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Posts Tagged ‘parenting’

Is working at home your Holy Grail?

In behavior, books, business, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, news, parenting, women, work on July 10, 2013 at 2:22 am

By Caitlin Kelly

For millions of weary workers, the notion of being able to work from home — in comfy clothes, saving the time, money and energy of a long commute to the office — remains a fever dream.

In a recent front-page New York Times story, one mid-western mother describes how terrified she was to ask to work from home — one day a week — which she was granted:

Ms. Uttech, like many working mothers, is a married college graduate, and her job running member communications for an agricultural association helps put her family near the middle of the nation’s income curve. And like dozens of other middle-class working mothers interviewed about their work and family lives, she finds climbing a career ladder less of a concern than finding a position that offers paid sick leave, flexible scheduling or even the opportunity to work fewer hours. The ultimate luxury for some of them, in fact (though not for Ms. Uttech), would be the option to be a stay-at-home mother.

“I never miss a baseball game,” said Ms. Uttech, uttering a statement that is a fantasy for millions of working mothers (and fathers) nationwide. (This attendance record is even more impressive when you realize that her children play in upward of six a week.)

Ms. Uttech wants a rewarding career, but more than that she wants a flexible one. That ranking of priorities is not necessarily the one underlying best-selling books like Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In,” which advises women to seek out leadership positions, throw themselves at their careers, find a partner who helps with child care and supports their ambition, and negotiate for raises and promotions.

It’s a sad fact that many educated American workers are incredibly cowed. Few get more than two weeks’ vacation a year, if that. Many do not get paid sick days.

Image representing Sheryl Sandberg as depicted...

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. Image via CrunchBase

Because the country is ruled by a corporate mindset, because most employers hire you, legally, “at will” and can fire you the next day with no warning or severance or even a reason, because unions are at their lowest membership — 11 percent — since the Depression, few workers dare ask their boss for much of anything.

I’ve been working alone at home, as a freelance writer, since 2006, when I lost my last job, at 3pm on  Wednesday, at the New York Daily News, the country’s sixth-largest newspaper.

I’d had the “wood” — the entire front page of the newspaper — only two weeks earlier with a national exclusive. No matter. I was out the door and into a recession — in 2008, 24,000 journalists lost their jobs, too.

English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the N...

English: New York, New York. Newsroom of the New York Times newspaper. Reporters and rewrite men writing stories, and waiting to be sent out. Rewrite man in background gets the story on the phone from reporter outside. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I decided, having worked freelance for many years at several points in my career, to just stay home and once more make my living that way. I would probably earn 30 to 50 percent more, possibly double, my income if I went to work for someone else. But we do not have children or other huge costs to manage, so this arrangement suits me and my husband.

I’d rather set my own hours and schedule, find my own work and do it without a manager or several breathing down my neck. I’ve had many full-time office jobs, some of which I enjoyed and several of which paid me close to six figures, which was indeed pleasant!

Working alone at home all day is, for many people, a dream come true. While it can get lonely and isolating, it is, in many ways. I play music if or when I wish. I wear shorts and a T-shirt when I’m not meeting someone. I set my own hours — not much different from those in an office — typically 9 or 10:00 a.m. to 4 or 5:00 p.m.

The two+ hours I save every day by not traveling to someone else’s office to do the same quality work at the same speed I produce alone at home? I can go to a movie or take a long walk or make soup at noon.

The Times piece — catnip for comments — quickly gathered 470 answers from readers, many of whom found the story’s focus on a woman and a mother misguided.

A few key issues are rarely addressed in these stories about the unabated lust for working at home:

1) We all — parents or not — juggle other people’s needs against those of our employer(s). Including our own needs, for rest, study, exercise. Endlessly focusing on parents’ needs wilfully ignores the industrial mindset that still rules many workplaces,

2) Others people’s needs are rarely neatly scheduled. The dog/baby/husband is projectile vomiting just as you’re expected to make a meeting or attend a conference. Your father/brother/son has a heart attack or stroke just when you’re gearing up for a new client meeting. So even if you get every Friday to work at home, shit will probably happen on every other day instead.

3) Given the insane amount of time we all waste spend every day on social media or communicating on-line, why can’t more employers allow more work to be done remotely, i.e. from home? Yes, some people are total slackers, but you know who they are already. Conference calls and Skype make meetings easy.

4) The Times story also gathered 439 comments within hours of publication, (many of them scathing), like:

a) mothers are not solely or exclusively responsible for their children’s care and house-chores; b) men are equally hungry for flex-time; c) children will not wither and die if their parents fail to attend and cheer every possible sports match or event.

In my case, I wondered why this woman is unable or unwilling to delegate at least some of the housework? She has sons 8 and 10 and a 15-year-old step-daughter. Teaching them to share responsibility seems a lot more essential to me than watching them play six baseball games a week.

5) If the United States (insert long loud bitter laugh) actually make it a legal requirement to offer subsidize/affordable daycare, flex-time, paid sick days or paid maternity leave, some of these concerns would abate.

Do you work from home right now?

Have you?

Do you wish you could?

You have/are an only child — selfish, lonely, spoiled. Really?

In aging, behavior, books, children, culture, domestic life, family, life, love, news, parenting, US, women on June 14, 2013 at 12:15 am

By Caitlin Kelly

If you really want to see, or provoke yet another hair-pulling catfight, write a book about any aspect of American motherhood.

I dare you!

Sibling!

Sibling! (Photo credit: Gus Dahlberg)

The latest entry in the spittle-flecked self-righteous-fest known as The Mommy Wars, (wouldn’t Mummy Wars be so much more…Egyptian? But I digress) is this new book, One and Only, about being an only child and choosing to have only one child.

(She also tosses in a fairly astonishing to me — and unattributed statement — that mothers are the women most likely to have an abortion.)

Here’s some thoughts from its author, Lauren Sandler:

If you only have one child, you’re inevitably asked, “Another one
coming soon?” Despite the overwhelming evidence that only children are
no different than those with siblings—not to mention it’s better
environmentally and fiscally—I’ve found that a lot of people only want
to have a second child for the sake of their first child. There’s a
notion that you’re not a good mother if you don’t give your child a
sibling. Why can we debate ad nauseam about tiny minuscule things like
diapers, schools, and organic T-shirts, but not about the number of kids
we have?

To me, U.S. family policy is a failure. We are one of the only
countries on earth that does not have structural family-support system.
This failure is due to our ideological individualism, our lack of a
labor movement addressing parents’ rights as workers’ rights, and the
fact that we’ve never had a population crisis. It’s completely different
in Europe and Asia. In Italy, you can’t even Google “family time”—the
term doesn’t exist. Instead they have an integrated way of living, with
parents and their children mingling with family and friends as a
community—and adults are actually allowed to focus on themselves.

Here’s a radio interview with her.

I grew up as an only child, so this is familiar territory. Onlies are told, all the goddamned time, how spoiled we are. How lonely we must be. How selfishly we behave — everywhere!

I call bullshit.

Here’s some of what was true for me, and still is, as someone raised as an only, (and now with no kids):

You often spend a lot more time around adults than kids with siblings. You get used to actually being listened to attentively, (a nice start in life for little girls, especially), and feeling at ease around people much older than you. You learn young it’s polite to refresh a guest’s drink or pass the hors d’oeuvres. These are valuable life skills, people!

Booooooored?  Deal with it. With no siblings to torture play with, we’re left to our own devices to amuse ourselves. Back in my youth, cave drawings filled up a slow Sunday. Kidding! But even without the Internet or apps, etc., I was fully able to have a lot of fun alone. Trolls, Legos, stuffed animals, books, drawing, sports. Who needed a sib?

— Less competition! Whether Christmas pressies or dessert or adult attention, it’s all yours, baby!

— No odious parental, relatives or teachers’ comparisons to your brothers or sisters. I never had to be “the smart one” (instead of the pretty one). I could just be me.

– Lots of travel. With only one kid to finance, your family can easily pick up and go somewhere, for the day or a month or even a few years. I knew from the very start how damn lucky I was to have visited England, France, Mexico and the Caribbean, all by the age of six.

– Decent social skills. If you have no sibs to hang out with or socialize you, you better figure it out, stat. Once you realize that the world is filled with cool, fun, interesting people to hang out with, you’re ahead of the kids still terrified to talk to anyone in authority post-college. Friends become your family, and often much nicer, too!

Of course, yes, there are downsides. Like:

— No one has your back when things get scary. I used to cower behind the living room curtains when my parents fought, which was often and loudly, before they divorced. I could really have used some back-up.

– In a split family, there’s just not enough of you to go around. Christmas was crazy — divided between my mother, maternal grandmother and father.

– It’s all on you to win the Nobel prize/MacArthur/Pulitzer/cure cancer/create world peace. People with siblings can fob off these absurd expectations/hopes onto someone else and go watch (some more) TV.

– When your parents get sick and old, it’s all on you. Serious issue. A smart, kind spouse or partner helps!

When you get sick and old (and God forbid, broke), and if you have no partner or very close friends, what happens? (Note terrified silence here.)

Are you an only?

How was it?

If you — as several Broadside followers did — had a bunch of kids, what kept you going past one?

Rage, fear, guilt, remorse…Happy Mother’s Day!

In aging, beauty, children, domestic life, family, life, love, parenting, women on May 12, 2013 at 12:01 am

By Caitlin Kelly

Mother and Child

Mother and Child (Photo credit: gem66)

Sorry, but this isn’t the place for flowers and candies and sentiment today.

Millions of people aren’t hugging Mom or making her dinner or staring sadly at her photo, mourning someone who is long dead.

For many people, the word mother is more a descriptive noun than a nurturing verb.

I wrote about this last year, prompting two followers here to reveal some of their more challenging maternal histories as well; both, not surprisingly, have become friends off-line as a result.

No one wants to admit publicly they did not get along with their mother, unless it’s a tell-all-fuck-you memoir like Sean Wilsey’s — whose stepmom threatened to sue him if he went ahead and published. (He did.)

My mother lives in a nursing home now, in a Canadian city a seven-hour flight from me. We haven’t spoken since May 2010 and I am not sure if or when we will, or when or if I’ll see her again. She has some dementia, how much is unclear.

Our relationship is much complicated by a woman who purports to be a dear friend of hers, who visits her daily and has been both determined and efficient at shutting me out and making sure my mother thinks the very worst of me. Lawyers and others have told me this is not uncommon between people of vastly differing wealth and in a family where estrangement between child(ren) and parent exists and and can be further exploited.

Describing this dispassionately here does not mitigate the incredibly deep hurt I feel, the impotent rage I bear toward this woman and her family or the shrugged-shoulder response of my mother’s few remaining friends and relatives, some as burned out as I by decades of my mother’s assorted issues.

I really miss the best of my mother — her laugh, her intelligence, her wit, her charm, her beauty, her range of interests. In earlier, healthier years she was an actress, model, TV host, journalist, broadcaster and lay chaplain helping hospice patients, pretty amazing to me since she had already survived multiple cancers herself.

She traveled the world alone for years on end. She settled, for a while, in unlikely places, like the Mexican desert or Roswell, NM, Bath, England and Lima, Peru. I saw the world when she’d send me a plane ticket to meet her.

We had some serious adventures together:

– sleeping with our arms and feet entwined on a freezing cold overnight train through the Andes of Peru

– snorkeling for blue starfish in Fiji

– playing endless games of Scrabble in Costa Rica

– driving through the mountains and valleys of Mexico in a camper van, Judy Collins’ eight-track of Wildflowers playing

Wildflowers (Judy Collins album)

Wildflowers (Judy Collins album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

– the fantastic birthday parties with cakes with sparklers she threw for me, one with little girls who came all the way to Montreal from Toronto for my 12th.

– laughing our asses off at almost anything

– comparing notes on the latest issue of Vanity Fair

I hate not having a mother any more, even if she is alive.

So, enjoy the day for me, and for her.

Am I pretty? Really? You sure?

In aging, beauty, children, culture, domestic life, family, Fashion, news, parenting, women on March 7, 2012 at 3:34 pm
Girls

Girls (Photo credit: Jungle_Boy)

I want to move to another planet, preferably one about 12,000,000,000,000 light-years away from this one — where all people do is focus on women’s appearance.

Rant alert.

I sincerely, truthfully, non-provocatively do not understand this utter obsession with the skin/breasts/hips/hair/legs/waists/lips of girls and women and why it matters a damn to anyone beyond their physicians, whose job it is to help us stay healthy. Yes, I am fully aware of the media, cultural pressure, blablablablabla.

Do we not — ladies? — have our own minds?

Here’s a recent piece from Time on the sad, sorry, miserable trend of teen girls staring into their webcams and begging total strangers to tell them they are physically appealing.

This makes me want to throw furniture.

It makes me want to grab every one of these girls and ask: “Seriously?”

It makes me want to ask their parents what the hell is happening in their home that their young girl-child is so desperate for 1) attention; 2) validation; 3) validation from total strangers; 4) has no idea that predators love this stuff.

I grew up with bad skin into my mid-20s, rarely wearing make-up because I didn’t want to attract attention to my looks. I was thin and pretty enough to have tons of college boyfriends.

But I never — thank God for the 1970s, when I came of age and Ms. magazine was flourishing — spent a ton of energy freaking out all the time over my looks. I was smart, educated, confident and talented and knew that was what I really needed to get going professionally.

Yes, being pretty helps. I get that.

But pretty-and-shallow, pretty-but-stupid, pretty-and-mean, pretty-and-lazy — won’t get you too far.

Our skin will mottle and wrinkle, Botox and surgery be damned. Our breasts will change shape, size and altitude. (Sherpas no longer necessary!) Our bones may become more brittle, our gait a little slower.

But our hearts, minds, intelligence and courage need never flag.

There is no woman uglier — on my perfect planet — than one lacking compassion.

Are you as appalled by this insanity as I am?

Does Boarding School Screw You Up For Life?

In aging, behavior, domestic life, family, life, women on February 2, 2012 at 12:03 am
English: Students at the Old Fort Lewis Indian...

Image via Wikipedia

I went off to boarding school at eight, the youngest girl there. I went off to summer camp, eight weeks at a stretch, at the same age. I saw my mother on weekends, my father (from whom she was divorced) whenever he was around, which was intermittent as he was a film-maker who often traveled far away for months for his work.

So, there you are, surrounded by a sea of strangers, whose rules and regulations — and kindness, compassion and goodwill — will make or break the rest of your childhood and/or adolescence.

Weird? Yes.

Formative? Definitely.

Here’s a recent editorial from The Guardian on sending young kids off to boarding school — considered perfectly normal behavior by some Britons:

So I want to try once more to begin a discussion about an issue we still refuse to examine: early boarding. It is as British as warm beer, green suburbs and pointless foreign wars. Despite or because of that we won’t talk about it. Those on the right will not defend these children as they will not criticise private schools. Those on the left won’t defend them, as they see them as privileged and therefore undeserving of concern. But children’s needs are universal; they know no such distinctions.

The UK Boarding Schools website lists 18 schools which take boarders from the age of eight, and 38 which take them from the age of seven. I expect such places have improved over the past 40 years; they could scarcely have got worse. Children are likely to have more contact with home; though one school I phoned last week told me that some of its pupils still see their parents only in the holidays. But the nature of boarding is only one of the forces that can harm these children. The other is the fact of boarding.

In a paper published last year in the British Journal of Psychotherapy, Dr Joy Schaverien identifies a set of symptoms common among early boarders that she calls boarding school syndrome. Her research suggests that the act of separation, regardless of what might follow it, “can cause profound developmental damage”, as “early rupture with home has a lasting influence on attachment patterns”.

When a child is brought up at home, the family adapts to accommodate it: growing up involves a constant negotiation between parents and children. But an institution cannot rebuild itself around one child. Instead, the child must adapt to the system. Combined with the sudden and repeated loss of parents, siblings, pets and toys, this causes the child to shut itself off from the need for intimacy. This can cause major problems in adulthood: depression, an inability to talk about or understand emotions, the urge to escape from or to destroy intimate relationships. These symptoms mostly affect early boarders: those who start when they are older are less likely to be harmed.

So true.

It sure ain’t Hogwarts, kids!

The very notion of daily, familial emotional intimacy — whaddya mean I’m supposed to share my feelings? Feelings?! — is as alien to me, even now, as Jupiter. It’s no accident I married a man who is very affectionate, grew up in a normal family with two sisters at home and easily says “I love you” a lot.

I have only one friend who also had this experience, a man a bit older, who has some very similar emotional patterns. At best, we can tough out almost anything without sniveling or whining. At worst, we come across as (and may well be!) cold, bossy, disconnected.

Some of what you learn:

You rarely cry. There’s no one to cry to. Bluntly stated, no one cares. There’s no one offering a comforting hug or a hand to hold if you’re anxious, ill, homesick or scared. You share a room with four to six other girls, some just as miserable, whose distant parents live even further away than yours, in Nassau or Caracas or North Bay.

You rarely share your feelings. No one in authority has the time or interest to sit with you. No one asks. “So, how was your day, sweetie?” They check your name on a list to make sure you are present. i.e. not missing, not a problem, not a liability. Your assigned room-mates? They might hate you, or use personal information against you. Best not to offer them any ammo.

A vicious tongue. Because you cannot fight physically and cannot leave and cannot find privacy from those who are making you crazy, you learn to wound verbally. Not pretty.

Television and radio are impossibly exotic treats. This was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I got to watch television at school maybe once a week, with a bunch of other girls in the common room. I laughed really loudly — probably at a sitcom — and was admonished for not being ladylike. (You should hear how loudly I laugh today!)

Food and drink take on additional importance. Every meal, including snacks, is served on a schedule, in a pre-determined location. We were told each week at school what table to sit at. Between-meal hunger? Deal with it: sneak food out, keep some in your room. Tip: trying to carry oranges, apples or grapefruit in your baggy, saggy bloomers is not an effective strategy.

Privacy is the greatest luxury imaginable. Every waking hour, you’re surrounded by other people, some of whom you loathe and vice versa: in your bed, in the bathroom, in the dining hall, in the classroom, in classes and sports.

Your self-image is shaped by people who make judgments about you with incomplete information. I was asked to leave my boarding school after Grade 9 for being, (as I was that year), disobedient, rude and disruptive. But no one ever bothered, kindly and with genuine concern for me, to ask why. In high school, my nickname was the Ice Queen, so little emotion did I show. Go figure.

The upsides:

Self-reliance. Independence. A stiff upper lip. I know to make a bed, iron wool, tie a tie. (Part of our uniform.) Whistle with two fingers. Swear like a sailor. An excellent education with ferociously high standards. Tons of homework, as early as fourth grade. No boys to distract us. The automatic assumption that smart girls rule, that men are not to be deferred to simply because they expect it and the expectation that every girl is capable of, and will produce, excellence and leadership.

All good things!

Did you leave your family at an early age?

How did it affect you?

New Jersey Bullies To Face U.S.’s Toughest Laws — About Time!

In behavior, children, Crime, education, news, parenting, politics on August 31, 2011 at 1:32 pm
Bullying on IRFE in March 5, 2007, the first c...

It doesn't have to be physical! Emotional abuse is invisible and leaves scars just as deep. Image via Wikipedia

A few cases of bullying in the U.S. have — thankfully — received national attention in the past two years.

In New Jersey, two students at Rutgers, a local college, taped their gay room-mate in order to mock and bully him. He was so terrified of exposure and derision that he, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide. Only one of the students has been criminally charged.

In Massachusetts, a 15-year-old Irish girl, Phoebe Prince, made the fatal error of dating the wrong guy, and was soon targeted by girls in her school as a slut, mercilessly hounded. She hanged herself at home.

After her suicide, I spoke out against bullying in this USA Today essay, describing my own experience in a middle-class Toronto high school in the mid-1970’s:

I was 14, and also new to public school, having attended a private single-sex school in grades four to nine, with a year at a private co-ed school in grades seven and 10. Boys were an alien species. I had no idea how to dress fashionably, having just spent the past six years wearing a school uniform. I had pimples. I was socially awkward.

I quickly became the brunt of merciless, relentless public bullying by a small group of boys. They nicknamed me “Doglin” — a “dog” being the most vile name, then, one could bestow on a young girl. They barked and howled at me whenever I walked through the hallways, their taunts echoing off the metal lockers and terrazzo floors. One brought in a dog biscuit and put it on my desk in class.

I was terrified and traumatized. Like many bullying victims I and my worried parents felt helpless to stop it. I was lucky enough to make a few good female friends and to excel intellectually, appearing on a regional high school quiz show and helping our school reach its quarter-finals for the first time in years.

But the daily, visible, audible torture continued. In desperation, at 16, I started seeing a therapist, who recommended I take medication — I refused — to handle my anxiety.

Our teachers saw and heard it every day for years and did nothing.

I knew that I was taking a risk by speaking out in a national publication with more than a million readers. Americans, especially, pride themselves on mental toughness and self-sufficiency. Wimp! Wuss! Whiner! I knew these comments were possible.

Which was my whole point. Being bullied leaves you scarred for a long, long time. I have spoken twice as a keynote at two conferences, appeared on television a few times and routinely speak publicly — all to promote my new book, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail.”

But for a long, long time I was deeply uneasy when people, boys especially, would look at me, fearing the next volley of vitriol. I’ve also been bullied several times in New York jobs, with one trade publication manager who shouted curses at everyone and stood subway-close when she threatened me. Another had a red-faced shouting fit in my very small office. Maybe it’s journalism, or New York, but some of the most toxic people I’ve ever had the misfortune to encounter work in my field in this city I chose.

Maybe everyone who’s been bullied emits some sort of magnetic force field attracting even more of it!

Only by speaking out, ideally as someone who had had some professional success and had, in some measure “made it” could I make clear that one can, as so many people do, survive bullying, but not everyone has the self-confidence or resources to handle it.

The thoughtless, knee-jerk response to bullying is always the same: just put up with it. Sort it out among yourselves. Suck it up.

Kids will be kids.

And cruel fools come in all shapes and sizes.

Tacitly allowing bullying to continue creates a whole pile o’ hells for the bullied:

we lose faith and trust in adults whose authority is to care for us and protect us

we lose faith in others, who stand by idly and do nothing

we lose faith in ourselves as we find ourselves powerless to stop such abuse

we withdraw from social, athletic and professional arenas requiring exposure, competition and confidence, feeling unloved, even despised

The New York Times ran a front-page piece today raising questions about the new responsibilities recent New Jersey laws, passed post-Clementi, will impose on teachers and school administrators:

But while many parents and educators welcome the efforts to curb bullying both on campus and online, some superintendents and school board members across New Jersey say the new law, which takes effect Sept. 1, reaches much too far, and complain that they have been given no additional resources to meet its mandates.

The law, known as the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, is considered the toughest legislation against bullying in the nation. Propelled by public outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, nearly a year ago, it demands that all public schools adopt comprehensive antibullying policies (there are 18 pages of “required components”), increase staff training and adhere to tight deadlines for reporting episodes.

Each school must designate an antibullying specialist to investigate complaints; each district must, in turn, have an antibullying coordinator; and the State Education Department will evaluate every effort, posting grades on its Web site. Superintendents said that educators who failed to comply could lose their licenses.

Of course, some educators are annoyed and say it’s too much for them to handle.

Try being bullied.

Six Behaviors That Drive Me Nuts

In behavior, domestic life, family, life, women on March 16, 2011 at 4:00 am
Liar Game

I think I'd rather not play this one, thanks!Image via Wikipedia

Yes, I’m probably guilty of them as well, and another dozen even worse.

But, I’m done!

In the past month, I’ve been pelted with bad behavior from all directions.

Like:

Failure to communicate

This tops my list. I grew up in a family of professional communicators — writers and film-makers and TV folk — who rarely-to-never told me much I needed to know. Like, how to drive or balance a checkbook or the fact our house had been sold and I had to move out within weeks, during college mid-term exams.

So this pattern of behavior, which also seems specifically and annoyingly Canadian, makes me crazy. I can’t get on with my life and make decisions, from when to book a flight to how much to budget this month, without data. It makes me feel powerless and that’s not a happy place.

When I ask someone for help, advice, an answer, a recommendation, a reference, a contact — anything! -- do me the basic courtesy of giving me an answer. Before the next milennium.

The reply might be: “I don’t know” or “I don’t want to” or “I can’t.”

Or “I’m just too busy right now” or “I don’t have the answers yet.”

But pick up that phone and send that email. Don’t leave someone just hanging who clearly needs to know something, sooner rather than later.

If you’re ambivalent, make a decision. If you’re terrified of confrontation, do it by email. But do it.

Lying

I was only slapped twice in my life by my parents, once by my Dad and once by my Mom, both times because I lied. I still remember each incident vividly and it made abundantly clear to me that lying is not an option.

Telling someone something you know for certain is not true can set into motion, as it often does and is intended to, an entire domino chain of consequences, most of which  — you know — will be lousy for that person. Don’t do it.

Deception

Ditto. I’m a straightforward person. I can only run my life efficiently, safely and happily if I know what’s really going on, not some wallpapered version you’re feeding me. Deception really means you’re happy manipulating me to your own ends. You’re really OK with that?

Entitlement

Ugh. I live in a northern suburb of New York City, where entitlement is like oxygen — everywhere, invisible and taken utterly for granted. Size 00 women drive $80,000 cars, live in 10,000 square foot mansions paid for by largely invisible husbands working 100-hour weeks. Yet their hyper-tutored SAT-prepped children are often such little social savages my gynecologist had to draw up a two-page single-space contract (!) explaining how they must behave in her office.

In my retail job, the subject of my forthcoming book, “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” I discuss the egregious attitudes of the hedge fund crowd who shopped in our store. We, as low-wage, low-level associates, were nothing more than that hour’s peon to them. In an era of growing, stunning income inequality, this gets old.

Just because you have a lot of money, right now, doesn’t mean you’re smarter/better/kinder/wiser than anyone else on this planet. It just means you have more money. Get over yourself.

Faux urgency

I recently re-connected, after a decade’s silence, with someone who had once been a fairly close friend. The next day, she asked for a favor on behalf of a friend of hers. Then asked again. You know, if I’ve been that invisible and unimportant to your life for ten years, it can wait.

Whatever feels reallyreallyreally urgent to us may barely register on someone else’s radar. I was shocked into this a few days ago when I called a dear friend, who’d been uncommunicative in response to a request, and discovered that his father had suddenly fallen ill and died.

When people don’t respond at once, (if they are typically courteous enough to communicate with you), there’s probably a really good reason. Their urgency outweighs yours.

Drrrrrrraaaaaaaaama!

Not acceptable. Ever.

This is, no doubt, due to my own upbringing in a WASP, Canadian family.

Feelings? Outwardly expressed?

I think not!

Kidding.

But seriously, there are very few situations that really allow room for wailing, weeping, the gnashing of teeth and the (public at least) rending of garments. Your inability to find a parking space or get a pedicure appointment or gaining 3.5 pounds are not in this category.

Hold it together — using whatever means necessary (yoga, prayer, Xanax, martinis) — and your calm, grace and class will always elicit much more help, kindness and action from others around you than hand-flapping and hysteria.

Everyone’s got something crappy happening in their life, too. It might be whole lot worse than yours, but they’re not whining about it.

Do tell….

What are some of the behaviors around you these days driving you mad?


Is Being A Parent Truly That Miserable?

In behavior, parenting on July 11, 2010 at 2:37 pm
Sleep Like A Baby

Image by peasap via Flickr

The endless drama of modern urban parenthood continues as the blogosphere dissects a New York magazine article about why so many parents are miserable:

Somewhere along the line, having a baby has stopped being an inevitable part of the life cycle and started to be one of those things-to-do-before-you-die, like climbing Machu Picchu or running a marathon. Basic aspects of the mothering experience, like labor and breast-feeding, took on a spiritual significance. Now, as we prepare to make the many sacrifices necessary to become parents, we anticipate nothing less than enlightenment in return.

But being a parent isn’t about getting a happy ending. There is no ending. As soon as your child is born, the profound truth hits you: this is forever. And yet, if New York magazine is to be believed, modern parents never stop obsessing about whether they’re doing everything they can to make their children the most accomplished little people they can possibly be. It’s as if they’re expecting to cross a finish line any day and be showered with confetti. And in the meantime, they don’t realize that they’re missing out.

If you’re having a baby for reasons of self-gratification, of course you’re going to be miserable. Becoming a parent is less about enriching your life than it is about up-ending it entirely to make room for another human being. And that’s what Senior’s article is missing: the fact that children are people, and having a child is about forging a relationship. Take this quote from a sociologist Senior interviewed about why parents are so disgruntled: “Middle-class parents spend much more time talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution. And this is very tiring work.” Funny, that doesn’t sound like work; that sounds like having a conversation. The true reward of parenting isn’t looking back with nostalgia, as Senior concludes; it’s getting to watch a baby turn into a fully realized person. It’s hearing the thoughts and opinions of somebody who didn’t exist until you brought them into the world. It’s a humbling, daunting, awesome experience — and it’s hard enough without the added pressure of making every moment enriching and significant.

I chose not to have kids, thereby placing myself — and my partner, who feels the same — into a distinct minority, about 20 percent of the population.

You won’t hear us hand-wringing endlessly about ohmygod, my career. I am so tired! It’s so hard! OMG! Or, the aging, ill distant parents — plus the career/job/school/whatever. A life decently lived is, de facto filled with responsibility to and for the health and happiness of other people, not just getting and spending.

Which can be hard and endless and filled with ambivalence, along with love — for work or your Mom. Not just your offspring.

You want kids? Have ‘em. You don’t want them — don’t.

But spare us the endless narcissism of questioning and second-guessing your reproductive choices.

Of course having and raising healthy, responsible children is a shitload of work.

Who told you otherwise?

For Father's Day — My Dad's 13 Gifts

In behavior, men, parenting on June 19, 2010 at 11:25 pm
My Dad Is Better Than Your Dad

Image via Wikipedia

He turned 81 this month, an age he never thought he’d see — his Dad died at 59, so he spent his life until then fearful he might not outlive him.

He’s healthy as a horse, his arthritic hip much less painful than mine, bicycles every day, takes long walks with the dog.

He’s not big on giving gifts, but here are some of them:

Badges from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. He went there to make a documentary and I became aware of the Olympics and Japan, at an early age. He gave the gift of curiosity about the world.

A pair of elbow-length sealksin mitts, again from a filming trip to the Arctic. And a caribou rug, sadly untanned so it shed like mad all over my teenage bedroom. The gift of wondering about entire swaths of my enormous country.

An Afghan rifle case, from another overseas trip. How many girls had that? It sparked my love of textiles, something I’ve been collecting for years.

A drive from Toronto to Vancouver, dipping into North and South Dakota along the way to visit Indian pow-wows; he filmed, I drew and painted. We set up our tent wherever he chose, sometimes in the middle of a farmer’s field. Those are some long drives. I think we played 20 Questions about 1,000,000 times. I love road trips!

Teaching me to ski, skate, play squash and badminton and remaining active his whole life. I’ve been athletic since childhood, and hope to remain so as long as possible.

When he had a house in Ireland, we went out for long walks, picking wild watercress from the creeks and mussels from Galway Bay, which we went home and ate for dinner. Bounty is all around us if we look for it.

He has always galloped off into the world, and still does, with unquenched eagerness to explore. A passport and the means to use it is a lifelong ticket to adventures and friends we have yet to meet. Get out there!

Teaching me – inadvertently — to stand up for myself, after I flew to France on his dime when I was 20 and we had a huge fight and I walked out and went home early. We have fought bitterly over the years, but he was no tougher than some of my bosses along the way. Man up, darlin’!

The end of the day means a single-malt Scotch or a great glass of wine and a big bowl of popcorn. Pleasures come in a wide price range.

He’s always driven fun, used cars, today a black Jag. Enjoy life, affordably.

We love to prowl antiques fairs, flea markets and auctions in search of treasures. We once stood, ravenous, outside a Wilmington, NC diner — with an antiques store next to it. We had to force ourselves to eat first. Have a passion. Appreciate the beauty and utility of objects designed and made 100, 200 or 2,000 years ago but use and enjoy them. (I use the sterling silver soup ladle he gave me for measuring pancake batter.)

Growing up, watching him — as he still does today — create art in a wide array of media: silver, oil, etching, engraving, lithograph, his studio forever littered with canvases in various states of completion. Creativity comes from within, not just something you have to go out and buy. It can also bring you into community; at his 80th. , I met the much younger man who taught Dad how to work with silver.

I left home at 19, to live alone and put myself through university. He’s never given me a penny and it was always very clear I would never have the option of moving back home. No matter how much I resented it, and have struggled with debt or low income, it taught me self-reliance.


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A Woman's Toughest Relationship? The One With Her Dad

In behavior, men, parenting, women on June 15, 2010 at 3:03 pm
Dad and daughter

Image by Peter Werkman via Flickr

Interesting piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about how adult women stumble when trying to communicate with their fathers:

When Jennifer Wallace realized her marriage was over, the very first person she called was her mother. During that initial conversation—and each morning for weeks afterward as she drove to work—she poured her heart out about her anger, embarrassment and despair.

But it wasn’t until four years later (long after she had divorced, changed jobs and remarried) that she talked about the experience with her father.

In a lifetime of difficult male-female conversations, some of the toughest, surprisingly, can be the ones between fathers and adult daughters—especially when there is a problem in the daughter’s life.

Ms. Wallace, 29, an executive and personal assistant in Los Angeles, says she always knew her father loved her dearly. When she was growing up, he praised her often, ate dinner with her each night and attended every track meet, play and debate team event she participated in. These days, he is her go-to person for career advice.

Yet at the time of her divorce, she and her dad had never discussed personal problems—hers or his—and she found it impossible to bring up such a sensitive topic with him. “I felt that he would have been deeply, deeply sad,” says Ms. Wallace. “And I felt that he wouldn’t know what to do with me.”

Her dad says she is right: “I needed to protect my princess, but I failed,” says Bruce Wray, 58, a marketing manager for a bar-code company in St. Paul, Minn. “I wasn’t there being Prince Valiant, preventing her mistake.”

Why is it so hard for a grown woman to bare herself emotionally to a man she’s loved all her life? And why would a man have trouble discussing something sensitive with a woman he helped raise?

I often post on stories, and issues, that hit a chord for me personally — and this one did. It was too funny, the phone ringing with an unfamiliar number as I was reading that article.

It was my Dad calling from London, where he’s on vacation, to and from Spain. No big deal for many people, but my Dad and I went many years not talking at all, angry and bitter and frustrated. We’re both stubborn, determined and have a complicated enough family as it is, with 3 step-siblings and my late step-mother, with whom my dealings were often very strained.

So it was great to hear from him and to get the emailed photo of him with a candle-lit cupcake — he celebrated his 81st. birthday in London with his new partner.

I was hit hard by the lede of the Journal story, as I went to Ireland to visit my Dad about two months after my husband walked out of our very brief marriage, and Dad said some things I won’t ever forget and had to work hard to forgive, but I think it’s also because he has always had high hopes, if not expectations, for me and what I will accomplish and achieve. I like that he sets the bar high, for himself and others, but am also really glad it’s come down a few notches over the years. It had to!

I also know that my Dad’s Dad (who I never met) was pretty tough and frosty, and he comes from a generation of men (maybe all generations?) that wasn’t big on expressing feelings, let alone tender, private or emotional ones. So I’ve grown up in this style as well. We rarely, if ever, say “I love you” — but our actions show it, and that’s how I prefer it. At his 80th. birthday celebration last year I made a short speech and thanked him publicly for what he’d taught me: to embrace the world as a place full of adventure and possibility, to be confident, and to want to tell stories, as he did through his films.

Better to say it aloud now than at a funeral or memorial service.

How is your relationship with your adult daughter? Or with your Dad?

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