Monday, March 10, 2014

What Does It Mean To Be A "Good Mom"?

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot and can also be found on The Huffington Post.)

When you think about what it means to be a good mom, some may picture the attachment parent who’s baby-wearing and co-sleeping and making her own organic baby food. Others may think of the informed mom who has read every book, knows every child-rearing method, and draws on those techniques to thoughtfully talk to and nurture her little one. Maybe your version is the Pinterest-happy mom who’s creating her own sensory tables and art projects.

What you probably don’t picture is the mom who did some sleep-training with her kids, who plops them in front of the TV for an hour every afternoon, and who screams “Noooooooo,” in loud terror when her 2-year-old twins take off running down the sidewalk on a busy street.

Well, that’s me, and I’m a good mom.

I love my kids every bit as much as the earthy moms and permissive moms and the ones who have their kids in art and music and language classes. I want the very best for them, whatever that means, and I do my very best to try and make that happen.

I raise my kids my own way. It’s how I was raised. And it’s based on an ancient parenting practice that’s been working since, well, forever—following my own motherly instincts. When it comes to my kids, I go with what feels right, I go with my gut. And it’s usually right, even if it’s not always warm and fuzzy.

First of all, I let my kids do scary things. I was always a brave, independent child and I’m a brave, independent adult. Bravery is one of the qualities I want most for my boys, and admire most in them. Not in some chest-beating kind of way. I believe that the braver you are, the more curious you will be, and the more you will want to learn and see and explore the world.

Don’t get me wrong—as brave as I am, I’m a full-blown ‘fraidy cat when it comes to my kids. I get mild heart attacks every single time they climb a rock wall or swing too high, but I suck it up. I try not to let them see me sweat. Because I’m a good mom.

Kids who climb and run and try death-defying stunts, however, still need boundaries, for damn sure. We say, “yes” a lot, but we say “no” a lot too. We pick our battles, but our kids don’t rule our roost. There is routine and schedule in our house. They have usual mealtimes and naptime and bedtime. They sleep in their room, although they don’t always choose to sleep in their bed. And we ask them to say “please” and “thank you,” even if they don’t really understand what that means. I believe that having some structure and boundaries makes them feel more secure. We’re not running an army base camp over here, but it’s not a free-for-all either. Home is a safe, calm place for us. Because I’m a good mom.

I’m also a mom who yells at my kids. I do. I’m not proud of it, but sometimes it feels like a necessity. When they’re dangerously close to diving headfirst off the couch or they’re about to stand up in their highchairs, I scream quickly and loudly, startling them so that they freeze in place. I’m sure some would have a more peaceful approach, but by the time I calmly explained, “Hey, buddy, we don’t stand in our chairs. Can you please sit down?” they’d have already taken their tumble onto the hardwood. I know this because they’re my kids. We’ve been there, done that already. (It’s an unfortunate side effect of having brave kids.) Sometimes the only way to get their attention—and keep them from harm—is a quick, sharp bark. Keeping them safe is a prerequisite for this job. That’s what good moms do.

No, I’m not the most Zen Mom in the world. I get scared, I get frustrated, and I cry a lot (although usually not in front of them). I need breaks to recharge so I don’t totally crumble in an exhausted heap come bedtime. I have moments I’m not proud of and days where I feel like I’m failing—failing miserably at this mom thing.

Still, every choice I make as their mom is deliberate and thoughtful. I know my kids and I know myself and I’m doing what works best for all of us. It may not be everyone’s parenting model, but it’s ours. My little boys are sweet and funny, happy and healthy, so whatever we’re doing, I think it’s working. There is a lot of hugging and kissing and tickling and laughing in our house. I know that’s got to mean something.

Think about your own kids. Are they well-loved, cared for, and happy? When you look at them, do you feel heart-swelling pride? Well, then it doesn’t matter what parenting books you’ve read or what philosophies you follow or if you breastfed for two years or regularly feed them Cheetos. It doesn’t matter if you’re a SAHM or a WOHM or KTNCFSRM (OK, I made that last one up). Guess what? You’re a good mom too.

I love my little guys with my whole heart. Nothing in this world will ever be more important to me. All I want is for them to live their very best lives, to become the best versions of themselves, and to be happy. Just happy. And I’m here to help guide them along the way. I’m their mom, and I’m a good mom.

Why I'm Glad To Be Raising Kids Today

(This essay was originally published on Role/Reboot.)

A few weeks ago, following college football player Michael Sam’s announcement that he was gay, a Dallas news anchor, Dale Hansen, slammed many in the NFL for their ridiculous, homophobic response. On surface appearance alone, Hansen, with his white hair, crisp suit, and thick drawl, seemed an unlikely champion for gay rights. Still, he spoke eloquently and thoughtfully about how baffling it was that a homosexual player wouldn’t be welcome in a league—or a locker room—where rapists, drug addicts, and violent criminals are apparently acceptable.

 He went on to say, very honestly, “I’m not always comfortable when a man tells me he’s gay. I don’t understand his world. But I do understand that he’s part of mine.” Of course, we could say, “Well, what’s there to understand?” but that wasn’t his point.

His point was that another person’s sexuality or lifestyle doesn’t have to make sense to him—all he has to do is respect it. He quoted civil rights leader, Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” That right there, says it all.

I’m a privileged, white, heterosexual woman. I’ve never faced poverty or racism or homophobia. I’ve talked to friends about those struggles, I’ve read about those struggles, but can I really understand those struggles? How could I really? Sure, I can empathize, I can listen, I can be aware, and I can be sensitive. It’s not my experience though. It’s not my history. I’m a spectator, not a player.

Here’s what I do know: We all have our own stories, tied to the color of our skin, our religion, our sexual preferences, and our place in society. They’re tied to our cities, our families, our childhood friends, and our first loves. They’re tied to our homes, our jobs, our kids, and our pets. They’re tied to our tummy pooches and squooshy breasts, our runner’s legs and yoga arms, our freckled skin and frizzy hair. They’re tied to our grandmother’s tuna casserole or yellow curry or chilaquiles. They’re tied to our holidays, our traditions, and our dinner tables.

Our unique stories deserve to be recognized, accepted, and celebrated. Our differences make each of us who we are. Our differences keep things interesting. Our differences are colorful and rich and heartbreakingly beautiful. They are our memories and our path. And they are our humanity, available in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Although it’s our differences that define us, it’s our common ground that connects us.

I think a lot about the world that my children are growing up in. Yes, there are terrible things happening all the time—wars and disease and violence and starvation and oppression. A white man can still shoot an innocent black man dead and get off because he felt “threatened,” punished with little more than public scorn. Still, I look around at the kids in their school, in their playgroups, in their classes. They come from all walks of life, all races, all cultures, all religions. Some have two mommies, two daddies, or no daddy in the picture at all. Some little ones, adopted from Africa and China, look very different from their white parents.

It comforts me knowing that for my kids, it will all be normal…or there won’t really be a “normal.” What’s that anyway? Diversity will be a part of life for them, not an anomaly. I want them to see and appreciate that every person is different, that every family is different and, yeah, so what?

I want them to recognize, accept, and celebrate a friend’s beautiful brown skin or how another speaks to her mother in Thai or that another has a Daddy and a Papa. It should just be one of their friend’s many qualities, as simple as his love of baseball or her willingness to share snacks. A part of who he or she is, with no good or bad, right or wrong attached. My part is to raise loving, accepting children.

I have identical twin boys who look exactly alike, but they are not the same. They are more than just twins, although that is part of their identity. They are unique and separate little beings and I acknowledge those differences and encourage them. Those distinctions—big and small—help give them a sense of individual self, they give them place, and they make them feel one-of-a-kind.
It’s important to embrace what makes you unique when you look, well, identical. And it’s important to embrace what makes you unique when you look different as well.

I fully admit that I might be na├»ve, especially because I live in an incredibly liberal city, and am surrounded by like-minded people. Still, I’m optimistic about this new generation’s future. I believe that the times are changing. Brave athletes like Michael Sam and Jason Collins are stepping into the spotlight and saying, “So yeah, this is me.” Actresses like Ellen Page are doing the same. Outspoken newscasters look into the camera and ask the bigots of the world, in so many words, “Hey, what the hell is wrong with you?” Injustices are now more often front-page news, not tucked away in small print.

As more people are standing up and speaking out, it’s the racists and the homophobes and the everyday haters who retreat into the closet. At least in the public sphere, those who hate seem to arouse far more criticism than those who choose to marry—or not marry—the man or woman they love. These days, it’s embarrassing to be small-minded.

Today, the mainstream is becoming more colorful, bright, and vibrant than it’s ever been, embracing all of our cultures, lifestyles, and special needs. Maybe we’re just taking two steps forward and one step back, but I truly believe that we’re moving toward acceptance, even celebration, of our differences.