Midlife Mommy Meltdown is a destination blog for midlife moms (and dads) who had careers before having children and are looking to get that mommy mojo on track and take back the things that matter most. Caught between the false choice of career versus family, we want to continue talking about work-life balance and other important issues — looking for ways to reclaim true balance in our lives — as mothers and women – diving into our parenting adventures — through adventure travel and more — with tender, meaningful, hilarious, sassy and freak out, meltdown mommy moments – moments that are often lost in the rush of the modern day family — often with two parents out the door.
I remember presenting at an academic conference a few years ago on Mothering. One scholar, (whose name escapes me at the moment) whose work I had admired during my own studies, gave a presentation around raising daughters in a post-feminist world. The gist was basically how challenging it was getting her daughter and her friends to care or take up what had traditionally been known as “women’s causes“. Her daughter wasn’t interested because this “feminist” notion — read “angry androgynous man-hater” — was quite frankly an ugly, passe idea that was no longer necessary.
The presenter was dismayed to hear her wonderful daughter distance herself with revulsion from everything her mother had been trying to do to shed light on issues around women’s equality through her academic work.
Outside of academic circles, I see how easy it is for us to pass judgment on the treatment of women by men and even other women in “distant” societies outside of Canada but I think when we look back over the last year, we have much to be ashamed of, much to learn and much work to do in terms of getting our girls — and boys — to take up so-called “feminist” or gender based issues. I was reminded again of the horrible case of Retaeh Parsons when I was talking to a neighbour about her 16 year old daughter — a lovely girl who suddenly had to be moved to a small private school and be cut off from all social network activity to escape the torment of a group of girls who had turned on her after an 8 year friendship. I am reminded of my own confusing and often blurry teenage years often filled with insecurity and self-doubt. Retaeh’s case sadly is not the first nor the last. During my own adolescence, I can say with honesty that I too remember thinking that feminism was a dirty word — that the fight was over. Now of course those of us fighting to talk about equal pay for men and women, gender violence, a lack of workplace flexibility, a lack of supports for women primarily crunched by the “sandwich” generation reality and a national childcare strategy for instance — know the fight is far from over.
Now, at first, all of the horrible stories that have made the news (both in Canada and elsewhere) about how young women are treated by men and fellow women made me mildly relieved that I had sons instead of daughters — but only for a short time. Then I realized that raising feminist sons as good men with an empathetic, compassionate, ethical, emotional vocabulary and who stand up for women in a post-feminist era is perhaps a tougher task but more important than raising feminist daughters. It isn’t just “other” countries and “other” young men who think violence against women – both physically and mentally — is OK. And it isn’t just “other” women from “other” societies that support or enable this behaviour through their own judgment of their fellow woman.
Young people can and must be forgiven for not having the hindsight or life experience to quite understand this. But some young people do learn these things early on — and it is our job as adults to keep working at it regardless. We have to keep those lines of communication open — something that according to a survey written about in this Globe and Mail article is happening far too little in Canada. I read about one mom blogger who shared what she overheard from a 10 year old. We have to ask where they are hearing this stuff and how does it manifest as they grow? I was on the other hand encouraged by the success of the Miss G Project For Equity in Education — the brainchild of five university women fighting to get gender studies into Ontario high schools. It’s finally happening after eight years — but it wasn’t easy. The journalist for this article writes “The five Western students figured that once the Minister of Education heard about their project, he’d surely see the light and introduce women’s studies into the curriculum. It was their first foray into activism. They had no idea what awaited them. “We didn’t even know what a deputy minister did,” says Rawal, now a lawyer. “When we met him, he said ‘Is this a course for girls?’ ”
The truth is that raising “feminist” sons isn’t easy when we’ve got gender stereotyping at every turn — from clothing to media to parenting practices to birthday parties to language (think about those STILL commonly used, horrible words like “slut” and “fat”). We must be able to recognize, name and call out mysogyny in all its insidious and disguised forms and we must teach our kids to do the same. Contrary to popular belief this is neither common sense nor obvious. We not only owe it to our girls but to our boys and entire communities to raise feminist sons. It means more than showing up to the occasional protest or pitching in to raise money — but talking to them regularly about their responsibilities to their communities and about the ongoing problems girls face right here at home. It’s not about hating men — just the opposite. It is about showing them the respect they deserve — raising good men who show respect for everyone in their communities. It’s a tough job — but I’m sure it can and must be done.
Kudos to Virgin Airline Founder Richard Branson for proudly and publicly taking on the debate about telecommuting and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer’s decision to stop allowing employees to telecommute — in other words, work from home. The thing is, this is about much more than just telecommuting or “remote work”. It’s about our totally dysfunctional attitudes about work and worklife balance in North American society — something Mayer epitomizes. Sure, Mayer’s broken through traditional ranks but she’s done it by embracing an “old boys” mentality. Highly successful, executive level men, let’s not forget have long been accustomed and indeed expected to virtually ignore their children, because they have had wives around to raise them. Women of course are predominantly the obvious “choice” to stay home because on average they earn a lot less.
It’s interesting that we’re having these debates in the 21st century, where we’re marketed to death about mobile technology — be anywhere, work anywhere. Right? Well truthfully we pick and choose and think pretty short term. For the most part, we choose to stay stuck in this old school, clock punching mindset. The truth is, studies show we are NOT productive when forced to work hours upon hours straight. In fact, we become less productive — certainly less creative. And consider this: People at the office have taken smoke and coffee breaks all the time for years. Yet a break from the computer to throw a load of laundry in, do some dishes, run an errand — that’s considered slacking. Is it because you just can’t see us?
Further, if you want productivity, then you also want well rested and therefore energetic workers. Well studies show that there is significant stress on workers with children for instance, who start their “second shift” (because they’ve been at an office all day unable to use breaks to take care of these other things) once they get home, which includes but is not limited to shopping, laundry, dinners, lunches for the next day, program registration, program attendance, baths, bedtime routine, school pick up, cleaning up and on and on and on (and of course this must all fit into a three or four hour span if we’re lucky). And all this stress is actually impacting our ability to sleep – making it that much more difficult to be productive the next day. No one’s asking to work fewer hours — in fact we know with communication technology we’re working more hours than ever — and not getting paid for all that overtime.
One successful tech company founder just outside of Toronto is ahead of the curve. After years of believing he had to have a big, expensive, downtown office to show he was a player, he ditched the expense and instead pays for people to clean the homes of his employees once a week so they have a good, clean workspace. Now THAT’S forward thinking. The problem is we are still caught up in a society that revolves around short term thinking and short term profit with little long term or creative vision.
Look — what we don’t need is more perks to keep us tied to our offices. We don’t need gyms and cool “lounges” to come together to brain storm and cafeterias. Don’t get me wrong — those things are also great. But they’re not top of the list in employee satisfaction surveys and I don’t buy the latest piece of messaging from Yahoo and Mayer that this move by Mayer is an attempt to boost morale. Really? We need a Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) or some Womenomics .
What most adults want is some flexibility, some room to breathe and to be able to use our physical and mental breaks from our desks to do things that alleviate pressure in a holistic way. For those of us with kids — I say “trust us. We are used to multi-tasking and juggling priorities. You just can’t see us hidden inside our homes”. There’s not one parent – professional or non I know who I’d ever call a slacker — no more than anyone else I see in an office. What I can call them is stressed, burnt out and desperate for some transformational, creative thinking that moves us into the 21st century.
I don’t believe Marissa Mayer owes it to the rest of us women to be a role model for progressive feminist thought. She’s just a person whose actions are informed by her own experience, education, upbringing, environment and beliefs. However, she does have a chance here to rise to the occasion and make Yahoo one of the best places in America to work. For a company trying to reinvent and save itself, that could be a great place to start.
I’d like to begin with a thank you (that’s dripping in sarcasm) to the parent gentleman this morning who decided, during the busiest drop off period at our local elementary school, to sit in his car with his kids (and wife I’m guessing), idling for a good 5 – 10 minutes or so — what’s more — parking in the middle of 3 parking spots instead of the usual one — forcing the rest of us, in a growing line, to block the middle of a busy intersection, which put the rest of us in danger. With my own kids in tow and nowhere to park without cutting off pedestrians, I gave a gentle beep to Mr. Idle to move up into spot number one. Nothing. Assuming he couldn’t hear me, I then got out of my car and asked him to please move up — that there was no where for anyone else to park in order to take their kids in. His response? “I can’t because there is ice up there and it will scratch the underneath of my car”. Then he said “Don’t worry, I won’t be here much longer. I’m about to take my kids into school and then you’ll have a spot once I’m gone”. OK let me get this right. You sit and take up 3 spots for a good 5 – 10 minutes with your car ON as opposed to maybe taking the kids in just a touch early. Then you tell me that it’s OK for me and others forced to drive today to get their kids to school late (something I’d normally not be so tied to but on principle here, this was ridiculous) and in the middle of an intersection because you just need to do what you need to do. As he watched my jaw drop (and likely my blood boil), he told me he didn’t want to talk about it — weirdly, I — the complainer/confronter was the one left feeling like I had the problem here. For me this incident is not just about this man’s incredible lack of awareness — but about the messages around entitlement he’s sending to his kids and his community.
There has been plenty written about what’s been called the age of entitlement, where most kids — with parental reinforcement — think they deserve the best of everything. Parents – afraid of falling into that “bad parent” category in the myriad self-help parenting books and racked by guilt brought on by a “work first” society that largely ignores worklife balance — buzz around endlessly — making sure their children are spared any material discomfort (obviously we’re not talking about leaving them out in the cold in freezing weather unprotected here).
Now it would be disingenuous of this midlife mom to say that I am not involved in my children’s life in the most profound way I can while trying to make a living — it isn’t easy for sure. But part of our jobs in that involvement is to teach or guide them toward becoming thoughtful, ethical citizens with behaviour to match — ideas that help them see the world as something bigger than just themselves and being about more than just their immediate needs. It isn’t easy when we’re inundated with messages about the greatness of rabid individualism instead of care for the collective. It’ll take some creative thinking for all of us. But we owe more to our kids and our communities than simply ensuring they are so incredibly, unconsciously comfortable and dare I say “overstimulated” at every moment — at the expense of everyone else.
While this man’s behaviour may not look exactly like what we have come to associate with “helicopter” type parenting — it is part of this larger theme — where kids are taught they are entitled to do anything, anywhere (especially if they can afford to). The research on helicopter parenting and the entitlement generation doesn’t look good for our kids looking forward. And at this point in time, I think we parents have a real chance and even an obligation to do something good with this information. So let me return to the man from this morning and say this directly to him: I hope this morning was a blip for you. I’ll be compassionate for a moment and give you the benefit of the doubt (OK I’ll try). But, I’m begging you sir — Please take an opportunity each day to teach your kids to always say please and thank you, to hold doors open for people, to help the elderly or those in need to cross the road, to pick up garbage that may not even be yours and to just be conscious of what’s going on around you. You might be amazed by the results and the rest of us will sincerely thank you.
My 7 year old son has been relentless this week – non-stop talk about the upcoming holidays and not in an even remotely sentimental way — you know like “It’s fun to spend time with grandma” or “I love to watch the movies and maybe go tobogganing” (even though it kind of feels like we’re heading for another snow-free holiday season). No, it’s all about the presents, the presents, the presents. That’s all he wants from the holidays he tells me.
Now, I get it. What kid doesn’t love the presents? But with two parents who try to preach gratitude instead of hyper-materialism where possible, I can’t help wondering about how we got here and further, how on earth we can counter the onslaught of holiday marketing already in full swing without being compared to the “scrooge“.
Clearly I’m not alone. Kristen Race, founder of Mindful Life, writes in one article about a friend of hers who has found one way to ”manage materialism” around the holidays. She writes that in an effort to teach her “3-year old about giving during the holidays” in a meaningful but also fun way, she “sent an evite to all of her friends explaining that she and her son were going to collect food to donate to the local food drive. They asked that on Sunday morning we all put any canned or boxed food that we would like to donate on our porch, and she and her son would pick up the items and deliver them to the local food bank“.
While food banks aren’t the answer to systemic issues around poverty, they help engage our children in acts of citizenship and giving. It’s an uphill battle in our home but we’re trying. This season, we’re buying gifts for family through charities. For instance, WWF has a great online ”gift shop” where you can symbolically “adopt” an animal and in return get a cute plush toy. My son and I read over the website together and the facts about each species. Based on what he learned, he took pride in selecting which animals he wanted to symbolically adopt for 3 different family members. For his birthday, we used EchoAge — an amazing website that collects funds in lieu of gifts. Half the funds go to a charity of choice — the other half to the birthday child so they can select perhaps a single larger gift. Even there, we had him used some of that money to buy a toy for a local toy drive for the upcoming holidays. Again, he took pride in considering his selection. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here — I’m just desperate for meaningful alternatives — alternatives that also engage our kids in acts of kindness, community and citizenship — something that seems to be missing in the onslaught of marketing on TV and radio commercials, on billboards, public transit, newspapers, the drug store, online — basically EVERYWHERE.
The truth is we’re all caught in the trap to some extent — caught up in our own consumptive habits. Even the more financially conservative think nothing of dropping hundreds of dollars for the latest tech gadget — and our kids were born SURROUNDED by it. Even if you avoid TV commercials (as we do with our kids) the messages are embedded in all things. Consider my kids’ Harry Potter encyclopedia — sounds good — but it’s lego (which is also good in terms of building skills). The problem? Every photo has the toy code next to it – just enough information to find that lego product if needed. My boy has already figured this out and he’s all over it.
Parent blogger Christine Carter writes that kids are not born grateful and that it is something that must be taught. In one interview she says that “studies of adults and college students show positive outcomes from consciously practicing gratitude”. Carter says her own experience with children has been that “they become kinder, more appreciative, more enthusiastic and just generally happier”. My own experience tells me that the more I give him, the more he asks for — leaving me exasperated — confusing his (and my) immediate gratification with his (and my) happiness — however short lived.
I often hear how spoiled kids are today. As a midlife mom, I don’t know if it’s any more true than it was when I was little, but I think that’s too easy a label. I think it’s our job as parents to remember that we have a role to play and that the messages we send are strong ones. The choices aren’t easy and guilt makes it tougher (I can’t tell you how often I hear “but Jonathan has one of those!!!”) In the end maybe it’s about redefining happiness in relation to material success. You may be saying — “yeah, good luck convincing the kids of that one“. Maybe then walking the walk is the best first step. Maybe that’s our holiday challenge.
A friend of mine — a full-time, midlilfe working dad — is beyond busy. Unlike most households, where women still take on the lion’s share of domestic labour — despite working as many hours outside the home, he’s the one doing the vast majority of double duty in his house. He has the unenviable task in addition to full time work, toddler care, meal prep and housework – of caring for a chonically ill partner. I bring him up – understanding that each day I am amazed he’s still standing — because after lamenting about his inability to get to all the laundry this week (4 days since putting it in the dryer) or two days worth of dishes, while trying to keep up with the toy whirlwind that seems to follow all three year olds (mine included) – that he was about to receive a really special gift from a friend who runs a housekeeping service — a day with a free housekeeper!
What an incredible gift so many other parents like him could use! Parenting young children at the best of times is extremely stressful. Add to that chronic colds, too much or little stimulation (or not enough) from daycare; long stretches strapped into carseats while parents fight rush hour traffic and those final meltdowns just around dinner because well — they’ve just had it at this point. It’s a recipe for a meltdown of your own — except that yours will have to wait because you still need to wash the dishes, clean up, feed the pets, throw in the laundry and make lunch for tomorrow — and that doesn’t take into account the work you’re likely expected to take a peek at once you finally sit down — after all, you don’t want your colleagues thinking you’re a slacker — and many do, when you’re a parent out the door at 5 so that you get your kids out of day care on time. It’s no wonder researchers recently found that the average mother feels stressed at least three times a day with more than one in 20 admitting they suffer from stress every single minute of the day (Disclaimer: This is a study paid for by Ford — designed to sell cars – I point this out because I hesitate using corporate based research around worklife balance when I am sure only a seismic shift in corporate culture will actually change the crisis we face around worklife balance — refer to my past blog around Disney and parenting).
Another interesting, recent study out of the UK (this one from a company selling cell phones – sigh) found that parents juggle about 14 roles within the home on top of their other full and part-time jobs. The best part? These gigs, with all the hours involved, are worth about 100,000 Canadian dollars a year in pay. Imagine getting paid to take your kids to and from school five days a week, as well as outings, lessons, play dates — according to this study, that alone adds up to over 16 thousand Canadian dollars.
These are not exactly new revelations but they still always feel like a slap in the face to the parents who know it well – parents who could use circles of support in their communities but rarely get it because each one of us is barely treading water ourselves.
This brings me back to my friend and the housekeeper for a day idea because it got me thinking. Yeah he’s worth his weight in gold and he’s one serious multi-tasker, but he doesn’t need our sympathy. He needs us all to rethink how we look out for each other. There are groups of paid caregivers who already generously donate their time to helping care for the kids of mothers with cancer for instance. And, while we need more than a band-aid solution to what is fundamentally a systemic problem, imagine the difference a couple of hours of free babysitting or housecleaning would make to the parents who have no choice but to do it all. Might you consider donating the time of your own marvelous housekeeper once in a while to those families who can’t afford one but who could sure use one? We crowdsource for movies, for music, etc. Perhaps we should be crowdsourcing for something like this — one more way to look out for each other. Help those seriously non-1 percenters take a load off?
When Anne Marie Slaughter wrote her last widely popular article Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, I was compelled to respond here on this blog — as an educated mid-life mom who, like most if not all of my female mom friends, was struggling to find work-life balance.The issue became more pressing as I searched for different ways to make it work — leading me to become a real advocate for non-superficial change. I was more intrigued at that time by many of the hostile responses to her article and many subsequent articles by others — people who continued to attack and blame women as if striving for work life balance was really about getting away with something.
Well, as a mid life mom, I’m thrilled Slaughter is back with another thought provoking piece. It’s titled Work-Life Balance as a Men’s Issue, Too. It brings us the men’s perspective on the issue of work-life balance, and what she finds might surprise some. Slaughter suggests that men are often silent, at least publicly on this issue — they don’t feel they have a voice. But they want one. She writes “Roughly 15 to 20 percent of the responses to my article that I have personally received have been from men. Many are from fathers who are very unhappy with the choices their daughters face. Others are from young men who want to be able to spend more time with their children and be fully equal parenting partners with their working wives but feel they don’t have those options either. Indeed, a number of men have written to bemoan the strong gender stereotyping that they encounter, whereby a guy who wants to take paternity leave, flex-time, defer a promotion because the job up has too much travel, or simply needs to leave at 6 every night to pick up his kid from daycare, is regarded as insufficiently committed to his work or else just “not one of the guys.”
Slaughter’s article refers to the many ways our language continues to reinforce traditional stereotypes and sends negative messages. For instance, the term “working mother” is now associated with our images (and arguably expectations) of that multi-tasking super mom status that few moms I know actually feel they live up to. But she says it never occurred to her that men might also want to be recognized with that duel role label. Slaughter writes “That shift would at one stroke take a big step toward defining work-family issues as a social and economic issue rather than a “women’s issue.”
I can understand why some women might scoff at the idea that men are complaining. After all, we’ve struggled hard to get to a point where we CAN have careers, but we do so realizing it’s often not really a choice — and, it often comes without flexibility, equal pay or equal division of chores or childcare at home.
But, we have to understand that we’ve asked men to change — and they are. But fundamental, systemic change is slow. If the men Slaughter talked to are anything like my husband or the couple of fathers (a rarity) I work with, these men get it; they support their wives any and every way they can, wanting systemic change that would allow BOTH parents to find more work-life balance. Consider the recent Globe and Mail article that states ” Almost two-thirds of us are working more than 45 hours a week – 50-per-cent more than two decades ago. Work weeks are more rigid, with flex-time arrangements dropping by a third in the past 10 years. To top it off, only 23 per cent of working Canadians are highly satisfied with life. That’s half as many as in 1991″. While the article later points to women clearly having a tougher time than men in this regard, this is clearly no longer just a women’s issue. This lack of work-life balance is costing us all.
As if there isn’t already an entire industry — with their own bookstore sections no less — telling us how we can make every single parenting moment count with our children — now this?! A Disney-led initiative called the Winnie the Pooh Storytelling Academy to help get more parents reading to their children. This, as new research – which is used to legitimize the ostensibly altruistic initiative – reveals that only a third of British parents read to their children every day. Why? Mainly, not enough time, just too tired and too distracted by technology. DUH!!!
Disney’s solution? A trip to their website for some heartfelt advice. A little rich to say the least — a “parenting” initiative led by the company that embodies the hyper-consumerist society that has at least in part got us into this mess in the first place!!! And by “mess” I mean the kind of society where parents — here in Canada, the US and the UK — are perpetually distracted by buzzing blackberries or iphones — through dinner and through storytime; where this technology has them working 24-7; where a rising cost of living means both parents need to work outside of the home with little chance for even a weekly sabbatical, and where old fashioned, inflexible, cubicle-oriented culture still largely defines where and how we work. This work-life culture means less work-life balance — less time at home with families and tired, burnt out parents with less time and patience for beautiful rituals or traditions such as reading to our children — or if we do, be assured it’s with the clock ticking — because by the way — those parenting “help” books also tell you you MUST find time for yourself (I think that means crashing on the couch with a strong drink in hand) to regain that equilibrium.
The online site, amusingly titled “Female First” positions this article as educational when it is at best edutainment — which may in fact be more insidious because it strikes to the core of “family” and the values we try to transmit to our children. Sadly, the article, which reads like a good PR release, serves as a mere advertisement for Disney with no critical analysis of the bigger picture or Disney’s stake in reinforcing its brand among legions of guilt-ridden parents. The “article” says the “academy” (I assume that term is used very loosely — conjuring images of an elite private school) offers “tips, tricks and guidance designed to help modern parents create shared family story time experiences”…using a Disney assembled “panel of storytelling experts to form the Winnie the Pooh Storytelling Academy”.
Not that I take my parenting cues from Disney — but I felt compelled to check it out. While there are a few tips on a few different pages, with the prerequisite psychologist to add gravitas to the endeavor– it is minor compared to what else you’ll find. This is truly another marketing vehicle for selling Disney products. For instance, under Storytelling aids, parents, aka: consumers will find a host of items for sale such as the Winnie the Pooh Learning App and the Starry Night Light Show. Each item has the price tag attached, a description and purchase location. The official Disney UK site where the “Academy” is located is also peppered with games, movies, contests and more.
Instead of encouraging the questioning or heaven forbid — a boycott of the non-stop shopping model that encourages the commodification of family time, this initiative encourages that hyper-consumerist, individualist model of faux self-help. Maintain the status quo at all costs — but distract with some “tips and tricks” to help parents navigate their way through the complexities of modern day parenting — great — one more thing that adds to that to-do list. Disney’s latest foray into the commercialization of parenting does nothing to encourage a real critical examination of how we got here and why we’ve lost the courage and imagination to share or make up our own stories with our children — relying instead on the paternalistic, corporatized, Disnified model of what storytime looks like and what families are and should be.
Finally, shame on Female First: Celebrity Gossip and Lifestyle Magazine for uncritically doing Disney’s bidding — failing to even question whether a Disnified version of “parenting self-help” might be little more than a marketing ploy. Heck, you don’t even ask who funded the research?! Far from putting females first, your very raison d’etre — which is to promote the most trivialized versions of news we women can use, your answer to the real pressures of modern day parenting is to “leave it to Disney” — who, with this latest “initiative” has packaged itself as useful in order to reaffirm the buy-in to the brands — but with added value.
For the record — and worth a bedtime story all on its own, the character of Winnie the Pooh was created by a Canadian soldier and became famous worldwide for it’s almost zen-like simplicity and charm, long before being purchased by the Walt Disney company.
My husband had been pushing for it for a long time: Save money, take back our home and the care of it. I know where he was coming from — as parents who both have to work full time out of the home – we have felt for some time like we’ve lost touch with the day to day things that make our home feel like US. I agreed to his proposal albeit reluctantly – I had and have no desire to have 3 full time jobs — that would be paid labour, my kids and then non-stop laundry, cooking and cleaning.
I was reminded of why I was so reluctant on day one this week. Part of that change meant moving daycare from inside our home to outside our home. No more help with cleaning, laundry, meal prep, etc. But he was optimistic — he’d show me how easy and liberating it would feel. We’d share the load. For starters — one would take Z to daycare in one direction, the other would take M to school in the other.
The problem is — day one of this new arrangement AND two — I did it as a single parent because my “let’s reclaim our home and thus our lives” normally awesome, feminist husband came down with the flu and it all went sideways from there. Day one kind of went like this — Wake up totally sleep deprived because two kids climbed into bed with you wide awake in the middle of the night and then fight and scream the entire morning over one thing or another. Before guiltily arriving late for work, I arrived late for M’s grade two class – completely stressed out – and end up being sent to the office for a late slip — again — made to feel like I’m 8. “Having trouble with the new school schedule?” I’m asked in the office. Grrrrr.
I know as a 21st century midlife woman and mom – I am supposed to appreciate the struggles of our sisters before us — and I do — the sacrifices they made so that we could “choose” whether to work outside the home and have careers while raising children – you know, all that pretend supermom stuff? Problem is they left out this other part and it needs to be seriously addressed. As my last midlife mommy doctor told me before she quit family medicine because she just couldn’t juggle it all — “They tell us as young women we can do “anything” – they never tell us we’ll have to do “everything”. What we’ve gained in so-called “choice” we’ve lost in community. We have less time at home, more time on the road and less patience for our family — the reason we’re doing all of this in the first place. Few of us have time or desire to work together, to pool resources — and so we end up figuring it out alone so often. If one thing goes wrong on a morning like this, the wheels just fall off. The result? Midlife moms like us feel like nothing is getting done particularly well — and the stress levels could just about kill a person. I’m hoping pick up this aft is a little less stressful though thinking ahead, I wish I’d prepped dinner in advance — maybe it’s a night to just order in.
We recently discovered the beautiful Crawford Lake Conservation Area just outside Toronto — pathetic that we can live in this city most of our lives and take this long to discover some of the jewels nearby. We figured it would be an easy and interesting place to take the kids — there are easy trails, a lake, a long lost Iroquois village reconstructed on the original site and more. Sadly, it was also an easy reminder of how truly disconnected our city kids are from nature — to say nothing of history! So, I compiled a top ten list of events from that day — reminders that we HAVE to get out of the city with our kids more often and into more natural settings. Alas — one more thing on that long to-do list…
1) Upon arrival at the park: “I’m tired”!
2) Of a small container inside the reconstructed Iroquois village longhouse: “Mommy is this a mailbox?”
3) Of the meat and fish smokers outside the Iroquois village long house: “Why CAN’T I swing off of this”?
4) Further…”Are the fishies broken mommy?” (not real fish) Mommy: “No, the fishies are dead so that the people can cook them for food”. Cue tears: “I don’t want the fishies to be broken! Make them not broken.”
5) Of the simulated archaeological site: “Get out of there”! Z: “I want to go in the sandbox”!
5) Of the simple walking trail: “This is a really great place, except for the walking.”
6) Upon seeing a trickle of water under a small bridge we cross over - “Papa look at the river.” Papa: “Yes that’s going into a marsh.” Z: “Mommy come look at the marshmellow”.
7) Upon seeing a chipmunk: “Papa does that chipmunk speak”? Papa: “No honey this isn’t Disney”. Z: “I think it is Disney”. (He doesn’t even know what Disney is)
8) Of the beautiful lake in front of us: Mommy: “Would you like to feel the water?” Z: “No it’s dirty.” It’s not dirt, it’s just mud.” “I don’t like mud”.
9) Of the seaweed in the lake: “I also don’t like the ocean spaghetti”. (ocean spaghetti was what I pathetically came up with on the fly to try to reduce anxiety around slimy green stuff on the beach during our recent seaside vacation.
10) “Ooooh! a bench to sit on. Finally. I’m tired. Can you carry me back to the car”?
BONUS: Mommy and papa: “Would you guys like some ice cream for being so great on this trip?”
I like to think of myself as an avid label reader and conscious shopper – choosing low sugar, low sodium, low preservative options where ever possible — you know – trying to take some responsibility for my health and that of my kids — but I’m no food expert and making sense of ingredient lists and labels is often daunting. So, I was both disheartened but quite frankly not surprised by the news that came out this week about the major, class action lawsuit around food labeling against major food companies.
One radio show talked about one of those food products – Nutella – which is marketed as “healthy” — because of ingredients such as hazelnuts, skim milk and cocoa. What these ads however leave out however are high sugar levels, fat levels and calorie levels. Nutella – food experts say — is about as bad as a chocolate or candy bar. Duh! I didn’t think you needed to be a food expert for that one but OK.
The news this week stated that last year, the company that makes Nutella spent 3 million dollars to settle a lawsuit which claimed that it misled people through its advertising — leading consumers to believe Nutella is a healthy food choice. And, now in the last four months alone, more than a dozen lawyers have filed 25 lawsuits against some of the world’s biggest food companies. In all cases, the lawsuits allege the companies aren’t telling the whole truth on their food labels.
On a continent where childhood and adult obesity has risen to crisis proportions, we – parents and non-parents alike should be screaming out for businesses to change their ways. The problem is even for those of us who read and try to understand labeling, many businesses find sneaky ways to deceive — RIGHT ON THE LABEL!
I think of my own recent example at a Juice chain in downtown Toronto. This chain markets itself as “healthy” and its labels show nothing but fruit, vegetables, soy, frozen yogurt, etc on the ingredient list. I ordered a drink which advertised the first three ingredients as peach, mango and guava. This time, unlike others, I happened to notice the young woman making the drink behind the counter. I was confused. She began by pouring juice into the cup — not guava juice but a juice “blend” concentrate where guava — a very healthy fruit — was around number 5 on the ingredient list. I gasped! Second ingredient — peach sorbet. WHAT!?!?!? Really?!?!?! When did a “peach” on the label become essentially peach ICE CREAM?!?!? I asked her to stop what she was doing and then I asked for her manager’s contact info. The company of course, never responded to my complaint.
In this society where we value supposed free choice and put a ton of responsibility on the individual to figure out the best choices (for them and their children) — at least provide clear and HONEST information. Stop putting all the responsibility of healthy choices at home on parents when a) people don’t necessarily understand the labels and b) when labels are dishonest.
Come on business community — It happened with big Tobacco and now it’s your turn to end the denial. And while we consumers too need to stop burying our heads in the sand on all kinds of levels, it’s pretty hard to take on every food product we see out there. Most of us have enough on our plate. So business community, if you don’t want government to force you to do it — Take the lead — moms like me WILL promote you and thank you! Go big! Go honest! Or go home!