"When Mother Knows Best"

Here's an interesting piece over at Scary Mommy about what sounds like a vicious cycle:  a child is born and her mom is eager and enthusiastic and perhaps a bit worried about getting “everything right.”  She googles and reads about Everything, and, with a lot of work, becomes, eventually, more confident and super competent!  She has lists and Techniques and Methods and they work.  Yay, right?  She’s a little controlling about it, but oh well, whatever, right?  

Except that, according to Melissa Lawrence,years later, she ends up with her life like this on a typical Saturday: 

Time to head out? Mommy crouches down tying all the shoe laces while Daddy catches up on the iPad because Daddy doesn’t get the kids ready because he doesn’t know all the ins and outs.  Mommy hands Daddy the bag with the change of clothes, lunch and the water bottles.  The kids are firing questions at Mommy and she’s fielding them like a catcher during bating practice.  “Can I do this?”  “Why did he get that?” It’s only 9 a.m. and you’re so drained from the excess of planning, details and decision-making that you’re ready to head back to bed. 

She’s basically imprisoned in kid-minutiae, alone with it, because, as Melissa puts it, she has “trained [her partner] not to make any decision whatsoever regarding the kids.” 

Well, crap.

But before you’re like, “damned if I do and damned if I don’t” about it, I think there’s a lot more to it.  

First, there are a lot of different ways women grow into motherhood — not everyone has the same experience.  Melissa advises that to prevent this scenario, moms should,

Get the hell away from that baby and let Daddy do his messy, sloppy, imperfect, thing.

But:  For some women, even people who are usually pretty easygoing, part of the learning curve is a period where she simply is … how to put it gently?  … impelled to do everything and Extremely Controlling. It makes sense, when you think about it — the baby is a bunch of mysteries at first. For many of us, every little mystery that is resolved is like a hard-won, intoxicating gift — if doing something results in a sleeping baby, or a baby who stops crying, damn right you’re going to do it every time.  And you probably should, for now, because your sanity is a major ingredient in your family’s well-being.  

And if you’re, perhaps, be a smudge curmudgeonly when someone else starts to do it wrong?  You know, we’re all human.  Try not to be obnoxious, really do try.  But honestly, you’re entitled to a few grumpy moments when you’re getting used to your life being turned on its ear. 

This Controlling Thing isn’t a “problem,” it’s normal for lots of new parents, especially while the kid is still a baby. Many, many new moms get enormous satisfaction and pride out of being the one who “can” respond to the baby!  And for others, they may simply find it very satisfying or irresistible, for now, to “do everything.”  If this is where you are, it’s right for you for now, even if it’s unlikely you’ll love or need this much control in a few years. (BTW, if you are handling everything and *not* finding it satisfying or irresistible, but are, instead, annoyed/resentful, then foist some of that shizzle upon your partner (see below)!  But for now, I’m talking about moms who find it, temporarily, OK).

I don’t think you grow out of the temporary new mom desire to Control by being told that it’s going to ruin your life later if it goes on and on.  You know what does help you grow out of it?  

  • Time.  In time, you notice that if someone forgets to pack wipes in your diaper bag, you can pick some up while you’re out and it’s a hassle, but it’s not the apocalypse. Try to notice this stuff.  Then you start to ease up. And likewise,
  • Experimentation.  (Here Melissa and I agree) — when you can, let others take a turn, even if you know it will make a mess, take longer or potentially disrupt your balance.  This is how others learn why you do what you do, and it’s how you find new things that also work, and it’s how you learn you don’t have to do everything.  This is important; you should do it.  But do it when you can.  Don’t experiment when you’re not ready just because you’re afraid that five years from now your life will be bad.  Don’t experiment on a day where you’re already in tears mid-morning about how chaotic life is.  And if every day feels too chaotic to experiment with anything, though, you probably also need:
  • Company, friendship, fresh air, and food.  If you’re being well taken care of, there are a whole host of things that will bother you a million times less and you will be able to play with this more.  I promise. And, relatedly
  • A Partner who shows you he or she wants to be in there with you however works for your family now (more about this below).

If your baby is still basically a blob, and you’re basically doing everything and that’s working for you for now, take it easy on yourself. 

Second, though, and here’s what really bothers me about the article.  Can we just, collectively as a world decide not to use the word “trained” to describe what goes on in human relationships (except if we’re really joking or reading like Fifty Shades or something)?  Yes, we all respond to praise and try to avoid chastisement, but I hope there is more to your relationship with your partner than just a carrot stick situation.  

The truth is that a parent who wants to get in there, get his hands dirty and be, truly, a co-parent will do it, even if the other parent is a Bossy Beeyotch for years, even if her inherent personality is very controlling.  

I say this not just as someone who has seen it professionally but as a Bossy Beeyotch myself.  From a long line of Bossy Beeyotches (my mother calls us a “Family of Generals”; my cousin literally has a post-it on her computer with a little message reminding her to “Ease the Fuck UP!” which has, alas, not transformed her character).  Bossy Beeyotches, all, we nevertheless all have partners who are full parents.  I did not say “perfect” parents or “perfect” marriages. But all of our kids know that Dad can pack a lunch, arrange a playdate or hold your head when you’re barfing, even if he and Mom don’t do it the same way.  Why?  Because (a) it’s not fucking rocket science to do those things and (b) they wanted in.  Not in the same way, not on the same timetable, not like clones of us, and it wasn’t always beautiful or easy to negotiate.  But they got in there because they wanted to.

My point is this:  if you’ve got a bunch of kids and you’ve been doing the parenting thing for a while now, and Dad is taking a pass on all the daily crap of involvement, this is not because “mom is too controlling” and certainly not because she went through the normal new-mom controlling Thing.  It is because Dad isn’t trying to work with her.  

If he’s saying,  to himself, “she’s controlling, moody, difficult,” perhaps these are all true, and she ought to work on her tone.  Really, she should.  But it doesn’t end there.  Concluding that he ought to retreat into the Ipad and not bother to figure out how to make the kids’ lunch because Mom can be difficult? That is not the logical conclusion.  This is the person you’re sharing your life and raising children with.  If you want a relationship with your partner, you work with her.  If you want a relationship with your children as a full parent, you get in there and find something you can do.  

Being in the game can mean finding something the mom needs less control of and taking that on — because you want to do this.  Or it can be the simple statement, “I want to watch you and learn even if you’re doing it for now.”   

Even if it’s the early months and mom simply wants (or needs!) to handle many things herself, the simple expression, “I want to understand; I want to be in it” is so important and such a show that you are part of a growing family.  And from mom:  even the simplest expression that “I value your opinion and perspective” is team playing.

It’s not a woman’s responsibility to train her husband, for good or for bad.  He’s a dude, not a dog, and you are partners. No relationship is easy.  But that’s why we do this as adults.  

Go for it w/ your partner.  When you’re working together — whatever form that takes for now in your parenting adventure — it feels good.

How To Take Care Of A New Mom, With Chocolate

You know those moments where mom is desperately hungry, but so is the baby?  That’s when it’s time for the Mom-Food-Chain: you feed mom, mom feeds baby.  

mom food chain

Also, are they not completely adorable?!  And isn’t this the most discreetly nursing baby ever?

I particularly love that he’s feeding her chocolate and berries — all the major food groups represented.

Have you tried this?

(photo taken with permission)

"Reclaim Your Wife"

Have you seen the recent ad campaign for Bittylab bottles?  Last week they tweeted to new dads:

The idea is that the bottle is so much like a breast that your baby won’t know the difference and you can get your wife “back.”

Um, ew.

As this blog post at Ms. so aptly notes,

When wives aren’t feeding their child, they shouldn’t be expected to be “reclaimed” by their husbands. Women aren’t property waiting around to be used by babies, husbands or anyone else.

Obviously, when you have a baby, your relationship with your partner has to readjust — as you find a new balance, there is less time for everyone.  And it’s totally normal for non-nursing partners to feel, among their feelings, some jealousy of the new baby, even some resentment at the lessened attention from his mate.  There are a lot of ways to cope with the big relationship changes that happen when you add a baby to your life.  

It’s just … ‘reclaim’?  Was she his chattel before the baby annexed her?  

Bittylab touts the bottle as “mom-invented” as though this undoes the annoying misogyny of the “Your Body And Attention Actually Belong To Your Dude And Your Baby Is An Interloper” message.  But the idea of a bottle as “liberating you” from your baby is all wrong — it sets up the mom as a slave to her baby, instead of what she is: an adult caring for him and calling the shots.  

I am not saying it’s wrong to use a bottle.  I’m saying the idea of the bottle as something that “sets you free” implies that breastfeeding is a kind of slavery.  You may indeed, sometimes, feel like a slave.  We all have our hyperbolic moments.  I suggest you keep these thoughts to a minimum and try to reframe it, and think of motherhood as demanding, but not demeaning.

And when we suggest that the bottle sets you free so that you can take care of your man?  

WTF year is it?!  

It reminds me of that essay last year by Erica Jong protesting the way that new moms get involved with their babies (rather than going to parties, as she apparently did after her daughter was born) and saying, reproachfully, that when a woman “breastfeed[s] at all hours” her mate feels that her “breasts don’t belong to him,” and this is bad. 

Your breasts don’t belong to your mate.  Your body is yours.  If you’ve chosen to have a baby, there are difficult moments and wonderful moments.  You’re entitled to find it hard or complicated; you’re entitled to want a break; you’re entitled to think creatively about what might give you a break; you’re entitled to try to design a life where you get what you need in order to meet all your responsibilities.  None of that is wrong or inappropriately selfish.

But don’t support a company that tries to get your money by telling you you’re a slave and that your real job is to service your man.

Bringing Sexy Back -- Study Looks At Sex And New Motherhood

One of the things you hear about sex after baby is that “you have to wait six weeks.”  A new study published online this month in the Journal Of Sexual Medicine, looked at when women resumed sex, what kind of sex they had and what motivated their timing.  It goes beyond the generic idea, and explores  why, when and how real new mothers have sex.  It found, (to no one’s surprise, I hope), that there are a lot of factors at play, and that it varies.

Before we get into it, though, can we just pause on the “Six Week Rule”?  Usually it’s expressed as something like:

You have to wait six weeks after having a baby before you resume normal relations.

Now, I ask you, what does any of that even mean?   Although we’ve all heard this “rule,” this is not some sort of medical canon.  In fact, as I understand it, there is no medical basis at all for a generic 6 week (or any!) proscription on sex.  Instead, this recommendation started with doctors giving their patients “permission” not to do it for a while out of some concern that the poor women otherwise couldn’t keep their husbands at bay.  

Can we look at all the assumptions there?  a. She has a husband.  b. He wants to have intercourse, obviously.  c. She doesn’t, obviously.  d. She can’t say no to him without a doctor’s note. e. The only kind of sex is intercourse.  f.  By six weeks she either should want to, or she should do it anyway, because for god’s sake we just gave her six weeks off, sheesh.

Doctors should not pretend there are medical reasons for things that have no medical reason.  

Also, what reason could there be?  No one ever spells it out.  There’s a kind of image that childbirth always causes a disfiguring gaping-wound trauma to your ladybits.  It is a Disaster Area that mysteriously requires no ongoing clinical care or medical attention, yet is so horrible that we cannot touch it, play with it, think of it or go there.  Vagina Zahadoom.

A normal spontaneous vaginal birth might leave you feeling sore and tender for a few days, but it’s not physical trauma that restricts your body’s normal functioning any more than some other kind of big workout.  Even for women who had stitches, the generic idea of avoiding all contact in the zone for six weeks is arbitrary (and tell me, how is an orgasm without penetration going to get anywhere near that scar?).  And what about the 33% of American moms who have a c-section?  What vaginal trauma do we think they suffered?  

I just hate the idea that we’re all carrying around this idea that birth is a vaginal explosion that turns your nether regions into Beirut.

So — if you want to have sex before you’re six weeks out, it is beyond unfortunate to be told a bullshit reason not to.  You’re a grown freaking woman; you’re allowed to have sex if you feel like it, it’s your body. Talk to your doctor and ask if there’s any reason *not* to.

And by the same token, if you don’t want to have sex, whether it’s been 3 weeks or 3 months or freaking five years, you don’t need a Fakey Mc-Fake medical excuse.  “I don’t feel like it now” is enough.  That’s the other thing about the Six Week Rule.  Do you know how many women I meet who feel unready for sexytimes after 5 weeks and six days?  Many.  Too often, I find, those moms  have interpreted the six-week thing as an affirmative injunction, like it’s mandatory to do it at six weeks, like by then they “ought to” want to “by now” because they had “six weeks off.”  Because their doctor said so.

No.  Your doctor has no idea what you like in bed, or when you like it, or how or where or why.  

(btw, I have never, in ten years of working with new moms, heard of a doctor who spontaneously had an actual conversation with a pregnant patient about this, asking what the couple’s sex life was like, and tailoring any future recommendation to their specific habits, desires and physical limitations, if any.)  

(btw2, What are “normal relations” anyway?  The Six Week Rule makes it seem like sex is just one thing — that everyone does it at the same time, the same way (and that “everybody” is a guy with a penis and a woman with a vagina and it’s all “insert tab a into slot b”).  Lots of folks dig intercourse, obvs, but it’s not the only way to get off.  Sex is supposed to be something that feels good, right?  And, as we grow, isn’t it normal that what feels good might also develop and change?)


Soooo, this study looked at what actually happens with sex after a baby.  And one of the first things they found debunks the idea that no woman wants sex initially: 40% of women were masturbating in the first few weeks.  


So, despite the “6 Week Rule” assumption that of course she doesn’t want it, apparently many women are at least into sex with themselves at first.

(you know what’s hard about blogging?  Everything I write I imagine how it could make someone feel bad.  So, I wrote that and now worry that someone reads it and feels guilty that she wasn’t getting herself off when her kid was 3 weeks old, like it’s one more thing on the endless perfectionist to-do list: have a perfect vag birth, breastfeed flawlessly, donate extra pumped milk to tsunami victims, lose all weight instantly, teach your child Mandarin and harp lessons while they are nursing, bake your own gluten free bread and do it all while masturbating!  So — NOT LIKE THAT.  Every one of us has to take some time to blend the newness of Being A Mother with the rest of who we were beforehand.  For many women, that means that the sexy stuff takes, temporarily, a back seat to the other projects.  For other women, though, being sexual never goes away, and that’s where that 40% figure becomes interesting.  My guess is that it has more to do with how she learns than with anything else — some women table everything else to immerse themselves in learning something new, others proceed more evenly.)

The study looked at what activities moms did and when they did it.  They also looked at the mom’s desire level. (I love that the study also separated out desire from what the ladies were doing and when they were doing it.  Because, as anyone who’s seen Girls, (or When Harry Met Sally) knows, it’s possible to engage in sexual activity without desire.  

They found that … it varies.  As to timing, “significant differences in time to resumption were found.”  They also found that not everyone was doing the same thing, duh!  Although a majority waited a couple months before intercourse, only 60% were having intercourse *at all* at 7 weeks.  Many women started with oral sex (giving) and masturbation before intercourse.

When identifying the factors at play in what activity women chose, and when, the study found the following factors were significant:

* good birth experience

* adequate social support

* mom felt the partner’s sexual fulfillment was important

* mom perceived partner had a lot of desire.  

* mom’s fatigue level

Results also suggested that postpartum desire was not  significantly influenced by breastfeeding status, vaginal issues, or psychosocial variables.  Desire was increased most when women had feelings of intimacy and closeness to their partners (shocker!).  Desire was lowered by fatigue, sleep issues and time constraints. 

One thing this study did not examine:  Was the sex any good?  Because isn’t that actually kind of the point?  I have a lot of clients and students whose main complaint about sex isn’t about what, when or how much, but that it’s lousy, dull, “different,” weird or even painful at first.  I’d love to see a study that examined sexual pleasure in new parents.  For now, if your baby is really young and you have resumed sex, it’s also not mandatory to do it a lot if it’s lousy.  For some folks, sex is not awesome the first few many times, for lots of reasons.  There are things that help.

So what does that add up to?   Women aren’t generic.  Some will feel more muted desire and need a sexual hiatus as they transition to motherhood, others are ready to go right away, but what “ready to go” means varies from mom to mom.  Some stuff is clear, though:  when we foster appropriate education and support (great childbirth class, labor support and appropriate clinical care to improve birth experience, postnatal support and a mom’s group to provide social support, cultural and societal supports that foster the bonding and intimacy between partners and help new parents get rest), we are investing in new parents’ partnerships, and in everyone’s well being.