Category Archives: Uncategorized

Q&A: Helping new partner define role with your kids with guest expert

Heads up: I’ll be on “The Daily Circuit” on Minnesota Public Radio today (Friday) at 11 am Central time talking about the opt-out stuff from my Atlantic piece. Here’s the show info, and the livestream link is there. I’ll post the archive afterward when they put it up.

Today’s question is about step-parenting, which I know nothing about, so I tossed it to Deesha Philyaw (with whom I teach the Writing Through Your Divorce online workshop) . Deesha is a step-mom herself, and her children have a step-mom, so she’s got the view from both sides.

Anon writes: 

I have divorced from my kids dad, and we are working very hard (and so
far succeeding on the whole) to co-parent them in the style that you are
so good at modeling.  

My question today is about helping my boyfriend (hate
that there is no better word for that, seems a bit juvenile to use at
age 40), who is childless and before me never envisioned having children,
figure out what his role will/can/could be my childrens’ lives. Neither
he nor I have ever seen a terribly healthy step-parent relationship up
close (both our folks are still together, and the divorces we’ve been
spectator to have not included involved co-parents, etc etc)

This is all conceptual/information gathering at the
moment, as the kids and he have not yet met. Both he and I see us
forming a new life together and that obviously will include my children,
and he’s a researcher and reader and planner (as am I), and I’d love to
be able to point him/us to books/articles/personal stories to help us
both understand the role of a stepparent when the kids already have a
super-active and involved father – i.e they don’t need a surrogate dad
per se.  I’d love to get us off on the right foot towards whatever that
relationship ends up looking like from the initial meeting.  Any
thoughts or been-there-done-thats that your readers could share would be
most welcome.

Deesha responds:

First, kudos to both of you for being so thoughtful about this and
planning ahead.  You’re avoiding the trap that some well-meaning folks
find themselves in: “We love each other, so of course the kids will love
this new person, and we’ll all get along swimmingly!”  As with so many
things, love isn’t enough.  A gradual introduction can help kids adjust.
 Starting with short, fun outings in public places give everyone a
chance to meet without the high pressure of, say, a holiday dinner,
someone’s birthday, or a road trip.

When my ex and I separated, we agreed to give each other
the opportunity to meet anyone we were serious about, prior to that
person meeting our kids.  We both did that, so when the kids told us
about meeting Mom’s new friend or Dad’s new friend, we were able to say
that we’d also met them.  What this seems to have done is freed our kids
up to get to know these new people (who eventually became their
stepparents) without fear of betraying the other parent or feeling like
they couldn’t talk about what a good time they’d had.  They could also
talk about things that bothered them or feelings they were struggling
with without worrying that the things they shared would fuel some larger
gripes the adults had with each other.  I gave my children permission
to get to know and like their stepmom, Sherry.  I genuinely like her
myself, but even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have burdened my kids with that
information.

After those initial grown-up meetings, my
then-boyfriend/now-husband C and I met up with the kids (my 2 girls and
his 2 girls) at Dave & Buster’s. It was loud and fun.  My kids and
C’s oldest daughter spent more time engaging each other than us as
adults.  His younger daughter, however, was definitely checking me out
and sizing me up, good-naturedly.  It seemed she was hoping I was going
to try and “win her over” by doting and being indulgent, but instead I
was engaged without being cloying, and gave them their space.  Of course
I wanted them to like me, but I didn’t want them to feel pressured to
like me right away.  Generally, I followed their lead.  When they got to
the point where they wanted to hug me or tell me things that were
happening in their lives, I welcomed it, and I reciprocated.

My ex is a very involved father, so my kids didn’t need a
surrogate dad either.  My kids enjoys C’s company and sense of humor. C
considers himself a resource, someone who cares for, encourages, and
supports my children, and who is a support to me as a parent. I feel
similarly about my role in his children’s lives.  Not a replacement
parent, but I’m there for my bonus daughters, committed to loving and
caring for them, and supporting my husband as he parents.

My kids really liked Sherry, right off the bat, when
they first met her.  Or so it seemed.  It turns out that my youngest,
Peyton, who was 4 or 5 at the time, was asking Sherry to take her to the
bathroom whenever they all went out to restaurants. In private, she
would say awful things to Sherry, making it clear that she didn’t want
her around!  So my ex had to address that with Peyton and talk about how
she felt about him having someone else in her life.

My ex and I also aimed to do more
listening than talking when it came to conversations with our children
about our new partners.  We wanted to allow their relationships with our
new partners to develop in their own time and in their own ways. No
pressure from us to “like’ this person or approve.  However, we did
expect them to be respectful, as we would with anyone.

I think my girls are able to embrace having
stepparents because we (the adults) are all respectful of each other’s
roles and boundaries.  For example, Sherry is more of a shopper than I
am, so my teen daughter Taylor shops more with Sherry than she does with
me.  However, I told them that I wanted to be the one who took Taylor
to buy her first heels and make-up, and it was understood.

Two resources come to mind.  Our book Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households After Divorce has a chapter on dating with kids in the mix and remarriage.  Also the Step and Blended Family Institute has good resources for those who are “step-dating.”

Good luck!

 

Deesha runs the site Co-parenting 101, which contains tons and tons of resources for co-parents, including a podcast, guest posts, and resources on step-parenting. 

 

 

Technical questions

So when I came over to Squarespace, I thought all my old posts would be easily searchable. It turns out that Google indexed them through the old Typepad category pages and by month, not by individual post. So people can search and see the teasers, but not get to the actual posts.  (Because Typepad’s categorization doesn’t exist anymore now that the URL points to Squarespace.)

Does anyone know what I can do to make this not happen? Is it just a matter of waiting until Google reindexes everything? 

My other option, I think, is to go through all 1600 posts and build pages for them here. But then we’d still have to wait for Google to find those, wouldn’t we? 

Also, I’m in the process of figuring out how to fix the RSS feed. 

Are we asking the right questions about “work-life balance”?

My dark horse favorite subject in business school was cost
accounting. Now, as someone who loves strategy but not details, I was expecting
to slog numbly through all my required accounting classes. But cost accounting
was a whole new world for me. In cost accounting, we figure out how to
categorize and break things down so we can find out what the true costs of
production are. Think about a factory that makes 50 different kinds of widgets
on 12 different machines with 20 employees. How do you figure out how much it
costs you to make Widget #27 from start to finish, including cost of materials,
cost of time on the machine(s) and depreciation of the machine(s), cost of
labor (taking into account that different employees may be paid different
rates), costs of building maintenance and utilities, and costs of
non-manufacturing employees?

Basically, cost accounting asks you to take apart all the
different elements of your business and figure out how they go together properly
to determine how much it truly costs you to make the products you sell. If you
calculate incorrectly, you can put yourself out of business by charging too little
for your product and not covering costs. Cost accountants call that the “death
spiral.”

I think this is what’s happening with all the angst about “the
opt-out revolution”
and all the other work-life issues people (yes, not just
women) are dealing with: We’re not looking at how to
categorize them correctly and we’re missing the true costs/questions. Instead of
realizing that there’s a scale, and opt-out is the same as didn’t-go-back-after-maternity-leave
is the same as got-laid-off-during-maternity-leave is the same as took three
months maternity leave is the same as went-back-after-two-weeks-to-pay-the-rent,
we’re seeing this as personal choice that some women have and some don’t (which
always contains layers of privilege and moral judgment). And we’re seeing those
decisions as the problems themselves, not as attempts at solutions to the two
true questions: 1) How do we ensure that our children are given loving,
supportive care from birth? 2) How can people do work that has value for them?

(If you’re getting a little bit stuck on my idea of work
having value in relation to/as separate from childcare, read my piece “Free but
not cheap”
to see how I break down the idea of jobs vs. the relationship of
parenting. Then come back here.)

Every mother, every woman, every person, whether they’re conscious
of it or not at any given moment, is questioning whether what they’re spending
their time doing has value to them. Every parent is concerned with who their child
is with at this exact moment and whether their child is being taken care of
appropriately. Any combination of work–for pay, not for pay, at home, in a
separate location, full-time, part-time, and others in systems I’m not aware
of–is just an attempt to come up with the best answers to both of those
key questions with the resources and mobility each person has at that point in
time. The best answer is different for people with different situations,
resources, and desires, as it is different for the same people over time as
situations, resources, and desires shift.

So it’s a mistake to forget, as we’re making our own choices
(however limited they may be) that there are always people who have different
sets of circumstances that inform the also-limited choices they make. If the
limits on our choices are awareness or education, we need to work together to
lift those limits. (Examples of that include calling out privilege, racism, and
sexism in the workplace for those in power who don’t see it, working for better policies
that include men as equal parents with equal responsibilities, revisioning work
hours and locations, and voting for those who will change public policy to
answer questions instead of penalize people.) If the limits on our choices are
things about ourselves that we can change, then changing those things makes a
lot of sense. But we need to be aware that it is to everyone’s benefit for all
of us to be able to maximize our choices in ways that help others. Even if some
of us do things others of us don’t see value in. (Seasonally-appropriate candy
bowl, I’m looking at you.)

In addition, we need to be aware of things such as bad
relationships that restrict and mutate our choices so that we can understand
what needs to be changed and not spend time banging our heads against things
that aren’t the actual problem. And so that we can understand the choices
others make and allocate our anger and activism at the correct targets. Otherwise, we’re blaming instead of analyzing and trying to do better institutionally and personally.

We’re
currently in a death spiral of analysis of work-life balance. Can we pull out
of it?

 

 

Reminder: The Flourish Through Divorce online workshop
starts Thursday, so register now.

18 month olds, amirite?

I’ve been asked to put up a commiseration post for parents of 18-month-olds. 

Remember why 18 months is so crappy: massive sleep regression (sometimes lasting for several months), the 6-month disequilibrium phase, often movement stuff (running) , often teething (molars), and an enormous mismatch between their receptive language and what they can actually say. So you have a kid who wants to do everything themself, has a zillion thoughts but can’t get them out so you can understand, isn’t sleeping well, is physically and mentally out of sync, and has very little control over anything.

It’s not a good phase. But It Gets Better.  Usually 21 months is a turning point for development, language production, and sleeping, so it all starts to come together and they’re much more fluent in everything and in a much better mood.

Who needs to vent? Who has It Gets Better stories?

Not missing the point here

I have a piece today
in The Atlantic Sexes called “Keeping a Family Together Is Hard, Whether You ‘Opt Out’ or Not:What a New York Times magazine article gets wrong about women and work
in which I criticize Judith Warner’s New York Times piece from yesterday
following up on women who “opted-out” of the workforce ten years ago. Warner’s
piece
itself is a follow-up to Lisa Belkin’s 2003 piece for the NYT called “The
Opt-Out Revolution.”
(Got that? I feel like I need to draw a chart.)

In the 2003 piece,
Belkin interviewed high-powered, highly educated and connected women (mostly
white) who were deliberately deciding to step out of the workforce to stay home
with their children. Warner’s piece is an interview with three of them to find out
what has happened in their lives. You don’t need to read either of the first
two pieces, but you should read mine in The Atlantic. Then come back here for
the things that didn’t fit in that piece (word limit!) or were off topic.

Back? Good. My first
response to the Warner article was, “Oh, more from the NYT about the
super-rich. Cry me a river.” But the more I went into it the more I realized
that not only were they missing the point by only talking about these women,
but they were missing the real story (which these women are a part of but not
the focus): We are all eating a shit sandwich right now.

But let me
bullet-point all my criticisms so I don’t have to waste time writing
transitions. (I use the word “marriage” here but I’m using it as shorthand for
any romantic relationship that also provides a financial and family unit
structure.):

1. These women are
the super-wealthy, super-connected. One woman in the article, Sheilah O’Donnel,
was making $500K a year before she opted out. $500K. Warner goes all concern
troll that O’Donnel has only been able to make a fifth of that now when she
stepped back in (after a divorce, no less). Show me a woman who can go back
into the workforce at $100K after years as a SAHM who isn’t grateful and happy
for that. Show me a woman who, in 2013 after five years of layoffs and
furloughs and “we need to reduce your hours,” isn’t grateful and happy for
$100K even if she’s been in the workforce this whole time.

1a. I’m not really
going to go into the fact that O’Donnel was married to a man who gaslit her. He
was angry at her when she was working. He was angry at her when she was home.
He was angry at her when she took a part-time job. Then he blamed her taking
the part-time job for their split. Sir. O’Donnel played by the rules and ended
up with a husband who wasn’t worth it, and now she’s picking up the pieces.
Good for her. I hope she’s finding herself again and can relearn how to live
without the fear inherent in being with a gaslighter. But this has nothing to
do with her opting out. He’d have blamed her had she stayed in her job. (Hint:
If you’re making almost seven figures and you’re fighting about the laundry,
your relationship is in trouble and it’s not about individual choices.) Also, if this sounds familiar, it’s abuse. You don’t deserve it, and you can get out, and you can thrive. My email is on my About Me page.

2. Warner was gunning
for the women in her article. The second woman she talks about in the article
rose like an effing phoenix to go from a job she didn’t even like pre-kids
to raising $1.2 million and running her own non-profit and loving it. But still
Warner goes after her about marriage problems. I think that if you don’t want
to hang out with your husband when you’re home all day and you don’t want to
hang out with your husband when you’re working all the time, it’s pretty
obvious, and you make your piece with it or leave, and it’s your choice. But if
Warner’s piece is allegedly looking at career progress after an opt-out period,
then why is this woman’s marriage the factor Warner is judging her by? Related: If
anyone would like to send me some “seasonally appropriate” candy I would gladly
accept.

2a. I hope I’m not
the only one who was bothered by the fact that Warner spent so much time
talking about how the only Black woman in the article was hyper-aware of her
privilege in even being able to choose to opt out, but never indicates any kind
of self-awareness or acknowledgment of privilege from the white women. Were they
not aware of it, or does Warner simply not mention it because only the Black
woman should be aware of anything even vaguely race-related? I don’t know
exactly what it is, but it reminds me a lot of Gene Demby’s conversation on
Twitter the other day about being the only person of your race/sex/etc. in a
situation and how you have to represent in an unbalanced way.

3. It’s the economy,
stupid.
Everyone’s in trouble. Everyone. We are barely holding it together.
Even those of us with “great jobs,” who stayed in the entire time. Some of us
cannot afford to work because we can’t afford childcare. What do we do when we
can’t afford childcare?? A friend of mine had a
job (to which she had to wear pantyhose!), requiring two Master’s degrees, that
paid her so little that she qualified for (and gratefully took) food assistance
from the government. Those of us who are fully employed are still relying on a
cobbled-together system of spouses, families, friends, daycare providers, and
schools. No wonder we’re living in the fantasy world of Pinterest–day to day
life is too bleak.

4. Marriage is hard.
Even when you’ve chosen the right person. Even when you work really well as a
team. Especially when you’re both under pressure from jobs, lack of jobs, lack
of forward momentum, fear for your industry, expectations, and all the other
stuff. So much of what Warner talks about in the article was about being aware
of and able to keep your marriage together. The jobs and finances were just
compounding factors, not the cause of the problems, as she implies.

5. And, finally, once
again it’s all our fault. Women can’t win. You are making the wrong decision,
right now, even if you have no choice. And if you made the opposite decision
that would be wrong, too.

You are never going
to win in the NYT, but you always win here. Tell me what you’re thinking about
any of the articles, if they were all tl;dr, how this intersects or doesn’t
with your life? What do you want to see the media cover about people working
and having families?

 

 

The annual School Is Starting post

Yesterday I donated to Portapure, a group that makes family-sized water purifiers for Haitian families. Donating to this campaign is a really concrete way to help stop cholera in Haiti and give families affordable water. Every little bit helps: http://igg.me/p/be-a-water-hero-purelives-empowering-haitians-to-save-their-own-lives/x/4291744

It’s that time of year again: Time to breathe deeply as kids go back to school. I know that I tend to get a little anxious because of some of the school experiences I’ve had and my older son has had. It’s hard not to bring your own worries into a new school year, especially if your child is like you and runs the risk of having the same issues you may have had in school.

It is completely ok to feel your own feelings, to verbalize your fears, and to talk about your worries about what happened to you and what you fear could happen to your kid. It is also ok to be annoyed or trepidatious or even downright resentful of all the running around and logistical busywork of the beginning of school (School supply lists! A thousand forms in triplicate! Requests for your home phone number when you haven’t had a house phone in five years!).

But it’s also also ok to be happy about a new year and eager for what great things are going to happen for your kid, with a caring teacher or good friends or things they’re excited to learn. 

So: When does school start for you? How are you feeling about it? How are your kids feeling about it? Are you ready? 

I’ll start: We still have 27 days left. I’m feeling good about it, and my kids are happy to still have almost a month left, and I’m as ready as I need to be now. This is the first year in a long time that I haven’t been worried about what’s going to happen to my older son in school, and it’s remarkably relaxing not to wake up with that cold ball of fear in my stomach. 

Now you. 

And we’re back!

If you’re reading this, it means the new site is up and the URL is redirected and we’re back in business. Yay! 

I’d like to thank Jessica L. Williams of Tech Biz Gurl for doing the move for me. It was NOT easy. I moved from Typepad to Squarespace, and Typepad is so old-timey that Squarespace didn’t even have an import tool for it, so Jessica had to take me from Typepad to WordPress to Squarespace. And then she had to do weird stuff to fix the links and anchors and stuff. I’d have been drinking heavily, but Jessica just took it all in stride, and kept me calm and laughing, all in the same week she was in her sister’s wedding!

Confession: I don’t wear glasses every day. I wear contacts when I’m running or doing barre or just when I feel like it. And I have two pairs of glasses that I rotate when I am wearing glasses. So the glasses banner didn’t really fit anymore.

A few months ago I fell in love with and bought the painting “Abstract 4 13” from artist Tina Duryea because it felt so energetic and luxurious and strong and rich to me. Controlled chaos. Deep wildness. And that’s what I want my life to be, and what my work with you to be. Deep wildness.

So I asked Tina if it was ok to use a detail from the painting for my new banner, and she said yes! If you want to see more of Tina’s work check out her site, her Etsy store (where I got “Abstract 4 13”), Like her Facebook page, and follow her on Twitter. She posts a lot on FB about her artistic process, which is fascinating to me as a non-artist.

So now we’re here. Thanks for hanging in with me during the switch!

The right way

I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately in which the writer says
some version of “I just want to do this the right way” (meaning
parenting).

The right way.

The right way is what works for you and your child and your family.

The right way for you is not the exact same right way as the right way for your neighbor, your sister, your best friend.

The right way with your first child is not the right way with your second child or third child or thirteenth child.

The right way is what allows you to be true to yourself and honor
your child at the same time, as much as you can, in the middle of
situations that should be against the Geneva Convention.

The right way doesn’t have anything to do with pacifiers, or putting a
baby down asleep or awake, or when your baby is out of diapers, or
whether your baby watches TV or not.

The right way is about learning more about yourself and using that
knowledge to learn about your child. And then taking that knowledge of
your child and using it to learn more about yourself.

The right way is having a long conversation with this amazing little
person you’ve been entrusted with. Sometimes the conversation gets rough
and you get tired and angry at each other, but you keep talking. And
the conversation just gets more and more interesting as you go along.

For me, the right way is that my mom learned how to text as soon as
she figured out that that’s easier for me at work than talking.

I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way at any given time with my
kids, but the conversation seems to be going well, so I’m trusting that
I’m doing fine.

Do you want to share your experience of the right way?