The Facebook Post That Made Me a Terrible Mother

by Kristin Parran

I can’t keep it in any longer. I must be the worst mother ever. It doesn’t matter that my not-yet-3-year old son adores me. Or that he climbs in bed with my husband and I and tells us we make the best team (then asks for high-fives). Or tells me he loves me more than cars. CARS! None of that matters.

Two things I have read today make me believe that despite all of these things, I must be a terrible mother. First, I read a blog post about breastfeeding. Or, rather about not breastfeeding. The author shared her honest feelings around the disappointment – and subsequent judgment – around not being able to breastfeed. The point was that mothers should leave other mothers alone – breastfeeding or not. Funny, though, all of the comments from women who felt judged about not breastfeeding came from a place of not being able to breastfeed. I didn’t see one from a woman who CHOSE not to breastfeed, like I did. It’s hard as a new mother to not feel at least a little judgment with every decision you make – even if it’s self-inflicted judgment. But, I am increasingly finding that mothers like me – those who choose to bottle feed for one reason or another – don’t exist in public forums. They sit back, try to stay unnoticed and feed their babies the best way they know how. Some choose the expensive organic formula. Some pay for soy-based. Some do extensive research to understand which product is best for their babies. But the thing that connects all of these women is that they love their babies just as much as breastfeeding women do. I love my son no less than the next woman. I firmly believe – and would argue til I died – that in the way I know how, I have given my son the best chances for a life full of love, happiness and health. But it’s hard to find people like me out there. At least those who admit it.

The second thing I saw was on Facebook. This kind of thing usually doesn’t affect me the way it did today. Maybe it’s because I’m more sensitive, or because my stepdaughter is visiting and that always has my emotions doing somersaults. Either way, it hit me. An old acquaintance just went back to work and posted that she’s missing her babies more than ever. But that’s not it – it’s what she said next that hit me: “I know every working mom would rather be at home with their babies all the time.” I dropped everything and started this post. I couldn’t help it. My brain is screaming. You ARE a good mom. You ARE a good mom. But, am I? Really? My response to that post was not: “Sister…you are so right! I would so much rather be at home with a screaming toddler, playing with cars and arguing about naptime Every. SINGLE. DAY.” Rather, instead my response: “That’s BS! While I LOVE my baby, I also LOVE my job. And the people I work with. And the opportunity to be ME. And the socialization. And that I contribute something financially to my family. I love having both. I NEED to have both.”

I get the sense that a lot of mothers will read my response and gasp. GASP. HOW COULD YOU SAY THAT!?! How could you say you love your job AND your baby? How could you not want to spend every single waking moment with your child? The answer for me is simple. Being me – the me who loves my job and my husband and my son and my friends and my time alone – makes me the very best mother I can be. Whether or not that mother meets standards set by others is something I can no longer judge myself against. I wish I could say that feeling follows me everywhere, every day. But, it obviously doesn’t. Rather than reading that post and saying: “There are mothers of every color, and I happen to a bright pink” I took it as a jab. A knife turning in the heart that is still trying to heal from post-partum. So, I’m not perfect. I do let some things get to me. But after the initial crazy self-judgment and guilt wear off, I once again see that I’m not such a bad mom. My son is an incredible human being. And, at the end of each day, I have to believe that I have something to do with that.

Kristin Parran is a mother of one (nearly 3-year old) boy and wife to a husband who anchors her in peace. Wise enough to know life can (and should) have balance, brave enough to listen to her gut – but not always smart or Zen enough to stop sweating the small stuff – she recently moved her family 1,100 miles to give everyone the best shot at equilibrium. She spends her days working from home for a tech PR firm and shedding tears of gratitude for newfound peace – which is soon interrupted by the impatience of reality. Each time she leaves her house, she secretly hopes to be discovered by Keith Urban, Brad Paisley or Dierks Bentley as a (silent, yet energetic) back-up singer. Or, to someday see her name on the cover of a book.

KP

The Grand Illusion: Mogul, Mom & Maid

A real conversation from early December:

Husband: “Honey, when will our Christmas cards arrive?”

Me: “I’m sorry, I haven’t even ordered them yet.”

Husband: “What? How come? We’re already receiving loads of cards and should be sending ours out now too.”

Me <insert snark> : “Oh, I didn’t realize. I’ve been lying here on the couch watching reruns of Desperate Housewife and filing my nails.”

Husband: “I know you are busy, I get it. But I’m surprised the cards aren’t done because you always seem like you have everything under control.”

BOOM. The moment of truth. It always seems like I have everything under control. Hahaha!

The reality is: I don’t. It’s all a thin veil or, rather, a grand illusion. Scratch the surface and there’s a hot mess of confused priorities, a healthy dose of anxiety, a fair amount of disorder, random spots of remarkable focus and OCD, a pinch here and there of laissez-faire and, more often than not, a wing and a prayer, a shrug and a nervous giggle.

Or, as a friend who is also trying to figure out this working Mom thing calls it: the sliding scale of incompetency.

Reality #2. Also back in early December, Liz O’Donnell, author of the new book Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman” asked me to contribute to a blog carnival with other working Moms, to share our tips and perspectives about our balancing acts. Irony: it was one of those weeks when all around me, life was exploding and there was no time to blog for me, let alone anyone else, let alone blogging about my balancing act! So, Liz, here’s my post, just a few weeks late …..

So, I ask myself, what of this grand illusion? Does it help or harm me? One the one hand, apparently I project this image of a confident working Mom, managing all that comes with it, with a smile on my face. This is good, surely? Heck, I even fool myself most of the time. I achieve this illusion, like so many other women, thanks to my ability to prioritize, multi-task and to turn on a dime when it’s really needed. It’s also thanks to several handy tools that help save some precious time and the wonderful invention that is Waterproof Post-it Notes which, quite literally, ensure the contents of my brain don’t disappear down the shower drain. (Buy them now …. hurry!)

On the flip-side, existing in this mode is a scary place. At any given point, there’s a terrifyingly strong chance that I will screw something up big time. The fragile card tower that I hold together all day and night is precarious. One missed deadline, one forgotten item at the grocery store, one overlooked play date invitation – not to mention the fun and games of hormones – and it can all come toppling down. The energy involved in keeping the cards propped up and balanced is exhausting.

So this is my balancing act. With the emphasis on the word ‘act’. But would I exchange it for not being a working Mom? Nope! This is my bed and I chose to lie in it.

Oh, and back to those Christmas cards. Yes I did get around to ordering them but so late that they ended up arriving on Christmas Eve. Have I had the chance to mail any out? No. Will I? The likelihood is probably not. Sorry folks. Because here’s reality #3 which, thanks to Dr. Seuss, I use day-in and day-out as a filter for the choices I make when prioritizing the 23697,2466,00000 things on this working Mom’s to-do list:

Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind!

Guest Post: Searching

by Ben Jackson

As most of us who blog discover from our analytics, people put some strange search phrases together to find things on the internet. Aside from the stomach-churning searches for nocturnal activities (of which there are many), I also often find queries for advice on dadding (“single dad blog. too busy to eat breakfast”), searches for quotes and things to say on fatherhood (“dad eulogy” often appears), and queries for which I simply can’t understand how my blog could possibly be relevant (“waiter with dreadlocks” and “she said prison barber hair shorn”).

And then there are the searches for “teratoma,” and variants thereof.  It’s these people, anonymous through the internet, I want to find, and hug and do whatever else I can to offer some small measure of comfort.

My daughter Emma was born in 2001 with a cervical teratoma – a tumor on her neck which was larger than her head.  It protruded from her mouth, it extended down into her chest and attached from her heart, and it sat like a grapefruit underneath her chin.  It nearly killed her, and she spent almost her entire first year hospitalized as a result.

These search queries in my stats page are small digital prayers.  They represent some terrified stranger, who has just received news that is far beyond their comprehension, and they are pleading into the information ether for salvation or information. They are suffering in a way I can understand more deeply than almost anyone else on the planet, and most of the time I feel powerless to do anything to help.  I hope my writing provides some factual information and a lot of hope, but because of the anonymity of the internet, these deeply personal cries for help are beyond my reach to personally answer.

Last week, I received an email from a mother of a girl who also has a tumor similar to the one Emma had. She talked about being isolated, and was largely reaching out for a connection from a very lonely and scary place—and it knocked me for a loop for a bit.  It reminded me that what we write is read by actual people; that those search phrases bandied about have an individual behind a screen, looking for something to connect with.  That, beyond the creeps searching for their jollies, there are stories, and there is pain, and hope, and love and loneliness yearning for something that maybe we can touch.

It reminded me that we who write have a responsibility to those people behind the queries, that our words matter to someone, and that we had damn well better get what we’re trying to say right—and it reminded me that from my readers I can gain the connection that I seek as a writer, and as a dad.

Here’s hoping that your queries find you the connections you seek in 2014!

Ben Jackson is a father, blogger, publishing professional, creative writing student, and majestically bearded. From time to time, he has conned otherwise sensible editors into publishing his short fiction and essays. As an avid martial artist, one can often find Ben writing through bruises, slings and casts. You can read more of his writing at www.benfjackson.com or www.dadofthedecade.com

ben xmas sweater

5 Things I’d Never Encountered Till I Moved to Massachusetts

It’s been almost 14 years since I moved to America and all 14 of those years have been spent living in, and loving, Massachusetts. Before I moved here, my only point of reference for all-things-Boston was watching episodes of Ally McBeal. Little did I know that Boston does not really have magical street lamps and gently powdery snow falling on twinkly streets, everywhere. Damn you Ally McBeal. However, there’s plenty about life in Massachusetts which has been eye-opening to me in many ways.

1. Let’s take the weather:

I arrived here in February and was promptly told about an impending Nor’Easter threatening to dump a foot of snow. On the morning of this supposed event, the sky was white and cloudy, not a flake in sight. “So where’s this snowmageddon-like storm that everyone’s predicting,” I wondered. “Seriously, a foot of snow – not possible, surely?”

Boom. I was wrong. The heavens opened and promptly dumped sizeable proportions of white stuff in what felt like a few short minutes. OK maybe it took an hour or two. But never had this Londoner ever seen so much snow fall.

And here’s the thing.

It’s not a one-time event. The sky can dump anywhere from 8″ to a foot multiple times! Snow upon snow upon snow until there are humongous industrial-sized mountains of shoveled snow amassed in parking lots and other unsuspecting places. And there they stay, growing icier and generally more mucky, every day. Until, like, July.

Before moving here, I’d never encountered snow blowers, snow ploughs and shovels. (Not that I use them, I am a grateful observer.) And, thundersnow?!

Did I mention the cold? As in the bone-chilling, nostril-hair-freezing, finger-removal-threatening cold that is otherwise known here as February. Sub-freezing temperatures like I didn’t think was possible, and this after three years of jaunts in the Alps! The communal relief when the high for the day is actually above-freezing is palpable. The river here actually freezes solid. I’d never seen such a thing before.

Then there’s the humidity otherwise known as July and August. The air is so wet and heavy that it fairly slaps your face as you step outdoors, sucking out any oxygen you may have selfishly thought you needed to actually breathe. Hair becomes wild, curly, affro-esque. Makeup melts. Mosquitoes chase with vampire, blood-sucking intentions. It’s generally disgusting. Which is why air-conditioners are essentially the best invention ever in the entire universe (please take note, Europe.)

However, to balance out the horrors of winter and summer in Massachusetts, there is spring and fall – both of which are so divine, they can turn an atheist into a believer. Unbelievably beautiful blossoms. Freshly cut verdant lawns. The air sweet and light, outdoors welcoming. Butterflies, dragon flies, hummingbirds.

And fall. There are not enough adjectives to describe the colors and smells of fall in Massachusetts. Seriously. It’s staggeringly beautiful, converting all that is wrong and dark, to right and rich. Check out some fall photos here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the sunrises and sunsets of Massachusetts, equally breathtaking with ripples of flaming colors that take your breath away.

2. But let’s get to the traffic:

First things first: two words. Big Dig. I often tell people the only reason I have stayed is to see how this grandiose experiment actually turned out. Actually, it’s pretty impressive.

However, it took several months of living and driving here until, one day, it dawned on me with a resounding D’UH that routes 128 and 95 can be one and the same. It’s some kind of local inside joke, inflicted on anyone from out of town who has the gall to drive in Massachusetts.

And then there’s the whole overtaking on the inside thing. Now, I grew up driving in England where everyone is generally civilized and polite on the roads (OK, that may be a stretch.) And driving on the highways in France, I was always impressed with the methodical way that you overtook on the left and then moved back into the slower lane until you needed to overtake again.

Not so in Massachusetts where it’s fair game and acceptable to overtake any which way. And then stay in whichever lane you end up in. Admittedly, I rather like it – but always have to remind myself when returning to England that overtaking on the inside is just not cricket.

Note: if you are new to Massachusetts, you need to understand the term ‘masshole,’ defined by the Urban Dictionary as:

1. For residents of Massachusetts, it is an achieved title for drving faster, being wreckless, cutting other drivers off often, and having no patience for other drivers on the road. 

2. For non-residents of Massachusetts, it is a term of dislike for the people of Massachusetts that drive like an asshole.

3. Funny talk

I’ve blogged about a fair amount about the differences between American English and British English, especially about silly American words. But different words aside, there are accents and very local pronunciations that were new to me.

The Boston accent is well-known. Paark your caar in Haarvaard Yaard and all that. But there are several towns whose names are pronounced much differently from their phonetic spelling. Peabody. Woburn. Worcester. Quincy, to name a few.

In Massachusetts, wicked is a complementary adjective. All set means good-to-go, one of my favorite adopted local phrases. If you are visiting here for the first time and you want to fit in, check out UniversalHub’s Wicked Good Guide to Boston English – and you’ll be wickedly all-set.

4. Pride

The passion that Massachusetts natives display for their region, town, community and sports teams is crazy and wonderful and contagious. Since I’ve lived here, the Red Sox have won the World Series three times and each time, it’s greeted with glee, pride, tears and cheers. To an outsider, it’s almost ridiculous but when you live with it and among it, it’s a beautiful thing.

But the peak of my admiration came in April of this year when this city rallied following the bombings at the Boston Marathon and the bewildering, frightening few days that followed as we were locked down and under threat. Boston Strong is real and poignant and amazing.

5. Last but not least ….

Pumpkin. My love for pumpkin is well-known and documented. But please, let’s be clear. I like to eat my pumpkin not drink it. Pumpkin, to me, has no place in my beer or my coffee. Blech.

photo

(Confession: I spelled Massachusetts wrong every time I typed it in the post. Thank heavens for spell check!)

Becoming A Masterpiece

I just posted this on Medium, a new blogging platform. Mostly because it’s been screaming in my head for the last 24 hours until I was able to write it and the because the purpose is important. And also to try out Medium, because it’s new and hip.

This post – Unfinished Symphony - is dedicated to Fabian Stern and Ann Leopold Kaplan.

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Definitions

At least three or four times this past weekend, while meeting other guests at a wedding in the UK, I was asked: “What do you do back there in America?”

Each time, I struggled with my response, unsure in which order in to present the many roles I have.

“I work in public relations,” I explained to one guest. Oh, he said, somewhat dismissively. “And do you have a family?” was his next question. Would the answer have been better received if I’d said doctor or hair stylist? People rarely understand what I do. Yes, I could have emphasized my seniority, my expertise, the influence my function has in day-to-day business. But somehow it always ends up misconceived.

“I’m a Mom,” I tried, the next time. “That’s great,” responded another guest inquiring after the ages and genders of my kids. “And do you work too?” was the next question. “Yes I do,” I answered without offering further qualification or detail. “That’s nice.”

“I’m a blogger,” was my next response when asked. “Oh,” responded the guest. In her 60s, she was rather ill-equipped to process this information or understand where it fit into the picture in front of her of a forty-something woman. “I also have two kids,” I added, which seemed to soothe her.

“I’m a working Mom,” I declared to the next person asking. It struck me immediately that, while this is a badge I proudly display in the US, it seems to be less of a self-anointed label elsewhere. To me, the phrase neatly packages up my life, blending together the demands of career, housekeeper and parent, broadly encapsulating the daily dichotomies of these roles. But when uttering this description in the UK, admittedly not in the company of peers of my age and circumstances, it felt like it lacked the aplomb that I usually attach to it. Was I playing it down? Or perhaps I usually over-emphasize it? Maybe I’ve become over-attached to the label, finding cheap comfort in it?

So, what do I do and how to really describe it?

After some thought, here’s what I cam up with: what I do is create energy, I distribute energy, I receive energy.

Somedays, this energy gets everyone up and out the door, dressed, fed and happy, and me on my way to my work, eager to perform, write, manage and hopefully to mentor, affect change, produce results.

Other days, I feel like any energy I had generated is steadfastly sucked out of me, every which way, like an undercurrent eroding the sand.

And then, there’s the presence of my family and friends, simple conversations, random meetings and moments which restore, creating a new rush of new energy, filling up my reserves so that there’s plenty to fuel all of my roles and to be amply shared with those around me.

So that’s really what I do. But it doesn’t quite lend itself to the abbreviated chit-chat with the person seated next to you at table 9 at a wedding. Ah well.

When Sleeping & Working Get in the Way of Blogging

When I started this blog back in December 2011, I promised myself that to make it entertaining, shareable and fulfilling, I would write a new blog post at least once a week, if not more.

And for the most part, I’ve been able to do that. It’s never been a chore; at any given moment, I usually have a gazillion ideas for posts swimming in my head. I can usually find a quiet 15-20 mins over the weekend to write. Fortunately, I write fast, the words tumbling out of my head and onto the page.

But it’s been over a week since my last post and I started kicking myself about this. I have decent excuses – several nights of insomnia sucking the creativity out of me, house guests for the weekend, and work is crazy busy. But when I thought about it, I realized that there’s plenty of stuff I already do that sustains interest in and traffic to my blog, even when I’m not writing new posts. Namely:

  • I pre-schedule tweets about popular, already published posts 
  • I frequently comment on other blogs and articles, especially where the topic is complementary to one of my posts and I can link back to it.
  • I maintain a pipeline of potential guest bloggers who can provide good content that syncs well with my stuff
  • I retweet and share other bloggers’ posts – spreading the blog love around

Most of all, I’m not going to sweat it. I’m a working Mom and having it all is unrealistic. So if y’all have to wait another week or so for an awesomely witty or pithy or entertaining or educational or controversial post from me, then so be it!

Advice to My 16-Year Old Self

This morning, a tweet from MumClub asking “what would you tell your 16-year old self?” got me thinking. Often I can tweet a quick, snappy response but this I needed to mull over. So I stepped into the shower, and ideas kept popping into my head. Thanks to my waterproof Post-It notes, I wrote down the following advice to Samantha Stern:

  • Keep working on your writing and languages—they will be the foundation of your success
  • There is so much more than Duran Duran
  • You are not fat
  • Dating/kissing boys that are not Jewish will not be the end of the world
  • Friendships trump religious differences
  • Invest in your friends—you’re going to need them
  • Gary Morris may break your heart but there are lots of fish in the see—explore ;)
  • Red heads have more fun
  • Keep dancing
  • Go on blind dates (the last one will be the best one)
  • You are in charge of your future
  • Mum and Dad were right about many things (but not about only kissing/dating Jewish boys)
  • Find your own style
  • Keep traveling
  • Bacon is not evil
  • In two years, Mum and Dad will take you to see Les Miserables. It will change everything.
  • Try sushi: you’ll like it!

How I Blog

Quickly

In the moment

Authentically

Passionately

Interactively

Respectfully

Entertainingly

Colorfully

Economically

Relevantly

A Month of Gratitude: Part Two

Last week, I started the process of taking stock of everything for which I am grateful. It’s an important exercise, stepping back from the daily grind and considering all that is good in your life. We should all do this much more often. It’s both sobering and uplifting.

Where did the last week go? Somehow, among the hustle and bustle, I was able to stop each day, if only for a few minutes, and mentally note the moment or moments that resounded in my heart and head. During the last seven days, these were the things for which I am truly grateful:

  • The teachers who taught my son to read. We spent five hours this weekend at Boston’s Museum of Science and my son’s new-found skill opened the experience up to him like I’d never imagined. It was fantastic to watch.
  • My husband. Because he’s away on business and of course, it’s when he’s gone, I truly appreciate all that he does for me. Warms my cold feet in bed. Brings me coffee in the morning. Puts the trash out. Cooks dinner. Makes me laugh. Most of all, I love to step back and watch him interact with our kids in his unique, special way and miss that most when he’s away.
  • My Mom friends. Thank heavens for other Moms. They just get it. Once a month, I get to hang out with a bunch of them and it’s like the best medicine for the soul.
  • Humor: I was sent this video this week and it actually made me cry with laughter. Everyone needs a tear-inducing laugh every so often. Watch this and you’ll get yours for the week.
  • Charity: This week I read about all the good works being done by so many to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy. When the rest of the world and news media had moved on, these people were still knee-deep in the collections and clean-ups. We should all be grateful for the work they are doing and the compassion in their hearts.
  • Words and writing: this blog started out as an experiment, a fancy and has turned into a much more powerful vehicle for me. Somewhere I can write for me (as opposed to my writing for clients) and share my thoughts and words with you. This week I published my 100th blog post and crossed the threshold of 11,000 views, just shy of my one year blogging anniversary. Wow! Thank you all for indulging me.

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