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Motherhood

Sweet Nothings

Children, Choices, and Everything Else

Jackie Kennedy and her daughter photographed in a time when being a stay-at-home mom was the only choice many women had

Have you read the recent Atlantic Monthly article titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All? It is basically one high-powered woman’s account of why she left government so she could be a better mom to her teenage sons, and it’s also full of policy-making suggestions on how bosses and corporations can make it easier for women to balance their careers with parenting. In a sense, the article attempts to be a ground-breaking piece that flies in the face of feminist optimism, but I think the article itself is actually a whole lot more blindly optimistic than it seems upon first read. While I appreciate the suggestions Anne-Marie Slaughter (former director of policy planning at the State Department) makes and I think her ideas could improve work/life balance in this country for both men and women a great deal, I disagree with the way Slaughter implies that once these changes are in place women just might be able to finally “have it all.” I think these implications are extremely faulty because – drum roll, please – even with all the money and flexible work hours in the world, it just ain’t possible for anyone (whether male or female) to have and/or do it all…

Is it possible for people to lead lives full of a select few great things and foster the appearance of having it all? Sure, but the keyword here is “appearance.” This is because in order to create an existence for ourselves that is anything other than half-assed, we all need to set priorities and make tough choices about the things we do and don’t pursue. Whether or not to become a parent is, of course, one of those big choices that is rarely treated with enough gravity or logistical frankness in our society. You see, although family planning has come a long way since the 1950s, we rarely acknowledge that the actual roles parents must play haven’t changed that much. Yeah, I realize women are no longer expected to wear heels while ironing and have dinner waiting every night, but – no matter how you divvy up house chores and child care – parenting remains a full-time job. This means bringing kids into the world yields a full-time job that someone’s got to do. Sometimes this means parceling out childcare hours between two parents, a nanny and a babysitter, in which case no one person is “having it all” or “doing it all.” And, in other cases this means women taking on all parenting responsibilities while maintaining their lives as modern career women, which entails working two full-time jobs and conceding a whole lot of sacrifices in order to make every hour count (a lifestyle that is doable, but would leave any sane person hard-pressed to say they feel like they “have it all”). What it all comes down to is this: the most any of us can do is “have one heck of a lot” or “have all the things that really matter to us,” and depending on people’s individual priorities this may or may not include having children.

Maybe I am dwelling too much on semantics, but in my heart of hearts I know semantics really matter when it comes to how we view the choice to become parents, astronauts, or dog walkers. And, I don’t think it’s fair to women or men to promise that if the world just changes a little and we just change our time-management a lot, it will one day be possible for us to have it all. In fact, I think this promise is downright cruel and I doubt it’s what my great grandmother wanted for me when she marched with the suffragettes, nor do I think it’s the future my grandmother daydreamed of when she was stuck at home alone raising seven kids. Rather, what I’m pretty sure these women envisioned was merely a world in which women had a choice – a world in which my mom, my sisters, and I would be free to choose between marriage and single life, and between child rearing and a career. Anything beyond this choice would have been science fiction to them, because these were women who knew how hard it was to care for and mold little human beings into responsible adults. A simple-yet-complex choice was what they fought for, though, and the fact that women now have an array of personal/career options is such a beautiful thing…

I only hope that our society can do more justice to these women of yesteryear and women of today by acknowledging and even celebrating that life is all about choices. Yup, that’s right: life (among many other things) is about choosing what matters to us most and going after it. What makes one person’s life feel full and rewarding may not fit the bill for the next person, but that’s the beauty of choices – they’re ours and ours alone to make. For more on this topic, you can check out my take on baby madness, my decision not to have kids, and the importance of priorities. Do you have a perspective you’d like to share on motherhood or on the idea of what it means to have it all? I’d love to hear from you! Leave a comment.

Image via Pinterest.

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Inspiring Tidbits, Sweet Nothings

Cognitive Dissonance

The Kennedys and their once-picaresque model of American family life

First off, let me just say two words: silly me. S-to-the-I-to-the-double-L-Y me…Back in April 2011, when I wrote this post, I was under the impression that my anxieties about child rearing would somehow subside once I was married. After all, I would be fully committed to the love of my life – a man who happens to be my best friend in the whole world and loves me unconditionally for me (not for the power of my uterus) – and I thought this would provide unshakable comfort in the face of procreation pressures. Not only did I make this faulty assumption, but I also thought our move to Los Angeles would bolster me with the drive to put my career on the front burner and leave talk of children in the dust. However, even in this fitness-obsessed city where mom jeans and birthing stretch marks are considered shameful, I find myself surrounded by more messages than ever that I should be able to do it all – messages that tell me I am defective if I can’t figure out how to be both a successful artist, mom, and sex-pot wife. With these societal naggings conspiring alongside biological urges and ticking clocks, is it any wonder that family planning remains on the forefront of my mind? And, if an otherwise confident, career-oriented person like me is plagued with this anxiety, how on Garp’s green earth is everyone else out there coping with their own cognitive dissonance on the issue of work/life/family balance?

This is what my modern, American family will look like for the foreseeable future, and I'm realizing I need to find a way to celebrate this proudly

Whether we live in Los Angeles or Louisville, pregnancy and parenting are very touchy and personal subjects, which leads me to think the best way to broach them is personally. So, on a very personal note, I will admit that the big baby question is something I grapple with daily, and it is something that downright brings me to tears about once a month. I face so much anxiety about this issue despite the fact that my husband and I have had numerous discussions that all end with the consensus of “we don’t want kids, at least not anytime soon.” And, yes, we have had these soul-searching talks countless times in which the bottom line is always this: we didn’t meet each other until our late twenties and we simply want more time to enjoy one another’s company, share adventures around the world, and create the magnificent things we have it within us yet to create in our careers before bringing children into the picture.

In fact, one of the most vivid memories I have of our early courtship is of a romantic evening we spent eating French fries and plotting out our life together at a late-night restaurant in Austin, Texas. We must have made those French fries last several hours as we schemed about all the things he would invent, the books I would write, the places we would travel, and – eventually – the children we would adopt when and if we were ready. Sitting across from this amazing man hearing him talk about his creative passions and his desire to one day adopt children, I had one of those “ah-ha” moments in which I realized not only was I head over heels in love with this guy, but he was also someone whose life trajectory and values complemented mine perfectly; I was and still am such a lucky girl to have found a partner like him, who would never dream of rushing into parenthood and is able to talk these kinds of sticky issues through time and again with patient honesty…If my husband and I still revisit these French-fry-filled scheming sessions and our ideas on children remain so perfectly aligned, though, why is this such a big source of stress for me?

How is a gal like me supposed to reconcile her idea of family when her society expects her to be like this?

I’m sure a part of my anxiety about kids comes from my age and the biological imperative I feel to become a parent, but I have a hunch that a much heftier chunk of this stress actually comes from my line of work and how image-saturated it is. As a woman trying to climb the entertainment-industry ladder, I can vouch that I receive many mixed signals in my professional life. This is to say: it is undeniable that the decision to become a parent within the next five years would seriously hamper my chances of getting staffed in a TV writer’s room, and yet I find that many folks in the industry view women who aren’t mothers as cold creatures who don’t have their priorities in the right place. In a sense, I get the distinct impression that my age/gender and decision of whether or not to have children is pretty much going to screw me out of a career no matter what side of the issue I fall on.

So, shouldn’t all this just make me more determined to get my stories out there, forge a life as a TV writer and novelist on my own terms, and defy the odds? Yes, it should. But, my emotional landscape just isn’t that simple; I easily give into the glossy vignettes of motherhood I see all over magazines and on the Interwebs, and I feel an ache in the pit of my stomach when I think about how much I once looked forward to raising kids way back when I was growing up. Yeah, that’s right, the photos I see every day accompanying articles about women seamlessly balancing careers and children have the power to act like constant injections of anxiety into my life, making me question my meticulously thought-out plans. A simple Vogue spread can easily make my mind spin out of control, causing me to doubt my choice to make writing a higher priority than the option of raising kids, and I find myself repeatedly wondering: what if my husband and I find ourselves in our forties and still don’t feel there’s room in our lives to make kids a priority – can I live with that? My answer is ultimately “yes” every time, but the constancy of my answers doesn’t do anything to stop my resolve from wavering whenever I see Angelina Jolie or Jessica Alba beaming from the cover of a parenting magazine.

And, how can mere mortals feel good about their priorities when they see Angelina Jolie's life as a parent/actress/director looking so effortless?

It has taken me a long time to figure out why there is such a disconnect between my personal values/life plan and the feelings I have when seeing images of motherhood in the media, but I think I’ve finally figured it out. I’ve come to suspect that this dissonance plagues me because I’ve made my decisions about children based on the assumption that compromising and setting priorities is a necessary part of life, yet all the glossy images and magazine articles about motherhood are created in a world where compromise doesn’t exist – or at least a world where people pretend with all their might that it doesn’t. And it isn’t just celebrity interviews that propagate this zero-compromise myth either – I’ve seen many a mommy blog out there that is positively brimming over with “proof” that you can do your own nails, make ice cream from scratch every Wednesday, help your gaggle of children with their math homework, and run your very own interior-design firm all at the same time.

I don’t know any of these do-it-all mommies personally, so they very well may have superpowers or a time turner I am unaware of, but if they are in fact like me and not living in Harry Potter Land my guess is they actually make big compromises somewhere in their lives that they just don’t document. The creators of this mythical world would try to suspend our disbelief by showing us the tiny compromises that these perfect parents make, such as the way Sarah Jessica Parker puts up with a messy nursery or the way Molly Mommy Blogger X argues with her husband about leaving the toilet seat up and perennially buying the wrong kind of tampons. These miniscule cracks in their facades are superficial at best, though, and I can’t help wondering what deeper sacrifices they’re really making in their health, finances, careers, relationships with their spouses, or all of the above in order to maintain the appearance of doing it all. I don’t expect the mainstream media or many mommy bloggers out there to ever answer these questions in an achingly honest way, because “how-does-she-do-it?” stories are a whole lot more uplifting than tales of divorce, fertility counseling, alcoholism, and third mortgages. And – let’s face it -as consumers we’re a whole lot more likely to buy protein bars, strollers, and sports cars if they’re being sold alongside stories that tell us we live in a world where it’s possible to do it all.

Heck, I’m only human and I really truly want to live in a do-it-all world, too; I mean, if I’m being totally truthful with myself I have to admit that if there were a pill out there that let me eat Nutella-baked ham, pop out babies, stay skinny, and work 60-hour weeks I would buy up those suckers like there’s no tomorrow. But, and this is a big BUT, these pills only exist in a hyperbolic world of make-believe, whereas I exist in reality. And, the glorious thing is: when I stop comparing myself to the fantasy of a mythic woman who does it all, I realize my reality is pretty damn great…

Instead of filling our lives with images of people who do it all (like Vogue's 9-month-pregnant director of special events), we should look to role models who openly display their sacrifices (like painter, Frida Kahlo)

I think we all need to work hard to show ourselves this kind of compassion, and we can start by not doing any of our prioritizing or personal decision making in this world of do-it-allers. That’s right, we need to be really conscious of making informed choices based on the reality that we simply can’t do everything, and I think we’ll find that when we actually make honest choices that are the right ones for us, most of the time we’ll feel like we aren’t even making sacrifices. For example, when I think about my priorities in the context of the world I actually live in (a.k.a., the place where there just aren’t enough hours in the day to be the kind of writer and wife I want to be, let alone parent ), I tend to feel really proud of the things I’m doing instead of feeling deflated by my choice to put off/possibly never experience motherhood. Looking to role models who’ve openly made sacrifices and set priorities in their lives (like these creative souls) is another thing that is really helping me feel more secure in my choices, so I think we could all benefit from supplementing our daily doses of Angelina with images of heroes from the past and present who’ve done amazing things in their lives but have not had it all by society’s standards.

Images galore and distracting thoughts of Nutella-baked ham aside (yeah, I know you’re still salivating over that one), the most important thing any of us can do is talk openly with our loved ones about the baby question and beyond while continually making sure we’re doing the right thing for us as opposed to the right thing by society’s standards. I know it will be very hard for me to remain confident in my choices, especially since a part of me really wants to be a mom, but I will just have to remind myself that living a life full of the things that matter most is all about setting priorities. I’m sure I’ll have to make gads of compromises – even within the priorities I have set – as I go, but if I continue making judgment calls in the realm of reality and self-truth I know I’ll be happy with the outcome. And, I’m hoping that if I keep talking truthfully with you about my flaws and eternal indecisiveness on the motherhood front, maybe we can collectively construct an even stronger foundation for this honest place we must all make our decisions from. So, now that I’ve shared and will continue being vocal about my personal struggle with the kiddo question, I’ll ask you if you have any stories you want to share…Are you like me and currently experiencing a bout of cognitive dissonance on the issue of whether or not to have children, or are you perhaps a parent who’s embarking on the amazing journey of raising kids right now? Whether you have children or not, how do you cope with all the pressures out there that tell us we should somehow be able to do it all? Leave a comment.

Photo of the Kennedys via Pinterest. Photo of Sarah Jessica Parker from Vogue. Photo of Angelina Jolie from Vanity Fair. Photo of Sylvana Ward Durrett’s glamorous pregnancy from Vogue, and image of Frida Kahlo’s “The Flying Bed” via Pinterest. Oh, and the photo of my family is by Jamie Conlan.

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Art and Architecture, Inspiring Tidbits

Childless Creators

Frida Kahlo and one of her many inspiring self portraits

In preparation for a big post I’ve been working on, here are several inspiring images of some of the most amazing people I’ve ever laid eyes on. They have each brought many wonderful things into this world that bespeak something undeniable about the human experience, and yet none of these creative souls were ever parents. This just reminds me that there are so many different ways to breathe life into our world. Stay tuned for more on this topic…

Theodor Seuss Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), who educates and entertains generation after generation of children with his 54 books

Katherine Hepburn played strong female characters in more than 40 major motion pictures

Oprah Winfrey has inspired the world to read, while founding a media empire and opening a leadership school for girls in South Africa

Julia Child is an icon of good housekeeping, yet her home never had children in it

Dolly Parton has written more than 350 songs that have touched people's lives through their emotional poignancy

Psst: Sources for these lovely images are as follows…Frida Kahlo, Dr. Seuss, Katherine Hepburn, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Child, and Dolly Parton. Are there any other role models you can think of who never had children? Leave a comment.

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Sweet Nothings

Maternal Instincts

My mother swinging me around, giving me a unique view of the world at an early age

Although I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day and all its Hallmark-Crown glory, I couldn’t help thinking of my own mom whenever I saw the maternal-themed balloons, bouquets and jewelry billboards this weekend. She is not the kind of lady who covets jewels, new clothes or flowers, though, and this means all the gaudy decorations of the world only further remind me of what she’s taught me. Since giving birth, my mother has been a master of making something from nothing – she sewed almost all of my clothing herself, made popsicles, bread and every imaginable other food item from scratch, and even crafted homemade Care Bears and Cabbage Patch dolls for me and my sisters. She was able to camouflage any tight times by turning cash-saving projects into adventures, and yet one thing she never camouflaged was herself and her flaws. My mom taught me that being a woman isn’t just about being pretty and applying lipstick, and she showed me this by example – I don’t think I ever saw her wear makeup, wrinkle creams or something that remotely resembled control-top pantyhose. Instead, she painted her face to play make believe, let us dress her in our own zany designs, and sacrificed beauty rest to drive me to late-night theater rehearsals.

In short, I am the creative, resourceful person I am today because she is my mother. If I had the craft supplies on hand, I would make flowers out of origami paper and send them to her and every other mom out there who daringly teaches their daughters to be more than what they see in makeup ads and on the covers of magazines. Thank you, Momma, for teaching me to dream and create.

Just look at this stylin' lady, who I know for a fact wasn't even wearing makeup in this photo - not a bad role model to have as a young girl, eh?

My mom with a painted-on clown's nose and a cake she expertly decorated like a clown's face

Psst: Speaking of women who dare to be different, my friend L. M. Harter just launched a fundraising campaign for her new short film. The film, “Birth Mother,” is her directorial debut and is a girl-powered, action-packed horror movie unlike any other. L. is also directing my very own short film a few weekends from now, so by showing support for her film you’ll directly be supporting me. I encourage you to visit her fundraising site to check out her fun movie trailer and contribute to the campaign in any way possible.

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Art and Architecture, Sweet Nothings

Oh Baby

Gisele Bundchen and son Benjamin Rein, photographed by Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue April 2011

Images of women and infants have permeated human culture since the beginning time – from cave drawings, to the Madonna and Child, to photos of the Material Girl and her very own brood. These images have whispered subliminal messages to me my whole life, but none quite so clear as the recent photos of Gisele Bundchen and her newborn son in Vogue Magazine. These photos basically scream at me (and any other girl who views them for that matter), “Motherhood is sexy, and you are not a real, sensual or whole woman unless your womb bears forth babies.” Perhaps I’m being a tad dramatic and this isn’t exactly the message Vogue was trying to convey, but why would they have renowned fashion photographer, Patrick Demarchelier, capture Gisele bra-less and caressing her own pregnant belly (and post-baby-skinny riding a horse on the beach with a bare midriff) if they weren’t trying to sexify motherhood? Not only does Vogue’s sexification of Gisele and Child stir up an array of emotions and primal urges in me, but it makes my practical side ask this simple question: are airbrushed glimpses of motherhood really what our society needs right now?

This is to say, I shudder imagining what a 16-year-old girl in the Bible Belt thinks when she sees this imagery. After all, I’m someone with far more years and education behind her than this hypothetical girl, and I have a hard enough time as it is resisting the urge to go get myself saddled up with a baby like it’s this season’s hottest handbag. And, to be honest, if I didn’t have as much sex ed and career planning under my belt as I do, I probably would have caved to these urges long ago. It takes a gal with a rare brand of self confidence not to cave, what with news stories about the Octomom, magazine spreads of Brangelina’s idyllic baby bunch, and footage of Playboy Bunnies popping out kiddos left and right. When inundated with these mama reels, I have to remind myself of two things: firstly, I tell myself that motherhood is not about babies-come-handbags, but, rather, it is about a selfless commitment to raising a human being. Secondly, I remind myself that motherhood is often not as conventionally beautiful as magazines depict it to be: sure, it is a beautiful bond and living miracle, but motherhood is also stretch marks, sleepless nights, working two jobs, eating fish sticks and string cheese five nights in a row, and skipping “Grey’s Anatomy” in favor of cartoons your child wails about if they aren’t permanently on the TV screen. That’s right, although I harbor no ill will toward Gisele as a person, I must say that her image above is neither what it looks like to be a mother nor what it looks like to be a woman; it’s merely what it looks like to be a supermodel holding a baby.

As if this idealized imagery of motherhood doesn’t put enough pressure on me and 16-year-old girls everywhere, we must also contend with the fact that our society places women into three categories: women who are mothers, women who desperately want to be mothers, and women who are heartless bitches. These categories make it hard for sensitive, heart-possessing ladies such as myself to even think about discussing our choices not to have children in public. But, here goes; I’ll say it…I am someone who loves children and dearly wants to raise them, but there are other things I want more in my life right now. This means I’ve prioritized and had many deeply personal discussions with my spouse, through which we’ve decided we aren’t having kids any time soon. Much of society would label me a bitch and a baby hater for this kind of prioritization, and these misnomers are exactly why I feel compelled to write this post today; I realize that my voice – of a woman who loves babies, children and mothers, yet loves her career more – is a voice that should be heard. There needs to be a voice somewhere in this world that discusses the honest priorities that go into family planning, without bashing parenthood or glamorizing it, and – if only for the sake of one 16-year-old girl laying eyes on this – today mine is that voice.

I realize this is headier than what I usually write about and it may be a topic some of my readers are not interested in at all. So, to those uninterested folk, I promise that posts like this will be sporadic and unobtrusive in the future. This is simply something I had to get out, and I thank you for understanding. Please don’t hesitate to forward this article to any women or parents you think might enjoy it, and, as always, do let me know your own thoughts on the subject of motherhood and media…Would you like to hear more of what this little gal’s voice has to say about career/family priorities? Are there any specific topics along these lines you wish to discuss in more depth? I look forward to hearing from you and send you sincerest thanks for being such a meaningful part of my day.

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