Great Piece in the NYT on Mom Shaming

I was hoping to find a stock photo image of “mom shaming,” but came up short. Instead, here’s an image from “Bad Moms,” a movie that really does seem to respond to some of the same pressures on contemporary parents.

There’s a great op-ed about mom shaming in this Sunday’s New York Times. Kim Brooks makes some great points.  This passage, in particular, gave me pause:

These women’s critics insist that it’s not mothers they hate; it’s just that kind of mother, the one who, because of affluence or poverty, education or ignorance, ambition or unemployment, allows her own needs to compromise (or appear to compromise) the needs of her child. We’re contemptuous of “lazy” poor mothers. We’re contemptuous of “distracted” working mothers. We’re contemptuous of “selfish” rich mothers. We’re contemptuous of mothers who have no choice but to work, but also of mothers who don’t need to work and still fail to fulfill an impossible ideal of selfless motherhood. You don’t have to look very hard to see the common denominator.

Because it is gendered, isn’t it? Women have their parenting practices policed far more than men. Part of that is, I’m sure, due to the fact that men still don’t do their fair share of active day-to-day parenting, and other parts are doubtless due to the fact that “motherhood” is seen as something intrinsic to  what it means to be a woman, where for men, being a good father is seen as almost extra credit. I mean, the shaming is not exclusive to women. I have definitely felt some eyes on me when out in public, have been chided for things that are not the business of anyone but myself, My Colleague, and Test Subject V.

But women get it worse. And women get it earlier on—so many mothers I’ve known have had trouble breast feeding and not one of them has ever said “well, thank god that random woman from the mom’s group made me feel guilty about my choices! The baby would have starved otherwise.” A friend has actually described the urge to shout out to strangers  at Target that the bottle she was feeding her newborn was breastmilk, not because anyone was even giving her any grief, but because there’s a panoptic quality to the shaming that mothers get today.

So yeah, while I might feel the eyes of judgemental parents on me, that pressure is demonstrably worse on women. To whit:

At this point you might be wondering, “What about the dads?”

Dr. Sarnecka, the cognitive scientist, has an answer to this. Her study found that subjects were far less judgmental of fathers. When participants were told a father had left his child for a few minutes to run into work, they estimated the level of risk to the child as about equal to when he left because of circumstances beyond his control.

I love the way this finding makes plain something we all know but aren’t supposed to say: A father who is distracted by his interests and obligations in the adult world is being, well, a father; a mother who does the same is failing her children.

This is so messed up. And it puts me, as a stay-at-home father who considers himself a feminist and has aspirations to raise his daughter in as “free range” a manner as possible, in a position where I have to ask myself some questions:

  • If I, as a male parent, benefit from male privilege in being less likely to be shamed or even arrested for perceived “neglect” of my children, how can I use that privilege as a responsible ally to women to try to change this situation?
  • How is that made more complicated when the people shaming mothers or calling the cops are, themselves, women?
  • How does all this relate to the idea I’ve been struggling to define—that of “parenting in public?” Does it help to subvert or subdue this urge to police women’s parenting? Or does it just result from my own inherent privilege?

I don’t really have answers, here—I’m just hoping some readers might be able to give me some guidance, or help start a conversation.

Today’s Activities, And Two Takeaways

Test Subject V kept me company today through a variety of tasks

Just for the sake of brevity, I’ll only account my activities between noon and 8pm today:

  • Took Test Subject V to the new mom’s group I’ve been attending: socialized, played, and empathized.
  • Went to the grocery store to pick up a few items.
  • Fed the baby once I got home.
  • Did the dishes.
  • Cooked Dinner.
  • Ate said dinner with the wife and the baby.
  • Cut my wife’s hair.

Two takeaways from this:

  1. Being a stay-at-home parent is a full-time job. And it doesn’t just end after eleven hours when your spouse finally comes home. So many of the moms I talk to are reluctant to ask their husbands to help out because “he’s been working all day.” Yeah, well, so have you. Own it.
  2. There is something to be said for marrying someone who isn’t super-invested in traditional gender roles. Just ask my wife: she got home from work with dinner cooking and got a free haircut after.

Most North Shore Thing Ever

When My Colleague and I first moved to the North Shore, we were surprised and confused at the region’s obsession with Roast Beef. Every pizza place sells not just pizza, but fried seafood (makes sense, it’s the coast) and roast beef sandwiches (what?). Every little town has a few Roast Beef shops.

I still don’t know why it’s so big up here, but I have learned the joys of good three way roast beef sandwich. (For people not around here, that’s a giant pile of roast beef, topped with melted cheese, mayo, and barbecue sauce between some onion rolls.)

ANYway, all this is just a lead up to saying that this shirt may be the most North Shore thing EVAR:


Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, declares bankruptcy on NBC's "The Office"
Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell, declares bankruptcy on NBC’s “The Office”

I’m declaring bankruptcy.

No, we haven’t gotten to that point financially—not yet. But in terms of my online identity.

Primarily, this is in the form of email bankruptcy– I just either archived or deleted over two thousand emails in my inbox. I am now at Inbox: 2.

Inbox 2 feels amazing.

And beyond that, I’m declaring bankruptcy for myself when it comes to this blog. No, that doesn’t mean I’m quitting it, it means that I forgive myself the “debt” of the dozens of half-written blog posts that I have accumulated over the past several months.

Enough with the guilt.

Enough with the paralysis.

I’m moving on. Moving forward. Renewing my commitment to this project.

Test Subject V is doing great. Recently, over less than two weeks, she suddenly learned a military crawl, a regular crawl, discovered she could pull herself up to a standing position, began cruising, and learned to pull herself into a sitting position from lying on her belly.

And I am completely fucking exhausted.

Buckle up, readers. I’m back, and the ride is even bumpier. Higher highs and lower lows and the shocks gave out a couple months ago.

This Song Gets Test Subject V Smiling Every Time

Babies love music, and Test Subject V is no exception. Generally, she’s been enjoying the Grateful Dead, but hasn’t liked funk nearly as much as her two-year-old cousin did at her age. This song came on my iTunes and she couldn’t stop grinning. It’s “Mope-itty Mope” by the doo-wop group the Bosstones.

What “grown up” songs or artists does (or did) your baby enjoy? I’m curious—Comment below.


The Days When Parenting Sucks

Test Subject V, yesterday, during a brief moment of calm.

Let’s be honest. We’re not supposed to talk about it, but there are days when parenting outright sucks. When your child hates you and you’re not too fond of them.

Yesterday was one of those days. 

Test Subject V has recently gone to a four-hour schedule, and for the most part, she’s adjusting well. Once in a while, I’ll fudge it and give her a bottle at three and a half hours if she gets fussy, but generally, she’s getting on pretty well.

Which is awesome, because it’s a much better schedule for me. It was getting to the point where all I was doing all day was sitting in front of the TV, watching old episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” (a guilty pleasure) and feeding her. Change her, fifteen minutes of mat time, and a fifteen minute nap, and she was back to feeding.

Anyway, she woke up at seven thirty, and was an absolute angel. I fed her at eight, put her down at ten thirty, and expected a good 45 minutes to an hour of “daddy time,” which these days includes things like shaving, brushing my teeth, and taking a shower.  Yesterday, I was feeling brave and tried all three.

While I was in the shower, Test Subject V awoke, and when nobody answered her awake noises, she began to cry. And CRY. I got out of the shower, and tried to comfort her, but to no avail. We went on a short walk, which quieted her down, but then it began to rain, and the tears returned. All told she cried more than she didn’t from 11am until My Colleague returned from work around six.

Now, V is usually a pretty happy, quiet baby. But when she cries, it’s just heart-rending. I can handle crying babies, but my own is a different story. It felt like seven straight hours of rejection and hatred from the person I love the most. I know it’s not, I know babies cry. But sometimes, it’s impossible not to take it personally. When My Colleague got back from work, I gave her a big hug and just started sobbing.

I told her that dinner was on the stove, and warm, but that I couldn’t take it any more. I needed to get away. With her full understanding and blessing, I went down the road a couple blocks to my favorite hole-in-the-wall, locals-only spot in Salem, Major Magleashe’s. I had a burger and a couple drinks, and came back in time for Vera’s final feeding. By that point, she and my wife were perfectly content, and I felt a lot better.

View of the bar at Major’s. Love that place.

So first lesson of this post: Don’t be afraid to run away, as long as you run away at reasonable times and not for too long.  There’s nothing wrong with needing to get away from your child, whether that means dinner alone down the street or just hiding for five minutes in the bathroom.

But there’s another lesson here. And it has to do with the picture at the beginning of this post. I took that picture during a moment of peace, in the middle of that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. She doesn’t look like she’s been crying for the last four hours, does she? I took the picture and threw it up on my Instagram with no caption and relatively little editing. Just because I like to throw cute baby pictures on my Instagram to share them with friends and family.

But later, as I tried in vain to hold a schnuller in the mouth of my screaming child as she fought sleep, I started thinking a couple things I’d read and listened to recently about the unhealthy nature of social media—about how we’re all broadcasting polished, curated versions of our lives, and how looking at a stream of those from people we know makes us feel worse about our own lives. 

I’ve never bought that argument. Because from the first real “social media” I used—Friendster and LiveJournal—I always used them to discuss real issues in my life, to wrestle with difficult questions, to try to make real connections with people I’d lost track of.  I’ve always tried to be genuine and real online, and it’s been good for me. Some of my best friends, I’ve never met in person. And that’s okay.  Online connections have gotten me jobs, have coached me about applying to grad school, and have helped me through major heath issues.

But it occurred to me that by posting the picture above without a caption, I wasn’t doing that—I was playing into the argument that our online presence is somehow inherently inauthentic. So I went back onto Instagram and added this:

With babies, there are good days and bad days. Yesterday was a good day. She was an angel. Today is a bad day. She can’t stand my face but can’t be away from me. I took this picture during a reprieve from the screaming to remind myself that even during the bad days, there are moments when she is sweet and loving and beautiful. She’ll be yelling again in a moment.

I cross-posted it on Facebook, and received an outpouring of support, solidarity, and “you can do it” messages from friends. And those messages really did make me feel better. Not as much better as getting the fuck away from the little monster for a few minutes, but better.

Part of the reason I started this blog is because I am experimenting with a notion of “parenting in public.” I blog about having a baby. I go out with the baby and spend as much time as possible with her in public spaces.

Parenting is always going to be deeply personal. The decisions we make are going to be unpopular with some, are always going to be subject to judgement or even criticism from other parents, and the community at large. (STOP TELLING ME MY BABY NEEDS A HAT. SHE HAD A HAT. SHE TORE IT OFF. WE’RE ONLY WALKING FROM MY CAR TO THE GROCERY STORE.)  But there’s no reason why parenting needs to be private.

I’m wondering if, just maybe, it does “take a village,” if having the courage to be open about the decisions we make with our children, about our disappointments and moral failings as well as our victories… if maybe that might actually make us better parents.

And maybe, even if it doesn’t, if it might make us less judgmental the next time we see another parent having a hard time with their kids. Because Americans, especially American parents, can be judgmental assholes about others’ childrearing, and what could happen if we tried to help each other more and judge each other less?

Anyway, that’s just what’s on my mind the last day or two. Here’s one more picture of my daughter looking adorable yesterday, just as a reminder that even when they’re monsters, they’re pretty awesome and sweet and amazing.

Seriously, though—that smile. I melt…… and she had been holding my beard and screaming herself horse less than five minutes prior.

In Which Test Subject V Becomes an Actual Test Subject

For the last two Thursdays, I’ve packed Test Subject V up in her carseat, grabbed a diaper bag and some extra bottles of formula, and took her to Harvard. And then MIT. Because that’s what three-month-olds are really into—elite universities.

Actually, the visits to MIT were just to pop in on My Colleague and give her the opportunity to show off her daughter to colleagues. The trips to Harvard, on the other hand, were to participate in SCIENCE. Test Subject V has now been an actual test subject in two studies going on at Harvard’s Laboratory for Developmental Studies.

This is the outfit I dressed Test Subject V in before going to Harvard. I had to share it ’cause it’s just too adorable.

I would urge anyone reading this who has little kids themselves—especially if you are fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home parent—to look into labs like this at your local university. The studies they conduct tend to be non-intrusive, brief, and actually quite interesting for the parent… at least if you’re a parent who likes such things, as I apparently am.

And there are labs like this at universities all over the world, a fact that was highlighted by two clothes lines in the lobby of the Lab, hung with child-sized tee-shirts and onesies from university development labs all over the world. It was actually pretty cool to see.

Clothes Line at the Harvard Lab for Developmental Studies.

Anyway, I’m writing this not just to plug Harvard’s Lab for Developmental Studies, but to share an anecdote about my child’s reaction to the process, to talk about what made it really remarkable for me as a parent.

The first of the two studies Test Subject V participated in involved watching a video of a woman reaching over a barrier to touch a ball, which would then light up. When the barrier was removed, she continued to reach for the ball in a manner that, to an adult, makes no sense without the barrier there. It was as if she was still reaching over the imaginary wall to touch the ball. They monitored her interest by keeping track of her line of sight.

The next day, I was playing with V. I got out her “Groove & Go Beatbo,” a light-up plush doll that plays music. It’s always fascinated Test Subject V, which makes sense with the flashing lights and music. But she had never really reached for it before, she had just stared transfixed. She really didn’t reach for any toy, the closest she came to that was batting at the stuffed animals that hung above her play mat.

Groove & Go Beatbo. I stole this image from the Fisher-Price website, but since I’m plugging their toy, I’m hoping they don’t care.

But the day after she participated in the study at Harvard that was all about reaching, she reached for Beatbo’s antennae, and grabbed them. And she reached in the same awkward manner—as if there was an invisible barrier between her and the doll—as the woman in the video had. She reached for his glowing belly in the same way. She pulled Beatbo close to her.

I was fascinated—had I just watched my daughter learn something from the lady in the video, retain it for a day, and then use it? Or was it a coincidence? It was certainly a developmental milestone which was likely coming soon anyway.

I ran into the woman who had administered the test the next week when we went in for a different test. I assume she was a grad student of some sort. I told her about my experience, and she responded that it was interesting because we still don’t fully understand how children as young as Test Subject V learn—that’s the whole point of studies like this one. 

She said that most people assume that babies at this age learn primarily experientially, by doing. But that it’s also possible that they might also learn by emulation of others, which would explain Test Subject V’s actions.

I don’t know. If scientists aren’t certain, I’m not going to pretend to understand. But it was interesting, thought provoking, and just a cool experience overall.

I’d just like to take another second here to urge parents to take their children to developmental labs like this if time and circumstance allow. It gives us more information about how young children’s minds develop, how they learn, and it can lead to more evidence-based parenting advice, which is something we could all use, given how many books on parenting are deeply anecdotal, cherry picked, and often make broad claims on narrow evidence.

Morning Yoga

Test Subject V found her feet this week. Now they’re endlessly fascinating. Last week’s big discovery was that, with assistance, she could stand up. It’s now her favorite trick to show off for strangers, or for My Colleague and I. Three and a half months in, and raising a kid keeps getting better. She keeps learning tricks. She keeps engaging us more directly. She discovers new functionalities and unlocks new modes.

It’s amazing, and I feel so lucky, so blessed, to get to watch it happen every day.

This is Your Brain on Babies

Over on SciShow Psych, Hank Green talks about the physical, neurological changes that occur when you are caring for a little, tiny, screaming, wiggly human.  It’s a fun five minutes, especially if you’re currently undergoing said neurological changes:

I’m a little disappointed that non-traditional family structures haven’t been studied as much, although I have to say I’m not super surprised. While as a stay at home dad and my daughter’s primary caretaker, I’d love to see more stuff that talks about situations like mine, but they’re still just so rare as to be almost unstudied.

A few years ago, when The Fatherhood Project at Massachusetts General Hospital put together a (pretty awesome) lit review on fatherhood, it included sections on divorced fathers, incarcerated fathers, non-resident fathers, and co-parenting situations, but nothing on families where a man or men are primary caregivers.

C’mon, dads—we’ve gotta do better.