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Raising a Man

The Law of Pizzaplicity
Lance Armstrong, you owe me an apology.

I’m trying to raise a man here, and you’re not helping.

Raising a human being is daunting enough, let alone nurturing a compassionate, expressive, confident boy. Now that I have a son and have started to tune in to some of the issues and trends that affect boys today, this task seems even harder.

This past summer, I was watching our female athletes — Missy Franklin, Misty May-Treanor, Kerri Walsh and Gabby Douglas, to name just a few — kick ass in the 2012 Olympics. The program cut to commercial and a Nike ad came on featuring women discussing the obstacles they overcame in order to participate in sports. They spoke of being spit on and beaten up, insulted and dismissed, just because they wanted to play the sport they loved.

The ad and its message moved me to tears. In that moment, I felt thankful to be a woman in this time and in this place, and my heart swelled with feelings of hopefulness and pride.

The ad ended and — in an abrupt departure from the moving commentary on women’s rights — the screen shifted to three doofuses discussing “The Law of Pizzaplicity.” I found myself thinking, And … here’s what our boys have to aspire to.

Thanks to Oprah and Lifetime TV, we’re finally talking about the troubles facing our young women. Everywhere I look, I see strong, inspiring role models for our nation’s girls: Michelle Obama. Malala Yousafzai. Tina Fey. Hilary Clinton. Jodie Foster. Marissa Mayer. Lena Dunham. Betty White.

But what about our boys?

Lucky for us, my son is blessed with a strong male role model at home and in both of his grandfathers. But it scares me when I look at some of the men our society idolizes. Before long, my son will idolize them too.

So many of our boys’ role models showboat on the playing field; they lie, cheat and boast of accomplishments they did not earn. They objectify women and tear down people and ideas that scare them. They put monetary and political success before their families. And, possibly most concerning, they’re portrayed in TV and movies as lazy, helpless idiots while their competent female counterparts shake their heads and smile condescendingly.

Lance Armstrong. Tiger Woods. David Petraeus. Brett Favre. Chris Brown. Roger Clemens. John Edwards. Mel Gibson.

Granted, there are plenty of women out there doing harm, as well: Honey Boo Boo’s mom, those harpies on “Dance Moms,” Ann Coulter, Lindsay Lohan. Even Courtney Cox has let our nation’s girls down now that she’s had more plastic surgery than Chandler Bing’s dad.

The difference is that society has shined its collective light on the plight of our young women, and the increase in awareness seems to be working: According to the Pew Research Center, not only do women greatly outnumber men in college enrollment and completion, but women also have a more positive view of the value of education. This disparity is only projected to increase substantially in future years.

And if we can’t agree there’s reason to worry about our boys in light of the frightening increase in school shootings we’ve seen, I don’t know what it will take. Every single one of these horrific events has been perpetrated by a man. Every. Single. One.

When it comes to our boys, we’re turning a blind eye to some disturbing trends: violent behavior, emotional immaturity, low self-esteem. According to Dr. William Pollack, author of “Real Boys”:

“Many boys today are struggling either silently, with low self-esteem and feelings of loneliness and isolation, or publicly, by acting out feelings of emotional and social disconnection through anger and acts of violence against themselves or their friends and families. While academic performance and self-esteem are low, the rates of suicide and depression are on the rise.”

As a society, we need to stop championing athletes who never grow up, celebrities who debase women or minorities, politicians who lie with no ramifications. We need to agree that a change in how women are portrayed in movies and on TV doesn’t have to come at the expense of men. We need to speak out against a company who rewards an 18-year-old kid for skipping college and entering the NBA draft with an endorsement deal worth over $90 million.

Perhaps, if we start to change what we value, we can stem the tide of male role models falling from grace. Lance Armstrong is not solely to blame. Nor is Tiger Woods or our most recent athlete to publicly embarrass himself, Manti Te’o, whose father recently defended his son’s poor judgment by saying, “He’s not a liar, he’s a kid. He’s a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man.”

Soon enough, my boy — my precious baby boy — will be on his own journey toward “trying to be a man.” I see how closely he watches his dad. I know that, in time, he’ll widen his idolatry to include the athletes and celebrities we hold up as heroes, but who are really just men. By that time, I hope our society will be doing better for him than we are now.

The Best Parenting Advice I’ve Received

Outside Playtime

Enjoying a little time out of the house

I know, I know: talking about the best parenting advice I’ve received is like talking about the best colonoscopy I’ve gotten. Who really likes getting parenting advice? Who is truly helped by the lady in line at the grocery store who helpfully informs you that your child shouldn’t be using a pacifier?

Yet, I’ve been given some parenting advice — some from friends, some from family members and some from perfect strangers — that’s really helped.

Here are some of the gems I’ve collected along the way:

1. Take Care of Yourself First

I know how this sounds, and I know how hard it is to do. When you hear that heart-wrenching cry, you levitate out of your chair like Sigourney Weaver in Ghostbusters and arrive at your baby’s crib with no memory of how you got there.

But it’s not a bad idea to take a moment for yourself before you run to your baby. I didn’t do a good job of taking care of myself when my son was very small. I remember rarely napping during the day and being hungry all the time.

First, I started having dizzy spells, which is scary when you have a baby in your arms most of the time. And then, my milk supply began to drop off rapidly. It scared the crap out of me, and I had an epiphany:

You can’t take care of this baby unless you take care of yourself first.

I started fixing myself a one-handed snack while holding my hungry son so I could feed myself while I was feeding him. I forced myself to nap a little more and drink more water, even if that meant I had to take the time to fill my glass while the baby cried. When you have a baby, taking care of yourself is a selfless — and necessary — act.

2. Leave the House Every Day

It was my second trip to the lactation center. Things weren’t going perfectly, and I was more than a little frustrated. And then, in walked an angel who gave me not one, but two indispensable pieces of advice, both of which I’ve included on this list:

Leave the house every day, even if it’s just to walk down the street.

She was so right. I’ll admit, some days, I only make it to the backyard of my house. But even just breathing a little fresh air seems to restore my sanity and makes everything seem a little easier.

3. It’s Not You, It’s Your Baby

Okay, not necessarily. But it could be. During my visit to the lactation center, I confided to the consultant that breastfeeding had been pretty challenging. And then, she said something that freed me from my guilt:

You know, it might not be you. It might be him.

That hit me like a brick on the head. I had never considered any scenario where my son was less than perfect! But acknowledging that she might be right about that allowed me to say, who cares if we’re not perfect at this?

So many things in parenting are a team effort, and just because you’re the parent doesn’t mean you have to take all the responsibility for any failure.

Although it got easier, breastfeeding was a challenge every single day until I finally weaned my son, and it was still worth it. And now, when I think back to our breastfeeding days, I don’t think of the struggles; I think of those early mornings when the sun streamed through the window and I sat in a comfy chair with my son. My heart aches a bit, and I long for those days gone by. (But only for a moment.)

4. Pull a Toy Switcheroo

I was in a toy store with my mom perusing birthday gift options for my son, and as we were ooo-ing and aww-ing over all the new toys, a shop worker generously offered this wonderful advice:

You don’t need to buy a bunch of toys — just put half your child’s toys in the closet, and then switch them out with the other half two weeks later.

So I tried it, and when I got the old toys out two weeks after having stashed them away, I was shocked. My son’s response was kind of like how I feel each time I rediscover Gouda cheese: It’s cheese that tastes like bacon! Why don’t I buy this ALL THE TIME?

In addition to my son showing renewed enthusiasm for his old toys, I was amazed to see how much he had progressed in two short weeks. Instead of banging his toy piano on the ground, he sat and pressed the keys one by one. Entertaining for him, rewarding for me and economical for all of us.

5. Don’t Wish Away Even the Tough Moments; They’ll be Gone Before You Know It

This piece of advice came from one of my most amazing mom friends. I’ve come back to her words so many times since my son was born, often in the midst of one of those “tough moments.” Every time I think of this, it calms me down and gives me the strength to shrug off whatever challenge I’m facing.

In just one short year, I’ve found my friend to be so, so right. So many moments, good and bad, are indeed gone before you know it. No matter how many people tell you the time will fly, you’re never prepared for just how true it is. The good stuff, the bad stuff: it’s all part of the wild ride. And in its own way, it’s all good stuff.

Yes, there were those nasty early diaper blowouts that you thought you’d never in a million years miss. And then you find one of your son’s tiny newborn diapers. You hold it close to your heart, remembering when he was so little and helpless and smelly and sweet.

There were those days when you had to change your baby’s outfit six times because he spit up heroically each time you wrangled him into new clothes. And then one day you pack away those tiny outfits that no longer fit. You long for the days when you dressed him in precious outfits that only a tiny baby wouldn’t look ridiculous wearing, and you find a few of your tears make their way into that plastic bin.

There were those 4 am wake up calls when your baby cried out for you, and you stumbled to his bedside, wishing you weren’t the only person able to feed him. And then he starts to not need you as much as he used to, and you long for the days when you were his everything.

So please, trust me. Don’t wish away the tough moments. Don’t long too much for the next stage or the next milestone. It will all come and go so fast. In the meantime, hold your baby close, breathe in the smell of his tiny head and relish in the moment — it will be gone soon enough.

Hail to the “Working Dad”

Dad and Baby

My husband, doing his other full-time job

Last Friday night, after a long week of work, my husband walked through the door carrying these:

Flowers for Mom

“Hon! Wow!” I said. “Flowers for me on your birthday?”

“Oh yeah,” he said with a tired smile. “I guess I forgot.”

Granted, his birthday was not technically for a couple more days, but, still. I couldn’t help but be struck by the selflessness of his gesture — and how hectic his week must have been to make him forget his impending birthday.

I don’t write much about dads on this blog. But then I read Ken Gordon’s article, “Am I a Working Dad?” and started to wonder, why not?

Working Dad. That’s a new one. It sounds funny coming off the tongue, but Ken has a point: Why is the term “working mom” reserved so exclusively for women?

There’s a part of me that wants to safeguard this term for women. Despite a study that finds doing household chores actually makes men happier, women still do more of the (unpaid) work at home. Not to mention, women are still being compensated at a paltry 77 cents per dollar for the same work done by their male counterparts in the workplace.

However, according to a 2011 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men devote more time doing paid work outside the home, and most still contribute to the household chores. As a result, the total amount of work done by each partner in the average household is actually not too unbalanced. I’ll admit: this was a surprise to me.

Additionally, according to “The New Male Mystique,” published by the Families and Work Institute, “men now experience more work-family conflict than women.” The report claims “although men live in a society where gender roles have become more egalitarian and where women contribute increasingly to family economic well-being, men have retained the ‘traditional male mystique’ — the pressure to be the primary financial providers for their families.”

I guess our men really do deserve a little more credit.

In my household, our roles are pretty traditional for the time being. My husband often jokes that it’s 1940 at our house (and bless him for not pointing out that the 1940 husband rarely had to bring home Chipotle for dinner). His career is extremely demanding and requires long hours, so I’m managing things at home pretty single-handedly. Or so I thought.

The “working dad” article changed my perspective a bit. It’s not 1940 in my house, and that’s not just because I’m absolutely hopeless at cooking a pot roast. Unlike the stereotypical 1940s dad, my husband doesn’t come home and read the newspaper over dinner while administering stern looks to the kids.

When my husband walks in the door, he flings his arms wide and cries, “Wee man!” The dogs wiggle around him, wagging their tails and vying for his attention. He pets the dogs, he kisses me on the cheek. And then, he turns his attention to his son. He makes goofy faces, he rolls on the floor, he plays peek-a-boo behind the flowers he brought home. At some point each evening, he kisses Hudson on the cheek and says, “I missed you today, buddy.”

He is a hands-on dad, and his efforts shouldn’t be diminished just because that’s not his full-time job.

Yes, I do most of the booger chasing around here, and I change the vast majority of diapers. I take Hudson to the pediatrician and clean the dogs’ ears and make sure everyone’s nails are clipped. It’s hard work, for sure. But my job wouldn’t be possible if it weren’t for what my husband does each day.

Day in and day out, my husband rises before the sun, earlier than anyone else in the household. He feeds the dogs, makes his own breakfast and often plucks the baby from his crib to deposit him in bed with me, all before starting his professional day.

Ken Gordon writes that “every good contemporary parent is employed on many levels,” and he’s right. Working moms are on 24 hours a day. Stay-at-home moms are on 24 hours a day. And, nowadays, most dads are on 24 hours a day, too. Parenting is a full-time gig, whether you have another job to go to or not.

So, today, let’s hear it for the boys. Thank you: for listening to our fears, for rubbing our sore shoulders at the end of a long day, for drying while we wash. Thank you for sharing with us your fears, and for showing your sons it’s okay to be soft and vulnerable and in touch with your emotions.

Thank you for being our partners.

All hail the working dad! (And happy birthday to the one who lives in my house.)

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