Monday, December 28, 2009

Book Review: Equally Shared Parenting

Our friends, Marc and Amy, have a brand new book out:

Equally Shared Parenting: rewriting the rules for a new generation of parents. We got a sneak peak and it is amazing. It's written primarily for heterosexual couples, but Marc and Amy write a convincing welcome to gay and lesbian families, and also include a lesbian family among their examples throughout the book. That family happens to be us! We love how they treat our two-mom family as just one more example, and not some sort of extraordinary special case. While some of the material does focus on traditional gendered division of labor, it doesn't take much to extrapolate to other family arrangements. We think about this stuff all the time (and even talk to Marc and Amy about it frequently) and still came away from the book with smart new ways to look at how our family life and work is structured.

We've heard Marc say that it is important to them to create a family based on relationships rather than on roles. This is particularly appropriate for queer families because we don't fit into clear-cut roles. Instead of trying to squeeze our families into confining gender roles, the Vachons suggest we try to create balance for both parents in the spheres of childcare, career, housework, and personal time, so that both parents can live fulfilled lives, relationships can flourish, and the whole family can work as a team. I found the chapter on career and breadwinning particularly helpful, as this is a particularly hard place for Gail and I to find balance as individuals.

(Another plus -- this is the only parenting book we've found that doesn't talk down to dads, and assumes they are full and competent members of their families. I wish that wasn't such a rarity.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rest for parents

For about six years now, Lyn and I have observed Shabbat in some form. We don't work on Shabbat, we light candles and sing blessings in the evening, and we generally pray at our havurah on Saturday mornings. Since we began our Shabbat observance, it has changed and grown, generally moving toward increasing observance. It has provided a consistent pause in our daily lives and given us an amazing space to take a spiritual breath.

Or, rather, it used to.

Now that we are parents of young children, the main work of our lives is caring for the two of them. Every day we make Leigh's meals, get her to eat them, and clean up after her. Every day we make sure she gets dressed, help her go to the bathroom and remind her to wash her hands. Every day we brush her teeth. Every day we navigate the tricky psychological world of parenting a kid who doesn't stop and seems to have a relentless drive to uncover our weaknesses. And did I mention that we have a baby too?

None of this stops on Shabbat -- it doesn't even slow down. It's been three and a half years since I had a truly restful Shabbat. These days, Shabbat doesn't provide a pause or a change or something really special; it's simply another day as a parent, and one in which I don't allow my child to watch a movie.

I feel as though I have allowed the cultivation of my daughter's Shabbat observance to eclipse my own. I want to create a certain kind of Shabbat environment for her, but haven't stopped to consider that perhaps my own is more important. A little bit like how on an airplane you are supposed to put on your own air mask before attempting to put on your child's.

That's an interesting realization, but doesn't necessarily solve the problem. However, I have had a few thoughts on changes we can make.
  • Earlier this year, we started to pay for our havurah to have childcare on Shabbat mornings. This has opened up the possibility of actually getting to pray on Saturday mornings, rather than spending the morning either playing upstairs with Leigh or worrying that it is time for me to relieve Lyn who has been playing upstairs with Leigh. Having childcare allows me to relax and open myself up a little to some spiritual renewal.
  • Now we have unfortunately entered that time in a baby's life when we can't just let him nap in a carrier on the go -- we actually have to nap Ira in his crib at home during the day or we'll pay for it at night. That means someone needs to stay home with Ira. We've decided that for the time being, most Saturday's one of us will go to services and the other will stay at home. Being at home with just a baby for companionship can provide it's own kind of rest, especially when it is Shabbat and you don't have to keep up with work or household chores. So one of us gets to pray (with Leigh upstairs in childcare) and the other gets some contemplative time at home.
  • We've also decided to start trading off longer solitary afternoon breaks. This will also mean changing some aspects of our Shabbat practice, like our observances around spending money or writing. For instance, the next time we do this I may walk over to a coffee shop, buy a coffee, and do some reading or writing for a few hours.
I'm curious about how any of you find time and space for rest in your lives (whether it is connected with a religious observance or not). How do you recharge? How do you find time for quiet contemplation?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's a good thing big sister can't read

Early on in Ira's pregnancy, my older sister, who at the time had two and four year old boys (and now has added a third kid) gave us some good advice: "Be really careful of the books for older siblings. They are almost all extremely negative."

It turns out she was right. Leigh is so excited about being a big sister (and generally doing a fabulous job of it!) that she picks out any book from the library that has an older sibling (especially a sister) and a baby in it. Fortunately, she still hasn't figured out our propensity to change the words, so we can get away with liberal editing.

She picked out such a book last week, and when we sat down to read it, every single page was filled with how awful the big sister thought her new baby brother was and how mad she was at her parents (and now I've completely forgotten the title, and the book went back to the library, so I'll spare the author my wrath). Sure, there was a bit of a turn at the end where the sister decided maybe the baby was sort of OK, but 99.99% of the content was about how her brother's arrival ruined her life.

But as we're sitting there, and I'm trying to make up this or that nonsense story (it was truly unreadable), Leigh fortunately took over much of the reading. The book had absolutely beautiful pictures and she was exclaiming "Oh! Look how cute the baby is! He's yawning! That's a big sister just like me! She's going to take good care of the baby. She'll help put him for a nap and play with him and make him laugh..." She went on and on and every single word out of her mouth was about how great it is to be a big sister and how wonderful babies are. Now, you might say she was just buttering me up, but she could barely contain her excitement and was practically bubbling over with everything that's great about having a brother. I'm so glad that with my sister's warning, we mostly managed to avoid giving her a script ahead of time about how awful the baby was going to be.

There are a few other indications that she's pretty fond of our new family structure. The other day at dinner she said, out of nowhere, "It is really great to have a baby. Don't you like having a baby, Ima?" A few weeks ago, she was "reading" to me from a "letter" she "wrote" to me at daycare which said, "Dear Mama, I don't know if you are going to have another baby (author's note: unlikely), but if you do, Thank you."

I know we might be in the sweet spot right now. Ira isn't very mobile yet (he's a little mobile, but not fast!) so he can't take any of her things, but he's smiley and interactive, and clearly thinks she's the bee's knees. I know when he's a toddler it will be a whole new ballgame, but for now, we're grateful that Leigh has taken to big-sisterhood like a duck to water, at least for the first 6 1/2 months.

[PS: If you are looking for a good book for older siblings, we have two recommendations. Of course, neither of them is 100% perfect for queer families, but you can't have everything. The first is I'm a Big Sister by Joanna Cole. It's a simple book about having a new baby and is very positive. It also shows both mom and dad caring for children, which is a plus in my book. (The same author has written I'm a Big Brother which is likely similar.) The second book is Not Yet, Rose by Susanna Leonard Hill with illustrations by Nicole Rutten. This is a sweet story about a girl, Rose, anticipating the birth of a younger sibling. She eagerly anticipates the new baby, wondering whether she will have a brother or sister. She has a couple of fears, but they are introduced gently and Rose talks herself out of them. The end of the book when the baby comes is one of the sweeter moments I've seen in picture books about siblings. My only complaint is that the division of labor is overly gendered in this book, but otherwise it's a joy to read.]

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Anti-NaNoBloMo: recovery roundup

** Now With Fixed Links **

As you can see, in celebration of NaNoBloMo in November, we made our fewest posts ever in a single month. In an attempt to get things going around here again, here are some posts we've enjoyed reading on our unplanned hiatus:

Two Hot Mamas >> thoughts on (possibly not) nursing
N writes about many thoughts in anticipation of feeding her soon-to-be-born baby. She writes things that often don't get said out loud, but I'm sure many women will recognize. She has a very nice bit in there about how decisions around feeding in a two-mom family can be a little more complicated than in a mom-dad family, and I think she's right.

Adjustment Disorder >> Who is a Rabbi?
SWMama writes about her take on a court decision in the UK regarding who is and isn't Jewish, and what that means to her and her daughter. I have had many of these thoughts and feelings, but have never managed to identify (let alone write) them quite so clearly.

Totally Smitten Mama >> My Leo
Lex writes about falling in love with the son her wife gave birth to, and the differences and similarities compared to her experiences with their first three boys. I love how she captures how beautiful and enriching this path to motherhood can be, even when you already have plenty of mothering experience under your belt.

It's not like a cat...>> Mommy on the Sidelines
JM wonders how life would be different if she wasn't the taskmaster around her house. She's dissatisfied with her current situation but not sure how to shift the division of labor to something more egalitarian (which would leave her more room for fun with her son).