Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Book Review: Why Have Kids

I've heard a lot about Why Have Kids lately, so when I needed a book to read on the way back from Orlando, I picked it up.  I was really pleased to see it was actually available for loan from Amazon, and it was on my Kindle in a minute.  I thought I would offer a review here, in case you have also sort-of heard about the book but not actually heard anything about it.

What I expected: a book about why you should or shouldn't have kids, a la Caitlin Moran's chapter on the subject in How to be a Woman.  I was hoping that somebody would lay out for me, in black and white, all of the reasons to have children.  I actually had two people say over the weekend that they are "really selfish" and that is why they don't want children, whereas I actually fall into the camp that believes that having children is a somewhat selfish thing to do, what with limited resources and the population and all that.  Really, I think you can come down on either side, so I was hoping Valenti would give me a good reason why to have or not have kids.

I don't know why this book is called Why Have Kids, to be honest.    More accurate titles would have included, "Motherhood: You're not doing it wrong just because you don't think it's the greatest thing ever" and "Seriously, the Census counts involved fathers as babysitters" and/or "Everyone will judge you."

That being said, it's a good book and you should definitely check it out if you have Amazon Prime or it's at your local library. It's a very quick read, much more like a long magazine article, and it explores all of the recent hooplas - basically every round of books or long articles that has come out and inspired a lot of reaction in the internet world - as well as some of the parenting trends, like "natural parenting" and "attachment parenting" and "total motherhood".

It's not a very egg-head-y book, and it doesn't offer a lot of real solutions.  It reads very much like Valenti read every article on the internet and several internet chat rooms, and that is all her "research" is.  I was remarkably okay with that, because like I said, she doesn't come to many real conclusions.  Valenti posits that we need a paradigm shift in the way we think about parenting - and motherhood specifically - because right now, moms tend to still put a lot of pressure on themselves, and fathers still aren't pulling their share of the childcare/housework - and that motherhood is isolating, lonely, and difficult to discuss because women are expected to be so happy and so fulfilled by their children.

My favorite section is probably the one where Valenti talks about the value, or over-valuation, of motherhood.  This idea that being a mother is the most important thing you'll ever do.  One thing she points out is, "We also need a fundamental shift in the way we over-value mothering in women.  Because if women continue to belive that the most important thing they can do is raise children - and that their children need to be the center of their universe - then the longer that American women will go unrecognized and undermined in public life, and the more frantic and perfectionist we'll become in our private and parental lives."  She also points out that recognizing motherhood as the hardest job ever is a way to placate mothers without giving them the social and political support or recognition that they actually need, and that if mothering really was the most important job in the world, more men would want to do it.

She also talks about the language that mothers use to shame other mothers into being better mothers.  Phrases like, "Do your time." with the comment that, "When motherhood keeps getting likened to a prison sentence, you know something is very wrong."

While I don't recommend buying the book, because there is not a lot of there there, I would strongly urge you to read it, especially if you haven't read all of the books and articles about opting in/out/the decline of the American family, choice feminism, etc.  It's a nice summary.

I thought the book was very interesting, although it did not help make my mind up one way or the other about having children, when to have children (well, there was a really scary chapter on all of your eggs drying up by the time you're 30), or how the heck I manage to get a 50-50 split of childcare in my house (the only thing to do on that one is follow my parent's lead, I think).  Have you read it?  What did you think?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Keeping the List

I went to a conference recently, and a female judge was talking about her egalitarian marriage and her feminist husband, and then she said, "but somehow, I always kept the list."

And there it was.  There was a three word term for the issues I've been having lately.  I've been feeling really frustrated - I'm finally working, my husband is finally not working so much, things are good, and yet, something feels unbalanced.  Not like I'm doing more than my fare share, but like I'm the cruise director around here.  So there it is, with a name. I keep the list.

Around the room, other women nodded.  So I'm not the only partner out there who is somehow responsible for meal planning and grocery planning and perhaps grocery shopping and knowing what we are eating for dinner on what night.  I'm not the only one who is getting tired of being asked, "so do we have plans this weekend?"  I'm not the only one who keeps track of the plans, who is making a list of what needs to be done and who needs to do it.  I'm not the only one who is driving the relationship bus and is experiencing some serious road fatigue.

Once you name it, you can talk about it.  Because as soon as I said to my husband, "I keep the list", he nodded.  "You do, and I'm sorry," he said.  Once we named it, we started working to fix it. That weekend, we sat down and wrote the meal plan together, and then he went grocery shopping.  He chopped peppers and I chopped onions for the week.  The next weekend, he made chili and I made banana bread and roasted beets.  Last weekend he grocery shopped and chopped onions so that it would be easier to put meals together.

Sometimes changing who keeps the list is as simple as admitting that you can't do it all.  In the spring when he was working all the time and I was working full time for the first time, I came home and admitted that we couldn't lead the organic, totally healthy, not from a box, meal planned and prepared lifestyle we wanted to - that I didn't have the energy, and I couldn't do it alone.  So we started to loosen our grip on the lifestyle we wanted - we bought more convenience foods, and I forgave myself for throwing together a quick dinner.  Every once in awhile, I have a crappy day, and he's still at work, and I call him and tell him I'm not cooking, and we go out or we get takeout.  Those days are still pretty far apart, but the possibility of neither of us having to cook is there.

One of the other big things that has been helpful for us is to use technology - we use an app called "our groceries" so that whoever is able to go grocery shopping has the list, and we use gmail and google docs to recipe plan - each week, we (try to) email back and forth a list with the menu plan and all of the recipes that we are using.  That way, we are on the same page with dinner and a meal plan.  I'm still making the meal plan and I'm still doing most of the cooking.  He's doing the laundry and more of the housework.  It's getting better though, and I'm getting better about asking for help or admitting when I'm feeling cranky and too "list-keepy".

Do you keep the list? Does your partner?  If you actually split responsibilities, how do you do it and how do you make it work?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dear Maryland

I spent yesterday standing outside a polling place in the cold, handing out lit to the people who took it out of pity or because somehow they were still undecided. 

When we first started this journey this year, I watched in thrilled disbelief as marriage equality passed out of the House of Delegates.  I watched with joy as it passed out of the senate and was signed by the governor.  I waited for the referendum and I gave money, I made phone calls, I attended events.  I often felt as if I was not doing enough to ensure a win, and I worried. 

I worried that this state that I love, that I never intend to leave, that is full of people who are good people who believe in fairness and equality and civil rights, that this state would let me down.  That we would stay true to our history - that we would attempt to be a "neutral" state again, on the battleground of marriage equality. 

Thank you for proving me wrong.  Thank you for coming up big.  Thank you for being filled with people who are willing to listen to reason, who are willing to work together for change, for wanting a better tomorrow. 

I look forward to being able to practice law here in a state where my clients are treated equally.  To assume that this is an issue only for same-sex couples is wrong, because there are thousands of us in professions whose lives are now easier because we know where our clients stand and how we can serve them.  Countless more Marylanders will have access to justice, the benefits of marriage and the protections of divorce.  I practice every day in the family courts and I can hardly express how important that is. 

Thank you, Maryland, for protecting my marriage and making it stronger.