Category Archives: Guest Posts

The Guilt of the Working Mother (Guest Post)

One thing’s for sure in parenting: There’s no perfect way to raise your family.

Full-time, part-time, flex-time… however your time is stitched together, it’s never perfect. Perfect is really just a figment of our imaginations. Life’s more about living into our choices, and looking for ways to soften the hard edges.

My friend Bridget works in the semiconductor industry in Ireland. She’s had a year off with her beautiful daughter Isobel (we’re all jealous of the European year off, aren’t we?!?). But as you’ll see, even after a long maternity leave, the tearing-at-your-heart about what’s best for your child is still the same.

BridgetAndIsobel

The Guilt of the Working Mother 

By Isobel’s Mom, Bridget

There’s a dark grey cloud looming overhead. I try to pretend it’s not really there, but it just won’t go away. It follows me around most of the day. A gloomy, depressing, miserable cloud. Something is tormenting me. Tugging at my heart. Making me feel sad and lonely. After a 12 month break, I’m about to return to work. I’ll be returning to a job I love, colleagues whose company I enjoy and a warm friendly workplace atmosphere…. But I don’t want to go back.

I don’t want to go back at all.

On May 5, 2012 my husband and I welcomed our first-born beautiful baby daughter Isobel into the world, and I’ve spent every day since then at home caring for her with all the love in the world. It’s been the most joyous & special time of our lives.

But now my return to work is fast approaching – like a super-storm on the horizon – and I’m feeling so emotional about it.

There’s a knot in the pit of my stomach. I can almost feel my heart sink when I think about it. Tears well up in my eyes. I’m leaving my baby behind and I’m filled with guilt, worry, and loneliness. Guilt that someone else will be spending the day with Isobel and not me. Someone else will spend more waking hours with her than me…. (I’ve done the calculation).

Will Isobel miss me? Will she wonder where I am in the morning when she wakes up and “No Mama”?  And the most anxious question of all: Will she start to forget about me when I’m not home every day until 5.30 p.m. and someone else is caring for her?

I’ve obviously given lots of thought to NOT going back to work. Hubby & I have weighed up the pro’s and con’s and for now the decision rests to go back, give it time to settle into the new routine and see how it goes.

Who knows, maybe the time away from me will be good for Isobel as she becomes more social and used to other people. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t take away from the fact that while I’m at work (thinking about her), someone else will wipe away her tears when she cries, someone else will pick her up when she falls, someone else will play and have fun with her and someone else will change her dirty, smelly nappies, that I wish I could do every day.

For now, I’m going to treasure these last few weeks with her and hope and pray that the transition goes well and we both adapt.

For my little star Isobel, Mama loves you, even though she’s working and not at home with you every day. xxx

Isobel

***

Thank you so much for sharing your emotions with us, Bridget!! I’ve asked her to write a follow-up, and in the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences about finding the right family path in your house.

Broken by Paperwork, or The Basement Drones Try to Steal My Doctorate

I knew you were out there! You smart, savvy friends who’ve been slowly overtaken by the fog of indecipherable bureaucracy! I feel better already sharing some champagne out of a can with you from afar (thanks, Esther, for that new find!).

After Broken by Paperwork part one, a dear friend who is in the home stretch of the marathon to get her Ph.D. wrote to tell me this story. We’re going to call it….

The Basement Drones Try to Steal my Doctorate, And I Wrestle it Back at the Mouth of Hello

In my Ph.D. program, when you are about to graduate, you have to “apply” to graduate.

This means that in March, you run around and get all of these papers signed and filed saying that you have done everything you needed to in order to be ready to graduate. [Editor’s note: I know that this generally involves hunting down half-time, troll-like department assistants to validate your paperwork with a special wax stamp that must be sealed onto goatskin.]

I did this.

Then the system booted me out. Chewed me up. Spit me out.

I got a panicked phone call from the secretary in my office last Wednesday. She was shocked that I had decided to quit.

I had no idea what she was talking about. I checked my email, then got very panicky myself.

I got an email from the grad school with the header: “Application for Degree Withdrawn by Student.”

I am less than 30 days from graduating. I am NOT quitting now. 

So then I made some phone calls.

One to a Ms. Cheeryface, who sounded suspiciously like our old friend Saul in Americorps. Y’know: bureacratic basement dweller, never does anything quickly, requires forms in triplicate, etc.

She looked through my file and then said,” Oh, I accidentally hit ‘withdraw from degree program.'”

It turned out that some of my paperwork had been filed incorrectly, and this needed revising. Instead of revising, SHE HIT WITHDRAW!

What the flip?!!!

Had this error not been caught by my secretary friend, I would have been KICKED OUT OF MY DOCTORAL PROGRAM.

Like you, I wanted to cry. It is the only logical thing to do.

Later that day I also received a hefty fine from the library for some technology equipment I had checked out (and returned on time!). I went in there and read the riot act. It was not pretty. I am not proud of my actions. I got my dollars back. But I am sleep deprived and annoyed, and my fightin’ energy has to go someplace.

Yours in the struggle,
M

Guest Post: Living at the End of the Bell Curve

Scott Brennan is a friend and wonderful writer. Or a wonderful friend and writer. In either case, I think he would tell you that first he’s a husband and father (he and his wife Mary Elizabeth have a teenage daughter and preteen twins). I consider him a mentor parent.

I was blessed–truly blessed–to cross paths with him at Trinity Church Wall Street in Manhattan and I thank the Internet for keeping us connected.

In 2009, Scott’s wife Mary Elizabeth collapsed on a train platform in London, while Scott, Mary Elizabeth, and their oldest daughter Charlotte were on a trip. Mary Elizabeth suffered an internal bleed in her brainstem that she miraculously survived. But it put her in a coma for two months, and Mary Elizabeth and Scott have been adjusting to life on the recovery path ever since.

Scott writes at Get Better Mary Elizabeth about their story. His posts can be raw and open and I’m always thrilled by his candor.

Today he’s here at Momsicle talking about parenting after one parent changes.

Living at the End of the Bell Curve

Several weeks before she gave birth to our first child,  Mary Elizabeth shared with me the very serious concern that I would be a lousy parent and that she would have to do everything. While it would be easy to chalk this up to hormones, or pregnancy jitters, she had a point.

I was adopted at 3 months old, and raised by two alcoholics, with at best, very poor parenting skills, and at worst, abusive and schizophrenic behavior. My life as an only child was filled with neglect, rage, and situations that no child should have to endure.

But still, I turned out ok, and was a reasonable spouse, colleague and friend.

But I understood Mary Elizabeth’s fear: With role models like my parents, how would I be as a parent? Would I be capable of providing the tenderness which was withheld from me while growing up? Could I cope with the stresses of parenthood without reaching for a bottle?

As it turned out, her fears were unfounded.

I took to parenting like a fish takes to water.  I doted on Charlotte, getting up in the night, bathing, swaddling, and diapering like a pro. She was our light and joy and we showered love on her in rich abundance. Two years later, we found out we were having twins–a wonderful surprise that unnerved us a bit given the prospect of being outnumbered.

We had a few harrowing years where we didn’t go out much except to work and church, and would more than likely have a patch of spit-up somewhere on our clothes no matter how hard we tried to avoid it.

But our kids were happy and healthy and again I rose to the occasion, despite my difficult upbringing. We led a hectic, but happy and fairly conventional family life–filled with good humor and love.

All that changed late in 2009 when Mary Elizabeth collapsed on a train platform in London while she and Charlotte and I were there for a week.

She was rushed to Royal London Hospital and diagnosed with what the doctors thought was a fatal bleed in her brainstem. It was indeed a bleed in her brainstem, but it wasn’t fatal. After being in a coma for two months and hospitalized for another two months, she came home to us and is an integral part of our family life.

But that rainy dark night changed everything. Standing in that grimy little family room in Royal London Hospital, as the nurse handed me my wife’s engagement ring and wedding band taped together and the doctor gave us the dire prognosis, my parental status changed dramatically–and forever.

As soon as an hour after we got that news, Charlotte turned her tear-stained face to me and uttered the plangent cry, “Don’t you die, too!”

Suddenly there was a lot more on the line.

I had almost immediately felt Mary Elizabeth’s absence since we relied on one another in situations like this, but it hadn’t hit me until Charlotte spoke that this family now depended on me and me alone. While before, one of us could always relieve the other one–or even take a day off–that was now a much more difficult prospect.

Several days later, while breaking the news over the phone to eight-year-olds Clark and Louisa who were back in New York, I felt the enormity and surrealism of the situation overwhelm me again. These poor kids, lacking at least for the time being a mother, have one parent, and that parent is me.

After I sent Charlotte home a week later, and stayed on in London for 3-and-a-half more months, I became a parent without children.  Family and community at home enveloped them in warm and loving arms and when I spoke to them, they seemed absolutely fine–happy to speak to me, but not apparently needing me so much.

I on the other hand was not fine, as I realized poignantly that perhaps I needed them more than they needed me.

Keeping a nightly vigil by my sometimes-conscious-but-mostly-unresponsive wife in a hospital 3,000 miles away from home, I felt disconnected, adrift and most certainly bereft.

And part of that void was not being able to take care of my kids, or my wife–those responsibilities taken up by family, friends, and nursing staff. Thank God for my old and new friends in London who embraced me with good cheer, kept me busy and supported me through those dark cold London winter months.

But soon enough, it was springtime and Mary Elizabeth recovered sufficiently to travel back to the States, and then rehabilitated enough to come home.

It was of course awkward at first and as I found out from attending several caregiver support groups, ours was a fairly unique demographic. Children taking care of their elderly parents, or elderly spouses caring for each other were common scenarios at these groups.  But a middle-aged husband, caring for his incapacitated wife and three school-aged children wasn’t a model that I had seen anywhere.

But I was used to living at the far edges of the bell curve.

Shortly after I turned 40, Mary Elizabeth and I found my birthmother and reunited with her, along with a half brother and two half sisters. It turned out to be joyful, fulfilling, and ultimately redemptive–but again not a common situation.

There was no blueprint for this kind of relationship–we had to feel our way, and in essence do what felt right for the situation.

As anyone who has read my blog knows, I’ve struggled to accept our situation and have had a hard time feeling good about what happened to us, and where we are.

While Mary Elizabeth’s intellect and memory are completely intact and anybody who hasn’t seen her since before the stroke will see in her the old Mary Elizabeth, there have been significant changes. She is physically dependent on other people, and likely will always be–to an extent.  She is not easily understood by strangers, and while her new aspiration is being a stay-at-home mother, she can’t drive, cook, or do many of the things commonly associated with that role.

Our family dynamic has changed. What had been shared responsibilities are now completely on my shoulders.

Like any family, there have been significant challenges, which are now borne by me alone. I’ve done a good job meeting them, but at time feel wracked by the uncertainty that I’m doing a bad job, and the guilt of resenting that I’m overburdened.

This is difficult to say, but sometimes I feel like I am the parent of four kids–two 11-year-olds, a 14-year-old, and a 51-year-old who requires more support than the other three.

But that’s ultimately an unfair and shallow assessment because if I look beyond Mary Elizabeth’s physical and cognitive disabilities, I see the vibrant, independent, and loving woman I married 20 years ago.

Our kids have taken all of this in stride, but I think their relationships with me as their father have changed as well in unexpected ways.

They’ve become much more aware of the needs of others, and have learned through necessity to be helpful and solicitous. I recognize this when comments come home from school about how helpful they are in class.  There’s a maturity that has been thrust upon them–particularly on Charlotte–and there’s a candor in our relationship which I didn’t see before.

I am the first to admit to them that I’m struggling and need help–not in a pathetic or even weak way–but in a straightforward, honest way. I think they respect that I’m not all-knowing and omnipotent and admitting that I make mistakes robs them (the mistakes, not the children) of their power.

At the same time, I have to maintain some authority and dominion over them, since they are still kids–although my 14-year-old might be reluctant to recognize this.

It’s incredibly poignant and touching to see my kids interacting with Mary Elizabeth in a perfectly natural way, although I think the dynamics of that relationship have changed as well.

Mary Elizabeth feels that the kids don’t listen to her, or don’t take her seriously because of her limitations.  This may be true, but I’m not entirely sure that they listen to me any more than they listen to her. But I do sense frustration sometimes from the kids that communication isn’t what it used to be, and that Mary Elizabeth can sometimes seem demanding.  I am hopeful that this frustration will give way to a deeper understanding of compassion and empathy as they get older, and that they continue to listen to their hearts.

So thinking of Mary Elizabeth’s fears expressed to me in 1993…

I think that I’ve turned out to be a reasonable father, tempering love and affection with guidance and yes, discipline–ever more conscious of the new context of our family life. 

I do the best I can as a parent–acknowledging the bare truth that I am neither an angel nor a devil–but a human, through and through.

***

Thank you, Scott! I hope you’ll be back on the blog again.

If you want to find out more about Scott’s story, check out his linked timeline at Get Better Mary Elizabeth. 

Scott also collaborated with me on a travel post about road trips with kids. You can find his great tips here. 

An Interview with Duck, Duck, Moose

Back when I was packing my suitcase with drugs and kid-friendly iPhone Apps for my favorite activity, flying with kids, I came across “Trucks” by Duck, Duck, Moose.

“Trucks” was an instant hit with K-Pants because it’s like playing with Tonka trucks on the iPhone.

MomsicleBlog: Construction play in Trucks app by Duck Duck Moose

Sara over at Duck, Duck, Moose happened to notice I was loving on “Trucks,” and offered to have me review a new app.

The problem is that I don’t really review things unless offered either a) a year’s supply of bleu cheese, or b) a three-hour boat tour around the entire island of Manhattan. (Despite my  best efforts, that mythical cruise never happened.)

But I was still interested in chatting with Duck, Duck, Moose, because I wanted to know how these guys figured out the deceptively simple world of preschool gaming.

So many preschool apps seem like they are designed by programming droids trying to remember their long-ago childhoods. But Duck, Duck, Moose designs games with the bright, simple, hedonistic soul of a preschooler.

They view children’s apps like pop-up books with good music and touch technology.

Yes! Why don’t more people get it!?

So here’s a bit of insight into Duck, Duck, Moose’s world through a little banter with Caroline Hu Flexer, one of company’s founders.

(Caroline’s the one in the middle. BTW, she also parents small people.)

Duck Duck Moose

Some Push and Shove with Caroline Hu Flexer of duck, duck, moose

Me: Children are everywhere–in schools, under rocks, on tops of tables. (Well, my tables, at least.) There’s no mystery here, so why is it so hard for adults to really get into their heads when designing games?

Caroline: Kids behave and think very differently from adults. That’s why it’s so important for us to work closely with kids in our design process. We have kids come into our offices, and we go out to classrooms every week. Every time we’re surprised by what we learn.

One example that I like to use is from when we were testing our Draw and Tell app with a four year old. The app has a tray of paint brushes in different colors, and we saw her choose the purple paint brush on the iPad. But then, we could see her hesitate and look at her finger. It was clear from her expression that she had changed her mind, and now wanted a different color. So, what did she do? She wiped her finger on her pants before choosing another color! This was not something that we anticipated!

Me: Tell us a funny story about pilot testing with kids.

Caroline: We use the testing to help us design better for kids and enjoy having the kids in the office. But the last time we tested one of the little girls started crying because her 30 minutes was up and she wanted to stay longer! We forgot that the kid testing session are just as much fun for the kids as they are for us.

Me: A lot of your job is looking at the world through a child’s eyes. Has all of this observation made you a better parent?

Caroline: I hope so! At least I try to observe them and listen to what they’re saying, before opening my own mouth (but not always). My seven year old does a good imitation of me, and it does not involve me quietly observing.

Me: What is Duck, Duck, Moose going to do in 2013 to save me from insanity during cross-country air travel with a preschooler and a toddler? Keep in mind I’m only armed with Benadryl, Dramamine, a husband, and an iPhone.

Caroline: We will keep your kids singing, making up stories, drawing, driving trucks, recording their own voices and greetings, learning their numbers and letters, and more!

Me: Well, let’s hope Duck, Duck, Moose and the drugs can work their magic. Thank you, Caroline!

If you’re a game-design nerd, you’ll also eat up this post from the Duck, Duck, Moose blog about their dynamic process.