Why Isn’t Parenting Considered a Profession and Why Are We So Embarrassed by It?

If you’ve read this blog lately, you know I’ve been traveling a bit. Conversations among a wide array of human beings, each simultaneously living strikingly similar yet vastly dissimilar family lives fascinated me. A perpetual student at heart, I enjoyed every small talk chat and lengthier conversation surrounding the literal commencement of our graduating children’s passage into employable adulthood.

Weeks prior to the graduations, I sat on bleachers and walked across fields with fellow parents of college athletes. Hearing how they raised their almost-college-graduated children was riveting. Or, maybe I was just most enthralled with how they viewed their parenting. After all, these big family moments such as college graduations launch us parents into all sorts of deep reflection.

Joys, funny stories and softly spoken regrets were shared as we stood shoulder to shoulder squinting into the sunny lacrosse field. Plans for our kids’ upcoming entrance into the professional world were discussed with excitement and apprehension.

Graduation ceremonies evoke contemplation. We wonder about many things, including how our professional choices influenced and affected the life of the beloved child walking toward us in their cap and gown.

We mid-life parents huddled together, humbly sharing a few successes and challenges while also perching our lips in anticipation… waiting for approval or disapproval from our peers as we revealed our employment. While the good men in our conversations chuckled and segued into NHL playoff statistics and how the Yankees were doing that week, we Moms remained attentive listeners to each other’s decisions, silently comparing, tallying our worth against theirs, adverting direct eye contact when the words grew too personal for folks only together for a weekend. Ultimately, each indirectly revealed the hidden label we always carry: “not good enough”.

Perhaps the most riveting was watching the responses to the Mom who was a former physician, left her practice, fired the nanny and raised her children. No, her husband wasn’t wealthy. She made a choice and here we stood, years later, her smile content watching her daughter run the field, but eyes narrowing through sunglasses when questions such as, “how could you abandon all of that schooling?” “did you pay your loans off before quitting?” “do you regret it?” were asked of her.

There were a few genuinely disappointed people. “She could have been so much more” their eyes said. I sensed she was accustomed to disenchanted peers as she firmly added, “it was right for my family”.

Another Mom in our little mid-life circle shrugs, “I was always home with our kids”…like it was a bad thing. I was even a very casual conversation with a young man when we found ourselves talking about his Dad’s highly successful business and I asked what his Mom did. I don’t even know why I asked such a question but he answered, “well, she stays at home…but she really works hard for us and volunteers and helps my Dad.” Ugh. Even the child felt the need to explain.

But back to our mid-life Mom group…No matter who was talking, the outside-the-house and stay-at-home women both felt the need to explain their professional choices. Yet, the few who did odd jobs and largely remained “at home” over the years were definitely embarrassed to say so.

Why are we dissatisfied with ourselves if we become anything professionally-less than Sheryl Sandberg?

There exist countless answers to that question but one of the many is that the very real parenting accomplishments are invisible to the world. Observing others during those conversations really affected me, particularly those who shrunk back for having remained in their nests. Their words and expressions stayed with me the last couple weeks and prompted this post. I also recently started a new job outside of higher ed (although I’m still teaching online), so I’m familiar with job-hunting as a mid-lifer. When raising my kids, I had done all three: full time, part time and stayed home for a spell. I settled upon part time as a professor. Some years were crazier than others, but I had some flexibility which was a blessing.

This mindset of parenting-worthlessness even seeps into those of us whose workplace career is part time and raising children is full time. Why do we always answer the new-introductions question, “what do you do?” first with our outside titles such as Consultant, Dentist, HR Rep, Professor?

Because Motherhood is not acknowledged as a profession. It’s frowned upon to include a decade or two on your mid-life resume about being an employee (of your family) and leader in your organization (home). Even if only five years out of the workplace, experts tell you to leave the employment gap rather than, gasp!, mention being a literal lifeline to a few little humans.

Once the early infant weeks pass, there really is no such thing as a “stay at home parent”. Exhausted parents long to be home for one full day. Instead, they are integrating their children into society via trips to the library, museums, parks, play groups, preschool, and endless extracurricular activities and sports. Yet, the label of “stay at home” remains locked in heavy chains.

I volunteer for MOPS – Mothers of Preschoolers. It truly feels like I was JUST a 30-year old MOPS Mom and now, I serve in this wonderful organization. While cleaning up the room one evening, a young Mom with two children was asked what she “did” and I observed her also shrink back when answering, “I stay home with the kids”. She too meekly looked up, waiting for the other woman to approve or disapprove.

We have good reason to respect big titles in the workforce. Obstetricians who bring our babies safely into the world are godsends. We nearly drop to our knees in gratitude for the brilliant Neurosurgeon who saves our loved one. Understandably, there is a scale for professional respect. Mere titles spoken aloud make people nod in appreciation, eyebrows raised in approval when introduced at a dinner party. Yet, full time parents will avoid stating their title as long as possible when asked – depending on the peer group they find themselves in. Myself included.

The weekend conversations veered into parenting being a profession, albeit unrecognized by the world at large. Full-time working Moms need employers to truly understand they have two careers. Stay-at-home Moms need recognition for being the extraordinary workers they are. Especially those Moms who are reentering the workforce.

Respect. Esteem. Reverence. Many professions generate these adjectives merely by their title. Other careers earn praise after a couple of years in the field. But people who choose to forego full time day care or grandparent sitters, selecting instead to independently raise their own children continue decade after decade to be ignored as smart, productive workers contributing to society – including contributions to its economic system.

This got me thinking about all they do that should be resume-worthy…

Modern parents who choose to be with their children full time are often educated. Smart. Resourceful. Highly Productive. Impressive Multi-Taskers. They are negotiators and mediators. Their communication skills must be impeccable as they create order from chaos.

They direct and lead the undisciplined youth into a disciplined life. They refuse to allow their homes to become modern-day arcades, leaving them to be the unpopular supervisor including developing policies which restrict endless screening. They were already lonely leaders at the top of their organization, working overtime without praise. Added rejection from those they are serving takes a toll.

Then, when they decide it’s time to reenter the outside work world, they are further rejected. Or worse, they receive no response to their resume at all. Silence. For years prior, they were invisible in society, unheard in conversations among employees with paychecks. Now, they pull their emotionally drained, appreciation-starved selves together and put their identities out there, already aware of being behind the 8-ball. But they do it anyway. They shove aside the negative self-talk that dominates their mind. This takes discipline and courage.

Surviving full-time nesting with children from infancy to Kindergarten and certainly beyond, takes mental, physical and emotional energy. There is almost never any gratitude or positive feedback and certainly not enough to cover the array of nonsense that is involved in this very real job.

So-called “stay at home Moms” are both the employee and the management. Their work travels into the nights, weekends and holidays. There is no added pay or new promotion for their exhausting commitment to the organizations named “home” and “family”. They too navigate the ever-present sensitivity toward “diversity and inclusion” as they arrange play dates and teach about the differences in their kids’ peers. They demonstrate exceeding wisdom and restraint when they patiently teach their children that the profane bully in the schoolyard is ravenous for attention somewhere in their psyche. (What Mom would rather do is grab that bully by the neck, lift them off the ground and spew expletives and hurt right back at ‘em.) Moms know how to deal with the office bullies.      When workers are acknowledged, there is tremendous personal satisfaction and elevated confidence. Recognition increases motivation to perform even better and well, it just lifts a person up. Kind, genuine words of praise for doing a good job stays with people. If you’ve ever received such recognition at work, you likely recall the person and exactly what they said. Moms have lasted sometimes decades without such acknowledgement or green dollars. What strength of character they possess as professional workers!

If you hire, give Moms (and Dads) a chance. If you believe in the wildly popular “Servant Leadership” trending in business and industry, read Moms’ resumes. Maybe they are applying for something other than their professional position from 10 years ago. They have learned more about their strengths and abilities and now realize where they are most suited to contribute.

Full time parents have far exceeded the primitive societal view of simply making meals and cleaning house. If you are in a position to interview people and see the “parenting” resume gap, don’t assume “stay at home” parents are less-than. If you read that Moms were only working part-time out of the house for the last twenty years, don’t assume they were vacationing in their “off” time. Their kids demanded, their aging parents needed, the schools asked for volunteers, the hockey team required hours…their minds and hands rarely stopped working.

I hope we can start recognizing parenting as the profession it is. The minutes, hours and years count. Most of them were without hour-lunch breaks and “personal” days. I’m now in a position to help hire employees and I plan to give parents a chance to change careers and/or re-enter the workforce. I doubt I’ll be disappointed. And, through MOPS and other situations, I will continue to remind parents that they don’t owe anyone any explanation for their professional choices of full-time, part-time or home-time while raising their children. At the end of each day, we only have to answer to the One and Only. Images: click on photo to see location(s).

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Teens Aren’t the Only Addicts…So are a Few Seniors

A couple of months ago, I saw the post below and I thought it was quite true. In recent days, I’ve been pondering just which “generation” the image is talking about. Sure, teens are featured here and we usually refer to them and young adults when talking about excessive phone use. But recently, I watched a senior citizen use social media with the addiction of a 15-year old.
I was sitting at a NHL game, which was a real privilege to be enjoying the game with my son and husband. Our son had surprised us with tickets the day he arrived home for spring break.

Seated directly in front of me, one row down was a grey haired man with a few friends. He was wearing a hockey jersey, so I assumed he must be a devout hockey fan who would really be into the game like the rest of us.

Instead of watching the game, he watched his cell phone…placing it in and out of his jeans pocket no less than 30 times during the course of the 3-hour game (or at least it’s my best guess). At first, I thought it was great that he must be giving friends game updates, or maybe texting with his grandkids(?) about the game. Perhaps it was because he actually bothered to put the phone back into his jeans pocket every. single. time. after using it for a minute that I was really distracted when the puck was on our end of the ice. Arena seats are tight after all, and you can’t help but notice each other’s business. The dude’s shoulders nearly touched my knees.

Every time my eyes followed the puck back down our way, the guy’s fingers were perusing Snapchat and Instagram. Sending Snaps. Liking posts. Again and again and again. The speed of his fingers scrolling…the dexterity…really quite impressive! I couldn’t tell you what was being snapped or sent or liked. I wasn’t looking for the details. I just noticed a blur of constant motion involving the phone.

Of course there was plenty of time that I was engrossed in the game or chatting with my son and wasn’t stalking the guy’s phone use. But when the continuous shifting of his body to put the phone back away did distract me, the above image of teens documenting their happenings came to mind more than once.

I did a quick internet search of technology and phone use for adults 65 and over. This not-so-official research focused upon “the best cell phones for seniors” and “best apps for older people”. I think the youngins writing the articles need to start hanging out with us 50yr olds and definitely the 65 and over crowd before writing their next post. The half-century and over demographic is using many of the same apps and cell phones as the millennials.

I caught a few minutes of a news segment recently where a 73-year old grandmother asked her daughter-in-law how she could stay more connected to her grandchildren who were now in their teens. The daughter-in-law told her to text daily and get on social media. The woman was crazy about her grandkids and was happy to go upgrade her phone to accommodate her new apps.

I’m the first in a conversation to promote “old school” things like real books with touchable pages. I’m all about sitting together and playing actual games, not connecting on game apps via my phone. But, for those of us who’ve been around this planet awhile, we can’t deny that there has been a tectonic shift requiring some form of technology in virtually every aspect of human existence. We might initially balk at the changes and vow to “disconnect”, but even the most die-hard anti-technology people I know have joyfully embraced digital cameras and tossed film. They’ve also been forced to purchase ovens and washing machines with all-digital headboards. Even if we avoid constant technology in our personal life, working almost anywhere demands software proficiency.

The next time I’m tempted to give a bad rap to the young adults whose phones might as well be an additional limb, I’ll no doubt think of the hockey guy and remind myself that no demographic is completely excluded from our virtual attachment.

Photo is found in multiple locations online so photo credit goes to the Internet at large. Click image for one of the many locations.

The Coming and Going During the College Years

Nearly three months ago, I walked through the brisk November air into the sliding glass doors of the airport, traveled up the escalator and stood outside security, waiting for my youngest to get off the plane. It was two days before Thanksgiving and my hands had not been on my baby girl in 88 days. It was the longest separation ever, me feeling impossibly emotional, despite that we speak, text and facetime every day. It’s just not the same as hugging and being in the same house.

With each new wave of people rounding the corner through the glass hallway, my heart leapt and my eyes grew wet.

I missed her something awful. I see my older two because their universities are within driving distance, but it was too long since I had seen my youngest.

A girl in a ponytail wearing a college backpack turned the corner and my heart leapt again – then fell – when I realized it still wasn’t her.

A little boy ran past the security guard and toward his grandma’s waiting embrace next to me. I silently prayed, Oh Lord, when grandchildren arrive someday, please let my children and their children all live near us…preferably next door ;~).

Washing bedsheets, putting turkey-themed socks on their dressers and cooking family-favorite foods…the days of anticipation finally ended. The second she turned the corner she waved through the glass and hastened her steps toward me. I vowed not to cry but she threw herself into my arms which quickly circled her slim athletic frame, and I couldn’t speak. Tears flooded my face and I squeezed her tightly. I kissed her cheeks and her eyes smiled at me, her words bringing more tears. “I missed you so much Mama…”

Last year my older daughter spent her junior year in a bustling – thankfully also a safe and very nice – area of New York City. For breaks and long weekends, I waited to pick her up at train stations and airports. As I stood watching the various people disembark from their transportation, I reflected on how I have never been on planes as frequently as the kids have been. Much of the going away is very, very good for them. They have been forced to handle situations that without a doubt, my husband or I would have taken care of swiftly for them if they lived at home. Heck, most of the experiences would not have occurred at all had they stayed home and commuted to college (as I did throughout my entire college career). Some of the situations were unpleasant, but life was an excellent teacher. Their greatest lessons and growth occurred outside of the classroom.

During the kids’ breaks, the full nest is a joy (and of course, sometimes annoying), and now that my twins are seniors, the holiday breaks remind me that these are adults, despite my continued reference to them as my “baby ducks”.

At 4am the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the painful alarm rang, announcing the required departure back to the airport.

Thankfully, I only waited 15 days until my youngest was about to again ‘round the corner and I stood outside security, not feeling nearly as emotional as when I waited 88 days. This time, all three of them would be home over a month.

The day before, I had cleaned their bathroom and put up the Christmas shower curtain. As the rag hung in my hand and the smell of cleanser filled the air, I reminded myself that secure, confident kids grow up and start doing their own thing. I’ve been told we are supposed to feel accomplished and proud of ourselves when we reach this point. I am proud of them and they are accomplished, but I have never felt more un-accomplished.

While raising children, there are a million little accomplishments…interesting middles with satisfactory endings. Planning birthday parties or end of season sports gatherings…watching them eat meals together and sharing stories at the table…going to the rinks and fields…weekend outings. Completing a book together when they are young or watching them deliver a speech when they are older (that you sat through 20 times before they gave it)…each gave me tremendous joy and satisfaction. I felt accomplished.

In between their physical coming and going in and out of the nest, I have increased volunteering, have plenty of girlfriend time, bible studies and winter walks with my husband. We now have “TV shows” and I’m actually finishing books cover to cover ;).  I’ll admit that quieter hasn’t been terrible. It’s all truly blessed and I am thankful. But adding more new things or extra time spent on old things do not replace an entire lifestyle.

An acquaintance of mine looks at me with a mix of complete confusion and sympathy as I reference the heart-upset of the coming and going during the college years. Two years ago, she told me she was counting the days – literally had a countdown like you do at Christmas – counting the days until her youngest would join the oldest at college and get out of the house. I thought she would feel differently when the house was actually empty, but she does not.

Those of my friends who prioritized their careers while raising their children are faring much better with their emptying nests. Although I’ve always been an adjunct professor, it’s vastly smaller than the 50-hour work weeks while climbing to VP, where the bulk of their life’s energy built an entire existence outside of their households.

It’s only been a little over a year with all three away at universities so I keep saying I’m running a little late to the party of parents who are celebrating their emptying nests. Perhaps I’ll revisit this topic again in June after my twins move home after graduation. I may not be feeling nearly as nostalgic (wink).

The truth is, throughout the “coming and going” over four years, they’ve grown and changed, and so have we. Parents must learn to navigate the “babies” we raised who are now almost full “grown-ups”. Even when they move back home, for however long that will last, “family life” will not be as it was. Just as the school years were different from the toddler years, and high school different from middle school, the dynamic will change yet again. Not worse or better, just a new chapter in this ever-updating book of life.

While I stand in the airport this afternoon to pick up the baby duck for spring break, I’ll be thinking about these comings and goings. Reminding myself that it does get easier, and as they evolve, so must I.

Photo: first2board.com

The Retail Apocalypse – Can Bath and Body Works Survive? Not If They Keep Bothering Us

The bricks and mortar stores that try to sell an actual experience are still doing relatively well in the era where Amazon and other online retailers threaten store fronts across America. As part of L Brands (home to the ever-profitable Victoria’s Secret), Bath and Body Works is going strong. Yankee Candle is also under a wide corporate umbrella and continues to move forward with some hope of survival.I used to really, really love shopping at Bath and Body Works and Yankee Candle. I still like them both so much, largely due to what has kept them thriving: us girls like pretty, glittery, fragrant things, beautiful packaging, gift options and products that change with the seasons and holidays. We love this because every retailer from Walmart to the local grocery store no longer specialize. You can literally purchase shoe polish, clothes, Thanksgiving wreaths and food while picking up your prescription at Rite Aid.

That’s one of the many reasons I love YC and B&BW. I can linger a while and just enjoy the prettiness of it all. It’s also seasonal shopping where my girls and I can purchase items simply to make the nest more festive during holidays.

Well, that was until a couple of years ago when both companies clearly “upped” the sales requirements for their employees.

It’s not the individual employee’s fault, and Yankee Candle isn’t terrible. Sometimes annoying but not terrible. You can also enjoy smelling Yankee Candles at several other harassment-free retailers such as Target and Bed Bath and Beyond.I now approach the Bath and Body Works entrance with great caution. My youngest daughter does not like to shop (while my oldest daughter and myself can shop all day) but the one place she truly loved going to at least twice a year was Bath and Body Works. Years ago, we would walk in anticipating the new, glittery displays of whatever new season it was, tried too many spray fragrances and joyfully ended up at the counter about an hour later with our bag full of products. We walked in with our eyes up, soaking in all the displays.

Now when I walk into Bath and Body Works, there is zero opportunity to initially look up and enjoy. I brace myself for the person (usually two) who will not only say hello but ask me a minimum of three questions. I’m not the rude customer who gives them the curt, “I’m just looking”, but after a recent visit, I might become her.

I went in to pick up something small to add to a birthday gift. I was asked three questions after the hello. I was so friendly, thanked the two different salespeople, then as I was walking further into the store, one walked ahead of me, attempting to stop my stride at a table that I was not interested in shopping at. I smiled as they explained the sales promos.

Then, at the checkout, they no longer ask the customer if they would like to leave their email address. They merely tell them to do it. Of course they do this in a cheerful “the last thing you need to do is….” way. Even though I appreciate the coupons, I’m simply not entering my email every time. These retailers have plenty of ways to track our spending and inundate us with snail mail.

Picking up my bag, the young salesgirl asked loudly, “Why aren’t you leaving your email?” Now, I was irritated. I estimated her around early 20s and just trying to make a living so I was gentle.

“I receive your coupons.”

“But we send more when you leave your email each time.”

“I’m good, I still receive coupons.” I smiled and turned around, walking away.

“There are some good promotions coming up…”

I continued walking.

With at least six feet between us, her voice got louder behind me. “It really is a great way to continue your coupons…”

I stopped and turned. She officially earned my glare, which according to my kids is really unnerving. After a few seconds, I spoke gently. “I understand you are trained to ask the email question. Continuing to nearly demand I not leave the store without providing additional information is inappropriate. You have taken away the joy I have shopping here.”

I felt bad afterward. The whole point of purchasing little extras like these (that we don’t need) is to have fun. I felt bad for the salesgirl and for my girl, because now we hesitate to walk in there. Bath and Body Works (and Yankee Candle) still offer an experience you can’t have online shopping. But, aggressive, continuous sales pitches rob shoppers of the joy.

Women like to shop. Take the fun out of it, and we’ll find an alternative elsewhere :).

Click on images for source.

 

 

 

We are Parenting PIONEERS

“We” would be those of us who were the very first average citizens to log on to the new thing called aol.com back in the late 1990s on our clunky PCs. “We” are largely in our late 40s and early 50s with teenagers or young adult children. “We” are those who were the first parents EVER in world-history to hand our children their first flip phones.We are the pioneers parenting the electronic world. And, people, this has been no easy task.

When we were kids, our parents could lift up the receiver in another room to tell us to get off the phone because grandma was supposed to call. Now, teenagers are often alone, metal square in hand, laptop on the bed, tv screen above the bed, Xbox in the corner and wireless blue tooth speaker on the nightstand with no parental involvement at all. Social media and cell phones alone are two titanic, behemoth elements of parenting that make those of us middle-aged parents the PIONEERS of the world. We were and are expected to teach and manage these issues on top of our traditional parenting and vocational responsibilities.The 1970s-1980s kids we were (not all but most):

We couldn’t wait to get outside every day

Kids of parents who were not at our beck and call

Kids of parents who made us save money for our purchases

The 2000s kids we’re raising (not all but most):

Enjoy being indoors in front of a screen

Have parents at their beck and call…sports, activities, projects

Have parents who pay for their cell phones every monthI’ve previously posted a couple articles about these issues: How Long Can a Mom Monitor Kids’ Media? Is 17 years too long? :), and Teenage Privacy…Is it OK to spy on your teens’ texts? Internet history? Surf their social media? Yep!. There have been humorous moments managing these issues with my kids over the years (as you’ll read in those articles), but It Has Been Exhausting Being The Pioneer. The level of expectations has risen and we’ve fallen right into it.

We are not only pioneers of electronics but pioneers of “talks” that our parents never dreamed of having with us. After-school conversations regarding gender confusion and standing up for your faith yet being respectful of others are draining. All previous parenting generations throughout history had no such thoughts, let alone were forced to engage in ongoing dialogue of explanation and navigation. Add some social media management, and we just want to go take a nap. It all feels so overwhelming, many parents throw in the towel and just say, “it is what it is”.

Never in world-history have there been so many pressures upon parents. There have never been higher rates of teenage depression, street-drug use, pharmaceutical use, health issues related to teenage inactivity and one of the culprits of all of these: never in history has there been such an excessive, profound, uncontainable problem of teenagers comparing themselves with random internet photography. Whether Snapchat, Instagram, internet images of the Hollywood elites or the girl next door, these images are seldom real.Even when you inform kids that the actresses in movies and television have a 6-week prep ahead of body conditioning prior to every single award show and red-carpet event, followed by another week-long last minute prep including hours of hair, spray tanning and makeup, they still want, wish and crave to be the image. Battling this is a whole other article perhaps another time.

The next time you find yourself exhausted or sad or overwhelmed by the work required in raising a moral, responsible, thinking child, remind yourself that you’re not alone. It’s worth the effort to monitor, to question, to require verbal conversation and limit electronics.

There are millions of us out there who are walking the walk alongside you, being very unpopular at home when needed, running the race in faith and keeping our eye on the end result, not seeking the temporary ease of intentional ignorance.  Be strong, fellow pioneers! Someday your kids will be better off because of your involvement.