Body shaming and little girls

Disclaimer: I don’t know if a mother’s body shaming has the same effect on sons as it does on daughters, but as always, I’m writing about my experience in this blog, so this post is about body shaming and my own impressionable little girl.

I know with certainty that research has shown negative effects of body shaming on girls. I also know personally the power of hearing your mother complain about her appearance, of watching her look at her reflection with critical, even hate-filled eyes. I’ve written a bit about my history with anorexia and bulimia as a teenager. I’m not blaming my mom – she was mostly blasé about her appearance. But she also complained about gaining weight and she went on diets. Back then I don’t think parents thought much about talking about dieting in front of their kids – it was before the wave of media campaigns for improving body image in girls. But that kind of thinking kind of gets engrained in your own inner voice as you grow up.

In university I got into feminist circles and I learned to love my body – and all bodies. I learned about fat shaming and the myths around fatness. I want my daughter to love herself no matter what body type she ends up with, and just as importantly, I don’t want her picking up prejudices about others based on body shape and size.

Which brings me to the present – swimming lessons with her Mo. My wife isn’t happy with her body right now. My wife also did not belong to the same feminist circles as I did in university. Although I constantly correct her for shaming her own body in front of our daughter, I don’t think she’s worried enough about it. As we get ready for swimming, she looks down at herself in disgust. She mutters (under her breath, but still audibly), “I’m so fat right now.” She talks about needing to lose weight every single day. When I correct her, I make sure to do it immediately and in front of Avery. I try to say things like “we’re all beautiful the way we’re made,” and “we’re kind to ourselves in this family, please don’t be mean to yourself.” I also try to compensate for my wife’s negative impressions by walking around naked and confidently when I get out of the shower, by happily letting my daughter lift up my shirt to point out my belly button, and by using positive affirmations, like “I love my body,” or just, “I like myself.” But I don’t really know what to say to correct the negative kind of thinking. Once Avery hears it, there’s nothing I can say to make her unhear it.

My wife will sometimes back pedal and say “I want to be healthy.” But I’m afraid the damage is done. I’m afraid Avery will just learn to use “being healthy” as an excuse for dieting if she one day starts to hate her body. Ugh, the thought of my daughter hating her body one day makes me so sad. It makes me angry.

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30 Days of Blogging, Day 28

What am I doing with my life?

I long for autonomy, so I’m working toward a steady, 9-5 job in my field. But that only gives me financial autonomy. I’m afraid that plan might actually backfire and make me feel even less in control of my own life.

Not that I have a choice in the matter. My wife has been the breadwinner for long enough and she needs a break. The responsibility is wearing on her. I’m not the type to get stressed or feel burdened by financial responsibility, because I come from the privileged position of being able to say, “everything will always be OK. There are plenty of jobs, plenty of ways to make money.”

So if I had a choice in the matter, what would I do to make money? I think I’d love to dabble in dozens of things. Precarious employment is my jam – I’m a multipotentialite and don’t want to be tied down doing the same job day in and day out. I’d want a bigger piece of land to raise chickens and veggies and sell eggs and things at a roadside stand. I’d work as a consultant program evaluator and bring home an irregular paycheque from that. I’d pick up the odd teaching job at a local college. I’d offer workshops on chicken keeping and gardening for suburbanites who want to start on a path of self-sufficiency. I’d raise our kid(s) and cook and clean.

But only one of those things brings the stability that is required of a breadwinner. It seems I’m stuck on this path of using my PhD to do research work for The Man. The Man with benefits and a pension program.

I’m just floating along, feeling sorry for myself because I have TOO MANY options, too much privilege, and a self-entitlement that only a millennial could have.

Risking their right to privacy: mom bloggers and “sharenting”   

I’ve always been a big sharer of personal stories. I disclose embarrassing anecdotes about myself at parties, and I am drawn to blogging as a way to share my personal experiences with others. My wife, on the other hand, has always been a very private person. We are always having conversations about how much to share online (and in person) about our family. If I didn’t have my wife grounding me, I think I might have shared a lot more of myself online at this point. And I probably would have engaged in some “sharenting” – the oversharing of stories and photos about our kid(s). 

That said, I don’t think there is a clear line that can be drawn between OVER-sharing and acceptable sharing. It’s different for every family, every mom-blogging sphere, every kid. I’m pretty lax in my opinion on other families sharing lots about their kids. The only moments I see as inappropriate are vlogs (video blogs on YouTube) where footage is shared of a toddler using a potty, or a child completely naked (of any age). I judge these moments as inappropriate mostly because of the risk of online predators and because when that kid grows up, their friends can pull up a video of them going to the bathroom and do mean things with it. I also worry about identity theft, so I personally try to keep full names and other identifying information out of my blog. But I love sharing my daughter’s name, so I choose not to use pseudonyms for her first name. 

The reason I’m writing this post today is because my wife recently saw a news item about a person sueing her parents for over sharing about her online when she was a kid. I haven’t been able to find the news article my wife referenced, but we had another brief check in about my sharing of Avery’s life. 

I blog to share my own experiences. It’s cathartic for me. But I happen to share my experiences of parenting, and that inevitably involves sharing stories about my daughter. I haven’t shared anything remotely embarrassing (or even personal) about Avery, but she is also just a baby without real experiences of her own. Perhaps one day the funniest stories that I’ll be itching to share could also be embarrassing stories. 

How much am I willing to withhold in order to balance Avery’s privacy with my need to tell stories about my life? How can I know if she’ll grow up to appreciate what I’ve documented about her life, or if she’ll feel exploited? If I make money from my blog, is it more exploitative than if hardly anyone reads it, or does it not matter? 

I’m going to keep checking in with myself as I continue to blog, asking myself the same questions: 

  1. Does this story/picture/blog violate Avery’s right to privacy? 
  2. Is this truly my story to tell, or is it Avery’s (or my wife’s)? 

What are your thoughts on balancing your child’s right to privacy with your right to tell stories about your own life? 

The Work-At-Home-Parent

I see a lot of posts on social media about what it means to be a stay at home parent or a working parent, how these parents made the decision to stay at home or go back to work, and the guilt and pressures they feel about their decision (because ALL parents feel guilt). I find I can’t relate to these articles about how to be productive as a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM), or how to deal with guilt over leaving your kids with someone else all day as a working parent. I don’t see posts about work at home parents, and I think that we have a unique experience that should be shared. 

I take care of my baby full time with the exception of a few hours some weekends when I escape to a coffee shop to get some focused work done. I took a 4 month leave from all other duties when she was born, but then returned to my two work duties: I do work with a not for profit, and I’m a part time PhD student. I currently set my own hours, but I have timelines and deadlines to meet. I make very little money. Here’s how I made my decision to be a WAHM, and the struggles, guilt and pressure I feel about my decision. I suppose I should end on a happy note, so I’ll also share the great parts of my arrangement. 

*recycling an old photo I took for a previous post about being a WAHM

The Decision

 The decision to be a WAHM was really a decision to become a mom while I was still a grad student. We thought about waiting until I had a paying job to start our family, but the future was uncertain (when would I finish, would I find a job, would the career path be forgiving of taking a parental leave…). We also liked the idea of saving money on childcare if I could manage both school and baby, since I work from home at this stage in my PhD. My not for profit work was the same deal. I was already involved, and figured that as long as I could balance everything, I’d keep it up after the baby came (turns out I couldn’t balance that many things, so I’m resigning from the NFP at the end of my term at the end of this month). 

The Struggles 

  • There’s an expectation that because I’m home and don’t have billable hours that I’m free to run errands and do extra cleaning and household tasks. While it’s true that I can throw laundry in and prep dinner while I work from home, every household task that I throw into the mix takes away time that I could/should be working. And I actually love cleaning, so if my wife points out how dirty it is behind the fridge, I’m going to want to clean the kitchen instead of get work done. And I have very little self control. 
  • Self control… I’m a good self-directed worker as long as the work is peaking my interest, but if there is something more interesting to do – like play with the baby or clean that part of the house that has been bothering me – I struggle with the self control to get Work done. 
  • Taking care of the baby is often not labeled as work, so if I work part time on school, there’s an expectation that I have part time hours to devote to something else. My life would be infinitely more balanced and supported (and I would feel I finitely more validated) if parenting was seen as legitimate Work in the eyes of our society. 

The Guilt

  • Because I’m doing my PhD part time now to accommodate parenting, it’ll be longer before I can contribute financially to the family in a meaningful way. I’m also not taking on the little paid side projects I used to do. 
  • I sometimes have to turn the TV on to distract the baby when her toys have become boring and I need to keep working.
  • I worry that she’ll think she’s being ignored because I’m not engaging with her, when really I’m trying so hard to peel my attention off of her and how cute she is so I can focus on my work. I don’t want her to think that I prefer looking at my laptop over her. 
  • I also don’t want her to learn that it’s ok to ignore people when you have a shiny screen in front of you. 

    How I Manage

    • I let her nap in the way that she’ll nap the longest and most soundly – on me in the Moby wrap. Despite how hard we’re trying to control her night time sleep habits, naps are when I get the most guilt free work done. There’s no way I’m giving up 2 hour naps, even if I need to stand and sway for the whole time. I stand at my computer and it works beautifully, despite the sore legs and back. 
    • I enlist the help of my wife or my mom to watch her for a few hours a week while I go to particularly long meetings or do some intense focused work at a coffee shop. This was trickier when she breastfed every hour and a half and she refused to take the bottle, and tricky again when she was in the thick of stranger anxiety, and I’m sure we have yet to hit the peak of separation anxiety. But when we can make it work, it helps me a lot. 
    • I take her to short meetings and I am unapologetic about it. If a meeting is scheduled during her nap time or after bedtime (don’t go there…) I ask to reschedule or I decline. I also don’t hesitate to let her nurse during a meeting if she needs to, although now she is old enough to wait for the duration of most meetings. She has gotten really good at sitting next to me and playing with her toys while I’m in meetings. *it wasn’t always this easy though – the first big meeting I went to with her was when she was 1 month old and she screamed bloody murder the whole time. #Colic. 
    • I’m kind to myself. If society doesn’t constantly remind me how important and valid a job it is to be a parent, I’ll do it myself. My daughter is THE MOST IMPORTANT part of my day, and work will always come second. I’m lucky enough to be able to have these priorities and not get fired for it. 

      The Best Parts

      • I don’t miss a thing. I see every First and have an intensely close attachment with my baby. 
      • Things like laundry and meal prep are usually within my daily priority list, which makes our evenings and weekends a little more open to do fun family things. 
      • If my baby is sick or if we’ve had a particularly rough night, we can stay in our pyjamas all day and the Work can wait. 

        If you work from home with a baby, what are some of your lessons learned, challenges, guilty feelings… and what’s great about it? 

        A Community of Families

        I took Avery to campus with me this week to pick up some paperwork for my taxes, and I bumped into an old roommate. We hadn’t seen each other since before I married, although he knows my wife from when we were dating. He’s a really cool guy and I always wished we’d been able to maintain a friendship, but our lives just took us down different (but in many ways parallel) paths. 

        In the 60 minute elevator ride we shared, he met Avery and was tickled to hear that I was still with the same woman and had had a child with her. He also shared that he had donated sperm to a lesbian couple in Toronto (neighbouring city), and they recently had the baby. It was such a cool connection that we suddenly shared. Even though he wasn’t OUR sperm donor, I feel like known sperm donors (and egg donors and surrogates) hold a special place in the community of LGBTQ families.

        The sense of a common community of family building really hit home when he shared the name of the baby that this couple had – I instantly knew who he was talking about from the blog world. There are only so many two mom families in Toronto, narrowed down to those with a new baby, and finally pinpointed to one family with a baby with that name… 

        Although I haven’t met any of the members of my LGBTQ Family blogging circle in real life, I am still struck by the sense of community that we share. I wonder if this is what it’s like for heterosexual couples in every day life – is the whole world their community? – or if the sense of common ground is lost in the masses. 

        I’ve upgraded my blog, kind of by accident.

        I’d been going back and forth on the future plans for my blog – to expand it and make it fancy schmancy and try to attract all kinds of alternative families to my little hub of inclusive ramblings, or to keep it as my private and quiet little corner of the internet. My wife and I talked about buying a domain name and making a full-fledged website for alternative families (still on our radar as a long-term goal), and we were just hanging out in limbo not sure whether it made sense to spend the money to make it happen.

        In the meantime, I decided to play around with changing my URL in the free WordPress account and I messed everything up. I appeared to have lost all my content. I panicked for a few minutes, watched some YouTube videos on how to fix it, and got more panicked (it’s crazy that I want to start a real deal website when I am this technically UNsavy). Eventually, faced with a lot of forum reading and frustration and likely failure, I purchased a WordPress plan so I could get one-on-one help.  They solved my problem and calmed me down in the blink of an eye, and now I have a premium plan with my own domain name, www.momwithawife.com.

        So I figured I better make the most of this new address and make a logo and a twitter page. If you want to follow me on twitter, you’ll find me @momwithawife.

        Side note, I have a private Instagram account that is accessed by people in my real life and I don’t mention the blog on it, but I do welcome blogging friends to follow me on it.

        Eventually I’ll make more changes and maybe, one day, way down the road, expand to that full-fledged website, but for now I’m comfortable in my snug little place in the blogosphere, with a new name and a social media presence.