Category: parenthood

Oprah revisited the ultimate mommy question on her show yesterday. “My Baby or My Job: Why Elizabeth Vargas Stepped Down.” I don’t think I’ve blogged about this here before (though I’ll look through my archives and check), so I want to do so now. I’ll give you a rundown of the show – especially a few of the comments that really struck a chord with me – and then share my thoughts on the subject.

I came into the show late – about the last half hour. Apparently in the first part of the show, Oprah interviewed Elizabeth Vargas about her choice to stay home with her newborn baby instead of staying in her high-profile job as anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight.

The part I saw dealt with the members of a discussion panel – if you visit the link above, it starts on screen “6 of 13.” I don’t have a transcript of the show, so I’ll just do my best from the notes I scribbled as I watched and the recap provided on the Oprah Show website.

First of all, my biases. My son was born in February of 2006, and I returned to work for nine weeks in March-May of 2006. I have been a stay-at-home mom for the fifteen months since then. Now then, on to the show.

Barbara, a working mother of three, said that

“If you don’t have something that is your own, then your kids become everything. And you need to make that separation about what you’re doing for your kids and what you’re doing for yourself.”

I can see her point, to a certain extent. It’s not healthy to sublimate your every thought, emotion, and need within the roles of housewife and mother. As an adult woman, you need to have time and space for yourself – time to affirm your intellect, to nourish your spirituality, to nurture your emotional self. However, I disagree that the only way to maintain your sense of self is to pursue employment outside the home.

Women who stay home make a powerful choice to do something “for their kids” and they often make sacrifices which make their choice possible. They also make the choice to find necessary “separation” in other avenues. You can enjoy adult conversation at church – a great, stimulating debate at a book group – a peaceful meditation during naptime – a “break” from the day to day doldrums at the spa – a creative outlet in a hobby, a class, or a blog (:-). For women who stay-at-home because they BELIEVE they are making the best choice for their children, Barbara’s comment rings empty and hollow – it’s a false argument in favor of working.

She went on to say that it’s

“more important… that you’re around when your kids are teenagers. You know, anybody can read your kid a book or cuddle your kid.”

One stay-at-home mom took exception to her remarks.

“I think that sometimes using phrases like that minimizes what being a stay-at-home mom is. It’s not just about reading a book or wiping their nose. It’s engendering in them a sense of independence and a quest for learning that is shaped by your values.”

I’m so glad that Whitney spoke up. I was saying almost the exact same thing to my TV screen. Even though it doesn’t take anything special to qualify someone to read a book to a child, or to give that child a hug, it also doesn’t MEAN anything special when a stranger does those things. When a mother reads with her child, she communicates so many things: that our family values books and learning, that you are important enough for me to stop what I’m doing and read with you, that I like asking you questions and hearing your answers. When a mother hugs her child, she brings so much caring, so much history, so much of a bond to that hug. The argument from the working-mom camp that the things their daycare providers do are trivial and simple and “no big deal” to farm out… that argument drives me crazy. Even though the tedium of day-to-day infant and toddler and preschooler care gets old and frustrating sometimes – it is just DIFFERENT to be the mommy who changes that diaper, or wipes that nose, or sings that song, or creates that art project. The intent and the care that a mother brings to the same situation cannot be hired.

Dr. Robin Smith, Oprah’s go-to psychologist these days, said that Americans have too much of an either/or dichotomy mindset. “We lose the wisdom of both worlds,” she said, and “the goal isn’t to have it all… it’s to be attuned with yourself and your children. Attuned means ‘I’m connected.’”

She pointed out that a stay-at-home mom who is disconnected, exhausted, and disengaged really isn’t PRESENT with her children – and a working mom who makes a point to attend her kids’ functions and games but then focuses on her Blackberry instead isn’t really there, either.

Dr. Robin gets on my nerves. (Just in the interest of full disclosure, y’all.) I have to give her some credit for this one. I’m a member of a parenting forum that seems to be full of moms who come down on others with a judgemental, holier-than-thou, best-darn-stay-at-home-mom on the block attitude… and yet these self-proclaimed SuperMoms have racked up 10,000 posts in under 3 years. Where are their SuperKids while they’re online all day long?

Toward the end of the show, a lovely young mom shared her change of plans. Melissa had a rough pregnancy and now believes her daughter may be her only child. When she visited the daycare they had chosen, and a worker asked her to leave a disposable camera so that pictures could be taken of the “moments she would miss,” it put her in tears. She said that she feels badly for her husband, since they had a plan in place before the baby was born – but now that her little girl is here, she can’t leave her in daycare. Her current plan is to stay home for one year and then re-evaluate how it’s working.

Then she wondered aloud,

“But will it be harder in a year when she’s crying ‘Mommy’ and holding on to me? {paraphrase}”

Barbara, our working mom of 3, chimed in.

“Yes, they do that. When I dropped off my 3 year old it was like Sophie’s Choice every day – I’ll be good, I’ll never do anything wrong ever again, just don’t drop me off! – and I would hide out and wait to see if he was okay. It’s just like they say – in five minutes they’re fine and playing. {paraphrase}”

Dr. Robin jumped in again. She said it was natural to feel terrible about dropping your children off at daycare.

“You want them not to ache – but the task of motherhood is to teach them what to do when they ache. How to self-soothe, whether you are there at home or away at work. {paraphrase}”

See, I don’t agree with this one, Doc R. I don’t believe that my primary task as a mother is to teach my son how to soothe himself. As an adult, I don’t soothe myself! When I am hurting, I have learned how to reach out. I go to my husband, to God, to a dear friend, to an expert. I’ve learned where to turn for help. See, in my experience, when I try to solve all my problems and pains by myself, things get worse. I want to teach Jonas to be independent – in his thinking, his decision-making – but I also want to teach Jonas to be interdependent. God made us to be part of a bigger social structure – we are born into families, and we grow up and create our own families. We join church families and we participate in our local and global communities. This dogged insistence on SELF – self-soothing, self-esteem, self-interest – seems to me to be one of our problems in this country. I’d much rather be surrounded by people who care about others and are plugged in to having people care about them.

The show wrapped up with two moms of adult children, who both had regrets about their choices. The stay-at-home mom said that her children didn’t see her as capable of anything other than making dinner and running a house. “What about me now? I want a part of me back.” The working mom seemed near tears when she said, “I missed everything.” She told her kids not do what she did – but her own daughter, who was also in the audience, said that she always felt loved and cared for. She made the decision to return to work when she had her own baby. Dr. Robin had some advice for the working-mom-of-adult-children, too. She told her that rather than tell her daughters NOT to work, she should be helping them on “the journey to find what it means to be a mother to them, not to you. {paraphrase}”

This is another one of my pet peeves. Moral relativism – where it might be right for me, but not be right for you – is one of the most illogical things I encounter among otherwise well-educated and well-intentioned people. If something is right, then it is always right in all situations. Right? And this is why mothers are still engaged in the Mommy Wars – because even when we espouse this notion that “this is right for me but it might not be right for you,” we still believe that what we have chosen is MORE RIGHT. Mothers who work believe that they are doing the right thing – if not the right thing for every child on the planet, then at least the right thing for their personal children or their personal financial situation. Mothers who stay home believe they are doing the right thing, too. Which means that they all believe that mothers making that other choice are wrong.

I believe that children deserve a full-time, fully attached, parental caregiver during their formative years. (I won’t get into my views about mothering school-aged children in this post. We’ll save that topic…. maybe I’ll make this a series.) I believe that some mothers are not able to be the full-time caregiver for a variety of reasons…. including mental illness, physical disability, single parenthood, and financial crisis. I believe that most mothers who claim that they “need to work” for the money actually are “choosing to work” for the money. (I personally know women who worked in the public school system and told me their income went for the “extras” like a yearly trip to Disney World and the latest Louis Vuitton handbag for their 13-year-olds.)

I believe that staying-at-home is more than being a warm body in the house with a child – more than watching out for accidents – more than feeding, changing, and putting down for naps – more than reading umpteen books and singing umpteen songs – more than attending playgroups and library story hours.

I believe in attachment parenting – the “Seven Baby B’s,” as Dr. William & Martha Sears put it in their book, which include bonding with baby at birth; breastfeeding; bedding close to baby; babywearing; belief in baby’s cries (in other words, attributing no ill intent or manipulation to the cries of infants, but rather viewing them as valid communication from real people who are too young to have any other communciation tools); beware of “baby trainers;” and balance. This is a responsive parenting style – the “Baby B’s” help parents get to know and understand their baby, which makes them able to meet their baby’s needs and eventually anticipate those needs.

At this stage, we are no longer breastfeeding or cosleeping. We still wear Jonas in slings and carriers, we believe that his crying is a valid way to communicate his feelings, and we stay away from those who proclaim that toddlers should be getting used to Time-Outs and Spankings by now. AP fits our lives.

AP is an instinctive way of living within our family. Just as I would never want to be ignored if I broke down in tears of frustration and anger, I choose not to ignore Jonas’ tears. When he wants to go downstairs all by himself, but we tell him “No, wait for Mommy or Daddy,” that’s a big deal to a little person! He may bang the gate, he may start to cry. We don’t “punish” him – no scolding, no smacking his hands. We speak to him gently, we explain what’s happening, we offer hugs and kisses if he wants to accept them. In other words: we treat him like a PERSON. A person who doesn’t have an adult supply of patience yet – or a brain that does “cause & effect” thinking – or the dexterity to accomplish all the tasks he is dreaming of…. but still, a person.

Part of the reason I am so passionate about my career as a stay-at-home mom is because I believe it is INFINITELY harder to be an attached parent-and-child when you are separated for many hours of every day. (I didn’t say it’s impossible. Just that it’s a lot harder. I know people who are trying to make it work, and I don’t envy them at all.) So I guess you could say that I choose to be a SAHM because it’s the easiest way to accomplish my parenting goals. I know Jonas so well because we are closely attached. I can usually anticipate his needs, and when I can’t figure out his needs, I can at least put myself in his shoes and decide how I’d like to be treated if the situation were reversed.

For me, the two things go hand-in-hand. I’m a stay-at-home parent because I believe that it’s the best -and easiest- way to ensure that Jonas can form a secure attachment to his parent(s). I’m an attached parent because I believe that my child deserves the best start in life – and I believe that forming a secure attachment with a parent puts him on the best path toward intellectual development, psychological well-being, and emotional stability.

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Splenda. On one hand, it might be better for me than mass quantities of sugar in my coffee and tea… but on the other, I am consuming 6-8 packets of an artificial food every day. Yikes!

Caffeine. Hey, if I could beat this one, I’d eliminate my need for Splenda! I just really *heart* coffee. In all its forms. And I’m too Southern to give up sweet tea. And I adore Diet Coke. Now, Jonas has just started sleeping through the night – so I do envision a day in the near future when all the moving commotion is over, that I won’t *need* a java jolt to start my day. And I might actually break this habit before too long.

Online time when Jonas is awake. Occasionally, this starts out with the best of intentions – I “pop” online to check for an expected email, to balance the checkbook or pay a bill. But usually it’s for mindless “surfing.” Jonas is great at entertaining himself for short periods of time, but I really don’t like the example I’m setting by always going for “screen time” myself.

TV time when Jonas is awake. See above. Though he doesn’t pay much attention to my “boring, grown-up” programs, my ideal day would include no TV time for his little eyes, ears, and developing mind. I give in to my less-than-ideal on days when I’m tired – days when Chris works late and I need a *break* by 4 p.m. – days when Jonas doesn’t feel well and is especially clingy or cranky – days when it’s too hot to go outside – in other words, most days. And I’m not proud of that.

Yelling. Okay, this one isn’t too bad. I don’t yell at Jonas, ever. I don’t yell on a daily basis or anything. But I’ve been fighting this battle for as long as I can remember (just ask my mom or dad or brother!) – even as a kid, my vocal volume just goes up and UP and UP when I get upset or excited. Now that I have a little one of my own, I’m more aware that I want to set a better example of other ways to communicate my feelings. At least this habit is one that I see *some* improvement on.

*with sincere apologies to Chicago for the misuse of their lovely song title!

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Receptive language is when we are learning to listen to & understand the language around us. When babies are born, they are fascinated by the sounds around them. When babies and toddlers start to demonstrate that they know the names (labels) for objects and people around them, we know that they are making receptive language progress. Other milestones in receptive language development include pointing to familiar objects, responding to simple questions or requests (“Bring me the ball” or “Want more juice?”), and anticipating the endings of simple games like peek-a-boo or “This Little Piggy.”

Expressive language is when we are learning to speak and use language to express ourselves. Babies use cries, body language, and facial expression to communicate with their parents in the beginning, and soon they begin to babble. Other parts of expressive language are motions or gestures (pointing to an item that he wants, raising his arms to be picked up) and vocalizations other than crying to get attention. First words usually appear around the end of the child’s first year, and around the end of the second year most toddlers start to form two-word sentences (“More milk!” “Ball go!”)

At his speech & language evaluation last month, Jonas was mildly delayed in both of these language development areas. He’s about one month behind in expressive language (which means, in his case, that though he is an avid babbler and definitely uses gestures to get our attention and make his needs known) and about two months behind in receptive language (which means that he could not indicate to the SLP that he recognized, or understood, some of the labeling words she used (ie, “Show me the bear”) or the requests she made).

So, how does sign language fit into the life of a hearing child? And what about a hearing child with language delays? I know that some people are wondering if using sign language with Jonas has contributed to his language delay, or if teaching him sign will inhibit his acquisition of spoken language.

Let’s take a quick look at the research. The National Institutes of Health funded a half-million dollar research project to study children who had followed the “Baby Sign” program compared to children from the same communities without exposure to sign language. The children were given standard language measures at 11, 15, 19, 24, 30, and 36 months. In addition, as many children as could be relocated at age 8 were assessed again with a standard intelligence test measure. This type of study (a longitudinal study, that follows the same cohort of subjects over time) is the gold standard in educational research. At 24 months old, the Baby Signs® babies were on average talking more like 27 or 28 month olds both in terms of vocabulary size and sentence length and construction. At 3 years of age, the children who had used sign language were at nearly a 4 year old level. And the final test measure of 8 year olds found that those who had been Baby Signs® babies scored an average of 12 points higher in IQ than their non-signing peers. (For more information, please click here.)

A good metaphor for the reasoning behind using baby signs is to think about the way babies get around. Most babies crawl before they walk. Crawling is certainly a less desirable way to get around, long term, but it’s an amazing feat of mobility when you’ve previously been stuck wherever Mommy put you down! Learning to crawl doesn’t take away your interest in walking – no baby thinks, “Well, now I’ve got a way to get from point A to point B, time to go learn about something else.” NO! Most babies become even more motivated in their efforts to cruise and then walk – they have discovered the amazing and tantalizing prospect of independent movement! The same thing goes for baby signing – in most homes, the amount of sign language that can be taught is finite, so it won’t work as a complete language system and it’s less desirable than verbal speech. But when a baby learns his first signs, it’s an amazing feat of connection and communication with those around him! Learning those signs doesn’t make a child give up on speech – it provides him with a developmentally “easier” way to communicate for the time being, but excites and enriches the child who will continue to strive toward a fuller language experience.

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We didn’t think we’d become Floridians. We spent four years there, but we always proudly claimed our status as true Southerners – we are from Georgia! Where we have seasons, but not extreme ones. Where we only need one coast, and we grow real crops, and hurricanes don’t really ruin an entire school year. Apparently, though, living in FLA sort of seeps into the bones. Slowly. Insidiously. Subtly – but it’s there.

I figured it out when I woke up yesterday morning. It was 47 degrees outside – beautiful, clear sky, crisp air. The weather man forecast a high of 56 degrees, with some clouds and scattered showers in the afternoon/evening. Do you know what I did?

I turned on the heater.

Now, in my legitimate defense, it really was cold on the floor – where my little baby spends most of his time, on his hands and knees and tummy. I don’t want him to be too cold and uncomfortable. But seriously? I find myself kind of funny. Today, I think it started out in the 50s and is going to hit 64…. I’m wearing my fleece pullover. HA!

P.S. I’m definitely not a total Floridian, though. Jonas has a buddy, 5 weeks older, whose mom grew up in South Florida. The last time we walked at the park, when the temp was about 55, she had him in a hat and mittens! 😛

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When a lifelong Southern Baptist girl joins the United Methodist Church, you can bet your bottom dollar that she spends a lot of time in research and prayer on the matter of baptism. If you’ve been curious…

What do United Methodists believe about baptism?

“Understanding the practice as an authentic expression of how God works in our lives, The United Methodist Church strongly advocates the baptism of infants within the faith community: “Because the redeeming love of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, extends to all persons and because Jesus explicitly included the children in his kingdom, the pastor of each charge shall earnestly exhort all Christian parents or guardians to present their children to the Lord in Baptism at an early age” (1992 Book of Discipline, par. 221)” (para. 226 in the 2004 Book of Discipline).

While baptism is understood primarily as a means of God’s grace toward the child, By Water and the Spirit also states: “If a parent or sponsor (godparent) cannot or will not nurture the child in the faith, then baptism is to be postponed until Christian nurture is available.”

Baptism is, among other things, incorporation into the body of Christ. The questions asked in the baptism of infants are asked not of the parents and sponsors to answer on behalf of the infant, but on behalf of themselves. Those who cannot or will not answer these questions affirmatively for themselves in good faith are not yet ready to support another in a journey toward discipleship to Jesus Christ, and so are not able to enter the covenant relationship entailed in baptism.

In infant baptism, God claims the child with divine grace. Clearly the child can do nothing to save himself or herself, but is totally dependent on God’s grace, as we all are — whatever our age. In believer’s baptism, the person being baptized is publicly professing her or his own decision to accept Christ. Believer’s baptism is an ordinance, not a sacrament. United Methodists baptize people of all ages who have not previously received the sacrament. Even when the people being baptized are believing adults and are ready to profess their faith, our emphasis is upon the gracious action of God rather than upon the individual’s decision.

Source: http://archives.umc.org

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Meet the author

MICHELLE NEBEL

I write uplifting women’s fiction woven with threads of faith, grace, and Southern hospitality. My blog is where I share a glimpse of my life, and I hope you’ll find the thoughts here encouraging!

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