Everyone Wants a Piece of the Mom Pie

“Everyone wants a piece of the Mama.”

—Vicki, married 5 years, 2 kids

When we have more kids, each little person gets a smaller piece of The Mom Pie. As our banker-friend Michelle said, “It’s kind of like a dilution effect in an investment if new investors are brought in.” (Thanks, Michelle.) Then, of course, our Guilt Circuit goes into overdrive. “I’m not spending enough time with William. Megan was crying when I left for work this morning. They’re not eating enough vegetables.”

And, of course, there’s that big person lurking around the house looking for his piece of pie, too. One Sunday morning, Cathy, who had both kids yelling “Mama” and waving their arms at her, said to Mike, “Jeez, I need to split myself in two.” “No,” he said, “in three.”

After a long day at the circus, there are two choices in front of us: sex and sleep. Do we even need to finish this sentence? We tell ourselves that things will get better when all the kids are sleeping through the night, or in preschool, or maybe fifth grade, and then we’ll have time for our husbands again.

(THREE YEARS LATER…)

Fast-forward a few years and guess what?  My kids are ten, eight and seven, and I’m here to say yes, you will have more time for your husband, your family and yourself.  It happens!  Sit tight until all the kids are in elementary school!

 

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Married to a Did-Enough Dad? Taking Short-Cuts and Using “Convenience Cards” with the Kids

We talked to a lot of wives about their marriages, and while many had great things to say about their men, some were frustrated about their husbands’ tendency to be a Did-Enough Dad.

Did-Enough Dads - These are the Dads who do just enough to get by. Domestic Shortcuts (skipping baths and teeth brushing) are Standard Operating Procedure, and they make liberal use of Convenience Cards (TV, McDonald’s, 1-800-Grandma).

“Why is it that whenever my husband changes a diaper, he just leaves it on the floor? He doesn’t even roll it up and tape the ends together. If I’m gone for more than an hour, I find a little trail of them when I come home. Follow the Yellow Brick Road!”

—Nina, married 8 years, 2 kids

Guys are all about shortcuts. They’re looking for the easy way out. A guy may do a job, but does he get the job done right? Kids are not bathed. Vegetables are not eaten. Clothes are not clean. Teeth are not brushed. Shortcuts drive women nuts because (a) we have to pick up where you left off, which means more work for us, and (b) we always have to be “in charge” because you will not assume full responsibility.

Our friend Karen complains that her husband uses up all the Convenience Cards (i.e., all the easy activities) when it’s his turn to watch the kids: “They’ll spend most of the morning watching TV, eat junk for lunch, and then, when he hands them back to me, they’re hyped up on sugar, wearing dirty clothes, and begging for more Blue’s Clues.”

Top Ten Convenience Cards That Our Husbands Use

1.   TV

2.   DVDs

3.   Skip baths and brushing teeth, because, hey, there’s always tomorrow.

4.   Fast food

5.   Fruit Roll-Ups count as fruit, right?

6.   How about juice, doesn’t that work?

7.   The kids can just wear their PJs all day. We’re not really going anywhere.

8.   Do we really have to fix her hair? Can’t it just be messy this one day?

9.   My turn to watch the kids? Dial 1-800-Grandma.

10.   Bribe the kids with candy or ice cream to do things they should do anyway.

What’s your husband’s favorite Shortcut?  Does he have a whole deck of Convenience Cards too?

 

* Image from www.kurtorbanpartners.com

 

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Stop the Extreme Parenting Madness: Mothers for a Saner Life!

Most of us find ourselves hopping on the extreme parenting locomotive, and that train is just not slowing down. Birthday parties with handmade goodie bags, play dates, volunteering, sports, school carnivals, doctors appointments, email, voicemail, text messages, activities, more activities, more more more…it just goes on and on.  We get caught up in the pressurized societal vortex which makes parenting much harder than it should be.

We talked to a child psychologist about the extreme parenting phenomenon. This was his response:

“Parents want to give their kids an edge by putting them in all these activities. What they don’t seem to realize is that the best edge they can give them is gained by sitting down with them at the dinner table, just being with them, just hanging out as a family. Kids who are truly secure in themselves have the real edge. Ultimately that’s what’s going to make them a success.”

We all want what’s best for our kids. But perhaps, before we sign up for more work, we should make sure that the return on an activity is worth the blood, sweat, and tears of our investment. The three of us now apply the following common sense test (whether it is planning a birthday party, adding another activity, or agreeing to participate in the school bake sale):

A.  Is this really going to benefit my child, me, or my marriage? (If the answer is no, we say no. If the answer is yes, we move on to question B.)

B.  If I do this will I complain about it later? (If the answer is yes, we don’t do it. If the answer is no, we go to question C.)

C.  Is there a less painful way to make it happen? (For example, buy, don’t bake cookies for the school; trade off driving responsibilities with another Mom, etc.)

Or, as Pam put it, “You have to be strong enough to set priorities in life—just say no.”

Family time is where it’s at. We can give our kids every bit of a designer lifestyle, but most of them are more interested in just being with us. Think back to your own childhood. What did you care more about? Getting the Cabbage Patch Doll for Christmas, or reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with your parents? OK, you wanted the ugly doll. But what do you remember now, as an adult? It’s the vague “we made cookies and went to Aunt Betty’s and had a big dinner” memories you treasure. Those are the experiences that gave you the security and warm inner glow you needed to grow up into the fine human being you are today. Spanish lessons are great, but the time you spend together doing a thousand inconsequential things is what culminates in a meaningful childhood for your kids.

Mothers For a Saner Life!

Let’s start a “Mother’s for a Saner Life” movement and lighten up.  Society is putting on the pressure to make us think we have to live a certain way. But each of us is a member of society; so we have the power to change those expectations.

A Sticker and a Fruit Snack

Birthday parties are wonderful and important. There’s nothing better than celebrating the day our darling children arrived in our lives, and the fact that we’ve all survived another year. But things have gotten out of hand. (I”m still recovering from that Nemo bash I put on a few years ago.) If the kid can’t remember it, or is likely to sleep through it, they might not be old enough for a party. Get a cake, take a few cute pictures, and consider your job done. And for any age child, when you do have a party, as our friend Theresa said, “The contents of a goodie bag should be a sticker and a fruit snack. Those moms who put lip gloss in them are Satan. My six-year-old got it all over our couch.”

A Playdate Is Not an Open House

One of us actually went to a playdate with our two-year-old where the hostess mother had filled the house with fresh flowers and made a point of saying she’d done so just for the play date. We didn’t want to buy her house, we just wanted to hang out in it for a couple of hours! Why do we feel compelled to go into Open House Overdrive whenever we have friends over? Let’s stop cleaning up before playdates and presenting show-palace perfection for our dinner parties. Why not let our friends see that our lives (and houses) are just as chaotic and messy as theirs? Our friend Leslie wishes things could be more casual, “Like when we were in college and people would think it was cool that you had a couch—not whether your pillows were custom-made to coordinate with the love seat.” Yeah, those were the days, and we miss them.

Pick An Activity (or Two) and Call It a Day

One activity per child  = approximately $200, 5-7 emails per week, 3-4 text messages to arrange carpool logistics per week, 2-4 car trips per week, 1-2 trips to the local sporting goods store, at least 1 snack duty requirement, and bored siblings playing video games on the sidelines.  And as your kid gets older the requirements only go up.  For example, in baseball, by the time they are eight, they are practicing 2 times a week to prepare for 2 games a week.  Multiply all that out times two, three and four + kids, then you have an expensive logistical nightmare on your hands and zero time left to spend with your family.

Let’s all try to get off that extreme parenting locomotive long enough to enjoy what is in front of us.  Before you know it, our kids will be filling out those college applications or getting their first jobs.  Help us spread the word!

 

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New Baby: What Every Dad Needs to Know

Most new Dads fall somewhere in the middle between the “everything but breastfeeding” brigade and the “proud to have never changed a diaper” crew. For the majority of new Dads who are clueless, but eager to get their hands dirty (both figuratively and literally) here is our Basic Competency List, or What Every Self-Respecting Dad Should Know How to Do

• Change a diaper

• Dispose of a diaper (properly)

• Bottle-feed the baby (includes preparing the bottle)

• Burp the baby

• Put the baby down for a nap

• Dress the baby (in weather and destination-appropriate garments)

• Put the baby in a car seat

• Put the baby in a stroller and push it around the local park

• Basic orienteering skills: know where to find the diapers, wipes, bottles, and formula (both in your own home and in the local grocery store)

 

Image: http://images.essentialbaby.com.au/2008/06/25/135702/new_dad.jpg

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Traveling with Small Kids: A Family “Vacation” Is Not Quite a Vacation!

 

It’s about that time.  We are all planning our family vacations for the summer.  Mom, get that huge diaper bag overflowing with diapers, bottles and cheerios ready.  Dad, get ready to be the family pack mule.

Ahhh, the family vacation. Fun in the sun? Absolutely. A little R and R? Not quite. A family vacation is not quite a vacation. It’s a Schlep-Fest. We work just as hard, if not harder, than when we’re at home; doing it in a different place. Often, we return home exhausted, minus the beloved blankie a child can’t sleep without, and sometimes, barely on speaking terms with our spouse. Why?

“The five-minute quickie never worked out, or the wife spent half the day looking all over Downtown Disney for her toddler’s lost tennis shoe because it was such a cute pair. Or both.”

—(Ok, we’ll admit it. That was one of us.)

Remember the days when your vacation would start when you got on the airplane (or even when you got to the airport)? Shoes off, magazine open, head back . . . relax. Now, getting there is the most traumatic part of the trip.

Snooty Flight Attendants

When you fly with small kids no one wants to know you, least of all the flight attendants. On her maiden voyage alone with a baby, Julia struggled to collapse the stroller with one hand while holding the baby in the other. (She’s a pro now, what with all the practice one gets in the security line these days.) Three flight attendants stood watching her, arms folded across their chests. “I asked them if they could help and they told me, most patronizingly, that they were not permitted to hold babies. I don’t know why that stopped them from collapsing the stroller. The line was getting so backed up that finally, the captain of the plane abandoned the cockpit and came out to hold Theo. Surely he should have been figuring out how to get that thing off the ground, not letting a baby pull off his glasses. I was mortified. And furious.”

Appalled Passengers

Cathy flew to Ireland last Christmas with a toddler and a baby. Alone. (She is quick to point out that it was one of the most stupid things she’s ever done.) “I could smell the fear when I got on the plane. Everyone was terrified that they’d be pressed into babysitting duties at 30,000 feet. They all got furiously interested in their books and the contents of their carry-on. When we landed in Dublin ten hours later (after, I admit, almost continuous whining/crying from my two seats), I was approached by a man who asked me when I would be flying back. He wanted to make sure he wasn’t on the same flight.”

On another flight, Stacie’s ten-month-old cried at the top of her lungs for an hour. She responded to the “if-looks-could-kill” daggers she was getting by lifting her screaming baby up in the air and announcing, “I’ve tried everything: bottle, food, pacifier, books . . . I’ve given it my best shot.” She then apologized and sat back down.

The Airport Bathroom Stall

When Stacie was seven months pregnant she traveled solo with her three-year-old and one-year-old. Yes, she was that insane. She’ll never forget her experience in that 3×3 bathroom stall: “My oldest said that she had to go, but she was too scared of the ‘loud toilet that flushes by itself.’ Boarding was about to start, so I got desperate. While holding my twenty-five-pound one-year-old, very pregnant mind you, I sat on the back of that evil toilet and placed her in front of me and encouraged her to go. But she was just too scared. No one was around, so I lifted her up to go in the sink. Of course a few women walked in and caught me in the act. Yes, I had reached a new low. But I didn’t care. I was not going to board a two-hour flight and deal with a three-year-old who had wet her pants!”

A Plea to the Flying Public

When you fly alone with kids, one of two things happens. Either you decide that the human race is doomed, or your faith in humanity is restored.

A woman traveling alone with her kids is often made to feel like she is the lowest form of life on the planet. People sigh loudly and wring their hands behind you because they have to wait an additional two minutes to board the plane, or they sit stone-faced beside you as your adorable toddler waves at them and attempts to grab their watch. We know it’s annoying. We were on your side not too long ago.

We have also been moved almost to tears by the milk of human kindness shown us by the countless strangers who’ve offered to carry a bag, hold a baby, or even play peek-a-boo over the seat for an hour with a toddler. We have all depended on the kindness of strangers, and we are more grateful than you can imagine.

So please, if you can’t find it in your heart (or you are physically unable) to offer to carry a bag or collapse a stroller (honestly, no one expects you to hold a baby), just be patient.  Maybe offer a weak smile of sympathy. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

Happy summer!

 

* Illustration by Larry Martin

 

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Don’t Forget Your Mother-in-Law on Mother’s Day!

Mothers-in-law don’t get great press. There are millions of horror stories about them doing the rounds on the internet, and if you google “jokes” you’ll see that most jokes are about mother-in-laws. Sure, some might deserve it but most are just women who are doing their best to navigate the tricky terrain of family relationships and if they are grandmothers, take every opportunity they can get to spend time with, and love on their grandchildren.

Show your mother-in-law that you appreciate her by remembering her on Mother’s Day. (And even if you really don’t like each other, all the more reason to do something nice for her. I know that seems counter-intuitive, but unless you are planning to move to Mars, this woman is going to be in your lives for a long time, so reach out and do something nice to see for her. You have nothing to lose, and a lot to gain.)

You don’t have to call her mom, just make a gesture that shows that you recognize her as the grandmother of your child/ children, even if you don’t always see eye-to-eye. This year I’m giving my mother-in-law a tag necklace with the initials of each of her grandchildren.

Not the necklace I’m giving my mother-in-law … but you get the idea.

You can even add the birthstone of each child to each tag, if you like that look.

www.katoj.com has a great selection of tags necklaces at reasonable prices.

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The “Sex Life” of New Parents

 

 

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It’s Your Baby, But it’s Her Grandchild. Make Peace With Your Mother-in-Law.

‘Roaaaaaar … It’s MY baby!”

When women marry and start a family, we envision a loving, respectful adult relationship with our husbands, parents, in-laws, and extended family. For some of us, this is exactly how things unfold.

But, for the rest of us there can be trouble. Big trouble.  The arrival of the first baby/grandchild can make the the daughter-in-law/mother-in-law relationship fraught.  Post-baby tensions are usually rooted in the new Mom’s perception, warranted or not, that Grandma is stepping on her turf. No matter how much we love our families, we want them to recognize the pecking order. Most grandparents simply want to help (and, of course, hold the baby). Unfortunately their desire to help (and hold) often collides head-on with our desire to do everything and with Law Number One, It’s My Baby.

Having a baby can make new mothers unbelievably sensitive, emotionally unpredictable and territorial. Before we have kids, most of us like to think that we’re going to be very relaxed parents only to find ourselves, once we have that baby, in the grips of something primal and pathological.  This is how Julia described it,

“I felt like an animal—like a ferocious mother lion. I would protect the baby’s well-being if it killed me. I would have ripped anyone to shreds, if they so much as sneezed near my baby. I said to myself, ‘Nothing is going to happen to this baby on my watch!’ ”

So when a mother-in-law offers advice about what brand of diapers to use, or how to hold the baby, or just marches over to the crib and takes the baby, most new moms feel that their authority as “mother” is being threatened. Sometimes we’re right about the threat, but more often than not we’re misinterpreting a kind offer of help. New moms have also been known to overreact and take ourselves waaaaay too seriously.

Here are some comments from the grandmothers:

“When I babysit, I am given detailed instructions right down to being told not to put a sweater on the baby when it’s ninety-five degrees outside. They treat me like I’m an idiot.” – Miriam

“I feel like I’m an interloper, not an in-law. My daughter in-law sent me a reading list of parenting books so that I could be prepared for my visit with the new baby.” – Yvonne

“The last time I visited Sophie, my two-year-old granddaughter, I brought a beautiful book of fairy tales – Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, the classic stories. I was told that Sophie is not allowed any princess material – that I would be giving her the wrong messages about men and women. You would think I had given the child a set of kitchen knieves.” – Betty

Sometimes the Lioness Has to Roar

Of course, there are times when an out-of-line mother-in-law brings out the Mama Lion in us and we have to roar, but for the most part biting your tongue and giving your Mother In-law the benefit of the doubt (always assume she means well) will make your life much easier.

Establishing some ground rules is always a good idea, too. Most people respond well when there are clear expectations about what is, and what is not, acceptable behavior. For example, tell your mother-in-law  ”When the baby’s asleep, I’d rather you didn’t wake her up, even if you think she needs to eat” or “I know you didn’t puree all your baby food, but I want to at least try to do it, so please don’t try to persuade me not to.” And so on.

Finally, remember that your adorable baby will turn into high-energy toddler who will never stop moving, then into a moody teenager and you will need all the help you can get!

 

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Mother’s Day Gifts: What Your Wife Really Wants

 

 How to Hit the Bulls Eye

 Chocolates?

No.

Jewelry?

No.

Flowers?

No.

This Mothers Day gift costs practically nothing, and it will make your wife smile for days (and if you do it right, maybe even for years).

She wants you to tell her why,and how much, you appreciate her as the mother of your child/children. Take the time that you would have spent trawling through the mall, or searching online for that perfect Mother’s Day gift and sit down with a pen and paper and write down how you feel about her.  It doesn’t have to rhyme, it doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be sincere. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Ask your child, if they’re old enough, what they love about mommy
  • Remember how you both reacted when you found out she was pregnant, and then when your child was born
  • List the small things that she does everyday that make everyone’s life better
  • Three things about her that make you feel proud that she is the mother of your children

It really is the the thought that counts and  that leads to her heart (and other vital body parts). Note this gift also works for birthdays, anniversaries and Valentines Day.

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Hillary Duff’s Marriage Advice for New Moms

Hillary Duff and her husband, Mike Comrie recently became new parents. Hillary has been a mother for less than a month but she has more insight and self-awareness than I had after six (OK, twelve) months of motherhood! She has admitted that leaving her newborn son in the hands of her mom and husband has benefited her relationships — namely her marriage — in ways she could never have imagined.

Despite my best intentions, I have to learn to let go of the way I do things. My mom has been taking Luca while I do Pilates for an hour and I had to stop giving her directions about how I changed Luca’s diaper,” Duff says.

The new mom has also come to the same realization about her husband, who, despite not “doing everything the way I would do it,” is still tackling daddy duty full force.

It’s helped me appreciate Mike’s role in [Luca's] life and that we’re doing things with the most love that we can. He’s really hands on and I appreciate any little help I can get,” she notes.

Hillary, unlike many a new mom, is not falling into the trap of being a Maternal Gatekeeper, i.e. micromanaging her husband’s fatherhood (how he changes diapers/holds the baby/feeds the baby and so on) and relegating Dad to the sidelines where he is expected to act as an Assistant Mom.

I got so annoyed with my wife hovering over me when I would change a diaper. Leave me alone, Honey. I can handle it,” said our friend Mark.

We can forget that parenthood is a sink-or-swim learning experience for us as well. Few women would deliberately sabotage their husbands’ parenting efforts, but perhaps we do it subconsciously. “You’re not holding the bottle right.” “That shirt you put on him is too small.” Dad has to learn as he goes, too. If we always tell our husband how to do something, he will forever be in the helper role, a “B Teamer.” He will never be an equal take-charge parent—that partner we’ve been telling him we want. (And that is what we want, isn’t it?)

Let Him Be the Father He Wants to Be

Our maternal instincts also give us tendencies toward maternal chauvinism—“No one can care for that child like me.” If we want our husbands to be more active fathers, we need to recognize and fight that tendency. Even Gloria Steinem, that most vocal of feminists, said, “We need to know not only that women can do what men can do, but also that men can do what women can do.”

They won’t do it the way we do it, but they can do it.  As Hillary Duff has said, her husband is “not doing everything the way I would do it” but letting go has “helped me appreciate (his) role in baby Luca’s life” Couldn’t all our marriages do with a little bit of that?

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