Tag Archive for mothers

Bad Moms and Being Mom Enough: A Reflection

By now, you have most likely read or heard about the recent article in Time magazine titled, “Are you Mom enough?”. The blogosphere (and the media) has been abuzz over this article.

I'm not a bad girl; You're a bad mommy!

Image courtesy of http://themotherlode.wordpress.com

Some authors have addressed the title of the article and all that it implies (competition, self-hatred, guilt, mommy wars, sexism, identity issues, etc.). Others have commented on the cover image in which a three-year-old boy is sucking on his mother’s bare breast while looking at the camera (how it is going to scar him forever, how public breastfeeding is fine, how this goes on in all areas of the world, how this mother is a helicopter parent, etc., etc.). Most discussions have addressed the topic of the article, attachment parenting.

I’ve read many commentaries on and responses to this article. (I particularly liked what my college roommate had to say about it, as well as another blogger’s provocative post, “Where Is the Mommy War for the Motherless Child?“.

I have my own opinions on all of these matters. I obviously do not choose to do attachment parenting. I stopped nursing my children when they were between 8-10 months old. I do not carry my baby around on me like a papoose; he weighs too much and I would break my back. I do not, under any circumstance, allow my children to sleep with me and my husband in our bed. I also work outside the home, which Dr. Sears, the founder of the movement, discourages women who want to incorporate attachment parenting philosophies from doing.

I don’t love my children any less. I love them a lot, actually. I believe it’s important help my children feel loved, safe, confident, self-assured, and independent. I let my children play for long periods of time without getting involved or interjecting my own agenda. I let them work out problems. I tell them, “No.” I ask them to be creative. I challenge them.

Most mothers do.

What I have learned from being a mother for almost seven years is that there are many different ways to mother. There are different ways to be a mother. And there are different definitions of mothers and motherhood and mothering.

As moms, we have images in our head about the kind of mother we want to be. If you’re like me, you often feel guilty about ways you do not live up to your own expectations. Our culture and the media (and sometimes religious organizations and people) send the message that we are not good enough, that we are not “Mom enough.” My recent post about Pinterest images attests to the pervasiveness of societal expectations and norms.

But who are we to judge other mothers? Aren’t we all just trying our best to do good our their children?

We are all “Mom enough” to the children in our lives.

They love us. They know we love them.

We must know that who we are is enough.


Inventing a Winning Machine

Earlier this week, I was looking through my 1st grade daughter’s backpack and found a piece of paper from school with Elizabeth’s writing. Elizabeth wrote the following:

“My invention is the mushen that can make you win evry game. I invented the mushen that can make you win evry game.”

Children Racing Black and White

Image courtesy State Library by New South Wales. Flickr's Creative Commons License.

Two sentences. Two sentences that reveal a lot about my daughter. Elizabeth likes to win. She doesn’t like to lose. When given the opportunity to imagine a machine to invent that would make life better, easier, she chose a technology that would make winning at everything possible. (Of course, there are problems with such a tool, because someone has to lose, right?)

(Funny note: One of my friends told me that her invention already exists; it’s called “The Bribe.” Ha!)

Elizabeth comes by this desire honestly (just like she does her stubbornness, independence, and strong-willedness). She gets it from me. I like to win. But if I could invent such a machine, I would want the opposite of her; I would want something that would never allow me to lose. Because, yes, I like to win, but even more than that, I don’t like to lose.

When Shane and I first moved to Louisville, Kentucky (we had probably been married 4 months), my dad was making a speech in Indianapolis and we drove up to see him. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive to the city. We picked him up at the airport and walked around downtown for a while, visiting the statues, parks, and other outdoor sights. Indianapolis has such a lovely feel. We ate dinner and then were heading back to the car (after several hours of walking around).

On the way back to the car, Shane was arguing with me about the route we were taking back to the car. He said the car was the other way; I said it was not, that we were headed in the right direction. This was ten years ago, well before GPS and Smart Phones. Shane kept insisting that we were going the complete wrong way. He decided to ask my dad what he thought.

My dad told him that he thought we were headed in the wrong direction (my way) and that he thought Shane was right and that we had come from the other direction.

Then my dad paused and said, “But I’m going to just keep following her. I learned a long time ago that you don’t argue with Kara. Even when I disagree with her about stuff like this, I have learned to go with it. Why? Because Kara is never wrong. Really, she is always right. But, if she IS wrong, then we can give her a hard time.”

We all burst out into laughter. It was a lesson from the father-in-law to the son-in-law. My daughter/your wife is right.

At this point, I started second-guessing myself. I kept walking the way I thought was the way to the car, and, voila, I WAS RIGHT. We found the car, and, whew, I wasn’t wrong.

I don’t like to be wrong. I don’t like to lose. It comes from liking to play games, just like Elizabeth does. Card games. Board games. Sports games. I’m competitive. I don’t like to lose.

When I win, I don’t gloat. I don’t celebrate. I don’t “rejoice” (this is the term I use for athletes when they start gallivanting down the court after making a basket or a touchdown, especially when they’re on the OTHER team, and I don’t want to see such celebration!). Instead, I act like I’ve been there before.

Because I have. I have won lots of things. Small things. Big things. Things that matter. Things that don’t. Things that had major consequences for me in terms of scholarships, prestige, fame, and recognition.

[L]losing draws on my insecurities of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Losing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

[One sidenote: It is interesting when I play games with other people, which I love to do, they ALWAYS strive to beat me. They gang up on me so that I will lose. They target me (in Hearts, Double-9 dominoes, Monopoly, etc.) so that I will lose first. Then, they make big shows of it when they win. They rub it in. They jump up and down. They celebrate. They “rejoice.” I guess that’s what I get for being competitive and winning a lot. I can take it. It’s just a game, right?]

But winning isn’t what motivates me; what motivates me is NOT losing. I’m sure there’s a lot of complexities going on in this statement, but let me just say that losing draws on my insecurities of not being good enough, not being smart enough, not being able to do it all. Losing hurts. And it hurts real bad. Not when I lose a card game, but when I lose big things.

When an article I’ve written gets rejected.

When I don’t get a grant or sabbatical for which I’ve applied.

When I don’t get a position for which I’ve applied.

When I receive a set of negative teacher evaluations.

When someone says something negative about me.

When I compare myself to other moms. 

When my children misbehave and disobey me.

When I fail as a Christian.

My identity is wrapped up in NOT losing. And when I do lose, it hurts. So, if Elizabeth could invent that machine, I would buy it. But I don’t think it would be enough to confront the underlying insecurities of losing.


Motherhood as Materialism: The Myth They’re Selling

I am a mom to three vivacious, spunky, independent kids. I like being a mom. It’s difficult to define and articulate what motherhood means to me and how much of my identity is wrapped up in my role as a mom. So much of it is a feeling, an emotion, and words are often not enough to explain my feelings about motherhood.

That being said, as I mentioned in my last post, I don’t like Mother’s Day. I’m extremely uncomfortable with this holiday. So many women (and men) experience pain on Mother’s Day.

  • Someone is thinking about their own mom (perhaps she has died, she gave him/her up for adoption, she was not the mother they had hoped for, or something else that brings them pain).
  • Someone is thinking about the loss of a child–through a miscarriage, an abortion, an adoption, a death, a kidnapping, the loss of a young child who has grown up.
  • Someone is thinking about not being able to conceive or still being single and not having a child.
  • Someone is thinking about how they do not measure up to the “ideal mother” (see my recent post about guilt for some comments on this issue).
  • Someone who is grieving the choices their children have made.

Mother’s Day is not a happy day for everyone, contrary to the predominant narrative greeting card companies, retail stores, businesses, and corporations are selling us. Many people have great big holes in their hearts.

Mother’s Day became a federal holiday in 1914 when President Woodrow Wilson instituted it. I do not know the history of this holiday, but what I do know is that, at some point, Mother’s Day became synonymous with materialism, with giving and receiving gifts (just like Christmas). This holiday equates love to gift-giving.

It promotes motherhood as materialism.

Stores tell us we should buy gifts for our mothers. Our mothers deserve as much. If we love them, we would buy them something.

I saw this image today while I stopped in to drop off some clothes at my favorite consignment store.

Selling Mother's Day

Make Mom's Day! Buy Her an iPad (the new one!)!

This image screams consumerism.


But it belittles mothers.

This image, and most other marketing that surrounds Mother’s Day, equates loving your mom to giving her expensive gifts, or, at worse, not giving her expensive gifts and thus not loving her.

The consumerism of Mother’s Day defines how we are supposed to experience Mother’s Day–as one who gives or receives gifts. It’s not about love; it’s about buying and giving and getting more stuff. Even if showing love through gifts isn’t a bad thing in and of itself, the marketing of this holiday takes the focus off honoring your own mother or (being honored yourself as a mother) to focusing on the buying and selling of products. It equates love with giving expensive gifts.

Corporations have decided that they can manipulate dads and children and spouses and mothers into making this event–motherhood–all about materialism. They send the message that the only thing mothers really want is “stuff.”

They diminish motherhood when they equate it to materialism.

If they knew mothers at all–sitting from where they are making a profit off of us, off of OUR role, as mothers (or sons or daughters or fathers or husbands)–then they would understand that we do not want this. No, motherhood is more than materialism. Much more. And if these corporate powers tried to understand mothers at all, they would realize this truth. Instead, they belittle and degrade us and treat us like children in a candy store.

No, moms do not want more “stuff.” We are more complex than that. We are deeper than that. We have other values besides gifts. Our hearts are with our children, not with what they do or not give us.

If corporations really wanted to show us honor, they wouldn’t market to our children on this day. There would be no signs and images and ads and commercials about “the perfect gift for mother’s day”.

There would be no profit, no capitalizing on mothers.

Honor us by refusing to coerce and manipulate our husbands and sons and daughters and mothers and grandchildren. Honor us by leaving our families alone, by leaving us alone.

Motherhood is much more than their minimalization of it.

Dear readers: I hope these posts about motherhood and Mother’s Day have not offended you, but I do hope you see my perspective as honest and real, and a little mad, too.

Why I’m Uncomfortable with Mother’s Day

When I was in high school, I became really close to one of my boyfriend’s aunts. She was close to her twin nephews because she was very devoted to her sister, their mom. But this woman was also close to her sister’s kids because she didn’t have any children of her own. She couldn’t have children. She and her husband had tried for years to conceive, but they never did. I don’t know any of the details except that she wanted kids and couldn’t have them.

I was sad for her. She had a deep desire for children but couldn’t have any.

She was sweet, loving, kind, gracious, and honest. She was a doting aunt, a confidante, a friend. She would have been a great mom.

As the years went on, we kept in touch (even though her nephew and I had long broken up). I continued to think of her. I empathized with her because she couldn’t have children.

One year in college, Mother’s Day rolled around and I had an idea to send her a Mother’s Day card.

Happy Mother's Day Card

Image courtesy of http://stacy.typepad.com/stacys_paper_crafts/2009/04/happy-mothers-day.html

This card came from me, but I wrote about all the people—all the kids, like me—that she had touched. Even though she didn’t have a child of her own, she influenced so many children. I expressed to her my appreciation for the influence she had on my life, probably one that she never even knew about.

She was touched by my gesture. She told me that she cried reading the card. She had never received a Mother’s Day card before, and this card was so unexpected. I think what affected her the most was that she felt nobody cared about her on this day.

She was left out of the celebration because she wasn’t a mother. Yes, she had a mother (a great one), but she also desired to be a mother and she wasn’t one.

While most people celebrated motherhood, she mourned it.

While (male) church pastors and leaders spoke about how God instituted motherhood and how wonderful it is and on and on and on, she grieved.

When Hallmark commercials came on, (I imagine) she changed the channel, or watched it with sadness, loneliness, and pain.

I love my own mother, my mother-in-law, and my grandmothers. They are special women. But I’m extremely uncomfortable with Mother’s Day.

I’m always thinking about the people left out of the “motherhood celebration”.

Women who have suffered a miscarriage.
Teenage girls or young adults who have given their children up for adoption.
Women who have had abortions.
Women who cannot bear children.
Children—young and old—who have lost their mothers to death.  
Children who do not have the “type” of mother promoted through greeting cards, retail stores, and even the church.
Mothers who do not feel they meet up to societal or Christian standards about what makes a “good mother.”

I’m uncomfortable with Mother’s Day.

My husband does not preach a Mother’s Day sermon for many of these same reasons (However, he is giving a 4-part tribute to the mothers he loves in his life, including my mom).

This Mother’s Day, think of women:

Who are not in the mood to celebrate this holiday, a national one, mind you, not a Christian one.

Who do not have the emotional energy to come to church on that day because of the pain they will feel.

Who grieve every day but on this day, in particular, the grief hurts even more.

Who feel alone and lonely.

Who want to be a mother but can’t.

Who were mothers at one time but decided not to be.

Think of these women when you go to church, when you call your mom, when you talk to friends, when you buy gifts.

Pray for them.

Do something special for them.

Listen to their stories, and let them know you care.

Letting Go of Superwoman: Beginning the Process

Superwoman graphicI was at one of my routine doctor appointments last year, pregnant with Levi. After hearing the baby’s heartbeat and finishing the exam, my doctor, who was now seeing me through my third (and final) pregnancy, asked me how I was doing, how I was feeling about life and motherhood and work and all the other commitments I have.

She has known me for several years, since the time before I took a tenure-track job, when I was just writing my dissertation. She is in her late 50s/early 60s and is the best doctor I’ve ever had (Shane even told her that he wishes she could be his doctor!).

I guess I looked stressed out or overwhelmed—I don’t know. But before I knew it, words and tears and emotions came gushing out, like water from an unmanned fire hydrant.

I feel guilty, this is what I told her.

Guilt in regards to my children: about being a working mom; about not being there at some of their school events; about not taking them to or picking them up from school because I have an hour commute each day; about being so tired when I’m home; about being on my computer too much; about working too much from home; about not being present when I’m with them; about yelling or screaming or being unforgiving.


Guilt in regards to my job: about having a family; about having children that prevent me from being as productive as some other of my colleagues; about living so far away.


Guilt in regards to my husband: about him having to fill so many of the typical “motherhood” roles, such as doing the laundry, doing the dishes, putting the kids to bed, or carting the kids to and from school each day, particularly when he did not ask for that or expect it (he is wonderful!); about every conversation we have being about tenure; about being so exhausted in the evening that I fall asleep during a movie we’re watching together; about him being the go-to parent so much of the time; about not having time to go out on dates (which we love to do); about being stressed, mean, rude, and selfish.


Guilt in regards to my sisters, family, and friends: about not keeping in touch better; about not being there more when I want to be; about taking forever to send thank-you cards, or not even sending them at all; about not seeing them as often as I like; about not noticing when they are struggling or going through a hard time; about not calling to say hi.


Guilt in regards to my house: about its messy state; about the clutter.


Guilt in regards to my role as a preacher’s wife: about not being able to teach Bible class because I have no time to prep; about not cooking a homemade meal each week for potluck; about not signing up for nursery duty because my husband needs me to be in there listening and supporting him as he preaches; about not fitting the typical preacher’s wife role (whatever that is); about being shy.


Guilt in regards to my body: about being overweight; about using food to stifle my emotions; about not having time to exercise; about my body changing through 3 pregnancies and 2 c-sections.


Guilt in regards to my relationship with God: about not praying or reading the Bible as often as I desire; about going for weeks without even talking to God; about wondering who God is; about doubt, doubting certain things I grew up believing but that I now question.


About everything.

Thinking and talking through many of the ways I was feeling guilty didn’t take too long (she is a busy doctor after all). When I was done, she said she understood. But she also told me to stop. Stop feeling so guilty about things. Just stop, she said. Stop feeling guilty about not living up to my own or society’s  expectations of what makes a good mom, wife, employee, or friend. She pointed out that I wasn’t Superwoman; no woman is. And, yet, we all think we need to be her in order to be loved, admired, respected, or valued.

Her words resonated with me. I went home from the doctor feeling better. I resolved not to feel guilty. My children love me, my husband loves me, my parents love me, my friends and family love me.

I can give up my perfectionist tendencies. I cannot do it all; I am not Superwoman. I can just be myself—that’s all I can be. But I don’t have to feel guilty anymore.

Why It’s Important to Mentor Female Graduate Students and Young Professors

Academic Mentor Cartoon

In academia, talk abounds about graduate education, tenure, getting a job, low wages and poor working conditions, and balancing personal and professional lives. One recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Berkeley Professor Mary Ann Mason is particularly sobering. Mason’s article, “The Future of the Ph.D,” addresses several interesting points about the overabundance of PhDs and the lack of tenure-track jobs. She also points out how difficult it is to have a family and a tenure-track job. Here are a few quotes I found provocative (if you are interested, you should also read through the comments section of her article; so many heartfelt, revealing and personal responses that provide their own form of mentoring):

“In a survey we conducted of all doctoral students at the University of California, more than 70 percent of women and over half of all men said they considered a career at a research university to be too hard-driving and unfriendly to family life.

“A male Ph.D. student in the survey characterized the common sentiment when he wrote that he was ‘fed up with the narrow-mindedness of supposedly intelligent people who are largely workaholic and expect others to be so as well‘.”

“A female student wrote, ‘Since beginning my doctoral work, I have become convinced that very few, if any, female professors are able to have stable, fulfilling family lives of the sort that I wish for (a stable marriage and children)’.”

Female graduate students who do become mothers during their doctoral-study years are very likely to give up on their dreams.”

“Too few universities are paying attention to the needs of graduate-student parents, or providing mentoring on how to balance family and career in a stressful profession in which, arguably, the most serious stress—obtaining tenure—also occurs during the years when women will have children.”

These findings do not come as a shock to me as a professor. I have now experienced what it’s like to be on the tenure track, which is difficult in and of itself. But I also know what it’s like to be a woman, a mother, and a wife in this highly stressful job.

But as a graduate student working on my master’s and then Ph.D., I never would have guessed it was this way–so difficult to “have it all” and find balance between work and home.  I even had wonderful mentors throughout graduate school, but we never really talked about marriage and children or what it would be like to have a family and work in academia.

With results and outcomes like these–where women are leaving the profession because they have babies, or where they leave because they are denied tenure at such high rates (mothers even higher)–we are not left with many options. Even though more than half of graduate students are women, if we do not deal with the intersection of a woman’s personal life with her career, then we are not going to have a range of women in academia. We might still have unmarried women or women without children, but we may lose a large percentage of women who can teach and mentor others about what it means to have a family and a career in academia.

In short, we need mentors. We need mothers who are willing to share their experiences–the good and the bad; the sacrifices they have/had to make; the joys that have come along the way; and why being a mother in academia might still be worth it. We need mothers who talk frankly about having children in graduate school, about having children on the tenure-track, about not having children at all. We need mothers to share their stories, for it is their stories–our stories–that will educate others and better inform female graduate students about the realities of being a mother in academia.

I hope you will share your story; it may make all the difference.

Women, Mothers, and Tenure: Why Babies Complicate Academic Work

I mentioned in my last post that I was going to write about motherhood and academia. Many of you sensed the dilemma I was pushing against in that post. How can one be both a mother and an academic?

Women have traditionally been discriminated against in the academy (see this article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed for an overview):

  • Women receive tenure at a lesser rate than men.
  • Women are paid significantly less than men.
  • Women’s raises are significantly less than men’s raises are.
  • Women are more likely to quit their tenure-track jobs than men because of external factors.
  • Women are far more likely to volunteer their service to their department (or university) by filling labor-intensive but-not-really-related-to-tenure-and-promotion-and-prestige administrative positions that their male counterparts will not hold.

When you add a family to an already discriminated against gender, the results are even more staggering. A recent article by Mary Ann Mason titled, “Women, Tenure, and the Law,” finds that women with children are significantly less likely to achieve tenure than men or than women without children. So, whereas all women are discriminated against in terms of pay, women with children face even more discrimination. In short, Mason writes, “For women, a critical factor in tenure denial is their gender and family responsibilities.”

Women with children are also much more likely to become lecturers or adjuncts, positions that typically hold significantly less pay than tenure-track positions, are notorious for having poor working conditions, do not offer much job security, and are much less prestigious than tenure-track positions.

What’s more is the stress that tenure and promotion takes–probably on all women (and men, too), but especially on women with children. Not only are you having and raising children, cooking, doing laundry, waking up in the middle of the night for years, but you are also working to establish yourself in the field, write and publish, plan and design new courses, read as much as you can, and serve your department, university, and discipline. One history professor argues that women with children are “professionally inferior to men” during the child-bearing and child-rearing days because women are “simply unable to work as hard, as long, or as well as childless professors or academic fathers.” While I wouldn’t go so far to say women are “professionally inferior,” I do recognize that mothers, literally, cannot work as much as childless professors (men or women) or even academic fathers (who although they are parents, too, are not often the designated caretaker when it comes to their children. There was even a recent study about how when parents are home at the same time, the woman is still the primary parent–even when both people work. See this article for more information about differences between academic mothers and fathers).

Finally, women who are, or who are to become, mothers also face discrimination when they become pregnant. Perhaps it is this way in most jobs for women. I don’t know. But in the academy, motherhood carries with it a lot of baggage. And pregnancy is even seen, by some, as a liability. Pregnancy marks the body. Pregnancy marks the woman. People make assumptions about pregnant women. About mothers. About being a mother and an academic.

Again the dilemma.

What about me? I had one child as a graduate student. I was ABD (All But Dissertation) when my daughter Elizabeth was born. I wrote my dissertation during her first year of life (I still don’t know how I did that–a supportive family was a big part of that).

I went on the job market when she was 4 months old. She had just turned one when I took a tenure-track position.

Since being in academia, I’ve had two children on the tenure-track. Am I bold or what? Three kids. It’s unheard of in academia. At least if you’re a woman.

*Update (2 hours after original post): As I was driving home today, I was reflecting on this post, and I wanted to add one last comment. One of the things I hope for is that women in academia (and other jobs) can find mentors, others who have paved the way for newer faculty like me to succeed by getting tenure. I go up for tenure next year. Not only do I hope to get it, but I also hope that, one day, I can be one of these mentors.

I am a mother; I am an academic

I am an academic. I am a mother.

This is who I am.

“Mom” to Elizabeth, my affectionate, compassionate, smart, sensitive, and shy six- (and a half )year-old girl.

“Mommy” to Peyton Poe, my articulate, talkative, curious, rough-and-tumble four-year old thinker-boy.

“Momma” to Levi, my happy, accident-prone, I’ll-eat-anything-and-don’t-require-much-sleep, bald eight-month-old baby boy.

I am a mother. I am an academic. But academia makes it hard to be and do both.

Yet, this is who I am.

Which role comes first? Which role comes second? How do I balance motherhood, womanhood, and the academy? How can I be a great mom and a great scholar and teacher? These questions are on my mind every day.

In the next several blog posts, I will explore more about these issues. I hope you will join me.