Saturday, March 7, 2015

On fear-mongering vs. raising independent children

I feel like I have so much to say on this subject that I'm not sure where to begin.  I hope it comes out as at least semi-coherent babbling and not gibberish.  Here we go.

I've been very concerned by recent news stories talking about the police being called on parents who let their children walk home alone from a park.  Really.  There have been a thousand news stories about the Meitiv family in the past month.  The parents practice the Free-Range parenting movement, AKA common sense, which comes down to letting children take calculated risks in order to learn independence skills.  A really basic example of this is the Meitivs letting their 10 and 6 year old children walk home from a park together.  After their parents let them practice by first going around the block, then to a near-by library they went on the full mile walk to the park.  The idea is that by practicing being independent in small stages, the kids would then be able to walk to the park together and assess risks etc. while being self-confident in the world.  Or at least, that was the idea.  Someone saw the kids walking alone, called the cops and the cops picked up the kids.  Then things proceeded to get ugly.  The cops bring the kids home and demand to see the father's ID.  After explaining his parenting philosophy and refusing to show his identification, the cop then called six patrol cars for backup. Six.  It all goes downhill culminating in the parents now having a charge of "unsubstantiated child neglect" on their records.

Child neglect.  For letting their children walk to a park.  In most states, 11 is the legal age when children can attend babysitting courses and receive basic child-care certificates.  This kid could be just a few months away from being able to "legally" watch younger children on their own.  But their parents can't take the step to say "Hey, in order to prepare our child to be more responsible, let's teach him/her walk to a park alone."  Insanity.

Single mothers have had CPS called for letting their kids play outside.  What is with all of this fear-mongering?  I know that in the age of the Internet we have instant access to all of the salacious news stories.  Serial killers are running rampant in the streets!  All teenage girls who unexpectedly get pregnant are convincing all of their friends to do it too.  Every kid you've ever met has done drugs- probably even more than once.  And of course, every strange adult who approaches your child must mean them grievous harm. But that's just it- the things we see on the news are all sensationalism.  They were chosen and put on our screens because the stories are so attention-grabbing.  That's not to say that horrible things don't happen, but most things that happen are not, in fact, horrible.  

I want my child to be safe.  If I didn't, I wouldn't have bothered to buy a baby gate or outlet covers when my kid became mobile.  But I'm not about to rid my house of every item that isn't padded (but wait, couldn't they suffocate themselves with that sofa cushion???) because I would like the chance to teach my child "not to climb on that toy box because you could fall and hurt yourself."  Would I feel absolutely terrible if my child died in some kind of freak accident in my home?  Of course.  And I would probably never forgive myself.  But it's still a freak accident.  A child could die in a terrible accident anywhere with any number of adults supervising them.  That doesn't mean I won't let my child live out in the world.  That doesn't mean I won't try to teach my child to be a responsible, independent person.  That doesn't mean I won't encourage them to learn things on their own and test the boundaries of their comfort zone in a (hopefully) safe manner.

Why is everyone constantly trying to scare us into not letting our kids do things on their own?  Why are we buying into this garbage and constantly calling the police on people?  Society has conditioned us to think that this is the ultimate contradiction: we know that danger isn't lurking around every corner, but we still act as if it does.  What if that kid we saw alone at the park gets snatched up by a child molester?  What if a kid who takes the bus alone somehow gets run over by a drunk driver while trying to cross the street?  What if these things happened and we did nothing? What if, what if, what if.  Everyone has the right to weigh these moral decisions and act on them as they see appropriate. I, for one, do not want to call the cops only to find out later that some poor parent (and more than likely a good parent) now has CPS on their back for months or years to come.  I know the argument is for the safety of children, but how does our constant supervision really help these kids in the long run?  Since I can't definitively measure the positive outcome in "kidnappers thwarted" I'd rather swap constant vigilance for the ability to measure growth by the things my child has learned to do on his own.  I don't need to be part of a parenting movement to do this, but I think that society as a whole needs to learn to balance the extremes of living an everyday life.

Well?  What do YOU think?

Further reading:

Free-Range Kids

To call, or not to call?

Unsubstantiated Child Neglect

Thursday, February 19, 2015

About the bodies of others...well, mothers

I would like to state for the record that I really hate when people make comments on other people's bodies.  Specifically women.  Even more specifically, women who have had children.  For me, it's like getting a tiny, almost microscopic splinter and trying to remove it but upon failure to extricate the stupid thing, you tell your self just to wait and it will work its way out of your finger.  But you know it's there.  You can sense it.  And it drives you crazy.

This post is about my thoughts on my interactions with people at my place of employment and their comments to me about my body post-baby.  I may use the "f-word."  Feminism, guys, calm down!  Ok.  I may also say fuck.  Because now that I have a kid, I have been trying really hard not to swear around him even though I enjoy swearing.  So writing it here to a bunch of adults is my only outlet.  Deal with it.  But back to the issue at hand: people thinking they can comment on other people's (usually strangers) bodies.

A bit about where I work: my public library is situated in one of the largest suburbs in Milwaukee County. But it is a very blue collar, aging suburb, not a wealthy young one. Because I work with the public, I have heard everything: from being hit on to being called a "bitch"- I've dealt with it all.

 Shortly after I returned to work post-childbirth, I had a regular male patron who made a comment about how I was losing my baby weight really quickly. I'd interacted with this patron on a regular basis and estimated that there was some sort of developmental something-or-other going on. Though the comment annoyed me, I patiently explained that while I might be losing weight quickly after having a baby, not all women did and no one on earth should expect them too since their bodies would never be the same again. I thought that was enough of an explanation and that he would drop the issue. But he kept saying things about how I "looked good" and while I really wanted to yell at him or at least say "that is totally inappropriate! I'm being nice to you because it is my job, not because I am flirting with you!" I simply ignored him.

A few days ago, a different male patron made a comment on how I "seemed to have lost a lot of weight."* I was ENRAGED. I took a beat and all that came out of my mouth was "Uh, I had a kid." Then we went back to looking for the book he wanted.

Yesterday, a regular female patron who I know well (we greet each other by name, ask about each others families etc.) commented that I had lost a lot of weight. That's all it was- an off the cuff mention and then she was on to talking about the newest People magazine. But again, this made me angry.

I had posted something on Facebook a few days ago about how inappropriate these kinds of interactions were- that no one should ever comment on the body of a person they don't know. I don't care if you think it is a compliment, don't do it! The reactions I got from friends and family varied widely from "OMG men are pigs!" to "I'm sure he meant it as a compliment." But here I was, still ridiculously angry about it.

Because here's the thing: I'm not happy about all of the weight I've lost.

I won't go into the whole feminist "women are continually objectified in society and it needs to stop" rant (though that is COMPLETELY true). That fits this situation, but it's more about the fact that I am not comfortable in my post-childbirth body. Before I had a kid, I was relatively secure in my happiness about myself and even though that happiness wasn't based on looks, the fact that I was comfortable or at least familiar with my face and body for the past 28 years didn't hurt. It's been ten months since I had my baby and I don't know if ten years would be enough time for me to feel comfortable with my body again.  God I hope so.

True, I weigh less than I have in almost two years.  But I am covered in permanent* stretch marks from chest to calves. I have spent more money on clothes since I got pregnant than I could ever even admit, but none of my clothing fits me and I feel very uncomfortable about this.  I've never worn makeup on a regular basis, a fact that I am now very aware of due to the dark circles under my eyes.

Here's the other thing:  I know that all mothers go through this.  We all feel this in some form or another.  But when someone makes an unwanted comment about my body (my weight, the fact that I look tired or sick, whatever) it makes that feeling of self-consciousness explode exponentially.  So do yourself a favor the next time you want to pay a compliment to a new mother (hell, any mother!): ask about their kid(s) then congratulate them on the fact that they are somehow managing to balance everything in their life.  Because that shit is HARD. That compliment goes so much further than telling me I look skinny.  I'm skinny right now because I never have time to eat, not because I want to look skinny.  I teeter on the edge of thinking I am an absolute failure on a daily basis even though I know this isn't true.  I'd rather have someone notice that I seem to be alive and wearing appropriate (though perhaps ill-fitting) clothing while at work.

What about you?  Please tell me someone out there has decked a "well meaning" guy who commented on **how quickly you've lost your baby weight! your post-baby body!  Email me at to share your story or hit me up in the comments section below.  Thanks for reading and having an open mind.

*To whoever said that "those pregnancy stretch marks will fade with time":  I'd like to extend a big old FUCK YOU!  Just like losing weight or getting or not getting hemorrhoids, stretch marks are a person by person type of thing.  You might get really lucky and only see them for a few months, or you may have them for the rest of your life.  Like all of the other changes with your body post-kid, you just have to learn to live with it.  This is easier some days than others. Even if you'd like to think you aren't obsessed with body image.  It's just hard.

**Edited to include my original intent.  Plenty of women have had a problem opposite to what I experienced.  Again, it's all part of your personal journey and your body and it isn't anyone's goddamned business!  The same goes for non-mothers and men. 

First Post!

Q: Natalie, you already have a blog.  Why did you start another  when you rarely use the one you already have?

A: An interaction at work has been so stuck in my mind since it happened a few days ago, that I thought I would like to write about it.  And my other blog is mostly book reviews and funny stories about things that happen at the library.  This is a story about my feelings on motherhood and womanhood.  

Q:  So you started a blog just so you could tell one story that doesn't quite match the stuff on your other blog?

A:  I know there are lots of blogs/websites out there where moms can talk about their feelings on being a parent.  I wanted to make another one?  I don't know!  

No really.  I hope that the stories I share here can be read and related to by other parents.  If you want to share your own stories on the blog, email me at

A bit about me:

I'm 29 years old, mom to a super cool 10 month old boy and wife to an awesome guy.  I work full time as a librarian at a suburban public library right outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I love books, movies, TV, hiking, cooking and spending time with my family.  Out of that entire list, "spending time with family" is really the only thing that gets done on a regular basis.  Today I feel lucky that I get that much in my life.  I may feel differently tomorrow.