I CAN’T Do It All! (And I’m OK With That)

Nope

I’m having a conversation online about how feminism might have screwed us. But before everyone gets all worked up, let me plead my case.

We’re supposed to be able to “do it all” but too many of us (all of us?) are finding that it’s impossible to live up to that ideal in our mothering, working inside and outside of the home, being a wonderful mate for our partner, etc.

In some ways, I feel lucky that my job (which is, after all, a calling and one that I absolutely love) allows me to appear as though I’m able to “do it all.” Even when that’s only an optical illusion. Let me explain…

I’m the one who drops the kids off every day to school and picks them up every afternoon. I’m able to hit those field trips that appeal to me (I’m no dummy!) and claim work commitments for those that don’t (again, no dummy!) My work is very part-time, but it allows me to have my cake and eat it too – a little taste of it, anyway.

Because I’m a contracted employee and never work enough hours to even be considered part-time, I have no benefits. And while my hours have always meant not paying for childcare, it’s also meant that I’m gone a lot during evenings and weekends. So, I end up missing out on the fun: soccer games, swim lessons, dance and acting performances.

Ironically, it’s my paycheck that allows our kids to take part in all of these extracurriculars. All the extracurriculars that I usually don’t get to take part in. Hmmmm… It’s clear to see that even in my very Momma-friendly job, I can’t do it all either! Sometimes, it ends up feeling like we’ve all been had.

It’s challenging to live in a time and place where raising the next generation is not valued in the same way as professional work. Many parents aren’t able to make decisions about how they’d like to raise their children that truly reflect their personal choices. Instead, they might feel bound to only consider what they can afford.

I’ve talked about it before. The fact that the US is the only developed nation without mandatory paid maternity (and paternity!) leave is a joke. Just at the moment when our families are feeling most vulnerable, when they’re most in need of a chance to catch up to this huge life change that’s been thrust upon them, they’re required to skip that break and instead, add a part-time or full-time job onto their already full-time+ job of learning how to parent a newborn baby!

And we seriously wonder why our numbers of women and men who experience a PMAD – Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorder – are so high? Statistics tell us that one out of every seven women, and one out of every ten men will experience a postpartum mood disorder following the birth of their baby. Personally, I’m surprised these numbers aren’t even higher!

What can we begin to do about this?

Be real. If we’re being completely honest, none of us is “doing it all.”

Not one of us can say that we’re able to give 100% to our children, and 100% to our partners, and 100% to our jobs – let alone, 100% to ourselves. Math is not my strongest subject folks, but even I can read that last sentence and realize that you can’t give 400% when you’ve only got 100% to start with! It just doesn’t add up.

We need to give voice to this discussion by reading and sharing great posts like this one from Courtney Smith at Mother Nurture. But I’m wanting to add a different perspective to this conversation about making feminism work better for all of us…

Something happened a long time ago when little girls like me were being raised on the Enjoli perfume commercial. While I was being told that I could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan and never let you forget you’re a man!” (a completely unrealistic claim, by the way) my male counterparts were not being raised with any messages that might allow them to redefine all that they could aspire to as grown men.

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that a lot of men feel displaced in today’s culture. Now, I think women can often be too quick to respond to this with, “Poor babies, they’ve been dethroned.” And I can understand this reaction, as we’re still very much living in a “man’s world” in terms of who’s making policy, feeling fully supported in the workplace, receiving equal pay for equal work – I could go on…

But the voices of enlightened men, those men who are wanting to contribute, need to be a part of this discussion for any real change to occur. They need to be welcomed into what is still considered to be mostly “women’s work”- the raising of our children.

I can feel it emanating from the the soon-to-be fathers in my classes. They’re eager and excited about becoming Dads, but feel scared, uncertain and all too often, completely left out of the discussion.

We’ve pressed upon them how important their role is in helping the woman get through her labor and birth, but have we really considered their needs and feelings about becoming a father? Do we address these concerns when we see them in our obstetrical or midwifery clinic settings? As Childbirth Educators, do we truly support them in their role or send subtle messages that their experience is secondary and doesn’t matter as much as the mother’s?

It’s no secret that I hold a soft spot for the men in my classes – I care about them and their experience of pregnancy, birth and parenting as much as I do the Mommas! But most of the time, their uncomfortable displacement can get in the way of them truly being transformed by this experience if we don’t work to welcome and include them.

Women are already able to do pretty much anything a man can do in our society. Plus, they can co-create a brand new life, pass it through their bodies, and feed it the perfect food. For the first time, maybe ever in their lives, men realize all that women are capable of – and this can challenge their core identities.

When I ask expectant fathers what their goals might be for the class, all too often I hear, “I just want to do everything I can to make things better for her.” Which is sweet and wonderful – but what do you want to get out of this class? A sense of confidence? Knowledge of what a real baby looks like, so you don’t think the worst when your baby is blue, covered in goo and not breathing at the moment of birth? An understanding of how your relationship might be affected by this little person, because you’re scared your partner might end up loving the baby more than she loves you?

Their job in this whole female experience is to remain very stereotypically male – stoic, unfeeling, strong – when inside, they’re entire sense of who they are is being broken wide open. For most men, if we welcome them to fully participate in these pregnancy, birth and early parenting experiences, they’ll emerge on the other side of it all completely transformed.

In this day of shifting definitions of what it means to be feminine and masculine, can we not also redefine what our roles of parenting might involve? Can we encourage men to throw off the mantle of strength and posturing so that they can be soft and present to this experience which allows them to embrace the role of father for their newborn baby?

Because, really, it’s only through vulnerable and connected co-parenting that any of us have a chance of pretending we can “do it all.” Even when you have a committed partner in parenting, being able to do it all, still requires 400% effort – when combined, you only have 200% to give.

So, be gentle with yourselves. Be honest. Don’t believe the hype. And stop striving for an ideal – as a woman or a man – that’s never been realistic. Make “I can’t do it all!” your personal motto. And encourage others to do the same.

Are you exhausted by the societal pressure placed upon you to “do it all?” If you’re an expectant or new father, what has your experience been in feeling welcomed into this “world of women?” How has becoming a parent expanded your definition of “doing it all” into “doing enough?” I’d love to hear what this post brings up for you.

Parenting On The Playground – Hits & Misses

Playground

Yesterday, I came upon my 10 year old daughter in deep discussion with two of her schoolmates about the upcoming sex ed discussion that would be starting next week.

Now, if you’ve read any of my previous posts about this subject, you know that my kid is not going to hear anything new. Sex education is a topic of discussion at the dinner table on a regular basis at our house. But that doesn’t mean it’s not still embarrassing to discuss among your peers – especially if half of those peers are of the opposite sex!

One of the girls, though, was very distraught that this was happening. She had a letter from the school in her hands and was waving it about and crying out in a loud voice, “This is terrible! This is going to be awful! Why do we have to talk about this stuff, anyway? It’s just so gross!” At this point, I felt compelled to pipe up.

“Ladies, ladies, it’s not gross! You’re at the point where learning about all of the amazing things your body can do is really important!” (I didn’t add that, personally, I think 5th grade is a little bit late. This discussion is a lot less gross for kids if you introduce it earlier…) My daughter rolled her eyes at me and said, “Mom, stop! You’re embarrassing me!”

So, I moved over to sit next to another Momma on the bench nearby. She knows where I stand on this particular subject and confided, “I’ve been getting an earful from these girls and I was hoping you’d come over to talk with them. That one is really freaking out!”

I turned again to the young woman with the letter still outstretched in her hand and asked her if I could read it. After skimming what seemed like a completely appropriate note home to parents about what will be discussed next week, I asked her name (obviously she’s not one of my daughter’s closest friends) and said, “Girlfriend, come here and sit down.” She did so willingly and I put my arm around her shoulder and pulled her in a little closer.

“You don’t have to be worried about what’s happening next week. The focus is going to be on learning how your body works. For all of the really embarrassing stuff, they’re going to separate the boys from the girls so you don’t have to talk about that stuff in front of one another. You don’t need to be worried about that, I promise.”

When I asked if her parents talked with her about this kind of stuff at home, she said, “No way!” So I told her that if she ever needed to, she could find me on the playground to talk. I could tell in her body language – she sat close to me, leaning in – that this two-minute exchange was welcomed and I know she walked away feeling a little less anxious about the week ahead.

My daughter, on the other had, was not so happy.

We got to the car and she started in, “Why do you have to talk about that kind of stuff on the playground?” I responded, “Because it’s not something to be afraid of talking about. We use sex to sell everything, and we’re exposed to it every day. But we never have any healthy discussions about sex or what our bodies can do, with people we can trust. You need to learn how your body works. Don’t think of this class next week being about a sexual part of your body, just think of it as if the discussion was going to be about how your brain works.”

She wasn’t having any of it today.

“Don’t you think that was embarrassing to her? Why did you ask her to sit down and talk with her about that?” I answered, “Because she seemed so anxious, honey. She told me this isn’t something her parents are comfortable talking about at home, so I wanted to try and calm her down so she wouldn’t be so worried about it. That’s all.”

And then, my girl started to cry. Big, alligator tears slid down her cheeks and I asked, “Sweetie, why are you so upset? I wasn’t trying to embarrass you, I swear it. It wasn’t about you at all.”

At this, she started crying even harder and saying she didn’t know why she was so upset. I held the space for her and encouraged her to tell me exactly what was upsetting her, so I could try to make her feel better. And finally, she said, “When you were talking to her like that, it made me feel like you weren’t mine. That you weren’t just for me.

Whoa. How do you adequately explain to your child that when you are in “mothering mode” on the playground with other children, that it doesn’t mean you are someone else’s mother? That even in those moments, you are completely aware of the boundaries that exist between you and someone else’s child?

My girl is the most socially savvy kiddo I’ve ever known. She’s been that way since she was a toddler. She assesses what’s up, attaches deep meaning to what she observes, she takes it all in. And she showed this to me again yesterday through this one simple statement.

I gave her the biggest bear hug ever and swore that this exchange between me and her schoolmate was not anywhere near to what she I and share. And that while her schoolmate has lovely parents of her own, this isn’t a subject she feels she can talk about with them. That it’s important for young girls to be able to learn and talk about their bodies without embarrassment or shame. And that if this means being available in that way for other young girls, than I’m willing to do that. But that no one, no one, takes the place of my children. That I was her Momma. I belonged to her, and she belonged to me.

Her little brother, of course, got to listen in to this entire discussion. The three of us got out of the parked car, popped into the grocery store to grab what we needed for dinner, and headed for home.

As we were making our way through the parking lot, I had one more thing to say to my girl.

“Hey, I’m really proud of you for digging deep to tell me what was really upsetting you. I know that it took you a little bit of time and a lot of courage to say what you did. And that’s a real sign of maturity. Being able to recognize and name your feelings is an important life skill that a lot of adults aren’t very good at. Nice job.”

And as we walked back to the car, she said, “Thanks Mom” and gave my hand a little squeeze.

Some of you may still be in the parenting a non-verbal baby at this point, but for those of you who have older children – tweens, teens, grown-ups – do you recall these moments where your child stopped you in your tracks and revealed themselves to you completely? I’m wondering how often this happened while you were in a car? It seems to me that the car, parked or driving, has the magical ability to get your child to open up in ways that just don’t seem possible in other places. Would you agree? Leave me your comments – I’d love to hear from you!

So THIS happened today…

Member Spotlight: Barb Buckner Suárez
Meet Lamaze member and 19-year childbirth educator veteran, Barb Buckner Suárez, BA, LCCE, FACCE, who teaches Lamaze series classes for two hospitals in Portland, Oregon. One of Barb’s goals as an educator is to help families “embrace vulnerability, as opposed to trying to run away from it, so that the powerful transformation that can happen during birth can be fully realized.” Her most valued Lamaze resource is the Six Healthy Birth Practices and the Giving Birth with Confidence blog, which is where she feels most confident in sending families for information. Learn more about Barb, including the advice she gives to other educators, on the Lamaze website.

A few months back, I answered the call from my professional certifying body to “submit my story.” It’s their way of highlighting who their members are, where they’re from, what they teach, and why. It was fun to do and I’m honored to be chosen as their “Member Spotlight” for the month of May. If you click on the link above, you’ll get the full interview.

This post is short and sweet this week as I’ve just come from a two-day professional conference. And I’m heading into another full-day tomorrow as I work with a wonderful group of fellow Board Members to put on the NACEF annual conference, “Stress & Resilience.” (We still have space – if you register RIGHT NOW!) I’m not going to lie to you – this conference topic couldn’t come at a better time, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the great stuff I’ll be learning with all of you!

I do like a good conference, but it might be nice to have a little bit of a break after this weekend.

PS – I’m not sure if I announced that I’ve added a couple of new pages to my blog above – “Parent Coaching” and “Teacher Training.” If you get a chance, check them out. And let me know what you think – I’d love to get your feedback on these new offerings!

Educating Educators!

TTR

Here, I’m making an important point about increasing student engagement…

I had the pleasure of working with a room full of Health Educators a few days ago for a training session I’d developed to help these professionals increase the level of engagement they have with their students.

No pressure, or anything, but when the title of your presentation is: “Teach to Reach: Six Rules of Engagement,” you’d better be able to bring it! Thankfully, I think I did. The evaluations were really positive: most attendees were wishing that the training had been longer, and I’ve already been asked to come back. So, that’s good.

I love doing presentations and trainings. There’s a reason why this is such a good fit for me. I’ve said it many times before, but it bears repeating – I am the most extroverted person I’ve ever known. So, getting up in front of a group of people doesn’t rattle me at all. I have no nerves in this situation.

In fact, the bigger the crowd, the more excited I get. The original number of people attending this training was supposed to be about 20. The day before, I found out it would be closer to 35. For some presenters, that might make them freak out. But not me – I was psyched! The energy from the audience totally feeds me.

The idea of being an “efficient communicator,” intrigues me. The larger the group, the more people receive the message I’m trying to convey at one time. Getting the most “bang for your buck” is a personal credo of mine!

And I really enjoy working with other educators, too. There’s a shared understanding of what it is to do group facilitation and to do it well. We communicate in the same “language” and can dive right in and get to work.

I’m especially interested in encouraging health educators to work harder at their craft because so much of our message we want or need to convey has the potential to be truly life-changing for the students in our classes. But not if they’re bored or checked out!

I started the training by asking participants to identify their greatest challenge as an educator. But I also asked them to claim ownership of their greatest strength. I think it matters as an educator, presenter, or human being, really –  that we take stock of what we’re really good at and then capitalize on that skill because it comes relatively easy to us and it also authentically represents who we are.

Participants shared that they were great listeners. That they had a lot of knowledge and expertise. They shared that they were able to connect well with their students. And my personal favorite, some felt they were able to make good use of their sense of humor while teaching. It’s a great feeling to be among such a strong group of professionals.

But there’s a little bit of extra pressure when you’ve been asked to train members of your own tribe. What if they already know everything? How can I make this information new and something they’ll actually be able to use? How do I keep them engaged and with me for two solid hours?

Turns out, these are the same questions we, as educators, should be asking about every class of students we teach, members of our tribe, or not. But, still – I knew that this particular group of people would be able to tell where the holes (if any!) were in my presentation and would be ready to point them out to me on the class evaluations. Which is why it matters even more that they were really positive.

My hope is that in some small (or potentially big) ways, what I offered this group of fantastic educators will help them get their messages out into the world with even greater impact!

If you’re an educator or work with educators who might benefit from having me present on this or other topics to increase student engagement and the impact of their message, please contact me here for more information.

Educating educators is just one more thing I love to do – it’s usually a lot of prep-work, but always a lot of fun!

PS – I’ve been asked to present at the ICEA Conference in Denver in the middle of October. My presentation there will be very Childbirth Educator focused and is titled: “Birth Plans: Helpful or Harmful?” I love getting the opportunity to be in front of my peers, create new presentations and content, and be a part of the conversation about topics that matter.

Lucky me!

Whether you’re an educator or not, take stock of your greatest challenges, but also remember to take stock of your greatest strengths! These are the ways in which you shine – let others see your light and bask in its warmth and glow! Claim your gifts TODAY!