonderful source for parents who fall out of the “mother, father, 2.5 children and dog” paradigm.
I read these story not only to see my life experience represented, but for support. Because I’m at the point in my life where my ovaries and uterus have launched a full-fledge assault on the rest of my body. The once rationally minded woman I was has been replaced by a woman with a singular focus: having a baby. This singular focus has resulted in a variety of missteps, some innocent and some well-intentioned, all a bit awkward.
While everyone is up in arms about Romney’s “binders full of women” comment (which I found awkward, but ultimately inoffensive), they are overlooking the big issue that was left out of the debate on how to get rid inequality in the workplace. I am talking about maternity leave and affordable childcare.
Between Obama and Romney, they brought up pay discrimination, affirmative action for women (the “binders”), and flexible work schedules as ways to make workplaces more hospitable to women and rectify the fact that women earn 72 cents for every dollar men earn. They even talked about contraception and healthcare as having an effect on the income gap. But neither of them in their declarations of support for women in the workplace even hinted towards that pesky little issue of having and caring for children, which is one of the biggest handicaps for working gals.
Why is maternity and parental leave, or the lack of it, not part of the national conversation? It is not as though there are no consequences to the United States’ dismal support for new parents. I am getting sick of explaining this dismal support over and over again, but clearly it bears repeating.
Out of 178 industrialized countries in the world, the United States is one of three that does not guarantee paid maternal leave. The other two are Papa New Guinea and Swaziland. If you work for a company with 50 employees or more, you are guaranteed three months of unpaid leave. That is the best our country will do for you.
According to the National Association of Mothers’ Centers, in 2011 only 11% of private sector workers and 17% of public workers reported being offered paid leave by their employer. Considering that the majority of families are now dual-earner households, this is a real problem, not just for women but for the whole household.
I am not a grandmother — yet! But my friends who are blessed with grandchildren tell me that grandparenthood is equal parts pure love and complete wonder. Some even tell me they wish they could have skipped parenting and gone straight to grandparenting. I can’t wait.
Or maybe I can.
According to an article published last May in The New York Times, eager grandparents are taking their daughters’ fertility into their own hands by paying for egg freezing. In today’s world of reproductive technology, it’s never too early to harvest viable ovaries for the delicate, sometimes elusive eggs that represent potential grandchildren. As parents watch their single daughters get older, they worry that their children will age out of their reproductive years. Biological clocks are not simply ticking, they’re booming as loudly as Big Ben.
Before I get into the details, I should note that freezing your daughter’s eggs is not an extreme alternative for a particular kind of mother. Back in the day, when I was closing in on 30 without a single marriage prospect, I don’t doubt that my mother would have considered taking me to a fertility clinic for the sake of her own grandmotherhood. Truth be told, I love that I have a feasible option in case my daughter’s baby timeline is not exactly in synch with mine — or biology’s. And if she’s on the other side of 35 without a partner, she can still be a mother if she so chooses.
Perhaps at this point I should mention I may be getting ahead of myself: My daughter is only 18.
This is the seventh in a Sisterhood series on women, apologizing and Yom Kippur.
I didn’t know about the custom of asking mechila — for forgiveness — when I was growing up. When I eventually learned about it, early in my career writing about religion, I thought it was a great concept. The message, after all, is a powerful one: We are responsible for rectifying the wrongs we have done, intentionally or not, that in any way hurt the people in our lives. It seemed obvious to me that anyone could see the value of asking for forgiveness. That is, until I started approaching people.
When I first began asking people for forgiveness, my request was usually met with graciousness and sometimes even thoughtful engagement, but one of the first people I approached was my boss at the time. Sincerely, perhaps naively, I asked if he would forgive me if I had done anything to hurt or offend him. His response was to laugh in my face.
Being neurotic, I of course thought it was because there was something wrong with my request. Years later, when I asked him about it, he said he laughed because he just didn’t know what to say. That was a relief; it was his limitation, not mine.
In the years since, I have refined my approach, and now limit it to the people with whom I am closest: family and dear friends.
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