Are You a “Real” Mom?

Reynolds Ad

OK. I can’t let it go. Both Sarah & Jane have been talking about motherhood for the past two posts, and I was going to move on to a different topic, but I just can’t do it. I can’t do it because there’s a larger issue here..and it’s not just about women.

I often wonder what it means to be a woman. If I’m not a mom, am I still a woman? Women who have lost their breasts, their ovaries, and other parts of the female anatomy–are they still women?

Biologists would argue that two x chromosomes create a female human, and a woman is simply an adult human female, but women know that is not enough of a definition. What about people who were physically born as men but feel that they are women? What makes them women? Are they “real” women?

On the same vein…I think of motherhood. Motherhood is easier to define. (Or is it? I’ll let the mothers hash that out…) For me, I can safely say that I am not a mom. I have no children, but I am sympathetic to the challenges of motherhood and sensitive to how women are portrayed.

This weekend, I was watching one of my favorite cooking channels and a commercial interrupted my program with some pie-baking tips. Normally, I skip the commercials, but I like pie and I like to bake, so I kept it on. Little did I know it would make me angry. The narrator of the commercial stated, “Real moms know how to make it perfect every time.” “It” referred to pie crust. So, basically, the ad stated that real moms make perfect pie crust “every time.”

What exactly is a “real mom”? Is there such thing as a “fake mom”? I suppose if I pretended to be a mom to one of my 23 nieces or nephews, that would make me a fake mom. But what about moms who don’t make the “perfect” pie crust? Are they fake moms? This commercial seems to imply that moms who can’t make perfect pie crusts “every time” are not “real moms.” So, what about my mom? Is she a “real mom”?

I grew up in a dairy-free household. My mom is allergic to dairy products and cannot stand the smell or sight of butter. Despite this, my mom is an excellent cook, and I grew up eating her dairy-free homemade pies, cookies, and other scrumptious meals. However, and I’m sorry mom, but I do not particularly like her pie crusts. I have discovered from making my own pies that butter makes all the difference.

This commercial did show the woman (Emily Lyon–“Reynolds Real Mom”) using butter, so that implies that the “perfect” pie crust contains butter, but since my mom did not use butter, and sometimes even burnt her pie crusts, does that mean she isn’t a “real mom”? Of course not!

I recognize this as hyperbole, but still, words matter–just ask Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D. Phrases like this get into our psyches and affect our attitudes. They pick at our over-crowded to-do-listed brain and undermine our self-worth–much like subtle images.

Of course, women are not the only ones being pressured to be “real.” There are plenty of YouTube videos and books about being “real men.” It doesn’t make it better, though…it makes it worse.

We put enough pressure on ourselves to be “perfect” or “real.” We don’t need to add to the pressure. Instead, we need to give each other a break. We need to accept our own and each others’ flaws and be kind. We need to be careful of the words we use because words really do matter.

~ K

Marriage Expectations…They’re not all THAT

women juggle

Recommended Reading:

7 Reasons Why Age Doesn’t Matter in Marriage” by Sasha Brown Worsham

I overheard a conversation the other day that quite offended me: “A family can’t exist without children.” Well, as a child-free woman, I beg to differ.

A family concept is larger than a wife, husband, and child (or more). There are step-families, adopted families, close friends considered as family, pets, and so many other non-traditional families that I can’t even name them all. Family, as well as marriage, should be something defined by those in it, not by outside sources.

It was with this idea that I started reading Sasha Brown Worsham‘s article on “The Stir.” The article is Warsham’s response to Susan Patton’s letter to the women at Princeton University–an article Sarah responded to on this very blog. Worsham claims that people should marry whenever and whomever they want. She states, “It’s not what age you marry. It’s who you marry. Period. End of story.”

These posts, as well as Sheryl Sandberg‘s book Lean In, have me thinking about what it means to be a woman in the 21st century. It’s discouraging that women still struggle with their place in our society and continue to fight for equal pay, equal status, and freedom over their own bodies. I thought these battles were fought and won a long time ago. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.

On the other hand, we live in a time period where women have more choices than ever before, and perhaps, it’s these choices that cause us to question once again our place in society.

Technically, I’m a newlywed. In June, it will be three years. I say “technically” because I have been with my husband for 13 1/2 years, but we didn’t exchange wedding vows until 2010.

Living together back in 2002 was a difficult decision–one that went against my family’s belief system, but it was the right decision for me and my significant other.

Not having children was another decision we made. Again, it was the right decision for me and my significant other.

I can understand why people want our lives and our roles defined: it can make life easier. If it is a wife’s duty to procreate, clean, and cook, then we know what our husbands expect, and we know what we need to do on a daily basis. Raised in a strict, Christian environment, I struggle with guilt about my “duties” as a wife: I keep thinking that I should do the dishes every day or keep the house spotless. I struggle with guilt that my husband does his own laundry and has household chores like he did growing up in his mother’s house.

At the same time, if I did all of these things on top of my full-time job, I would never have time to spend with my husband. We have our own expectations and our own ideas about how we want to live our lives.

What about the expectations of our own? What about the book I’m trying to write? The 60-hour work week my husband and I keep? Our desire to relax in each other’s company daily–sometimes more than once a day? What about those expectations? Should we ignore our own expectations in order to fulfill society’s expectations?

I don’t think we should, and yet, Patton’s letter and Sandberg’s book set up these expectations, but we do not have to meet them. Marriage is hard enough without bringing in other people’s expectations. Create your own. Live your life. It’s your life, and at the end of the day, you’re the one who chooses your own happiness. This is what Worsham gets right, and HAPPINESS is what feminism is really all about.


2013 Academic Advice for women: Find a husband? Really?


Read this:

The Daily Princetonian: Letter to the Editor

In her March 29, 2013, letter to the editor of The Daily Princetonian, Class of 1977 President Susan A. Patton tells Princeton women to find a husband: quick.  She claims smart women – in this case the cerebral women of Princeton – will only be happy if they marry an “intellectual equal.”  According to Patton if Princeton women wait until they leave the Ivy League they’re unlikely to run into many marriageable (read: smart) men.  She admits that “soaring intellect” might not be the only thing that makes a mate desirable, but “ultimately,” she writes, “it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.”

Patton writes to the “daughters [she] never had.”  This is her advice to women at the top of their academic game? Get back to the old habit of seeking a Mrs. Degree? Get your ring by spring?

I suppose it is possible to read her commentary as heartfelt advice about long-term commitment.  Men and women operating from the same intellectual plane may be better suited for one another. They may have more to talk about – or argue over – as the years add up.  They may grow in similar directions and value similar approaches to life’s curveballs.  Maybe she’s just suggesting that a man with a good brain is easier to put up with.  Or that there is already enough misunderstanding in marriage without adding incompetency to the mix.

What strikes me about Patton’s letter is that she believes she holds the secret to happiness – she claims she’s willing to say what no other woman has the guts to utter out loud. Patton’s answer, her tough-love truth, is that marriage is the “cornerstone” of a woman’s happiness.   She writes this so unequivocally, that it’s easy to dismiss her ideas as backwards and uninteresting. She doesn’t leave room for other sources of happiness – friendships, or service, or intellectual achievement. However, it’s not Patton’s answer that resonates with me, but rather the question that precipitated her letter.

The woman of Princeton wanted to know about navigating life’s most important relationships.  They asked Patton about her friendships and her family. Women are looking for leaders.  We crave models and mentors who navigate the mixed up world of career and family with honesty and genuine concern for ethics and happiness.  And we want there to be an answer – some singular idea that will allow us to be content in a world ruled by chaos and change.

I want to dismiss Susan Patton out of hand.  But here’s the rub:  I did exactly what she suggests. I married while the marrying was good.  While it wasn’t Princeton, I did leave university with a BA and Mrs.  My path was far less calculated than anything Patton suggests.  It was a romantic risk perpetuated by some pretty good luck.   But it was my path – one I stumbled upon and one I choose every day.

There is plenty of advice out there at the moment: Lean In, opt-out, have it all, marry young. Patton’s suggestion to find an intellectual equal might be a good piece of advice (or an excuse to indulge in  distraction from college academics), but it is only one of many pieces. The arduous task of culling the pile of ideas is instructive. It seems possible that in the gathering of information, in the act of amassing and ditching theories and secret keys, we discover our allusive goal.  We forge our own paths.



Having it all…

Sheryl SandburgRecommended reading: “Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ is a rousing, controversial call to arms”

Every few weeks I participate in that most suburban of female rituals: the book club.  I’m lucky my group hasn’t become a wine club with books or a figment of my good intentions.  Ninety percent of the time we all show up and most everyone has read the book.  And we’ve read some good stuff.  The conversations keep me whole – my boys and my overworked husband know that getting me to book club helps maintain household sanity.  Our club has weathered job changes and losses, sick kids, moves and divorces, and this year we will welcome a new baby.  These women are the sounding board of my life; we work, play, mother, and struggle together. So I suppose it’s not surprising that I’m a bit put off by the suggestion that I’m doing it wrong.

The manufactured buzz surrounding Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In is deafening.  The Facebook CEO seems to be everywhere:  The New York Times, Slate, NPR, CNN, even the perennial 60 minutes gave her prime time billing this weekend. Sandberg’s voice joins an already crowded arena of women arguing about how to ‘have it all’ and though few outside of the media have had an opportunity to read the just released book (I settled for half a dozen reviews and the 60 Minutes interview), Sandberg is already drawing the ire of working women around the country.

Sheryl Sandberg was voted ‘most likely to succeed’ before she left high school in Miami for Harvard – a title she claims embarrassed her.  After an undergrad at Harvard and Harvard business school, Sandberg worked in the Clinton administration.  She signed on with Google in its infancy and was recruited by Mark Zukerburg to Facebook in 2008.  In her 60 Minutes interview, Sandberg is likeable and easy going.  She’s poised but comfortable and quick to laugh at herself. But she is a multi-billionaire dolling out self-help advice from behind the cover of an invisible staff – there is little doubt that she has both a personal and professional army of women helping her make this success look easy.

Sandberg admits she feels guilty, but says that every woman feels guilty.  She also claims that we “hold ourselves back” by embodying the negative messages about aggressive women in the work place. Sandberg suggests that women need to claim our half of the world by “leaning in” to our careers.  We must demand more from our partners.  After all, marriage is the biggest “career decision” we will ever make.  She even claims that studies prove that men who do more laundry have more sex.  We are our own biggest obstacle to equality in the workplace, she says.

Some are praising Sandberg because unlike other feminist “revolutionaries,” she offers a tangible solution to the problem of workplace inequality.  Her Lean In Circles are even compared to “book clubs” and “volunteer committees” on partner Mightybell’s website.  They are a formal opportunity to “share and learn together as [we] pursue…personal and professional goals.”  Sounds familiar.  Except Sandburg’s circles come with some mandates: members can only miss two meetings a year and get just three minutes for personal updates at the start of each meeting.  I wonder if they get to drink beer?

There is no doubt that women are hard on each other.  We criticize and judge each other too much, but we also already create tight-knit communities that support and cultivate strong leaders.  Do we need formalized meetings and higher expectations?  Do we need one more obligation added to our ever expanding list of community commitments?  Can’t we foster intelligent and engaged conversations without three minute mandates and attendance policies?  Aren’t we working hard enough at the ludicrous task of ‘having it all’?

I’m not ready to write Sheryl Sandberg off completely.  I’ve already suggested that my group read the new book – despite that fact that I’m allergic to self-help.  The work of feminism is not yet finished, but we must be thoughtful as we choose our new gurus.  Our instincts are strong and the women we lean on are often an already established, important part or our lives. We must continue to honor those connections.






We’re Not Done Yet…

Sometimes I hate social media.  I have learned that serious and planned cyber sabbaticals keep me sane. I was on the verge of throwing it all out last week when I fell headlong into a serious debate on Facebook.  It is easy to isolate ourselves in the cyber world, to cultivate a space of opinions and ideas that only confirm our own well considered prejudices.   My first cyber space conflict tested my convictions and my compassion, but social media redeemed itself, at least for now.

She and I have always been political polar opposites. We could probably never agree on a church service or a meal time prayer.  We listen to different newscasts, read different blogs, and will raise our boys to know different faiths.  We are strong women and good friends.  And I could not ignore her Facebook post about the end of the women’s movement because a long time ago I made feminism my armor.  I have taught my grown brothers to announce – out loud and whenever possible – that they are feminists.  My own young boys know feminists who are doctors, lawyers, business owners, teachers, and stay at home parents.  They have been taught that families make different choices and that feminism is about making sure women have the opportunity to make choices.  So my friend’s short post about the “phony feminist fight” surrounding the economics of birth control brought me to my proverbial feminine knees.

I was upset.  To me the debate reeks of sexism and misogyny.  The objection to a mandate that requires insurance companies to cover birth control options is ludicrous. Not to mention that the objections come from politicians who simultaneously sexualize women and insist that our calls for access to birth control are some kind of promiscuous promise.  But my girlfriend sees it differently.  She worries that we are being played.  She sees greedy politicians attempting to buy the female vote with feminist rhetoric and hollow promises.  I worry that she might be right.

I will always be a feminist and I will hold on to the power of the women’s movement.  To me this means hard work. It is diligent outreach to ensure that women have the occasion to make our own choices.  Without access to birth control, we have few other choices.  I will be loud, and at times angry, about wage gaps and sexual politics and the still intact glass ceiling. I feel obligated to alter the conversation, to suggest that we reconsider old habits, and to point out inadequacies in language and practice that still leave women feeling isolated and marginalized.  We cannot afford to forget how much more we have to gain.

Something strange happened after I posted a snarky, not-so-subtle status update in response to my friend.  The instant power of social media started a conversation.  My friend sent me a private and apologetic message.  She was first concerned with our longtime friendship.  Then she worked hard to explain herself. She does think that the women’s movement is over, or at least irrevocably altered.  She admits to being cynical and she is convinced that women will never be able to unite around a single, universal goal. But she also wants women to work at whatever they are “called to do” and she has made room for loud, convicted women like me.  She pointed out that there will be “thousands upon thousands of women, both and young and old, waking up tomorrow with big ideas” and access to powerful tools like the internet.

With enough patience, it may be a space well suited for an honest conversation and debate.

– S