Tag Archives: Lisa Belkin

Wives Who Refuse to Work: Strikes Chord

holding finger

This morning I woke up to read a post by the always insightful Lisa Belkin, whom I’ve been following for at least 15 years. Today she asked her followers on social media for thoughts about this Letter published in The Guardian newspaper entitled: A Letter to My Wife, Who Won’t Get a Job, While I Work Myself To Death.


As I read the letter, and the many comments and harsh judgements in response, I started wondering what else was going on in this couple’s relationship. There is undoubtedly more to the story than meets the eye.And isn’t that always the case when only one side is presented? Didn’t he mention that she did work part-time at one point but it didn’t pay well? But for arguments sake, lets just imagine that this man’s letter is truthful and reveals the whole story.


Wow, as a former parenting & pregnancy editor, and a careers writer for years—and a single mom, this letter struck a chord. And, apparently, it did with many other women as well. Remember all the trends in parenting over the past decade? There’s been the Lean In argument verses the Opt Out one. Lisa Belkin actually coined the Opt Out term, referring to educated women who stop working. Here’s a Pew Research Study that confirms 10 % of all educated women in America permanently opt out of the workforce.

Women are their worst enemies it seems. We can publicly shame others and find fault in just about anything a mom does or doesn’t do. Opt out and homeschool? You are ignorant, fearful and financially irresponsible. Work long hours as a partner in a law firm? You must be selfish, materialistic and risking your kids’ health and well-being. Remember the backlash on Tiger Parenting? (Time Magazine wrote a piece about the real effects of Tiger Moms on their children. Go Here to read it.)

Women criticize each other on just about everything—where as men seem to shrug things off more with a Live and Let Live attitude. Maybe a man disapproves of another man’s choice to stay home with his kids for a few years while his wife works, but rarely does that man get angry and write a scathing letter or op-ed to The Wall Street Journal or New York Times bludgeoning that man’s choice. Women, however, are different. We seem to want to make others’ choices wrong so we can feel better about our own—a sign that we are too caught up in worrying about what others think? At least, that’s how it seems to me. Or, we want to justify what we choose, like Opting Out of the workforce for a few years, so that others can see our point of view and still approve of us. But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is what you and your partner feel good about. If a person decides to spend more time with his/her kiddos, that’s his/her choice. And if a woman opts out, the husband had to have been on board with it at some point.

So when does that point end? My question for the author of that letter is at what point did your wife ‘not working’ become a massive bourdon filling you with anger, resentment and seething indignation? And did you relay this information to her clearly and honestly? This letter feels like a justification for leaving her.

I strongly feel that couples often don’t communicate strongly enough and clearly enough about their agreements. If they did, they could each adjust and change and move forward. But sometimes, they don’t want to adjust, change and move forward. They want an exit strategy. I would guess that even if this woman got a job tomorrow, her husband’s resentment wouldn’t vanish and they may split anyway. There are other matters at work if the two couldn’t talk about this issue before and start working toward a solution.

I can relate to what this husband is relaying, however, because I slightly lived through it. I never opted out entirely from the workforce, but I didn’t live up to my husband’s changing standards. I’ll explain. After our baby was born, my husband and I decided that I’d stay a freelancer, rather than enter the full-time workforce, until our child entered kindergarten. My husband was on board with this agreement, until he wasn’t. And that was discovered via stressed out comments and me over-hearing what he said to male friends whose wives worked full-time. It was a harsh wake up call to me that our agreement didn’t matter and somehow I was the last to know.

Here’s how our agreement (to let me freelance verses full-time work) began. I was offered a full-time journalism teaching position at Loyola Marymount University when my oldest was 9 months old. I panicked. Yes, it was a cool gig and I’d edit the student newspaper and all other publications while teaching students and mentoring the student writers at the paper. And then suddenly it seemed like an awful lot of work for very little pay. Day care cost more than what I’d earn. So, we decided as a couple, that I’d turn the position down and just continue to freelance as an editor and writer until our baby was in kindergarten. It would also allow us to be mobile—a good thing since we moved to Atlanta and to London within a two year time frame and my clients went with me.

I thought, as a wife who continued to freelance and keep her career track stable, while also doing the lion share of parenting, allowing my hubs to work long hours and move up in his field, that I was a very good egg. But clearly I wasn’t in his eyes, even though he rarely told me. Again, I overheard things or would get snide comments.

Thank God kindergarten started one year earlier in England than in the US, as my husband was clearly “over” our agreement and on a campaign to change me. I’m such a smart person, shouldn’t I be doing something other than writing so I can actually earn more money? He was over my profession in general. I was editing books on contract and writing for magazines that didn’t pay terribly well, but was also able to spend more time with our three-year-old, allowing my husband to travel, work long hours and rise within his company and attract eyes of recruiters. I thought I was pitching in. But he was stressed out. Yes we moved for his job. Yes, he wanted to live in London. Yes, I was the only expatriate wife that I knew in our circle of friends who was able to work part-time. Still, London is one of the most expensive cities in the world.

Once I took a full-time editor job, it was like a huge audible sigh was released within our marriage. The pressure was off of him completely. The job paid well and I could work from home, so I oversaw the part-time nanny, was still able to go to parent-teacher conferences or school plays and could still manage our household—allowing husband to continue work travel and his long hours. We could save more, vacation more and just breathe.

Why am I sharing this personal tidbit? Because I think couples often get stuck in a rut of holding tightly to past agreements. I wanted to sternly hold on to the understanding that I’d go back to full time work once my son was in kindergarten. It was rational. It made sense. But living in London and all it’s massive expense, was triggering fear in my husband. The agreement needed to be re-thought out. And it was. But there was another side to this story too. I WAS working and doing most of the parenting, allowing the husband to be able to do whatever it took to rise in his field. I wonder what the real story is in this letter? Did this woman work part-time but didn’t want to be a partner because of the hours and because her husband wasn’t around? Perhaps he needed to work extremely long hours to make partner and she wanted that for him? And besides, when kids were small,  she’d still have to do the majority of the parenting, cooking, help with homework, carpooling, etc.? Maybe now she is planning on working now that the kiddos are off to college?

This couple has let so many years go by that likely the husband has bottled up his anger and it’s now overflowing. She likely may feel entitled and mis-understood and not appreciated. Raising kids isn’t easy work. Maybe she manages all their finances and cooks, cleans and manages all the family vacations and family communications. (Why is it that women tend to send out all the holiday cards, plan all the birthday parties, for instance? Is it demanded within our XX chromosome? I hate that.)

What are your thoughts? Some followers of Lisa Belkin wrote in scathingly to the wife of this letter—even calling her stupid. In their eyes, she was stupid for putting her marriage at risk, for not being a good role model for her children, for not contributing financially, and more importantly, for not keeping her career on track in case her husband died or left her “for a younger model.”

Ouch. How much fear is in all of those statements??


I instinctively feel that it’s always important for a woman to work, even if just part-time or freelance in order to stay in the game. It’s good for the pocketbook, it’s good for the self esteem and it provides intellectual stimulation away from the family dynamic. But, my view, by no means, is a harsh judgement against my fellow stay-at-home moms. Some women feel that their husbands would have NO way to move up in their fields if their wives didn’t do all the childrearing.  We live in a country that allows freedom of choice and we are all on own journey of self discovery. She was married to an attorney. Maybe his hours were brutal? Maybe she thought it was the best for their family and he agreed and couldn’t bring himself to say differently until he was DONE. Maybe he has his eye on a young female attorney and just wants an exit clause? Who knows.

Thoughts? Is it okay in this day and age for a well-educated woman to stay home until her kids enter college? Does a husband need his wife to earn money in order to “feel loved?” And, if so, to flip that coin, a wife must need a partner to help with raising the kids and household tasks to “feel loved.” Hmmm….I’m suddenly feeling better about not being married anymore. Sigh. Doing all the work without expectations of help, or without resentment or feelings of unworthiness due to this drama, is actually a relief.

Feel the same? Feel different?

Chime in!

Always grateful to those of you who read my musings!


When Your Kid is Sick on Your Big Interview Day

So, I’m venturing back out there and have a big interview today for a job I’d love to land. Problem is, my 4-year-old started throwing up at 1 a.m. and hasn’t stopped! The interview is via skype, but even if I put on a movie, there’s a huge chance that my child will throw up again while I’m having the interview.

So, do I tell my potential boss, the CEO of a company that would be taking a big chance on hiring me, that I can’t have the interview: highlighting the fact that I’m a single mom and when my child becomes ill suddenly, I’m typically out of commission? Or, do I just wing it and hope that my mushy, sleep-deprived brain will kick in and I’ll actually be able to hold a compelling and intellectual conversation and that my child won’t puke in the background?

It’s a hard one. What we tell our boss or our future boss about our children is still a gray area. I recall a friend not telling her future employer that she was a few months pregnant during an interview, for fear that she wouldn’t get the job. This situation, however, shouldn’t be one that I could be penalized for—but you never know. I reached out to two women in my network who are moms and work-a-holics who deal with corporate CEOs quite a bit. They both said that I could not cancel the interview because my son is sick. I had to go through with it to not give a bad impression or the wrong message. I did a cursory search online for more advice and I ran across Lisa Belkin’s column: When Your Child Is Sick, What Do You Tell Your Boss?

In the column she points out comments from other female journalists who say that our workplace is changing and that we should be upfront about seeking balance. I think that’s true, but until you can navigate your workplace, and it’s culture, you have to get the job, right?

I’m going to opt to take the interview and also reveal that my son is sick and I may have to go should he start to vomit. That it’s a sudden illness that started in the night, but that I’m so excited about the interview, I didn’t want to cancel. My suggestion will be to have another but follow-up interview on Monday should we be interrupted.

And, just in case anyone is worried that I’m neglecting my little guy, I’ve already called the emergency 24 hour nurse, and made an appointment to take him the Dr. later today.

Somethings will always be more important to me. Hopefully, that will make me a better employee or manager—knowing when family comes first.

Can I Be a Good Mom AND Follow My Dreams?

“Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna’ be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.”― Betty White

Don’t you just love that quote?! I laughed out loud when reading that from fellow blogger trjensen.

Perhaps there is some truth to it—well, obviously! But there’s also truth beyond the physicality of our genitalia. Women are strong inside out. Oftentimes, we, by nature, put everyone else’s needs first and we forget our own strength. I know that I’ve been guilty of that for years. And in the process of putting everyone else’s needs first, I get drained and depleted: physically, emotionally, and spiritually. In that state of exhaustion, it’s easy to snap at the kids or get distracted. It’s also easy to get depressed, or let negative thoughts pervade my mind.

I’ve made a conscious effort, over the past two years, to start putting me on my To Do list. Years before, when I was married, I would feel too guilty all the time for doing anything for me. Isn’t that nuts? Perhaps I bought—hook, line and sinker— the cultural pressure for female perfection. I seriously thought that if I wasn’t focussed 100% of the time on my kids and my family, than I was being selfish. Intellectually, I knew that was nuts. But even when working full-time in a demanding editing job, I’d still put most of the pressure of parenting and house-duties on myself. When I only had one child, this was sort of manageable. We women are major jugglers, aren’t we?

Now that I’m a single mom with two boys—I have to handle it all, and at the same time, I know I can’t handle it all. It’s kind of funny, but that knowledge is actually liberating. It’s given me the ability to actually say no to some demands and requests. It’s also helping to crystalize how I want to spend my time. Creating more quality time with the kids—rather then just shuttling them around like a taxi driver—is high on my priority list. But also, I see clearly now how critical it is for me to carve out time for my health—and to set up time, even if only a few hours a week, for my personal writing. This week, however, wasn’t one of my best weeks. I had so much going on with the kiddos from a school outing I had to attend, to school parties, a school parade, a HUGE project and presentation that demanded many shopping trips and much assistance—to the regular athletic activities and dinners and then of course, Halloween. I seriously think I’m about to drop.

But I’m not sure that life would be that much different if I was still married. Even though we have come so far since my parent’s generation, it seems that more parenting duties are still stacked upon the mom. I’ve noticed that in so many families, not just mine.

Why is that? I don’t think women and men are THAT different. We all want the best for our kids. So why, then, is it socially acceptable for so many moms to carry the lion share of parenting? I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s partly due to American culture that eventually pushes us moms to try to tackle it all. But at what expense? Our health? Our sanity? Our dreams?

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the actual difference between the sexes— verses our own stereotypes and cultural pressure—that drastically affects the differing roles in parenting.

And ANY mom out there knows what I mean.

To make this a bit more clear:

Why, for instance, is it only a bad reflection upon the mother if a child doesn’t have gift bags at parties, or the exact number of Halloween cards or Valentine’s Day cards for every student at school? Think about it.

Why is it a poor reflection upon the mother if the house is a wreck?

Why do teachers regularly reach out to the mom about a kid’s major project, asking her to assist the child in getting it ready?

And when a child’s school project is not completed or done poorly—why is this a bad reflection upon the mom? Doesn’t Dad deserve a bit of the blame too?

Just how much work is mom required to do verses dad when it comes to homework and studying, child care and house work? I know I’m not the only writer to ask these questions. In this New York Times article, How Do Male and Female Roles Differ In Your Family?, I learned that the US Census Bureau counts Fathertime as “child care”. For 2005, fathers (in intact families) reported that they cared for their children 26 % of the time while the moms were working or in school. That time was reported as child care—basically calling dads babysitters. The rest of the 74% of child care time, when children were with their mothers, was reported as parenting. (I’m sure this chaffs some dads out there too, right?)

I also find it infuriating that many elementary schools request (or practically require) parent volunteers on a daily basis in the classroom. So why, then, do other moms tisk, tisk when another mother works and can’t volunteer every day or every week? Isn’t it just as much a responsibility for the dads to carve out an hour to volunteer, too?

Aren’t many of the stereotypes out there reinforced by moms who feel that others who work aren’t doing their fair share? Seriously, think about it.

Aren’t so many of us just trying to keep our careers, dreams AND our families together? And, isn’t that ok?

So to be a “good mom” in America, does that require that our dreams and careers must suffer, too?

Here are two statements said to me recently:

  1. “I put my children first, which is why I don’t work.”
  2. “No one can be successful at writing, or actually write a book, and raise young children.”

I am blocking both comments out of my mind completely. Instead, I’m embracing my inner strength, (or my inner vagina) which really means, I’m embracing audacious hope. There just HAS to be a way to be a good mom, be present for my kids, and also say no to some of the demands made of me. There has to be a way that I can put ME on my To Do list.

What do you think? Are you struggling with this too?

Mom in the Picture

My sister Sarah and her son Elijah

I took a hard week off to visit my family in North Carolina. My mother, who is most likely in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, probably didn’t even know who I was. But, it felt important to see her, to hold her hand, to smile at her. Plus, I was able to visit my sisters and brother and their children who I haven’t seen in over a year. While I was gone, I read Lisa Belkin’s HuffPost column: Moms Explain Why They’re Getting Back In the Picture.  Take a moment to read this column. I was touched by it. The column inspires moms to get back in the picture with their families and children. I know that my own mom never liked to “be in the picture” and my two sisters, who are wonderful moms, also shy from the camera.

It’s clear that their sons adore them and could care less if stress and health issues have added pounds or grey hair. Our children adore us just the way we are. Single moms out there—I know so many of you can relate to this. Perhaps the financial stress, emotional stress and the exhaustion of working long hours makes you feel less attractive than you’d like. But your children love you and want photos with you in the picture to remember wonderful moments. If they love you unconditionally—it’s time to start loving yourself the same way.

With that in mind, I’m posting two pictures in this post. The first is of my sister Sarah and her 6-year-old son Elijah. Sarah is a wonderful mother who struggles with auto-immune disorders and migraines, while working full-time as a social worker. She has fought hard to find the right therapies and programs for her son who is thriving, although living with Autism. This past weekend, I loved watching Elijah build ingenious towers and rockets with angry bird dolls peaking out of windows. Both his creativity and love seem boundless—and much of that is because of her dedication.

The second picture is of my other big sister Elizabeth and her son CJ.

Elizabeth has always shied away from the camera since I’ve known her—but especially during the past 18 years that she’s been fighting Lupus and arthritis. An amazingly giving teacher who focusses 100% of her energy on her family—I know her son CJ could care less that steroids and painful, aching hips (which she’s having replaced soon) make her feel tired and less attractive. Yet she still works every day at her school and takes most of the family pictures. There aren’t two less beautiful mothers, than my two sisters. (So, if you two get mad at me after this post…bear with me!) After spending four days visiting my sweet mother whose mind is ravaged by Alzheimer’s, I wish I had more pictures of she and I together, but it’s too late.

I strongly urge you to read Lisa Belkin’s column—one of my favorite parenting bloggers and columnists—as you’ll be surrounded by voices of other mothers who are bravely stepping in front of the camera for their children and families. It’s such a wonderful idea and a step in the right direction of easing up on ourselves and our frailties.

Why The Youngest Grows Up Too Fast

(And Why There’s Really Not Much You Can Do About It)

I have spent days writing and re-writing this post. I know I shouldn’t admit that as inevitably there will be a professional writer among my readers who will still be able to point to indelible flaws in its structure or word choice. Oh well. My hesitancy isn’t from a fear of perfection. It actually has been one that surprised me as I began writing on this topic and discovered how very personal it is. My dear friend pointed out to me last night that if it’s too hard to be honest, I either leave my own family and past out of my writing, or stop blogging altogether. I think he’s right on so many levels. The topic of how the youngest grows up too fast is one that hits very close to home. There is just no way I can write about it without my own filter—without touching on my own unique childhood. I am the youngest of four from parents very distracted by their important careers and failing marriage. Because of that, I raised myself to a large degree. I am a product of those times and I grew up very quickly. Instead of rebelling with my independence and lack of attention, as others may have done, I became a little adult.  I had watched my older siblings and some of their friends struggle and I became a very serious child. By 17, I had managed college entrance exams and visited colleges solo and even drove myself three states away on the first day of college. A few weeks into college, I had a job at an NPR radio station with a spot after “All Things Considered,”  interviewing visiting judges and attorneys and had a legal beat at the newspaper by end of that year. That winter, I landed an internship at a TV station. Sophmore year I left for a summer study-abroad in London with British media. Senior year, I had a writing internship in Maine. As you can see, I was working professionally before my junior year and could barely focus on studies from all my “work” demands. It’s just the way things were for me as I had little understanding of how to relax, let alone party, like most co-eds—as I had to take care of business. My childhood shaped who I am today and why, surprising to some, after working so hard, I was able to throw my career into first gear, freelance, and focus on my children. It was a knee-jerk reaction. It had deep-seated psychological roots stemming from a lonely childhood. And it is why I may sometimes get labeled as a ‘too involved’ mom. I had a strong desire to always be near my children. To always be there for them. To not let them grow up on their own. A fabulous career with a national magazine could wait if that required latchkey kids at home. Sadly, that’s the gut fear raised out of my past. And I wrestle, even today, with my strong belief that all women should follow their dreams and their careers. It’s a conundrum that I own up to. (Trust me, critics.) So, with all of that out of the way, here is my original essay:

As the youngest of four, I remember sitting in my big brother’s room, looking at his rock posters of The Rolling Stones and Jimmy Hendrix, and covering my ears as Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” blasted at full volume. “We DON’T Need No Ed-U-CA-tion!” … “We Don’t Need No Thought Control!”

The bass reverberated from the L-shaped walls of my big brother’s room. My hip, big brother would smile a sheepish smile at me. I was maybe nine or 10 years old. My brother, who is six years older than me, was always playing music. I thought he was incredibly cool. He could do anything with a camera too (before Photoshop and digital cameras, mind you.). He’d go into dark rooms and super-impose a picture of himself dressed in character, between Mick Jagger and the rest of The Stones, or walking across Abbey Lane with The Beatles. He introduced me to Led Zepplin, Santana, Ozzie Osborne, and a whole host of bands—not that he always wanted to. Like the time I listened to “The Wall” at full-tilt. I recall that I couldn’t open his door to leave, so I was forced to “listen” at such excruciatingly high volume that even my screams couldn’t be heard. But I’m sure this was probably done after I had begged repeatedly to be included when all the big kids from the neighborhood would go into his cool room and leave me alone in the den with my art and books.

After school hours are always tricky for younger siblings of parents who work. There’s a lot to do between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. each day. And life for the youngest in a household involves politics and daily maneuvering. Big brothers and big sisters ignore, pick on, and then periodically threaten or bribe their youngest sibling on a weekly basis. (The threatening and bribing are the big guns that only come out when the little one knows too much about rules being broken or any mischief your parents “can’t know” about.) You get the idea.

I usually hated knowing about boyfriends or friends coming over or parties when the parents were away—as I would be wrought with guilt and fear: guilt for lying to my parents, and fear from what my older siblings might do if I told. Again, that’s just life as a much younger sibling. And when the age gap is very big, the youngest grows up much faster and is then left alone. By the time I entered high school, I was an only child as my two sisters and brother (who are all one year apart from each other in age) were in college.

So, I’m looking back at those times and thinking about the future for my two sons. My oldest is 10 years and my youngest is three. It’s a big age gap. And for the past year, my youngest has been exposed to video games, movies and music I’d rather he wasn’t. It’s excruciatingly hard to monitor. On occasion, a new babysitter will let the older one pick out a movie to watch that I don’t want the younger one to see. Or, my oldest plays LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” on his ipad and suddenly, the three-year-old is running around the house singing it. Or, the older one will start playing a video game in front of the baby when I’m in the shower, etc. etc. For two years I’ve been lecturing my oldest tonotwatch certain movies and TV shows, or play certain games, or say certain words around his little brother. I lecture him and remind him that there were no big brothers forcing him to watch inappropriate things when he was little. I even dock TV time, or take away games when he disobeys. I think I’m getting a handle on those type of things.

But this Spring Break, my oldest son’s best friend from London visited and I watched little Jamesy stare up at them both with awe. He trailed them wherever they went. He idolizes his big brother and all of his friends. He wants to be bigger. He wants to do whatever they do. As the youngest, I completely understand. Before you know it, my oldest will be in high school and my youngest will be in elementary school, listening to rock, watching inappropriate YouTube videos, and possibly keeping secrets about his big brother’s friends who are all hanging out at some point after school while I’m at work.

I’ve read some expert commentary and articles about how to help kids from growing up too fast. Almost all of them focus on the youngest ages and on whether we push children to learn too much, too quickly, in kindergarten. Some, like Lisa Belkin, wonder how some parents also manage to simultaneously “helicopter parent” by hovering too closely. That may all be true in today’s society. I’m also sure that I had far too much independence as a child and a teenager. But even today, with our “helicopter” and “tiger mom”  parenting styles, aren’t they usually on a timer? Or are these styles relegated to non-working parents only? How many parents still hover over multiple children during high school years, for instance? How many working parents—or single working parents—can afford to do so? I mean, who wants to pay for a part-time nanny for a teenager and an elementary-aged child? At a certain point, the high school kid is usually allowed to be home alone after school and expected to “babysit” the youngest.

I think it’s absolutely okay. This article is in no way an endorsement for all women to stay home, by the way. (And why is it that in 2012, almost everyone still expects the mom, not the dad, to stay home?) I’m very intrigued by The Conflict by Elizabeth Badinter, to be released soon in the U.S. The New York Time’s Motherlode post equating modern day motherhood to today’s version of sexism, is quite compelling. Perhaps the pressure to be the perfect parent isolates and represses women? Perhaps that pressure also leads to more divorce or more mid-life crisis down the road? It’s hard to leave careers and focus solely on the kids to the exclusion of one’s ambitions, one’s passions, one’s interests and sometimes one’s own health. It’s also hard not to leave careers and stay home with the kiddos in today’s world that seems to scream that staying home is necessary (at least in elementary years) for your children’s proper development.

I know I’ll have to go back to work full-time fairly soon. My divorce settlement, and California law, means that I’ll have much less to live on by the time my three-year-old is six. (California law says spousal support is only mandatory for half the number of years you were actually married, and begins the day of your legal separation. Part-time work won’t be enough, I’m afraid, to make ends meet.) I’m actually not frightened by all of this. I’ve worked full-time before and will work full-time again. Being a single mom with no family nearby and an Ex in Europe, means my little guys may find themselves home alone after school in the very near future.

I expect that many of you face this scenario already. And while you may desperately want to shield your youngest from growing up too quickly, there is really little you can do. I’ve decided that the best course of action is to decide right here and now not to ‘check out.’  Just because I may not be able to be with my boys each day after school—does not mean that my only option is to just hope it all goes well. I hope to enroll them in sports and after-school programs. I will try to find them male mentors. Because without all that, they’ll be left to their own devices, a lot, in L.A.—and there’s plenty of temptation here. To a certain extent, kids have to have enough room to find their own way in this world. But I know from experience that it’s critical not to turn a blind eye as a parent during the teen years. I am so thankful that I’ve put my divorce—and the madness that occurs when one parent is desperately trying to keep a marriage together—behind me. That chapter is closed. As someone who is now in her 40s, I see couples all around me who are beginning the middle-age malaise. You know what I mean. It’s that time in life when people start thinking critically about their choices, their life, their disappointments, their relationships, their dreams. It’s a time when many couples fall apart. It’s a time when many parents “check out” and focus on their own needs.

I lived through that. As I mentioned, my parents literally checked out as they focused on work and saving their marriage. I was completely on my own after school and had no curfews and no over-sight. Luckily, instead of rebelling in high school, I grew up. Little girls sometimes do that. I took on responsibility. I didn’t screw up or skip school or do drugs. I rose to the occasion by becoming a little adult. I had little fun, as you can see from my work ethic in college, but at least I didn’t do drugs or get pregnant. But I had neighbors, mentors and lovely teachers who helped me. Not all youngest children in my scenario would fare so well. And I imagine boys may be different. Thinking about my little boys in L.A., I wonder how I can help. There isn’t much we can do to slow down how fast our youngest children grow up—but perhaps we can help them make better choices? We can choose to keep lines of communication open. We can choose not to ignore them when we come home from work. We can choose to check in during the day by phone or have neighbors check in. Yes, even single moms who may work long hours away from home can find mentors, coaches, other moms and family to help us stay connected to our kids.

So I fully expect my youngest to idolize his big brother for years to come. My oldest is a sweet and thoughtful boy, but as a teen, he may get hit with teenitisis. Aren’t most teens obsessed with their friends and their own needs? I expect that there will be moments when he is supposed to be babysitting and friends are over. I expect that my Jamesy will experience many of the same things that I did as the smallest with much older kids at home alone. These moments will help shape and define him. There will be many lessons to be learned away from mommy’s eyes, and I have to be ready for that.

Thanks for reading! Phew, this was a long one! Please chime in if you have any advice or similar fears. X

Female Objectification in an Online World

I’ve been a fan of Lisa Belkin’s for a while. The writer of the New York Time‘s blog Motherlode recently reported on the seemingly increasing objectification  and exploitation of women on college campuses across our nation. In her latest Sunday Times blog “Gender Roles On Campus” Belkin points out many instances when college (mainly fraternity) men publicly and aggressively harassed women. Belkin’s first example is an emailed invitation from a Duke University fraternity to hundreds of women on campus asking them to attend their Halloween party dressed in slutty costumes. Some on campus protested, but in the end, many girls attended in nurse good-body attire.  Is this shocking, in and of itself? Not really. I’m more concerned by the example Belkin gave of a University of Southern California frat boy who emailed many men on campus last year recruiting them to target women for sex, rank them within a particular system, and then to remember when hunting these women that they weren’t “really people like us men.” This is not just good ole fun as the Duke University Halloween party invitation seemed to be. This young man has to be deeply troubled and I don’t think he’s the norm on college campuses across the nation.  (At least, I hope not!)

Surprisingly, I tend to agree with many points Amanda Marcotte of Slate wrote in her retort Smart Girls Wear Short Skirts, Too. She argues that women aren’t to blame for this exploitation just because they want to wear sexy clothes and enjoy the attention they receive from men. Her main argument is that women don’t hold it against a man if he is sexy, goes to bars on weekends, dates more than one woman, and also earns As in the classroom. In fact, we applaud it. There’s a double standard there.

I think both Marcotte and Belkin make good points. Yes it seems that female exploitation is wide spread on American campuses and elsewhere (Think Eliot Spitzer and Arnold Schwarzenegger for instance.) While Belkin and some of her readers ask where the parents went wrong, I tend to think that the problem is much larger than that of just parental example, or lack thereof. Yes, if a young man sees his father treat his mother poorly or cheat on her, it will leave indelible scars. (At the same token, the same can be said if the young man’s mother divorces many times or consistently dates many men.) But by and large, I think the biggest influence on this type of male behavior is our media-driven society today and how women utilize social networking to garner attention and tip the scales of gender power. If men do truly rule the college campus and the social agenda—where women wait to be invited or are pursued and then submit—than what better way to get an invitation or to get pursued than by posting promiscuous pictures online? Heck, girls, in junior high school begin utilizing social networking in this way. It may be harmless, as perhaps Marcotte may argue, but I tend to think that it can create a clouded perception in young boys’ minds.

If you have middle or high school age children on Facebook, friend their friends and look at their profiles. You’re likely to see many young ladies posting pictures wearing barely any clothing or appearing in a provocative stance—perhaps even boasting about their latest party. The problem most parents have (and that their children don’t) is that the world can see their children’s pictures and send messages. It isn’t rare for a pretty young girl to receive multiple friend requests from strange men, or for men to ‘befriend’  models or ‘hot girls’ to improve their own profile status. But Facebook allows them to interact—to send notes, pictures and share personal contact information that teenage girls need to be aware of.

Experts such as Pat Allen, PhD, behavioral marriage therapist and best selling author of several books including “Getting to I Do” say men, by nature, are just predators. And social networks expand their territory.  I had the privilege of working with Allen in 2009 and read her books, including her latest: “The Truth About Men Will Set You Free … But First It Will Piss You Off.” What both books point out, is that men instinctually want to hunt and be with many women. Not all men act on their instincts, however. But women need to understand that these instincts are there biologically.  That’s where nature and nurture may come in and instilling ethics and morality in our children can help tip the scales. But some things can not be controlled by good parenting alone. Sexual addiction, for instance, is one of them. And good men can become addicted to cyber sex and the old fashioned kind as well. But objectification of women like the USC frat boy’s claim that women aren’t like men, is quite terrifying.

As the single mom of two young boys, I wonder what I can do. Most parents of young boys don’t want them growing up to be sociopathic predators like that USC frat boy. I don’t know what the answer is, but untethered access to the Internet at an early age can’t help. I’ve explored this issue somewhat in the past when Parenting Editor of DivineCaroline.com. In my articles Internet Safety and The Real Online Threat I interviewed experts who exhorted parents to monitor children’s online lives. The seeds of mysogyny or objectification of women start in middle school. We shouldn’t allow our children to create profiles online before they are 15, they say. Surprisingly many of my nine-year-old’s friends in Los Angeles have Facebook pages. They lied about their ages to create them and their parents don’t follow their activities very much. I know we’re all insanely busy, but parents need to monitor their children’s online world, especially if middle school children are involved, as experts claim they aren’t mature enough to handle the additional pressure and influences. Middle school is tough enough. Sexual images that objectify women abound in the media: whether on television or in magazines. You can’t shield your children from it, obviously. But there’s a different element to those found on the Internet or via social networking—as your children can quickly communicate with others.

I’m not sure where the foundation for frat boy attitudes in this country is rooted, but the online world sure provides a quick and convenient outlet to express it. Sadly, this type of attitude can also be found “offline as well.” I hope that my boys never join in any antics like that at Yale where Belkin reported men paraded through campus last year shouting  “No Means Yes! And Yes Means Anal!”

I pray that nine years from now, when my intelligent, thoughtful and precocious son begins college, our society will have evolved a bit. I know he’ll pursue pretty girls, (as he has already started to do!) but my hope is that his pursuits will always involve respect for the young women involved, regardless of whether a relationship begins. As a single mom, the onus is on me to instill these belief systems and morals. But at the end of the day, our children are their own people and they have to find their own way in this world. And today’s world is one with a million online and media temptations.