When I became a parent, I had been working as an organizer for nearly ten years. At the time the Bee was born, I had a job that involved organizing other working women–many of whom were in transition from welfare to work. I didn’t have a lot of role models of successful women organizers who were also moms–most of my female friends who had kids dropped out of work to be stay at home moms, or left the crazy, workaholic world of organizing to do 9-to-5 gigs, that let them be home at predictable hours.
The direct work circumstances that I had at the time the Bee was born made me think often about the parallels between parenting and work as an organizer–because most of the women I was organizing, at the time, had been parents for longer than I, but had much more sporadic work histories–and much less experience as activists. In many ways, parenting has made me a better organizer–not least because it gave me something to talk about with almost any other adult human.
Now that I’ve got nearly 15 years of parenting-while-organizing experience under my belt, I’ve had a number of conversations with younger organizers–mostly women, some men–about what it’s like to be a parent while trying to change the world. Over the years, I’ve developed some rules of thumb that, I think, pertain to both experiences. Here they are, in no particular order:
- Nobody except you is going to have your kid as their first priority. It’s your job to stand up for the time that you need to spend with him or her. You wouldn’t expect someone else to prioritize your work tasks–you’re the person who is best-equipped to know what you need to do to get your job done. This is the same.
- If you’re trying to change jobs: be clear about your boundaries, but don’t let them limit you. I’ve had interviews where I’ve told potential employers–“I can only travel X amount–if that’s a problem, then I’m not the right fit for this job.” It’s never stopped anyone from hiring me. People appreciate knowing your limits.
- That thing they say on airplanes, about putting the oxygen on you first? is real. No kid deserves a parent who doesn’t take time for self-care–just like “constant campaign” mode kills activists.
- Teaching always goes in two directions–whether you realize it at the time or not.
- Sometimes, the best way to build a relationship is to do the thing the other person thinks is fun or useful. Say yes, more than you say no.
- Use all the technology available to you. I have had a shared google calendar with landisdad since before we were divorced–two parents with crazy work lives have to be able to sync. And lately, I’ve been parenting by text message–which drives me crazy–but with kids who are digital natives, that’s not weird.
- Life has goals & benchmarks, but it’s more like a movement, than a campaign. It does have an end-point, but none of us is hoping for the day after.
- There is beauty in people learning to do things for themselves, even if it’s different than the way you would do it.
From the Potato…
Grace is dead. I am so sad about it. When Hank died, yes i was crying and really upset, but he wasn’t a human cat. He was a cat cat. Grace was a human cat. I miss her.
That thing where you go to a parent-teacher conference for one kid, and hear about his study habits. And then you come home, and the other kid comes down to talk to you about her homework, and it’s obvious that they do not share study habits.
And you wonder, how did either of these kids come from me?
Yesterday, I had coffee with a friend who has a new baby–he and his husband adopted over the summer, and their son is 7 months old now.
We were talking about the differences that parenting makes in your life, and I mentioned that this was my last year as an elementary school parent–next year, the Potato will be in middle school, and the Bee will be a sophomore.
He asked me, “what does that mean to you?” and I’m not gonna lie, the first thought I had was “freedom.”
It’s not total freedom, of course–but being the parent of two kids in their older school years is very different from being the parent of a kindergartener and a toddler, which is the place I was in when I started this blog.
But it does mean no more worrying about how to cover after-school care every day. It means that he’ll play soccer after school, not in the evenings and on weekends. It means some small measure of freedom, that comes with your kids becoming more independent.
Today, though, was my last elementary school Halloween parade. And that’s kind of sad.
Though of course, when your son wants to dress up as Death for Halloween, it’s not exactly a warm & fuzzy moment…
The Bee, so far, is somewhat anomalous among her friends in that she’s never had a boyfriend. She’s 14 now, and a high school freshman, so I’m pretty sure it’s only a matter of time.
A few weeks ago, she asked me to buy her a dress for homecoming. It’s not till November, so I thought it was a little weird at the time, but she told me she wanted a specific dress online, and wanted to have time to exchange it if it didn’t fit right. So we bought the dress.
A few days later, I noticed one of her friends talking online about how all the girls she knew were getting asked to homecoming, and how all the boys were coming up with creative ways of asking (this, apparently, is a function of Tumblr, according to one of the Bee’s friends, who is a senior). And a lightbulb went off in my head.
So I asked the Bee, “are you going to homecoming with someone?” She said, “not yet. But a boy is going to ask me. I don’t know who it is–but all my friends do, and they won’t tell me.”
I joked to landisdad that we should write an open letter to the boy to let him know that the Bee hates surprises, and doubly hates when other people know things about her life that she doesn’t know. And then we waited for her to tell us more about the boy.
After about a week of not hearing anything else about it, I broke down and asked her, “hey, did you ever find out who the boy was who was going to ask you to homecoming?” She said, “yeah, but he ended up asking the Rabbit (one of her best friends) instead. The Crow (a frenemy) found out he was going to ask me, and she told him to ask the Rabbit instead, because she didn’t have a date. So now I don’t have a date.”
The Bee didn’t seem too overwhelmingly upset by it–she said that the boy was a nice kid, and she would have gone with him, but just as friends.
I told her, “the thing that sucks about dating in high school is that there is a finite pool of acceptable boys, and you tend to be competing for them with your friends. It won’t always be like that.”
Of course, from a single mom perspective–there don’t seem to be too many adult men who are interested in winning Tumblr by being creative daters, so there are trade-offs everywhere, I guess.
The Bee is three days into high school, and I’m already exhausted. Why does the start of the school year have to come right after I’ve spent August relaxing?
Two quick things this morning, but they’re linked, somehow, in my head.
The Bee is continuing to play field hockey, at least for this year. I don’t think she actually loves the game, but a couple of her friends asked her to do it, so they could have a freshman team (in addition to varsity & JV ones). The high school field hockey parents? are insane.
Both of our kids have played team sports. I’ve never experienced a team sport where the parents rotate who is going to make dinner for the kids on game nights. There are 42 girls playing field hockey. I am not running a restaurant kitchen!
Two days ago, one person sent out an email to the parents’ listserv asking for the college addresses of field hockey alumni, so the girls could write to her. (Landisdad, to me, privately–“what, they never heard of facebook? make a group!”)
In related news, I just read this article, from the Atlantic, about parents’ use of online grade systems in public schools.
We’ve had access to the Bee’s grades online since she went into middle school, and I confess, I can probably count on my fingers & toes the number of times I’ve logged into that thing. The Bee, however, is on it all the time.
Two nights ago at dinner, she and the Potato were complaining about various teachers, and he asked her why she didn’t like a particular science teacher that she had been complaining about. “Ms. W. doesn’t even know how to use Genesis! Last year, I was absent one day on a day she was absent too. She left a busy-work assignment with the sub, and she told me, when I came back to school, that I didn’t have to do it. And then she marked it as incomplete in Genesis! I told her 3 times to correct it, but she still didn’t, until I stood over her and made her do it!”
I can’t tell if envisioning the Bee nagging her teacher to change a grade made me more horrified, or more proud.
What I do know is that eventually, the Bee is going to go to college (and god help any professor who makes a mistake on her grades!)–and I’m not going to go with her. I certainly don’t question her competency at standing up for herself.
I’m not sure what’s behind the impulse to continue helicopter parenting into high school. I certainly don’t have it. Maybe it’s that sense that you’re about to lose them forever, and you just want to hang on while you can?
One of the challenges of modern parenting is definitely teaching your kids how to be safe on the Internet.
But I don’t worry about online predators nearly half as much as I worry about their privacy being stolen by marketers and the government.
As they move more and more into online space, I feel like I have to spend more and more time lecturing them about keeping themselves safe from intrusion. It’s not just privacy settings that I’m worried about–it’s making sure that they have ad-blocking extensions set up on their browsers, and monitoring the Bee’s instagram and vine feeds to see if she’s posting inappropriate things.
It’s wearing, to be honest.
That’s why I was very excited to read about Disconnect’s new service, Disconnect for Kids. Mobile marketers, you can kiss my kids’ data goodbye.
When I moved out, I told my kids that I wouldn’t live with anyone else while they were still young enough to have to live at home. Both my parents got remarried, after their divorce, to people who are crazy in different ways—and the fact that I had to live with my step-parents, serially, did really bad things to my relationships with my own parents. I’m not at all interested in adding that drama to my world again, this time with my kids in the mix.
To some degree, this makes dating easy for me. I’m not looking for a serious relationship, for something that’s “going somewhere.” I just want some companionship, occasionally, on nights the kids aren’t around. Up till this point, I mostly haven’t dated on the times they stay with me, but that may change as landisdad and I move into more of a 50-50 parenting split.
One of the things about single parenting that I find hard to navigate is the integration of my own dating life with the fact that the Bee has become a teenager. She hasn’t dated anyone yet, but the handwriting is on the wall—it’s only a matter of time before she’ll have a boyfriend.
I remember the horror of my own mother going on dates, just as I was trying to figure that out for myself for the first time. My mom didn’t date very much at all–if she dated anyone besides my stepfather before she got remarried, I certainly never knew about it. Similarly, my dad did not introduce us to anyone he dated until my stepmother.
What that meant for me, as a teen who had a lot of anger, was that I only had one chance to get used to the idea that my parent was with someone new. I have no doubt that some of the bad things that went wrong in my relationships with my own parents were due to bad choices that I made—I’m not going to deny that I was emotionally immature—and it cost us all something.
I haven’t introduced my kids to most of the people that I’ve dated, and when I have, it’s gone okay, particularly with the Potato. I’ve told them that I don’t expect them to treat men I date with anything other than the same respect that they would show any of my friends, and that’s mostly been their reaction. I think it helps that I’ve done it so infrequently—it really has kept them from feeling like it was a thing they were going to have to do over and over again, on both their best and their worst days.
But in some ways, I think the choices I’ve made about dating may just be the thing that my kids think, “I’ll never do that, if I get divorced!”
I think it’s hard to have an honest conversation with them about the things I’m looking for in a relationship, versus the things I hope for them when they start dating, because there is so much “ick” factor when kids think about their parents having sex.
Last night, the kids and I went out to dinner to celebrate some great grades the Bee got on her mid-terms, and the fact that the Potato got onto the honor roll.
I raised my glass and made a toast to the two of them, and told them both that I was proud of them.
The kids, being goofy, giggled. The Bee did a fake cough and muttered, “yes, here’s to me for being amazing!”
The Potato, without missing a beat, said, “I think you’ve got opposite cough.”
The Bee and I laughed hard for a solid minute.