Laura G Owens ~ Writer. Raw. Real.

Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do, you apologize for the truth. – Benjamin Disrael

Category: Parenting Page 1 of 2

Ambivalence in motherhood Part 1: When you’re a “different” kind of mom. 

What happens when you feel like you’re a “different kind of mom?”

I share on Mother Plus podcast why right away as a stay-at-home mother, I knew I needed more—more time away than the other mothers, more of my own interests.

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Why we need to have real conversations about our ambivalent feelings about motherhood AND find other moms who understand us.

Why having feelings of ambivalence has nothing to do with how much you love your children.

Why you are allowed to have childcare—even if you are a stay-at-home-mom.

Feel the guilt and do it anyway. How writing helped me process my conflicted feelings. 

Ambivalence in motherhood Part 2: Changing the definition of selfish

Why I put my daughter in two half-day pre-schools even though I was at home (imagine the gasps!)

Accepting the type of mother we are, even if we’re different from other moms, and find people who understand and support you. 

Why do we judge moms for using childcare?

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The mother needs to be as happy as her kids: changing the definition of “selfishness” to be “filling” self and caring for self. 

It’s important to acknowledge and accept that ambivalence—even hating motherhood at times— is normal.

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Dealing with negative emotions

I love, I hate. Peace after accepting ambivalence.

All mothers know this. 

That the love we have for our child is so intense and all-consuming that it’s spectacular and terrifying in its power. 

Yet it’s rare we admit that what motherhood gives us, so too can she take away…

Depression

A few weeks after my daughter was born I was hit with severe postpartum depression.

My husband did everything he could within the confines and nerves of new fatherhood. What was he supposed to do as he watched his wife genuinely smile and coo and competently take care of our baby, then an hour later, turn around and sob and crumble into wishing “I’d just fall into a black hole of feeling nothing. Dead but not really dead.” 

How do you respond to your wife’s sort of death wish?

My husband was a hands-on dad from the start. There for me in every way. But with my exhaustion and hormone-imbalanced brain, nothing helped my depression except getting back on hormone replacement therapy (I have a pituitary disorder that requires HRT), more sleep, and sheer time to get used to the demands of being a new mother.

Identity crisis

I was a stay-at-home mother by grateful choice (and self-imposed guilt), but as the months went on sometimes I felt mind-numbingly bored. Flattened and anxious by the drudgery and repetition. Despite the numerous Mommy and Me playgroups I joined. Despite friends telling me “this too shall pass and they’re only young once.” Despite date nights with my husband and girls’ nights.

Without fail I followed the formula prescribed to make the transition to being at home easier. In fact I did more than most of my stay-at-home mom friends who weren’t yet comfortable leaving their little ones.

But it wasn’t enough. 

Not until my daughter started Kindergarten and I had more time to myself and to write. First I wrote cathartic stream-of-consciousness ramblings to self-soothe, then gradually I wrote as a part-time profession.  

Motherhood tore open beautiful facets of myself and my relationships. Richer in emotion, new layers of appreciation emerged as I watched my child giggle at dandelion fluff, blow a ladybug off her finger, run from the waves chasing her little ankles. 

But motherhood also threw me into a full-on identity crisis.

I’d been an ambitious marketing professional for 20 years and then suddenly I wasn’t. A shift so abrupt as to almost reorganize my DNA overnight.

My daughter was of course front and center, her well-being always top of mind. But becoming a parent didn’t suddenly wipe clean my ambition or my need to spend time alone or with my husband and friends. 

And yet I was told that it would, promised that “once I saw that little baby nothing else would matter in the world.” But other things did still matter, even while I fell in love with this perfect creature I wanted more than anything.  

Emotions in contradiction. Or were they?

Mothers are all different as humans are all different

Being at home full-time is just easier for some mothers. I don’t mean the work is easier. 

It’s universally hard to be chronically sleep-deprived and change 800 diapers. To be hypervigilant that your child doesn’t choke, suffocate in her sleep, stick her fingers in sockets or the dog’s mouth, run in the street, smear her poop, sling-shot off the slide or bite her toddler friend – again.

It’s exhausting to worry about Texas-shaped rashes, fevers, teething, vaccine reactions, solid food introductions, weird cries, to nurse, rock, soothe, stroll, shop, play Candyland incessantly and watch The Wiggles for the 90th time. 

But some women adapt better to this new normal. They don’t have a full-on identity crisis as I did. 

It goes without saying that watching your child grow and thrive is spectacular. What’s not spectacular is the exhaustion and the ambivalent feelings we grapple with alongside judgment from other parents. 

The “I love my child, but I hate……” 

I dropped out of the workforce when my daughter was 9 months old (I’d returned part-time after maternity leave).  Once the honeymoon of being home ended and the silence of no adult company crept in, once my daughter’s two-hour screaming fests shattered my nerves — the stress, repetition and boredom drove me mad. 

So to process my feelings, when I had time I wrote.

I also read stacks of books about real motherhood. Gritty, raw stories (My favorite, Susan Maushart’s The Mask of Motherhood). These books unpacked and validated the anger, resentment and anxiety mixed with gratitude, awe and love.

To be human is to feel a spectrum of good and “bad” emotion….

The spectrum of emotions I have since become obsessed to accept rather than vilify.

From that space came a compulsion to write what I learned, loved and loathed about the experience of being human, about grappling with ambivalence. 

It starts with the truth. Unpolished. Uncomfortable at first. 

It starts with being radically honest with ourselves (and with people we trust).

Honesty takes a risk. Honesty is terrifying. 

But gradually the chokehold of trying to pretend you’re someone you’re not comes off.  

Freedom comes from (trying) not to judge yourself for feeling different from your friends, mother, sister, cousin, and neighbors.

When I enrolled my daughter in two pre-schools at the same time (half days Mon-Tues for one, Wed-Thu another), you can imagine the comments.

“That’s interesting, I’d never heard of anyone doing that before,” said one friend. “Well at least you’re not doing it just to get your nails done,” said another. “You’re doing it to have time to write.”

“Actually I’m doing it to have time for errands, writing and nails.” 

One of my daughter’s pre-school teachers asked me, “Doesn’t your daughter get confused?” 

“Not it all. She’s doing really well. Does she seem confused to you?”

“Well, no, actually.”  

As humans we share traits born of the instinct to survive and to thrive.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Food, shelter, safety, a need for love, validation and belonging.

But we’re also individuals, spectacular in our breadth and depth of interests, challenges and pathways to finding peace, joy, balance and God knows, less angst.

In the end, your authentic self is who should show up every day. Because the ones who love you will love you despite — or probably because of who you are. The others, well, they never mattered much anyway.

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Parenting through a pademic

A mother’s need for control in a pandemic

It struck me recently that my daughter is handling the uncertainty of the pandemic much better than I am. She accepts not knowing exactly when the world might return to normal.

When we won’t need masks and hugging will be safe again. She makes peace with the unknowns while I feel simmering anxiety over a pandemic with no clear end in sight. “Mom you just have to deal with it,” she tells me over and over. “You can’t control when things will change.” 

I envy Taylor’s ability to let go of the invisible strings of control while I grasp for them. I suspect this flows from my childhood when I craved stability during constant family turmoil.

My mother abandoned us when I was five, two years later I had a new stepmom and two stepbrothers who my other three brothers, emotionally scarred, viciously battled.

I recall family therapy, lots of screaming and in the end, another divorce. While I always knew my stepmom and father loved me, I also had the sense that any minute my foundation might crumble. Chaos felt inevitable and entirely out of my hands. Read More

how my two very different playgroups saved me

How my two very different playgroups saved me

Perhaps during our earliest mothering years our friendships are born because we reflexively cling to each other. Drawn together like forceful magnets by a love for our children so new, powerful and terrifying we can’t possibly imagine how we’ll survive. Yet sometimes we gradually grow apart for reasons that aren’t obvious or unkind or even divisive—they’re simply visceral and, because of that, irreconcilable.

I stayed with my first playgroup until my daughter was nearly four. My second group gradually fell apart after our kids started kindergarten, although most of the moms regularly met for dinner and an annual girls’ weekend. Twenty years later and a bunch of us still get together, our parenting vents now brimming with teen and college kid worry.

I’m deeply grateful to both groups. Each nurtured different parts of me. The first saved me when I was a scared, isolated stay-at-home new mom, flailing and insecure. And the second reflected what I felt all along as a mother: that from the moment my daughter was born I knew she’d be the center of my life—but she could never be the entirety of it…. Read full post at Motherwell Magazine.

postpartum depression

The split mind of postpartum depression

Originally published on Motherwell 

In a quiet, distant voice I tell my husband Mark that I want to die. Not exactly dead, I clarify, but not this. I tell him not to worry. I tell him love, guilt, duty will always matter more. I promise. But he has to understand, he has to reconcile what I’m saying with the fact that I love him, that I love our life together and our beautiful daughter. “Mark, do you know what I’m saying?”

Before breakfast I sing our daughter to sleep, rhyming her name with nonsensical Seuss-y words. I smile. The real kind, reflexive, above the sadness… Read full essay

 

Resources for help and healing: 

 

The Postpartum Stress Center

Postpartum Support International 

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The day I realized I pushed my college daughter too far

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Originally published on Grown and Flown

One of the few demands I gave Taylor when she started college (besides work hard, be safe and guard your Solo cup at parties) was that she graduate on time. No child of mine was going to be a professional college student, someone who never quite figures out what she wants. Except that Taylor’s never given me reason to believe she’s that person. Never.

Once when she was three and still solidly attached to the pacifier, her front teeth pushing out, I bribed her for the umpteenth time with a toy if she gave it up forever. “Honey I’ll let you spend up to $20 if you give it up.” Instead of our usual futile tug of war, she looked up at me with steady blues eyes, smiled sweetly and handed it right over. “I don’t need it anymore, Mommy, and you don’t have to buy me an expensive toy, “ she said. Fully ready and proud…  Read full essay on Grown and Flown

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Getting into college

4 parent myths about college admissions

Originally published on Mother.ly

If you have a college-bound kid, I know you’re feeling it. The anxiety. The competition. The intensity. The bombardment of well-meaning but sometimes conflicting advice from other parents. I almost lost my mind trying to keep up with the list of do’s and don’ts of college admissions.

The fact is, requirements vary radically across campuses. Some schools focus on the SAT, some on the ACT, some on both. Some want stellar essays, some really don’t care.

But there’s a few general parent misperceptions swirling about that are worth correcting.

Want the full article?

I know it’s annoying that I’m re-directing you, but I have to send you where the article was originally published. 

More: How to Choose a Major: A Complete Guide [25+ Expert Tips & Advice]

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On Grown & Flown

walkingI’m delighted I found Grown & Flown, a website and blog about parenting older kids (ages 15 to 25).

Grown & Flown recently published my essay “Why I Stopped Worrying If My College Daughter Was Lonely”

Tina is a thousand times more self-loving and grounded than I was at her age. This is probably why I keep asking if she’s lonely; I’m projecting my 18-year-old unsettled feelings on to her. At 18 I was still emotionally damaged from childhood, anxious and terrified of every new situation. I didn’t enter college as my own best friend and I was always trying to fit into some group or some version of myself.

If you’re interested, you can find the full essay here.

 

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Trash TV: When kids catch you in the act

kimkThe other night my daughter looked over me lying on the couch. “What are you watching?” she asked.

I guess I fell asleep in front of some movie called “House Bunny.” I need to be more careful when I watch trash. My daughter is of the age (nearly 17) when she sees herself as my morality judge and jury.

Once your kids notice you don’t always follow your own advice, you’re doomed.

You see, “House Bunny” wouldn’t fall under my “empowered woman” content but if you watch the entire movie, you can find a good message.

My advice for my daughter to be a strong, independent woman runs the gamut from “smart is cool, to find a job and pay for your own life before you marry and have kids, to run (fast) from the mean boy to women aren’t sex objects, but.

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I tell her that being sexy by degrees as you get older is fine and that you and your friends shouldn’t call girls “sluts” because funny thing, we don’t call men who sleep around with a few women sluts (she seemed confused by this at first but then agreed with my theory. Sexuality hypocrisy for men and women runs so deeeeeeeep we barely notice).

But I also told her, you gotta have self-respect. Be very selective. Care deeply about someone (if) before you sleep with him.  Watch the image you put out because you’re your own brand. (“House Bunny” had piles of women who at strictly face value weren’t role models but it was an entertaining movie and we can’t over think the plusses of shows that relax the tired mind).

House_bunny

My daughter flagrantly cuts me off when I try to talk about sex but I know she hears me.

Everyone once in a while I remind her to wait until she’s married. I’m supposed to say this. Abstinence messages are Responsible Parenting 101 and the terrified protective side of me agrees. Sex opens up all sorts of dangers and complicated emotional doors.

But pounding the drum of abstinence also puts our grown children at risk that they’ll marry their best friend — with no benefits. So after I throw out the requisite wait-wait warnings my daughter and I silently snicker to ourselves and then move on.

Fortunately she seems to have a firm sense of self and almost palpable disgust for in authenticity in friends and pop icons.  Also, she still hasn’t had a single boyfriend and I think honestly without meaning to brag, she very easily could.  She’s smart, quite attractive, quiet yet sort of self-assured and if I do say so, pretty damn nice.

She dresses All American with that slight twist I keep my eye on. Her tops aren’t too low and her shorts and jeans maybe a smidge too tight, are for her age, passable.When she hit the Embarrassed by My Parents phase (long since gone) she’d tell me to pull up my Friday night tops. If I didn’t she’d just reach over and do it for me.

“I’m married. You’re not. And, I’m older,” I told her. “If I want to show some leg or cleavage I will. You’re too young for all that.” I give her my version of When Measured Sexy is Okay and When it’s Not. My version might not go over well when I’m 85.

When I tried to explain why I wasted my time watching “House Bunny,” that the movie definitely had some feel good lessons (Mean girls try (and fail) to get high IQ socially awkward Nice sorority girls kicked off campus by Mean Girl President because Mean Girls want Nice Girls’ sorority house), she shrugged me off.

I think by now she gets that her parents are sometimes mild hypocrites and that probably even Gloria Steinem (if she remembers who I told her she is) watches mind mush from time to time. I don’t think we’re meant to fill up every inch of our brain with high-minded matter,  just most of it.

In the movie the Nice Girls’ house is run by a sweet woman-child who chronically under dresses and has the most grating baby voice ever conceived by a director. Shelley is a former Hugh Heffner Playboy playmate kicked out of the mansion for being too “old.” (ironic because I thought Heff was half in the grave). She winds up homeless until she finds herself house mom to the “misfit” sorority girls who look to her as their make-over mentor (they never knew they needed).

The moral of the story: looks fade but solid character and good friends last. When my daughter walked in I had the moral to the story ready in case she pulled another Kardashian-scold on me.

A couple weeks ago she caught me watching “Khloe and Courtney take the Hamptons.” The Kardashians already took New York and California and other places around the globe so I thought they might have some insights on the often misunderstood Hamptons.

The fact is, it’s very fashionable for people to say they hate the Kardashians.  I’m supposed to scoff and announce I’m too good for all of them, especially that fame-sucking mother. I’m supposed to lean on high ideals and group agree these women are shallow airheads famous for just being famous. I’m supposed to be outraged and yet, I’m not. (The Housewives Of….. another series I sometimes watch(ed), truly outrages me because frankly the jealous infighting gives rich cat fights and first world “problems” a new low low low).

I’m a former psychology major so I’m drawn to all kinds of social situations and the Kardashian petri dish is alive and multiplying. The family happens to be rich media royalty but they’re extremely close and I like that. Kim is gorgeous (beauty is indeed only skin deep, but beauty of all kinds, still draws the eye), sweet and a brilliant marketing machine. Chloe is outspoken and ballsy and Courtney never changes her expression; I mean never. Poker face perfection. Ecstatic is the same as depressed is the same as jealous is the same as disgusted. Who can’t wonder what lies beneath?

“Why are you watching THIS?”  my daughter asked.

For a second I thought she was about to plop down on the couch and watch with me. Mother-daughter admitting our mutual attraction to fly on the wall TV.  I should have known better. My daughter hates reality TV (but insists the 13 “Saw” movies she watched have lessons if I’d only give them a chance (I won’t). Choose between say, saving your own life or sawing off the arm of the woman chained to you).

She and I just started sharing “Modern Family” and “Black-ish” but I wasn’t ready to share Kardashian OMG moments when one sister is incensed for 10 minutes because the other sister didn’t show up in a “super cute” outfit when she knew very well they were going out to lunch. 

“Uh, well it’s been a long time since I watched the Kardashians (a month?) but I just felt like something mindless and entertaining. But I mean it’s been a long time.”

“Yeah but this? Such a stupid show. There’s better mind mush you could watch. Like one of your sitcoms you love.”

Noted. I live on stupid sitcoms, movies, non-fiction books and documentaries. Funny beats reality TV, but neither beats Saw?

My child softly shamed me into turning the channel because well frankly she was right. I could have chosen better, but sometimes I don’t want to choose better.

She knows perfectly well I don’t just ingest important content. My list of crap is impressive: the Golden Girls (radical for their time) to Big Bang Theory, Frasier, King of Queens, Mike and Molly, The League (my husband still can’t believe I like it), Vogue, sometimes an airport People and yes movies like, “House Bunny.”

Once your child becomes your morality police you’ve either done something terribly right or terribly wrong.

You can cover up content when your kids are young because they’re too busy coloring or playing Legos to notice. But by the time they hit double digits (really much earlier thanks to the Internet) they’re lens become all high and mighty. They see your weak attempts to hide your guilty pleasures.

For the most part I try to beat my daughter to the punch and expose myself before she’s too disappointed. Sometimes however, she gets there first.

This past Christmas was the first year she noticed how many wine-themed ornaments I have.

“Gifts from friends. Everyone one of them,” I pointed out, as if friends thinking “wine” when they think “Laura” is better than if I bought the ornaments myself.

“Guess that doesn’t say much about me, eh? Or the fact that one time when you were in Kindergarten your teacher told you to make something that reminded you of your parents and you made a tiny paper wine bottle?”

She didn’t look the least bit worried by my half a dozen wine bottle ornaments.  My daughter is now chronically amused at my anxious attempts to make sure I haven’t screwed her up. Maybe because my guilty pleasures haven’t changed her day to day life or ruined her sense of continuity or safety or sense of self.

Maybe she’s old enough now to see her parents as expectedly but manageably flawed, trying not to wobble her life too much despite ourselves, which in the end, is our way of big messy love.

House Bunny Image credit: Wikimedia

 

 

British study shows kids of working moms just fine. Here’s why.

Photo credit: wilpf.org

The Brits know. Quality childcare is key. Maternity leave, essential.

Studies had shown that children born to career mothers in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s did not perform as well, with their literacy and numeracy skills about two percent lower. But the latest research by Heather Joshi of the University of London’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies found children born since the mid-1990s whose mothers worked during their early years fared just as well as those whose mothers did not. – Working mothers urged to drop guilt as study finds kids do fine.  – British Study

So, the question I have is does this study translate to the U.S. given we don’t have paid maternity leave and HIGH quality childcare isn’t the norm for all income brackets?

Joshi said the most important factor that triggered this change in Britain was the Labour government’s investment in childcare in the mid-1990s.

I already intuitively knew kids of working moms are fine, at least with the parents I know, and I’ve been home full-time with my daughter since she was 9 months. So why do I care?

I’m at home so I could finger point at working mothers. I care because I don’t believe in shaming people for what is natural and that is: some women want to work, have to work, deserve to work.

Ambition is not exclusive to men despite a woman’s biological imperative to have babies. I’ve been ambitious and remained so even when my daughter was born.  I just so happened to channel my ambition at home, via writing and other pursuits, some of which took me away from her for short periods.

My daughter is 15 now. I’ve been at home as a writer and volunteer for years.  I would without a doubt, have worked part-time but I left my marketing research job due to a myriad of guilt, employer and health reasons. I was lucky to have the choice.

Formula for a happy kid? Who knows, but we sorta do.

Kids whose parents work do just fine academically and behaviorally if, and here’s the kicker, kids are surrounded by loving people who genuinely show care and concern.
I have no facts. I’m too lazy at this moment to dig them up. Seriously, I’m going instinct and obvious here. Usually I go facts, figures, stats to be heard, but obvious transcends, sometimes.  Kids need attentive, caring parents and attentive, caring caregivers. Given that, of course the kids will thrive.  Love is love which is not to say a parent’s love is the same as a caregivers, of course not.

It’s to say parental love and care + caregiver love and care = thriving kid. The embracing village and all that. Grandma, aunt, uncle, friend or really loving, attentive daycare provider. It’s all good. Switching kids all over the place, not so good. Kids really do need continuity. Crappy half-ass childcare where the person is barely paying attention or never engaging your child in developmentally stimulating stuff? Come on. No child deserves that.

BUT who can afford the best? My question is, what child doesn’t deserve the best? They all do, regardless of income.

When high quality childcare is more affordable and accessible to folks beyond the wealthy we’ve arrived.  This goes along with my safe-car question which is: Why should the safest cars be the most expensive cars? Only rich kids get to live if they get in a car accident? But that’s another post.

Changes in British maternity leave also contributed to the finding, although the US still lags.

Drop the guilt in yourself, and other mothers.

I’ve been writing for a decade about, among other things, debunking myths and shame in the motherhoodsphere (postpartum depression, mommy wars and motherhood identity are my favorites).  One of the shame-filled issues is society bashing working moms as “less” or not a full-time mother.

Poppycock.

As a stay at home mother this still, always chaps my hide and was a key reason I started the Orlando Mothers & More chapter while I was in another club who focused mainly on stay at homes (or part-time employed). I wanted a more “inclusive” message.

The fact is, finds the Brits, give parents accessible, affordable HIGH QUALITY childcare and time off with their kids, and children will thrive as well as those with parents at home.

 An analysis of six studies looking at 40,000 children over the last 40 years found there was no link between mothers continuing their careers and children achieving less at school or misbehaving.This research suggests changes in maternity leave and greater availability of childcare and the consequent increase in maternal employment have played a big role in enabling parents to balance work and family, Fiona Weir, chief executive of the single-parent charity Gingerbread, told Reuters

 

 

P.S. Picture is of World War II Rosie the Riveter.  

“Women worked during WWII when men went to war in droves, forcing childcare to the forefront. Unfortunately conditions weren’t always ideal for the little ones.Like men, women would quit their jobs if they were unhappy with their pay, location, or environment. Unlike men, women suffered from the “double shift” of work and caring for the family and home. During the war, working mothers had childcare problems and the public sometimes blamed them for the rise in juvenile delinquency. In reality, though, 90% of mothers were home at any given time. The majority of women thought that they could best serve the war effort by staying at home (Campbell 216). During the war, the average family on the homefront had a housewife and a working husband (Yellin 45).”

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