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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Tag: motherhood

Here’s To Motherhood — Or Not

Recently, a friend and I were talking about our younger parenting days when she said, "You know, you still talk about your single mother days, but that was years ago."

She is right, but not really.

I've been married for 17 years now, to a man who became so important to my two kids that my daughter asked him to give the father's toast at her wedding. There are other reasons I love him, of course, but in this context, it's his relationship to my children that matters. Certainly, I have not felt alone in parenting for a long time.

And yet.

In my experience, being a single mother is similar to being from the working class. No matter how big your world becomes, you never forget that time in your life when you had less and worried more. It's a lesson that sticks with you long after everyone around you has moved on.

Predictably, the days leading up to Mother's Day take me back to that time in my life. When I became a single mother, my son was grown, but his younger sister was still home with me. That first December, when she was 8, she pointed to our three stockings hanging from the mantel and asked if we were still a family. I assured her there are many ways to make a family, and it had nothing to do with size. That was also the year I started making Christmas stockings for each of our pets to fill up the mantel.

Without my son and devoted friends, my daughter would not have been able to give me Mother's Day gifts when she was little. This would have shattered her. No matter how much I assured her that it didn't matter, it most surely did. I think that's when I first started resenting the holiday. I hated the pressure my little girl felt to prove her love.

Twenty-six years later, my feelings about Mother's Day have only grown more complicated. You might view this as overthinking. Welcome to the center hallway of my mind.

There are many ways to be a mother. Some mothers fail miserably and inflict great harm, which can make the holiday painful for those who wish they had a mother they could celebrate. Most mothers are better than they know, but it seems everyone, including the marketing industry, has an opinion about mothering. Which makes it easy to imagine all the ways you've fallen short.

No matter how good your own mother, if you live long enough, you'll eventually find yourself without her on Mother's Day. My mom has been gone for nearly 22 years now. You'd think I'd be used to that singular fact about my Mother's Day. Doesn't work like that. The longer I've been a mother, the more I understand just how much she influenced who I've become. I'd sure like to tell her that.

My mother wasn't a writer, but her ability to tell stories about her life helped me find the words for mine. I took too long to see how my mother's seemingly small acts of living would loom large in my world. She encouraged my biggest dreams, in part because she was so young when she gave up on her own. Our country has a long history of encouraging women too briefly, and even then, only when they are young and in the crosshairs of male ambition. The New York Times

One of the gifts from my mother and her generation of women — one that I recognized only after I turned 50 — is my refusal to volunteer for invisibility. A strong woman repels weak men, which gives us room to keep growing. In this way, I'm my mother's dream come true.

And so, my mother keeps mothering long after she is gone. That makes me hopeful for my own children and now my grandchildren. For me, too, to be honest. Have I done enough? Have I been enough? If they could pick who gets to be their mother, would they still choose me?

I don't know, but I get to keep trying, and that's enough for this mother on every day except you know when.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz (schultz.connie@gmail.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

The Diaper Dilemma That Shouldn’t Be

A worrisome trend in this country illustrates in the starkest terms how a mother’s income affects not only her baby’s health but hers, too.

Child Trends — a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center — reported in 2013 that low-income parents, especially single mothers, have higher rates of depression and depressive symptoms than mothers with higher incomes.

What does that mean exactly?

A researcher for the Yale School of Medicine asked women in New Haven, Connecticut, one question: “If you have children in diapers, do you ever feel that you do not have enough diapers to change them as often as you would like?”

About 30 percent of the women said yes.

Keep in mind that these mothers are not allowed to use the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, aka WIC, or food stamps to pay for diapers or baby wipes. This restriction must surely comfort those Republican state legislators around the country who’ve been busy trying to stop these same women from buying such things as steak, seafood, sharp cheddar, and anything organic for their families.

That’s another trend these days: making it easier to pick out poor people in the grocery line. It’s a full-time hobby keeping the lives of those people from resembling ours.

In a story for The Atlantic, Olga Khazan described some of the ways those mothers in New Haven stretched the use of their babies’ diapers:

“Mothers would take the diapers off, dump out the poop, and put the diapers back on. They would air-dry the diapers. They’d let their kids sit in wet diapers for longer than they should — a practice that can lead to UTIs and other infections. Other moms have reported potty training infants who are less than a year old — at least six months earlier than is recommended — in order to save money.”

Under the best of circumstances, motherhood has a way of introducing you to fears and insecurities you didn’t know you had until you laid eyes on your new baby. Surely, those of us who never had to worry about the annual diaper bill — Pediatrics journal currently estimates the cost to be $936 a year for disposables — would be outraged by what those mothers in poverty are going through. I’m certain this is most mothers’ — most parents’ — reaction.

But then there’s that other group of people, and they always seem to have so much time on their hands. These readers’ response was fast in the comments section — and furious in its scolding. Use cloth diapers, many said. After all, it was good enough for them in the 1970s … their mothers in the 1950s … their grandmothers in God only knows when.

Forget that most day care centers require disposable diapers. Forget, too, that you need a washer and dryer to clean them. And forget that if you don’t, you need a car, or else you have to take public transportation to the laundromat, where you’ll spend more money.

Too many readers had another solution: If you can’t afford a baby, don’t have one.

There you go. Let’s add babies to the list of things poor people shouldn’t be allowed to have.

I was so discouraged by the reader comments on The Atlantic‘s website that I posted a link to the story on my public Facebook page. Many readers brainstormed about how to help these mothers. A few shared links to diaper banks in their communities.

To my disappointment, a sub-thread took off lecturing women in poverty to use cloth diapers — and to stop sullying our gene pool with babies they can’t afford.

It’s amazing what can come out of our mouths when we’re convinced of our own superiority and enduring good luck. Nary a word about the need for comprehensive sex education, affordable birth control, and protecting a woman’s constitutional right to safe, legal abortions. I know, I know.

I woke up the next morning thinking about my parents. They certainly could not afford to have a baby when my 19-year-old mother discovered she was pregnant with me. Dad got their marriage license and a union card in the same month. After I was born, they lived with an aunt for a while before they could afford to rent a house. Pictures from that time show a family barely scraping by.

In 1987, my mother stood next to me as I fastened a disposable diaper over the bottom of my new baby girl. “I wish we’d had those when you kids were little,” she said. “I was so tired at the end of the day, but I still had to wash those diapers.”

As I noted in my journal that evening, my mother could afford only so many diapers. She had no clothes dryer and no car to drive to a laundromat. Skipping the laundry was not an option, no matter how exhausted she might be.

“On my worst day, my life is easier than my mother’s,” I wrote, grateful to the woman who couldn’t afford me but had me anyway.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and an essayist for Parade magazine. She is the author of two books, including …and His Lovely Wife, which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (con.schultz@yahoo.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo: Gabi Menashe via Flickr