Thursday, September 24, 2009

the new feminist revolution

Back in the day, before I knew I wanted kids, when I was in the heyday of my youth and falling in love with the freedom of college, the knowledge it offered and the opportunities it gave me to meet some of the most important people in my life still, including my husband, I felt I was unstoppable.

I guess it started as early as high school, when I started my 'countdown to freedom' sometime in my junior year. I saw college as an opportunity to spread my wings, exercise my independence and learn about the world that I was so curious about. I remember when I was making light of my best friend getting stressed about whether she was going to get her college application completed in time, she told me "you don't understand, you want to be successful and do something with your life, I just want to be a mom!" I remember being completely shocked by this statement for many different reasons but mainly because at that point in my life I couldn't imagine only aspiring to be a 'mom.' I had bigger plans.

I remember feeling at a very young age that I was out of my element and people my age just didn't get me. This is why college was such a revelation, it was the first time in my life where I could have thoughtful conversations about significant issues and really felt like I was on the same page with these people. It let me explore my 'radical' side and really articulate my thoughts and beliefs. This was also where I found what I really wanted to do with my life(only after realizing that being a veterinarian would require a better grade than a D in Chemistry!). It was a long slippery slope of going from marriage counselor to sex therapist to finally social worker. Although at the time I didn't realize that's where a degree in Family Studies would land me, I knew I didn't want to be a social worker, too messy and not enough pay, but I did want to help families, that much I knew.

Getting my degree was a bumpy road filled with failures and successes, but I did it and armed with my degree and idealism, I was ready to save the world! I got what, at the time, was my dream job, working for a residential program for adolescent girls with mental illness. I quickly worked my way up to managing the program and staff within 3 years. Ever since then I have been working my way up, including earning my Masters in Community Services something I hoped would offer me more opportunities and more money. Whenever the subject of children would come up in it's usual hypothetical way in our lives, we both would joke that he would be the stay-at-home parent while I continued to exercise my feminist rights climbing the professional ladder. I dreamed of being a Director for a non-profit or possibly even starting my own non-profit. I even went so far as to see us living large on my salary, taking great vacations, partying with our friends, going out to nice dinners and following our every whim. He didn't mind this dream either.

This dream came to a screeching halt when we finally got pregnant after nearly two years of discussions, planning and trying. As the due date approached I found myself hoping for an alternative to working full-time so that I could stay home longer with my baby (I could not imagine having to hand my 3-month-old over to a stranger to take care of for the majority of the day, and I was becoming blatantly aware of my inability to do this). I found myself no longer looking for positions with more money and power but with more flexibility and no travel. My future began to quickly take on a completely different look. What had happened to my dreams, goals and ambition? I was a feminist damn it, I need to be out there chasing that carrot for all the women before me that didn't even have the opportunity to enter the race.

Then I remembered a conversation with a roommate in college, one that started when she said something along the lines of "if it weren't for the women's movement, I'd be married with kids and not spending all this money on tuition!" I was shocked that she had it all so wrong...the point of the women's movement was not to limit women but to offer women the choice. I guess I am finally realizing this reality...because now my dream consists of being able to be a full-time mom, being the primary influence on her growth and development and showing her the world. Now, my best friend from high school is an inspiration to me because, I finally understand that being 'just' a mom is probably the most important job there is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

'crunchy' and the mommy wars

Being what most would refer to as a parent of the 'crunchy' variety is more challenging than I ever could have imagined. It seems everyday, I learn more and more about how people can throw judgement and even scorn our way because we are doing something 'different.' It started when I was pregnant.

When I divulged my plans for a natural birth and to use cloth diapers, I was shocked at the responses I would get. People would say "Are you crazy? You'll be begging for an epidural!" or "Yea I give you a week before you go to disposables." When I saw a really good friend who was due a few weeks before my due date (who also planned on a natural birth) basically attacked at her own baby shower by family and friends, it was difficult for me to contain my outrage. What is it that would bring such aggressive criticism from women who were there to support her? Luckily I didn't have a similar experience, mine were more passive aggressive, snide comments like "good luck," or "we'll see." If I (or her) were to achieve a labor and delivery without the use of medication would that somehow take away from their birth experiences? Is having an epidural a rite of passage into true motherhood these days and if you don't have one, you're not accepted into the mommy club? I still can't figure this one out.

Fast forward to today, I am a proud mother of a beautiful daughter (who was unfortunately born via c-section after 46 hours of unmedicated labor...another blog for another day) and yes, we are still using the cloth diapers, making her food (she has yet to have a jar of any packaged baby food), eating organic and hormone/gmo-free foods whenever possible and we strive to ensure she gets the rest, stimulation and comfort she needs. The criticism continues, from hearing "that won't last" or "wait till you have the next one" to "you should just make it easier on yourself." Again, what is so threatening to other parents (moms) that they feel the need to criticize our choices? Do they feel like we are criticizing their choices by not doing as they do? If that is the case, I can honestly tell you we don't...we don't have time for that!!

The scary part is, if we were plugging our 1 year old in to the TV/DVD, feeding her cake and soda everyday and keeping her up till she passed out from utter exhaustion, we would get next to no criticism!! Since when did trying to do the best job possible raising our kids become a point of contention? I hear people say things like "they won't break," or "they'll survive," and I agree, children are resilient, some have survived horrific beginnings to go on and become decent adults who make a positive impact on our society. My point is that I did not get in to this parenting gig so I could figure out a way to make it easiest on myself, or to skate by hoping that resilience will pull her through in the end (and I'm NOT saying that other parents did or are). I did a lot of soul searching and discussing with my husband before deciding to do this; and I got in to this to put all my knowledge and experience into doing the absolute best job I can do. I don't want my child to 'survive' childhood, my hope is that she will thrive, at least in part, because of something we did as her parents.

I believe as Oprah or Maya Angelou said that 'when you know better, you do better,' so if I know (because of all the research, the AAP and countless examples in our society) that my child should not be consuming excess salt, sugar or TV at this age then why should I 'just do it' because I 'drank pop' or 'watched TV' as a kid? Isn't this whole parenting thing about correcting at least some of the mistakes our parents made because they didn't know any better? I really don't want to start an argument because you choose to do things differently than we do, but I cannot help but ask, what is it about our choices that leave so many feeling threatened or defensive?

I am doing the best I know how in raising our daughter and I will believe that most are doing the same. The beauty of our society is that for the most part we have choices and as a family you should make yours based on your own family values/beliefs. Just remember that when someone is doing something that you can't figure out why they would take the time, money or effort to do, they are doing it because they feel it is best for themselves or their family. If you don't understand and want to...ask, but try not to do it in a condescending way. We all have a lot to learn and if we choose to, we could learn from each other, but only if we approach it in a non-judgmental, receptive manner. Mommies, put down your bows and arrows, we're all doing our best.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

oh yea, let's go there...

I have really been trying to think of a diplomatic way to talk about this, but really, I'm so damn pissed about it, I can hardly see straight. So here it is, my opinion (and it's always been a strong one).

They have been airing this commercial recently (and by 'they,' I mean those scary people we allow to hijack terms like christian [read 'not a terrorist'] and patriotic). These people find their ways into the curriculum that educates nearly 90% of American youth (and hello, the other 11% are attending private [read religious] schools), as well as in our media, where American youth are really getting their education. I'm glad I can't think of the name of the organization [read cult] that is paying for this ad because I wouldn't want to give them any credit (even if only a handful of people read this and they mostly agree with me!).

It's basically a montage of elementary age children saying what they are going to be when they grow up, it reeks of the stench of right-wing conservatism. And, of course it ends with the all so famous "I am a life" message. Now, don't get me wrong, I am perfectly aware that a pregnancy can end in many painful ways and no matter how it happens there is a woman and possibly a family on the end of that pain. That includes when a woman has to make the decision herself to end a pregnancy. There are of course many very justifiable reasons (based on our own sensibilities) that most of us (even christians) would be able to forgive her for. Then there are the other reasons...

The fact of the matter is I am glad I have not changed my stance on this issue after becoming a mother (and I've seen it happen to women I consider my contemporaries, so I was kinda worried). A woman's right to her own body is paramount to a civilized society. Now, I am a feminist, through and through (and my feminist theories could be a whole other blog) but I put great effort into not being a 'femi-nazi' (I believe you 'get more bees with honey') so a lot of people that know me can be surprised with some of my 'radical' beliefs. I could get into all the issues that oppress both men (because I believe feminism is as much a male issue as it is a female issue) and women in our culture. But this one has to be the priority, because if women lose any right to any part of their body then they become less worthy than men and in a sense, lose power over their own body, even in intimate relationships where trust and dignity are crucial.

I won't even go into the fact that the majority of these people that run these ads playing the 'what if' card are no where to be seen once they have talked a woman into walking away from a decision she had made by pulling on that ever so delicate string that was ready to unravel anyhow. Where are 'they' when this woman is now faced with a child she cannot support, who doesn't have any support or safety net of her own? It is hideous that there are so many perfectly healthy, children who are in dire need of love, attention and a family in our very own country (yes, Angelina, you don't have to travel across the world to be a hero) and yet there are people trying to convince someone who is making the toughest decision of her life while trying to consider the possible outcomes for this unborn child that she should just trust in "whoever" that everything will be ok.

When I look at my daughter who, I hope never has to deal with a pregnancy that ends in any other way than she intended, I am filled with overwhelming love and commitment to ensuring her safety and providing a supportive environment that teaches her she can be and do anything she dreams of. It saddens me that there are people that for whatever their reasons are, cannot look at their child with the same amount of love and commitment, or just don't have the ability to care for them the way they know they deserve to, or are dealing with demons that most of us can't even imagine. Now, I have spent the majority of my 'professional' life in social work, so I am all about helping people keep it together, but because of my direct experience with those in need, I also understand how overwhelmingly difficult it can be for those with even the best intentions.

It is difficult not to impose our own beliefs (especially the strong ones) on others. When we feel we are acting on behalf of the innocent, the helpless, it can be even more difficult not to want to make that decision...for everyone. Keep in mind though, we are talking about adult women, they are American citizens, afforded the right to an education, to earn a living (albeit, still at a fraction of what her male counterparts earn), to vote, to ride in any seat on the bus. Therefore, they should be afforded the right to their own bodies whom "God," her mother, or whomever she believes 'gave' to her. Remember that nobody makes a decision to end a pregnancy lightly, and believe that whoever is making that decision has the best interests of all involved. Not an easy pill to swallow for many, but it had to be said.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

religion, spirituality or whatever you want to call it...

I openly admit to not being a religious person.  Not that I haven't attended my fair share of church services...I was baptized Catholic, confirmed Methodist and have experienced several other denominations along the way.  In fact during my early adolescence, I had a really good time meeting some really good people at church.  It was in the United Methodist church that I attended when I was between the ages of 10-14 that I realized that church didn't have to be the stuffy hypocritical experience that I found the Catholic church to be.  At Sunday school we talked about the crazy partying some of the older kids did the night before and there was the expected hooking up on the youth group ski trips and overnighters with other churches.  I also attended a christian summer camp where I again, met some really good people and had a really good time, even learning about the Bible and Jesus Christ...overall, I cannot say I personally have had a 'bad' experience with religion. 

So, why do I say I'm not 'religious?'  I guess mostly it's because of the underlying hypocrisy of most of the organized religions out there.  That, and the judgement...I mean, I haven't read it cover to cover, but I know there is something in the Bible about not judging.  Yet, I see people using religion all the time to judge, persecute, and otherwise hate (another topic, I'm pretty confident is covered in the Bible as something not to do).  Now, I am fully aware of the cropping up of new churches taking a new spin on religion not only to lure more attendees (in case you haven't heard, churches are really hurting for followers...seems I'm not the only one feeling a little bored with main stream religion), but also to feed the overwhelmingly obvious appetites of the new 'spirituality.'

Spirituality, a word that used to be associated with new age, hippy, off the deep end, holistic medicine, incense burning folk living out in the desert tripping on peyote.  It is now a word that is becoming more and more common to our vernacular.  It's a word I associate better with than religion, since it seems to encompass more than just a belief in God, Allah, Buddha, etc.  To me it embraces the entirety of beliefs out there.  Do I believe in "God?" I really don't know (I lean more toward no), but do I believe in something, bigger than you or I? Yes, it's nearly impossible to deny that we are surrounded by forces beyond our control, be it mother nature, the universe, whatever you want to call it. So why must I put a name on it?

The topic of religion is becoming more of an issue around our house now that we have a child, as we both feel it is our responsibility to introduce her to all sorts of options out there and not force our beliefs or lack there of on her.  Not only that, but let's face it, for the most part, the average church has a good deal of good people attending them and can that be all bad.  Church is more than religion, it is a sense of community, connectedness, security...all the things that we as humans truly need to live a fulfilling life.  So how do two non-religious people introduce religion to their child while remaining unbiased?  I think it comes down to the golden rule, which I think most religions are supposed to be teaching but somehow it gets lost along the way...being a good person, someone who doesn't judge others, who helps those in need, who lives their life with integrity, and truly treats others as they would want to be treated.

But why do we need religion to live our lives this way?  Sometimes I feel like I live my life with more integrity than a lot of the crazy right wing religious fanatics that get all the pub.  I mean really, bombing abortion clinics, saying that AIDS and the war in the middle east is "God's" pay back for homosexuality?  How are these acts supported by anything Jesus Christ preached or lived his life by...and how can anyone who calls him their 'savior' truly believe that they are doing "God's" work?  This is when I get really frustrated with the middle of the road, honest to goodness, good people that truly live their lives as Christians...why are you letting these nut cases high jack your religion and beliefs and represent them to the world?

In the end, I'm sure we will find our own way of showing our daughter the good, the bad and the ugly, all while encouraging her to make her own decision as she sees fit. Either way, we will be teaching her to be a good person, to be honest, to be grateful and to never judge. As any parent does, we will do our best to set a good example by doing ourselves what we expect of her.