Ann Romney & Hilary Rosen: Beyond the Mommy Wars

What is the real reason for the intense public reaction ignited by Hilary Rosen’s criticism of Ann Romney?  Ann Romney is a homemaker.  She raised 5 sons.  She worked hard.  Is it a full-time job?  Absolutely.  Does it pay well?  For most women, other than Ann Romney, it does not.  So as a result, many women must find work outside the home to earn a living.

The reason that this conversation still creates controversy is NOT that “working mothers” and “stay at home mothers” are fighting the “mommy wars”.  It is much deeper than that and more about women’s feelings toward society than each other.

Research continues to confirm that childcare remains the primary responsibility of women, not men, in most families.  This is true regardless of employment status.  In her February 8th Motherlode column, KJ Dell ’Antonia exposes that US Census Bureau counts fathers, but not mothers, as formal “childcare”.  This places fathers in the same category as paid babysitters and day care centers.  Dell ’Antonia also points out the humorous contradiction that “it shouldn’t be baby-sitting if daddy does it”?

So the intense reaction that we see as a result of Hilary Rosen’s comments reflects the feelings of a few stakeholders:

  • Stay-at-home moms who are frustrated by working a full-time job (parenthood) without pay.
  • Working moms who are exhausted from juggling primary parenthood and paid employment without sufficient support or credit.
  • Select fathers who are not tethered by primary parenthood may feel just the slightest twinge of nervousness that their freedom will some day end.

In some ways, I am thrilled that this issue can create such a stir.  But in more ways, I wish that we could better recognize the important and different roles that women adopt to get the job done, whatever that job may be.

Catching Up On Life

I recently met up with a good friend at a sports practice for our children. She was sitting on the lobby floor of the ice skating rink, with papers spread all around her. I asked, with great curiosity, “what are you doing”? She replied, “I am trying to catch up on life”.

In the crazy world of working motherhood, we spend much of our time reacting to the events of the day or week. It can become a scramble. As I often describe, the pace is so fast and the demands so great, it is a bit like driving an Indy Car. You buckle up and just hope that the car does not go off the track. It is an unusual luxury to create time and space to assess all of life’s pieces collectively and to make order. My friend was doing just that. She was trying to catch up on all the “little things” that had been neglected because of more urgent demands.

The more that I thought about “catching up on life” the more important it became. Without time to catch up, life feels scattered and out of control. A little catch up here and there helps to add sanity to an otherwise wild world. In my life, catch up falls into three categories: 1) Administrative, 2) Clean up/Clean Out and 3) People.

Administrative catch up is not glamorous but can create great order and clarity of mind. On Sunday nights I create a small window of administrative catch up to assess the week ahead and create a schedule of all the events and demands for our family. The schedule includes the details of my kids’ lives: sports practices, school events, major homework projects and my schedule: work travel, meetings, etc. This is something that I do well. It has become routine and it structures the madness of our family. Now that my children are old enough to read, my printed schedule enables them to anticipate what will happen during the week and to participate in the planning. It sits in a special binder on our kitchen counter for everyone to see and amend if needed. What I would like to do better is the administration that involves the rest of the world: 1) scheduling doctor appointments, 2) home repairs, etc. Because of my work schedule, I do not make “catch up” time when the rest of the world is working too.

Clean Up and Clean Out is sort of like physical administration of your life. My husband and I just ordered a dumpster to purge the items from our house that we have outgrown. High Chairs, baby seats, our favorite Levi’s from college. By cleaning up and cleaning out, we are catching up to where our life has evolved. The act of cleaning up and cleaning out creates a great sense of peace for me. When I walk into my house after a big clean up, all is right with the world.

People are the special sauce in life.  The most rewarding catching up is definitely with friends and family. When I was a child, my mother worked. She set an incredible example of how to “catch up” on the human connections. Some of the most special occasions of my childhood were the “mental health days” that my mom instituted for our family. She believed that a day together was worth a day of missing school. Instead of missing school because we were sick, we missed school because we were well and were “catching up on life”. So once or twice a year, she would choose a day to spend time, alone, with myself or my brother. It was brilliant and very special. When I think about catching up on human connections, there are many people that I consider: my kids, my husband, my friends and of course myself. Catching up doesn’t requiring planning anything special. It is often as simple as slowing down. But sometimes it is helpful to declare the time as “catch up” time.

Make time to “catch up”. Don’t look at it as a chore but rather as an opportunity to feel more settled, productive and organized. Whatever the loose ends in your life may be, they deserve your time and attention.

Fitness Resolution: Move Like and Eight Year Old

Fitness resolutions are a drag.  Getting to the gym in January is cold, dark and tedious.  So how can you improve your fitness without being so serious?  I have decided that the solution is to “move like an eight year old”.

I have four children: 11, 9, 7 and 5.  And for their entire lives I have studied them in motion.  My kids are active.  They all play sports.  But they also just MOVE.  They move in a big, fast, constant and usually joyful way.  They are amazing to watch and even more fun to emulate.  They dance…all the time.  They do jumping jacks and skip.  Most interestingly, my children practice and compete with themselves and each other to be faster and better, just because it is fun.

About a year ago, when my oldest son was 8, I decided to conduct an experiment and move like an eight year old for a few weeks.  Now, I am also pretty active.  I am a runner, hockey player, and yoga enthusiast.  There really isn’t anything active that I don’t like.  But as an adult, I had put a formality to exercise.  It had to be at a certain time.  I had to wear the right clothing.  So there were many opportunities for activity that I missed because I was too rigid.

When you decide to move like an eight year old the rules change.  And based on my small experiment, you become more fit.  When my kids practiced shooting hockey pucks in the garage, so did I.  Ten minutes of this repetitive action is a deep core exercise that builds upper body strength.  I stopped sitting at the edge of the pool and jumped in and swam.  I ran every mini-race that they did.   I danced fast and furious.  The best part was that I engaged more fully with my kids along the way.  I became a participant instead of a supervisor and that was really fun.

So my advice to everyone is “move like an eight year old”!  Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • If you have a minute…move!  This is especially true if you work in an office sitting all day.  Just get up and go for a short walk, twist, jump up a down.  It wakes you up and gets your blood pumping.
  • Touch your toes.  As adults, we become less flexible.  Partially because our bodies change but also because we stop using them.  Stretch and bend!
  • You don’t need exercise clothes to get exercise.  How many pairs of grass-stained dress pants have you washed for your boys and girls?  Kids play and move, no matter what they are wearing.  Don’t let you clothes get in the way of a little movement.  I’ve discovered that I can effectively run in 2 inch heels.
  • 8 year olds don’t drive.  The message here is if you can walk, don’t drive.  This is an insight about 8 year olds but also about city dwellers.  Make a commitment to walk your children to the bus or school on nice days.  Walk down your street, to the library, wherever you can.  You will be amazed at how easy, lovely and environmentally friendly it is to tour the world by foot.
  • Learn something new.  Part of the motivation for an 8 year old to move is their desire to learn something new.  They practice.  They achieve and they build self-esteem.  This is a model that we often forget as adults.  It is very gratifying to learn something new, even it is as simple as running backwards.
  • Never be self-conscious.   Think about watching a child learn to do a cart-wheel or head-stand.  There is nothing but determination and excitement amidst the flailing arms and
    legs.  I highly recommend trying a cartwheel or headstand if you haven’t done one in a while.  Both offer incredible mini-experiences filled with whoosh and satisfaction.
  • Finally, movement should make you smile.  As part of your own “move like an eight year old experiment”, try to measure your happiness and stress.  It is tough to feel bad, sad or stressed while you are skipping down the street.