Working Moms: Where Are You?

Here’s something I’ve been wondering for a while: Where are all the working moms? Regular readers know that I am a full-time working mom of a toddler. Other than a 3-month maternity leave, I’ve worked since my son was born. Statistics say that I am one of many, many working moms of young children in America: 64 percent of women with children under age 6 work or are actively looking for work, and 70 percent of those work full time.

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Since this is the case, why do I only know a handful of other full-time working moms, either in real life or virtually? Most moms I know either stay home or work part-time. Maybe this has something to do with my immediate context in the South, where “traditional” families are perhaps more common than in other parts of the country. And I read a lot of mommy blogs, which tend to be written by SAHMs. Maybe most full-time working moms don’t have time to blog.

Perhaps this is a leftover element from my younger years, but there is something about being different from most people around me that makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong, or that I’m not privy to some secret that others share. I find it annoying that staying home still seems to be what is considered normal for moms of young children, even though, as the statistic I discussed above indicates, working is now actually more common. You wouldn’t know it. I would like to take Jonah to a toddler storytime at the library, but when do you think they are? Weekday mornings. I joined a toddler playgroup Meetup, but when do they always want to meet? Weekday mornings. Moms’ bible studies? You guessed it: Weekday mornings. I. AM. A. BIT. OVER. IT.

Me working full time is what works for my family at this point–it’s not really optional. However, it’s what makes me happy, too, though I won’t lie and say I haven’t occasionally felt envious of those who get to stay home. Overall though, I get a strong sense of satisfaction from my job. I like making my own money. I’m proud of myself and what I do, both at work and at home. I like the example that I’m giving my son of a strong, accomplished woman. Another reason to be glad that I work: Recent studies show strong, long-term benefits for adult children of working mothers.

But really: Where are the working moms? Let’s be friends!

How Yoga Helped Me Take Myself Seriously

It all started with a Groupon.

About two months ago I began doing yoga. I’ve always wanted to try it, but all the studios I had looked at were pretty expensive, and as the working mother of a toddler I didn’t see how I had the time. At the beginning of March Jonathan found a Groupon for a local studio and suggested that we buy it, and I agreed.

I started going to classes and was immediately hooked. The combination of pushing my body outside of its comfort zone plus mindfulness and proper breathing did wonders for me physically. I felt better.

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public domain image via pexels.com

Soon I noticed that something strange was happening. During and after class, I began to have lots and lots of ideas to write about. I’ve enjoyed writing for a long time, but have always been very much a slave to inspiration, meaning that I would only write when I had a great idea–which wasn’t often. But once I started doing yoga, the ideas just started flooding into my mind. Yoga inspired me, and I started writing multiple times a week. I haven’t stopped yet.

Then, I got the crazy idea that someone else might want to read what I was writing, and that they might even pay me for it. Why not submit some posts to some other websites and see what happens, right? Can’t hurt. And two weeks later, I had five posts featured on BlogHer, including one I was paid for, and two accepted for publication on YourTango and Scary Mommy.

I think yoga has inspired me to write in three ways: 1) I am actually exercising on a regular basis, which benefits my body and mind, 2) the mindfulness that is a part of yoga practice helps me to clear my head and focus on my breathing, so when I do begin to think of other things again the ideas flow freely, and 3) yoga and writing are both things that I am doing only for myself. They are mine–not part of my roles as wife, daughter, mom, employee, just Holly.

I really think this is the crux of the whole issue: When I started taking care of myself in one way it enabled me to take care of myself in other ways, too. When I started believing that my writing was worth taking seriously, I found out that other people thought so, too. And that’s an empowering thing.

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public domain image via pexels.com

As women, we seem to have a tendency to discount our gifts. Maybe you have a little hobby that you dabble in now and then but you don’t think that it’s worth showing to other people. Or you downplay your strengths at work in order to not seem pushy or like you’re showing off. And this benefits nobody. It doesn’t help the people who would benefit from your gift, and it certainly doesn’t help you.

So I guess the moral of this story is to find whatever it is that inspires you, and make time for it. Don’t be afraid of the gifts that you have. Embrace them, and find others that do, too. Make yourself a priority. Take yourself seriously. And try yoga–it’s the best.

What My Parents’ Marriage Taught Me About Fighting With My Husband

Spoiler alert: Not much.

My parents have an idyllic marriage. Really. This August they will have been married for 32 years and they still make eyes at each other, kiss in public and hold hands under the table.

I can count on MAYBE five fingers the number of times I was aware of them arguing during the 18 years that I lived at home. When you think about it, that’s quite something.

I think this can be attributed to two things: 1) My parents are both pretty agreeable people who just don’t argue much, and 2) They were very intentional about having disagreements behind closed doors/after us kids were asleep.

On the one hand, this made for a very peaceful, loving environment to grow up in, and it gave me a nice picture of what a beautiful marriage looked like. I really respect my parents for the way they approached this issue. On the other hand, however, it did not provide me with many realistic expectations for how to deal with conflict in marriage.

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public domain image via pixabay.com

Because I almost never saw them, I wasn’t aware that it was common for married people to have disagreements, and to work through them. As a child, the few times that I did notice my parents arguing were pretty upsetting, because it was just such an uncommon occurrence. I immediately assumed that arguments meant serious problem/separation/divorce. And it took me a while as a newlywed to realize that there wasn’t something wrong with my marriage just because we seemed to fight more than my parents did. I expected perfection because that is what I was used to.

My marriage is different than my parents’. Jonathan and I are two passionate, headstrong, opinionated, sometimes contrary first-borns, and we both have a tendency to want our own way. These characteristics make great things happen when we are united toward a common goal, but they can be a real pain when we have a disagreement. Things can get heated quickly.

But you know what? Disagreements happen in marriage. They just do. We disagree, get angry at each other, take some space, work it out, apologize and move on. While it is very important to me that Jonah not be forced to hear things that are inappropriate related to his parents arguing, I do want my son to be aware that married people disagree sometimes, but they always work it out, and they love each other through it all.

We’re still working on this, but I think disagreeing respectfully in the earshot of children is a very important skill to have. This means things like keeping our voices even and our language neutral, and when we can’t do that, we table the conversation until a later time. Often, the act of having to wait to hash out an issue makes it resolve itself anyway.

In the early days of my marriage, I wish I would have known that married people can disagree sometimes but still love each other and be happy, and that life doesn’t have to be perfect to be really darn good.

 

What is your approach to arguing in front of your kids? How is it similar or different to your parents’ approach?

I Support Public Education (And So Should You)

I’ve written quite a bit about being a former public school teacher. You might think that because I left teaching I have a problem with public schools. In fact, the opposite is true. I love public schools. I think they are the foundation for a democratic and equitable society. I support them, and you should too. More on that in a minute.

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First of all, a story. Growing up, I attended both private Christian and public schools, though I ended up graduating from a private Christian school. Here’s a brief summary of the state of the school options in my hometown (circa 2002-2006): expensive college-prep private, mediocre Christian private, and public schools containing mostly minority students.

When I say the private Christian schools were mediocre, I mean lacking options, like AP/IB classes, electives, even honors classes in most subjects–things the public schools had in abundance. Case in point: At the time that I graduated from my private Christian high school, there was ONE AP class offered–AP Calculus–that wasn’t doable for me. I entered college with no college credit, when other students had full years.

My parents were paying thousands of dollars a year for fewer options than I could have gotten at the local public school, for free. It boggles the mind.

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So why am I writing about this? Am I still bitter, ten years later, about not getting to take a few AP classes? Of course not. I’m writing about this because it matters, a great deal. The way people feel about public schools affects education policy at the state and federal levels–how much funding schools get, how public school teachers are evaluated, how (and how much) students are tested, etc. In the end, that affects all of us.

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Why are public schools worth supporting?

  • Public schools are legally required to provide all necessary academic services that children need, for free.

Did you know that public schools are required by the government to provide all services that children with various needs require to have equitable educational access? This includes services like ESL, classes for the intellectually gifted, a variety of special education classes, hearing and vision specialists, and speech, physical and occupational therapy, to name a few. One of my previous schools even purchased expensive cochlear implant hearing aids for all of its hearing-impaired students with district money. Do you think private schools offer all of these services? You would be very hard-pressed to find one.

  • Public schools are held to common state and federal standards.

All public schools are held to the same state and federal standards under which they are judged. Teachers are required to be highly qualified and evaluated for effectiveness at regularly-scheduled intervals. Money in the budget has to be accounted for. Curriculum is based on the Common Core standards. Private schools aren’t required to meet any of these standards. (In my nine years in private school, I don’t remember a single instance of a teacher being evaluated by an administrator while I was in class.)

  • Public schools expose children to those who are different.

It is a fact that many private Christian schools in the South opened during the 1960s and 70s as a way for parents to keep their white children separated from the black students in newly-desegregated public schools (see here, and here–the latter article is about my hometown). Most private schools remain overwhelmingly white. For example, there were maybe 5-7 black students in my entire high school of approximately 200.

As the average evangelical church is fairly segregated, your average white Christian child at a private school could conceivably go through his or her life and not interact with a person of color until adulthood. Personally, the first time I can remember talking to a black person was when I switched from private to public school in the 7th grade. What message are we sending to kids when they are constantly surrounded by those who look and act just like them? How do we expect them to feel and to act when they do encounter diversity?

Public school provides middle-class white children with the opportunity to interact and become friends with kids of different races, ethnicities, cultures and socioeconomic classes. This interaction (a) fosters empathy, (b) prepares children for the increasingly diverse United States that we live in, and (c) teaches children that they are not the center of the universe.

  • Public schools have the potential to be the great equalizer.

Theoretically, public schools have the potential to be true meritocracies, where all children enter on a level playing field and have the ability to succeed or fail based on their own merits and hard work. We know in reality that this is rarely the case. Even though no one is paying for an eduction at a public school, middle class parents are still able to provide extra benefits to help their children succeed, such as outside help and support, a knowledge of how the system works, etc. But the dream is there. Done right, public schools have the potential to be truly equitable in a way that private schools can never be.

 

So what is the point of this post? What’s a concerned parent to do? I’m not saying that public schools are the right choice for everyone in every setting. If I lived somewhere with a very low-quality school system Jonathan and I would perhaps choose private, too.

This is my point: Truly weigh all of your school options before automatically selecting a private school for your child. Make sure the private school really is a better choice, and has the services and options that the public schools do. Do your research. If your child won’t experience racial diversity at school, intentionally include it in your lives in other ways. Consider the fact that if more middle-class parents chose public schools, the school system would likely be better for everyone. Most importantly, don’t assume public schools are bad just because they contain a lot of black and brown children.

Why I Would Rather Be 28 than 18

Jonathan and I will have been together for 10 years this November. 10 years! That is over a third of my life. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I have changed over the last 10 years, and I think I’ve changed quite a bit, in mainly good ways. Holly Love at 28 is a different person than Holly Gushee was at 18.

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Check out these babies! I was 19 here, but close enough.

People talk a lot about “the best years of your life,” as in, “enjoy college, those are the best years of your life.” I find statements like this problematic. If certain years really are the best of your life, what about the rest of your life? Is it just all downhill from there?

I like to take a different approach. Common sense says to me that there are good and not-so-good parts of each different life stage, and that we should appreciate the best parts of the stage that we are in. And I’ve realized the best parts of my current stage are pretty awesome. Adulting has some good things about it, amirite? Here’s what I’m enjoying about being an “older” young adult:

  1. I’m not afraid to ask for what I need.

If I want something–at home, at work, etc.–I’ve learned that it’s okay to say so. It’s fine to say at work that I have too much going on and that I can’t take on another project. It’s fine to tell Jonathan that for my mental and physical health I want to make going to yoga a priority, and that we should be able to spare the money for me to do it. If I need something, I’ve learned to verbalize it and to advocate for it. It sounds so simple, but this isn’t something that I did much as a “younger” young adult, and this is something I’ve also noticed in the younger people that I work with. It’s so much more effective to directly say what you need than to hint around it, keep it to yourself and then get upset when you don’t get it.

2. I appreciate my body more for what it can do than for how it looks.

Having a child has fundamentally changed the way I feel about my body, for the better. Carrying, giving birth to and nurturing Jonah with my own body has helped me appreciate my body for the amazing things that it can do, and has helped me to cut myself a little slack for my body’s imperfections. Case in point: I am currently trying to lose about 8-10 pounds. Four years ago, I would have been pretty obsessed about this and upset that I was having a hard time fitting into my size 4 jeans. Now, it’s something that I’m working on, but it’s nowhere near my main concern.

3. I know the true value of money and material blessings.

Nothing will teach you the true value of money than going through a time in your life where you don’t have much of it. I had a very blessed childhood and young adulthood. This past year money was kind of tight for Jonathan and me, and it’s increased my feelings of thankfulness for what we have.

4. Some of my ideals have died. 

I planned to be a teacher forever. I wanted to change the world. But I’ve learned that my family and my mental health are more important. I don’t have to be involved in direct service to make a difference in the world.

5. I’ve learned that not everyone is just like me.

This is a big one. The first step to empathy is realizing that many, many people have a difference experience of life than you do. Since being out in the world, I have been exposed to many different kinds of people, and I’ve realized 1) my privilege and 2) that not everyone experiences life in exactly the same way as an upper middle-class Southern Christian white girl. Once you really get a glimpse of what life is like for others, it is much easier to love, and much harder to judge. (Many politicians need to learn this! *cough* *Donald Trump* *cough*)

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Present-day Holly, Jonathan and Jonah

What have you learned as you have gotten older? How has growing older changed you for the better?

7 reasons 2016 will be better than 2015

Thank the Lord 2015 is over. For realz, I have never been so happy to see New Year’s Eve. 2015 was very, very tough for Jonathan and me. A new baby and unemployment simultaneously will do that to you.

BUT! 2015 is over! Hooray! Here are 7 reasons I have decided that 2016, and since it’s about to be my birthday, my 28th year, will be better, in the arenas of marriage, work, family and my personal life.

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  1. I will do my part to argue productively. 

Hubs and I got into some bad patterns this past year that we’re working hard to break. We fought more than ever before, and not usually productively. We pushed and pulled and raged and drove each other crazy. But we got through it and now I think we’re on the other side.

2.  I will choose joy.

Joy is my word of the year. In 2016 I’ll do my best to look for the good in all situations, and respond from a place of joy rather than worry, anger or bitterness.

    3.   I will advocate for myself and my ideas.

One thing I love about my new job is that I’m getting the opportunity to lead for the first time. When I was teaching I always felt that I knew less and was less experienced than everyone around me, so I stayed pretty quiet and didn’t speak out much. I was a leader in my classroom but not with other adults. In my new position, I get to be the expert, and I’ve gained a lot of confidence. In 2016 I will continue to believe in my own ideas.

Along the lines of advocating for myself, I also need to make more money in 2016. Money isn’t everything, but it is something.

   4.  When I am with Jonah, I will be 100% present.

I will be the master of my phone rather than the other way around.

   5.  My family will be in church every Sunday and community group most weeks.

When things get difficult, church activities can be one of the first things to go. Barring sickness or being out of town, we’ll be there every week.

   6.  I will make/keep my home a beautiful, functional, restful place.

I’ve realized that I feel amazingly better when I can come home and like what I see around me.

 7.  I will read more. I will write more.

The Grapes of Wrath, among other books. I’m on a Steinbeck kick!

I’m really looking forward to this year. What are your goals/resolutions for 2016?

Life essentials and self-care

I’ve had a wonderful couple of weeks. I’ve just been really happy recently, after not being so happy for a while. Nothing special has happened, so it’s taken me a little while to figure out why this is.

I’ve realized that I’m happy because I have been reading and writing every day. Jonathan and I have been doing better about maintaining a clean house. We’ve been cooking regularly instead of eating fast food and take-out. I’m spending time outside. I’m getting enough sleep.

These are the essentials of my happy life. I feel content because I am reading great literature, writing and creating on a regular basis. A lot of these things boil down to picking what is right for me versus what is easy. It’s easier to binge-watch tv at night after Jonah is in bed rather than make time to write. It’s easier to get Chick-Fil-A for dinner every night instead of cook. These things may be easy, but they don’t make me happy. Instead, I’ve been trying to simplify my life and focus on the things that I know are good for me.

Kristen Howerton at Rage Against the Minivan wrote recently about the challenge of self-care for busy people, particularly busy moms, and that really resonated with me. I realize that self-care is what this is all about. For women especially, it can be so easy to push ourselves and our own emotional needs to the side in trying to fit it all in and take care of everyone else. But I’ve learned that choosing the easy option is not what is best for me or for the people who depend on me. My goal is to choose a life that is simple, that prioritizes physical and emotional health, and that involves time for myself and the things that wake me up inside.

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What are your life essentials? Do you feel that self-care is a challenge to fit into your life?

It Works and Me

About a year ago I started seeing posts on my Facebook news feed having to do with this:

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All of a sudden, It Works was everywhere. I saw multiple posts per day about various products and reasons to use them, as well as posts about reasons to become a distributor. I used to joke with Jonathan about those crazy wrap girls blowing up my Facebook wall. But then…I saw before and after pictures. “Hmm,” I thought, “Those look impressive. Maybe I’ll need to try something sometime and see if it really does work.” Then I found out that the products were all natural. “Yep, I’ll try something one of these days,” I thought. Then I saw people posting about how their commissions from selling It Works replaced the income from their regular job. “I don’t believe that, ” I said. “That just seems incredible.”

Things continued along in this state for a while, with It Works hovering on the edge of my subconscious. Then Jonathan lost his job–a week after we bought a new house. Want to know what sucks? That does. Our options were either for him to take the first job he could get, regardless of it was a good fit for him and fit his long-term goals, or to try to wait and hold out for something better. We decided that it would be better for him to wait, and that we would make ends meet in the meantime.

Enter It Works. “Jonathan,” I said, “You should think about selling It Works! The products are all-natural. I’ve seen the pictures…they really do work! You’re great at convincing people to try things. You would be awesome at this!” Not believing what I was doing, I messaged one of the “wrap girls” and told her that we were interested in becoming distributors. After talking to her, we decided that it would be better if I became the distributor for our family, at least at first. So I did.

That was 12 days ago. Other than the fact that I’m actually doing this at all, the biggest surprise to me about this whole thing is how much I’m enjoying it. I can chalk that up to three reasons:

  1. I have always been one for personal goals and projects. I am pretty self-directed.
  2. I have worked for someone else since I was 15 years old. It’s an amazing change to work, more or less, for myself.
  3. Being a distributor has already been a growing experience for me. I’ve talked to people that I wouldn’t otherwise have talked to, I’ve taken risks, and I’ve put myself out there in ways that are unusual for me.

So believe it or not, I’m having a lot of fun. Though it’s not much, I’m proud of myself for what I have accomplished so far. As mama to a little boy, I want my son to grow up believing in the power of women to accomplish great things, and having my own business is an example of that for him.

So talk to me about trying some products! Or don’t. Become a distributor and join my team! Or don’t. I’m having fun either way.

What we are used to is what we are okay with: some thoughts on privilege

The house next door to ours is currently in the process of being flipped. This means that at any given time, there are roughly 4-6 trucks/vans/tractor trailers in next door’s driveway and in our cul-de-sac. The various workmen are there really long hours, usually from about 7 in the morning to 8 or so at night.

There is one man that I’ve noticed being there more than the others. His white work van says that he does tile and other kinds of flooring. The reason I have noticed this man is because he often has what I assume is his son with him. This boy is probably about 9 or 10 years old. Where in the past I have noticed this particular boy and his dad come and go several times throughout the day, the day before yesterday they were there all day long…probably a straight 12 hours. I saw the boy do various things during the day: sit in his dad’s van, play with rocks in the backyard of the house his dad was working on, walk around our cul-de-sac, and shoot baskets in the nearby basketball goal using the only ball he had, which was a soccer ball.

From what I could tell, this boy wasn’t mad at having to entertain himself all day in a strange place, wasn’t grumpy because he was hot, and wasn’t bored. I thought about students of mine who have talked to me about going to work with their parents when school is out. I also couldn’t help but think about myself at the same age, and about how I would have reacted if my parents had told me I had to go with them to work (outside) all day long in the summer. I know that I would have whined, complained, and generally raised hell about this plan. As if I needed another reminder, this shows me yet again just how privileged I was, and am. This also says something about the state of child care in this country, and that it is only the affluent who can afford to pay someone else to watch their child(ren) when school is not in session.

The boy and his dad aren’t here today. I hope they’re both getting to relax.

A Beginning

A few months ago, I wrote over at great books and where to find them about how I needed something for myself, something that belonew-beginning-16510-1920x1200nged to only me. Since my husband and I had our son in December, I spent a lot of this spring feeling like who I am as a person was to some extent disappearing, being subsumed by who other people needed me to be: wife, mom, teacher, etc. I wasn’t sure what exactly to do about this, but the idea was germinating in my mind that I needed to be better about carving out time for myself to pursue my personal interests, and just to be me. I think a lot of moms (particularly new moms) probably feel this way. I think some of that was just new mother blahs, and I am happy to report that for the most part I’m feeling better now. But the feeling like I needed a new hobby or personal interest to pursue has remained, and this blog is somewhat a result of this feeling. Writing has always been an outlet for me, but I haven’t been intentional about setting aside time to do it. I would only write when I felt inspired, rather than setting aside the time and writing whether inspiration was there or not. It is my goal this year to write regularly. Since I am about to start a new, less time-consuming job (yay! more on this later), I will try not to let busyness be an excuse to not write.

I’m so excited for what the future holds, and I can’t wait to use lovelyintrospection to document it.