Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Good, The Bad, and The Curious

Things that made me happy, sad, and thoughtful--what are yours?

The Good
Lesbian couple gets to be in the Navy "first kiss" photo.

The Bad
NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne decided Twitter was an appropriate place to vent about the audacity of a mother breastfeeding her baby in a supermarket.

The Curious
Why Kids Need Solitude by Alice Karekezi- New York public school educator and advisor Diana Senechal talks about the ways that contemporary curriculum (with a focus on group workshops and constant busy-work) and technology based social demands (the need to constantly give and get feedback on social networking sites) have left kids without time for solitude. She thinks that this has damaging cognitive and developmental effects.

According to Census data, the U.S. population grew at the slowest rate since the start of the Baby Boom in the 1940's.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Blogs, Communities, and Comment Moderation: Finding a Balance

I have some thoughts tangentially (but only tangentially, so if you didn't follow the whole thing, this should still make sense (or at least as much sense as it was going to make) related to the Feministe controversy over the interview with Hugo Schwyzer. There's a whole complicated argument going on that resulted in this post apologizing for ever running the interview in the first place. While there are plenty of interesting things we could talk about in this debate, I'm most interested in one of the comments from the author (Caperton) on the apology:
I agree that a community like Feministe is made up of strong people, and that censorship in the interest of protecting people from controversy isn’t in anyone’s best interest. As I said above, open discussion is the goal, even if that discussion isn’t entirely pleasant. Bloggers are in a unique position of having a responsibility both to the subject matter and to the community. In this case, a controversial and sensitive subject was presented without acknowledging that controversy and sensitivity, and ultimately the discussion was shut down before any of it could really be examined. Ideally, no topic will be off limits, and no readers will have to be coddled. But some posts would be best left out or amended to acknowledge the kind of discussion that’s likely to arise.
Obviously, I run a teeny, tiny blog that doesn't even begin to compare to Feministe and the community that holds them accountable, so my personal experience on this front is limited. I do think that this raises some interesting questions about the nature of community (online and off), the goal of discourse in general, and the role of blogging in particular. 

I think these things are especially interesting when juxtaposed with a view like the one recently explored on Tiger Beatdown:

The creation of comment threads where functional discussion can happen isn’t just about eradicating spam, or pointless comments that don’t add to the discussion, or derailing, or outright hate speech. It’s also about selectively choosing not to publish comments that could potentially steer that conversation into a direction that makes it unsafe for readers. As a moderator at FWD/Forward, for example, it was very important to me that the conversation centre the voices of people with disabilities at all times, that it be not just a disability-friendly space, but, explicitly, a disability space. We got a lot of angry email demanding to know why we didn’t publish comments from caregivers, from parents, from nondisabled people with Thoughts on disability. And the answer, simply, was that there are lots of other places for those thoughts to be expressed, and very few public spaces with a curated conversation where people with disabilities can feel like they are not just part of the conversation, but actually are the conversation.
And later in the post:
As moderators, as curators, especially as people who sometimes host discussions about groups which we are not a part of (I am not Muslim, for example), it is critical to make commenting threads places where actual productive conversation can occur. And that means taking responsibility for their contents, choosing to create a space where people feel comfortable participating. That means carefully reading and considering comments, just like letters to the editor, and deciding which to publish. Yes, it is work. It is a lot harder to read and approve comments than to let most things through, to not moderate at all, or to wait for people to complain before taking action. But it results in a space where people can feel like they are actually wanted in the conversation. 
There are some similarities between these two views--primarily the sense of the individual blogs as a defined "community" and the sense of responsibility in creating a space where discussion is possible.

It is the method to creating this discussion that differs, and I think that's closely connected to that idea of community and space. The Feministe post apologizes not only for posting the interview, but also for shutting down the comments. Many of the commenters were also incensed over this, expressing the feeling that they'd been shut out of their own community, silenced when they had something to say.

But I also understand the point of view on Tiger Beatdown. The internet can be an ugly, ugly place. A community of any kind is dependent upon communication between its members, but this is doubly true for a space that is literally crafted out of communication and not bound by geography. It is much harder to pack up and leave a town that makes you feel unwelcome than it is to leave a blog. And it is much easier to inhabit multiple blog communities simultaneously, leaving you with more options for membership and inclusion.

To this end, blogs have the freedom to craft multiple kinds of communities and allow members to find their own places within in them. I (and I suspect many other blog readers) appreciate the diversity in perspectives and find myself participating in blogging communities in a variety of ways. In some I am just an observer. I don't even participate in the comments either because I feel I have nothing to add to the conversation (though I still appreciate hearing it) or I don't yet feel informed enough to comment. And there are times when--yes--I don't really feel safe commenting in some spaces. Unmoderated spaces where the conversation quickly degrades into name-calling and personal attacks usually aren't worth it to me--even if I like reading the original posts in those spaces. At the same time, I've seen communities where the posts are so moderated that people end up corralled into little boxes. The moderators might allow some discussion of a nuance in the original post, but any real dissent is silenced. This is their right, and I understand why some people might want/need those spaces, but they don't feel like a community that I can claim, either.

In true Aristotelian fashion, I appreciate debate and disagreement. While I don't necessarily believe in a universal truth, I do believe in the benefit of diverse viewpoints. A belief that cannot be questioned is not really a belief at all. The greater the variety of challenges, the stronger a belief can become.

So blogs offer tremendous potential. Here is a space where variety of opinion is nearly unlimited. People from all over the world can bring in viewpoints informed through different cultural lenses and life experiences. But only if people feel safe enough--or just heard enough, if safety isn't a concern--to talk in the first place.

What does that look like for you? What kind of comment moderation makes you most likely to participate? How do you decide that you're part of a blogging community? Or is it an organic process that doesn't have a clear beginning?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Individualism vs. Collectivism: The Toy Edition

My last few posts have centered on the controversy surrounding Lego's forthcoming Lego Friend line. Many, many people have taken to Lego's Facebook page to voice their concern over the messages this new line sends to little girls. 

I appreciate debate and nuance, so I'm glad to see some in the comments on the Lego page. Some people are out and out bashing Lego's decision. Some people are saying that they've always loved Lego, and they're disappointed with this move. Some people are happy that their girls will have options because they felt they didn't before. Then there are people who are defending Lego's decision on the grounds that managing toy purchases should be the parents' responsibility--not the toy manufacturer's. 

For example, here's a post from Lego's Facebook wall:
I can't believe the comments some people are leaving on this page. The last time I checked, LEGO never put a gun to anyone's head and MADE them purchase pink LEGOs. If you want to buy your little girl the regular LEGOs, than DO IT!! You can also buy your girl a football and I doubt anyone would give a rat's rear-end.
Other versions of this same sentiment came up on Margot Magowan's letter to Lego, which was posted on SFGate. For example:
Dear Margot,
Perhaps you should take responsibility for raising your own children instead of expecting plastic toys like Legos and Barbie to do it for your.

Margo - I know it's very hard thing for someone like you with a holier than thou attitude - but people are allowed to make choices in their lives.
Who are you to say that this isn't a toy that a girl might actually like and play with?
If you don't like this set - here's a very simple solution for you - there are THOUSANDS of differents lego sets out there - buy the ones that you want your daughter to play with!
Let people who might actually like this set buy it for their children. 
These comments are interesting to me, and I think that they get at a fundamental debate between individualism and collectivism, a debate that surfaces again and again everywhere: literature, politics, philosophy, medicine--really, everywhere. 

The people responding so vehemently against the protesters are responding from a place of individualism. They believe that it is up to the individual parent to make a decision for his/her individual child. No collective voice should have a say in which toys get created. Every person has the right to make his/her purchase. 

The people protesting the new Lego line (and I am among them) are doing so out of a collectivist mentality. We see that the collective impact of a toy goes beyond individual purchasing decisions and into the market as a whole. We see marketing as an influential factor in cultural decisions, which in turn are influential factors in how we view ourselves and others. 

I do understand the individualist perspective, and I even--to some extent--wish I could embrace it. It would be a lot easier for me to only have to worry about the toys that I hand my child (or the shows that I let her see, or the music that I let her listen to, etc.) 

But that's not the case. 

Media and culture exist in a never-ending loop. Culture is reflected in the media (a pop star wears a revealing top in her video because culture has dictated that it's sexy), but the media is also reflected back into culture (the teenager who watched that video then buys more revealing clothes the next time she's shopping because she wants to capture the allure of her favorite pop star). So, people create media, but media also creates people, who then go on to create media, which in turn creates people, who then . . . you get the idea. 

We don't exist in isolation. We exist as a collective society--or, more accurately, collective societies. We each belong to many, many groups and we manage (sometimes with ease, sometimes without) to maneuver multiple overlapping roles at any given time. 

What does this have to do with toys?

Every time I see someone say "Just buy your daughter the toys you want and leave the rest of us alone!" I get a little flustered. 

See, I am not the only influencing factor in my daughter's life--and I shouldn't be. She is going to be influenced by a whole bunch of things: friends, television, billboards, mannequins, radio, extended family, childcare providers, school, movies, books, magazines, toys, clothes, songs, podcasts, blogs, newspapers, etc. It doesn't matter if I only buy stereotype-free books and toys, never let her watch the television, and carefully screen every movie before I show it to her. The messages get through anyway because I am not--and should not be--the only influence in her life. 

So, I will do my best to limit negative messages that I give my daughter directly, but that obviously is going to get harder as she gets older and has more freedom to consume media on her own. And I hope that the tools I've given her in media literacy leave her well equipped to handle that. Those are things I do as an individual. 

At the same time, I have a responsibility to be an influential factor in the society I inhabit as well.

It's not as simple as just buying the less gendered Lego set for my daughter and calling it a day. She's going to see commercials for the Lego Friends or hear her friends at school talk about their Lego sets and she's going to know. She's going to see the Lego Friends website that says "Lego for Girls."

If Lego Friends are the "Lego for Girls," this sets up a binary. The rest of the Lego sets are now not for girls. Suddenly, my daughter is playing with the "wrong" Lego set. And what is the "right" Lego set? The one with curvy hips and breasts. The one that's pink and purple. The one that includes characters who have one-dimensional pre-set identities like "pet lover" and "the smart one." These are damaging messages, and whether I intentionally send them to my daughter or not, every single time a company decides to market their products through these lenses, they're creating a culture that sends my daughter (and my future sons, if I have any) that message--in ways subtle and overt--over and over again. 

Finally, I want to address a few comments I've seen that call the protesters attempts to persuade Lego into taking a different marketing route "censorship." We are not trying to "censor" Lego. We are acting as ethical consumers. I am telling Lego what I will buy and what I won't buy. And when a company does something really egregious, I won't buy anything they make. I work hard for my money, and I don't throw it at businesses that don't share my values. That is not censorship. In fact, that's an individual decision that just happens to have a collective aim, and when a lot of individuals make that same decision, we move toward a collective goal. That's consumer responsibility in action. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Lego, Bring Back Beautiful

Inspired by a tweet from Pink Stinks, I just posted this 1981 Lego ad to Lego's Facebook page with a message for them to "Bring Back Beautiful."

Beautiful doesn't just come in pink.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Legos and Princesses: Can Greed Solve Our Gender Problems?

Businessweek has a very thorough article on Lego's new girl-centered marketing scheme. The article goes over the history of the company, the findings from an early study that led them to target boys in an attempt to renew their brand (which was very successful), and the findings that are leading to the new tweaking for a girl-friendly segment. See, very young girls and boys play with Legos (the big, toddler-friendly ones) at about the same rate, but then they hit these phases and there is a sharp gender divide.
There’s now arguably a “Lego phase” for school-age boys that’s as consuming as the princess phase. But unlike tiaras and pink chiffon, Lego play develops spatial, mathematical, and fine motor skills, and lets kids build almost anything they can imagine, often leading to hours of quiet, independent play.
So, at around the same age (beginning at three or four) boys and girls become increasingly susceptible to the messages around them about how they should be playing.  The princess phase promotes beauty and consumerism--those dolls need to have a lot of pretty things. Even though the popular Disney princesses are tied to movie characters, many children are awash in princess paraphernalia without ever watching the films. So, while analyzing the films for the messages they send is important, it doesn't give us the whole pictures. Princess culture is pervasive on its own, and it's made up of clothes, make-up, and designer goods. Meanwhile, boys get the message to develop "spatial, mathematical, and fine motor skills" and get hours of "quiet, independent play."

That's a problem.

Lego also sees it as a problem, but not for the same reason I do. Lego sees it as a problem because they are a business, and they want to make money. If a house full of girls is a house without Legos, then they're chopping off segments of their consumer base, and that's bad (Dr. Pepper, you may want to take some notes).

This is not a new problem, and--according to the Businessweek article--"Lego has had five strategic initiatives aimed at girls." Most of them have failed, but their newest strategy is being heralded as a "breakthrough." In just a few days (Dec. 26 in the UK and Jan. 1 in the US), Lego will launch Lego Friends, a line marketed to girls 5 and up. 

To create this line, they've relied on in-depth anthropological research that suggests: 

Lego suffered from an aesthetic deficit. “The greatest concern for girls really was beauty,” says Hanne Groth, Lego’s market research manager. Beauty, on the face of it, is an unsurprising virtue for a girl-friendly toy, but based on the ways girls played, Groth says, it came, as “mastery” had for boys, to stand for fairly specific needs: harmony (a pleasing, everything-in-its-right-place sense of order); friendlier colors; and a high level of detail.
“It was an education,” recalls Fenella Blaize Holden, an under-30 British designer, on the process of getting Lego Friends made. “No one could understand, why do we need more than one handbag? So I’d have to say, well, is one sword enough for the knights, or is it better to have a dagger, too? And then they’d come around.”
I was discouraged after reading that, hoping that Lego for girls wouldn't devolve into handbags and shoes. While it certainly appears there will be an element of that, I also found some hope in the description of the line:
Lego confirmed that girls favor role-play, but they also love to build—just not the same way as boys. Whereas boys tend to be “linear”—building rapidly, even against the clock, to finish a kit so it looks just like what’s on the box—girls prefer “stops along the way,” and to begin storytelling and rearranging. Lego has bagged the pieces in Lego Friends boxes so that girls can begin playing various scenarios without finishing the whole model. Lego Friends also introduces six new Lego colors—including Easter-egg-like shades of azure and lavender. (Bright pink was already in the Lego palette.)
Building. Storytelling. Rearranging. These are qualities of play that sound productive to me. I don't know why they need to be in "Easter-egg-like shades" to get girls to play with them, but I--to some extent--share Lise Eliot's sentiments:
If it takes color-coding or ponies and hairdressers to get girls playing with Lego, I’ll put up with it, at least for now, because it’s just so good for little girls’ brains.
If the need for "pretty" and pink are so heavily ingrained into girls' culture, it might offer an avenue toward expanding gendered stereotypes. After all, I don't have anything against pretty or pink (okay, I have a little something against pink, but I realize that it's a personal problem and I shouldn't vilify it); I just have a problem with those attributes being the only things acceptable. I also have a problem with the fact that these qualities are precursors for a life full of beauty obsession (with often unattainable goals) and a fear of looking too smart.

At the same time, this is still worlds away from the type of marketing and product creation I would like to see: truly gender-neutral toys that can be enjoyed by girls and boys--maybe even (gasp) as they play together.

Finally, Lego's move--which, remember, is based in the fact that they are a company and they want to make money--reminds me of Disney's marketing of Tangled. In this case, the drive for profit went the other way. Disney took their squarely situated girl marketing vehicle--the Princess flick--and re-tooled it so that it had more cross-gender appeal. They changed the name from Rapunzel to Tangled and added Flynn Rider, the "prince" character, with a pretty major role that isn't found in the original story.

Similarly, Disney shelved its plans for The Snow Queen because they didn't want to have too many films centered on female protagonists. This kind of thinking, of course, also works to further promote the gender disparity found on screen.

So, I'm torn.

I see that--in some ways--making Legos girl-friendly and princess films boy-friendly might offer some avenues toward a more gender-neutral way of looking at play in general.

At the same time, I can see these efforts furthering the divide. If girls' Legos become increasingly sparkly and pink and center more and more on the purses and pretty characters, are they really doing anything to break down the gender stereotypes, or are they just Barbie with pegs on their heads? If Disney stops creating female protagonists, will women constantly be relegated to sidekick roles--even in their own stories?

While I want to be hopeful, I'm pessimistic. And, ultimately, I don't plan on purchasing any pink Legos for my own daughter. I'll be spending my money on products that don't promote a gender binary--like these.

The Good, the Bad, and the Curious (Links)

Links to recent things that made me happy, sad, and perplexed.

The Good
"A Free-Range Soul (So to speak)"- A mother alone with infant twins on an airplane gets some help from a famous stranger.

Mother Robin is named CNN's Hero of the Year for her work in helping women in Indonesia have healthy pregnancies and births.

The Bad
The University of of Vermont chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon created a survey including a question on who members would most like to rape. (At least the national organization has since shut them down indefinitely).

The Curious
A study published in Psychology Today suggests that the Cry-It-Out method causes long-term damage to children.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Fighting the Culture Wars on Facebook: Important, Stupid, Both?

So, I have this acquaintance (a former co-worker) that posts a lot of conservative political opinion and questions on his Facebook page. Though I disagree with him on almost everything he posts, I think it's really important not to increase the effects of the online echo chamber. I don't de-friend people for posting things I disagree with, but I try not to get engaged in Facebook culture wars, either.

This acquaintance posted something about how he thought the parodies of Rick Perry's campaign video "Strong" were funny, but he didn't get why people were offended in the first place.

I responded to say that it was offensive because DADT was a horrible policy and when Perry suggests that it shouldn't have been repealed, he's insulting the hard-working gays and lesbians in the military.

Afterwards, the following conversation took place with someone I've never met and don't know at all--a Facebook friend of this acquaintance responded with this:

 I almost didn't respond, but I ultimately decided to because his comments were a direct response to something that I'd said (he called me out by name). I just didn't feel like I should let such a bigoted response go without saying anything else. So I responded:

I've been thinking about it off and on all day, and I'm not sure if that was the right thing to do. The way I see it, there are a few different ways to look at whether or not to respond to comments like these on Facebook:
  1. Don't Respond Because It's Pointless- I highly doubt that anything I said changed this guy's mind about gay people serving in the military. And I know for a fact that nothing he said changed my mind. Maybe it's not worth having the conversation because we're basically just "talking" to "hear" ourselves (typing to see ourselves, whatever). 
  2. Don't Respond Because It Promotes More Bigotry- Responding to bigotry could give the person spewing it the motivation to spew some more. What might have been an otherwise silent, solitary opinion now has an outlet for further development. 
  3. Respond Because, Hey, Maybe It Makes a Difference- Then again, people do change their points of view over time. Maybe these little conversations add up and make a difference. 
  4. Respond Because It's Cathartic- Who cares if it makes a difference or not? His comments offended me, and it felt good to get my response off my chest whether it was heard or not. 
  5. Respond Because Facebook is a Semi-Public Forum- So maybe I'm not going to change Guy I Don't Know's mind, but other people are reading this exchange, and maybe it makes a difference to someone else. 

So how do you handle these kinds of conflicts? Is it worth responding? Do you make that decision on a case-by-case basis?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Finding some Positives in Gene Marks' "Poor Black Kid"

There are plenty of people taking issue with Gene Marks' privilege-ridden, naive, and completely out-of-touch Forbes article "If I Were a Poor Black Kid."

See, Marks was inspired by Obama's speech and laid out a fool-proof (though, he admits, "hard") plan for success, even for those poor black kids who must have just missed this message in the past. His advice consists of plenty of gems, including:

  • I’d become expert at Google Scholar.   I’d visit study sites like SparkNotes and CliffsNotes to help me understand books. 
  • I would use Skype to study with other students who also want to do well in my school.  I would take advantage of study websites like Evernote, Study Rails, Flashcard Machine, Quizlet, and free online calculators.
  • I would use the internet to research each one of these schools [high-performing charter schools] so I could find out how I could be admitted.  I would find out the names of the admissions people and go to meet with them.
  • [On getting discounted admission to private schools]: Trust me, they want to show diversity.  They want to show smiling, smart kids of many different colors and races on their fundraising brochures.
  • Technology can help these kids.  But only if the kids want to be helped. 
Even if all of these "poor black kids" to whom Marks is doling out wisdom had access to computers (which is a big assumption), it would have to be a lot of access. Marks is suggesting that these kids learn how to navigate several different online sites; that would take a lot more than an hour a day of computer access that they might get in school. That takes computers at home. That takes reliable internet connections.  For many children in under-performing school districts, these things are unlikely. And although Marks purports to have an answer--free computer programs for disadvantaged kids--there's no way that's an answer for everyone and even getting access to those programs to begin with is going to be hard without those initial resources.

But even if they had those, Marks suggestions are still out of touch because they assume a level of media literacy that I don't see in my freshmen college student--and I teach at an expensive private school. Determining which websites are actually helpful and which ones aren't, figuring out how to use all of those sites simultaneously and effectively, setting up systems of study skills, organizing data--those are not skills that most kids have. Do you know how kids who do get those skills acquire them (usually)? They have parents who have those skills, and they see them over time. They watch their parents use those tools and they are introduced to them in stages, beginning at a young age. It's part of their culture.

Marks suggestions continue to be out of touch because all of his goals revolve around getting these kids into college. But college--while it may be a step in the process--is not the answer. College does not bestow any magical talisman of success upon its graduates. And mere college admission does not erase years of educational inequalities and racial and socioeconomic performance disparities. 

This is why I was actually happy to see Marks' article. I'm happy to see the backlash, and I'm happy to see this ridiculous opinion laid out in such plain terms. 

We talk a lot about closing performance gaps in our education policies. We talk a lot about maintaining Pell Grant amounts (which is important) and providing access to college. Essentially, this is what Marks is talking about, too. "Here kids," he seems to be saying, "here's a list of the things you need. Go get them." A list of information (or even an admission to a college) is not enough to replace a cultural background lacking cultural information. 

I was a first-generation college student, and I did a lot of things wrong. I made a lot of mistakes because I had no one in my family to give me guidance on how to do it better. Now I work with other students from first-generation, low-income, and other backgrounds underrepresented in college. I see everyday that these students are capable, intelligent, and hard-working. They don't need a list of websites. They need advocates, mentors, and guides to help them transition through a new cultural landscape. And that's something that takes dedication, time, and compassion--all the things missing from Marks' approach. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Marriage on Our Minds

In what has been an insanely busy week for me, I went to catch up on my Google Reader feeds today and saw a lot of posts about marriage.

Any other marriage thoughts on your mind?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Working Moms Are Happiest: Now What?

A new study from the American Psychological Association published in the Journal of Family Psychology finds that working moms report better overall health and less depression than their stay-at-home counterparts. 

The study surveyed over 1300 moms over 10 years. 

It also found that part-time working moms spend as much time involved with their children's school as stay-at-home moms (though full-time working moms spend less time). In addition, part-time mothers were found to be "more sensitive with their preschool children and provided more learning opportunities for toddlers than stay-at-home moms and mothers with full-time jobs."

As a working mom, a study like this works to affirm my own beliefs. I know that I am a healthier, more fully functioning human being because of my work. My work keeps me engaged and fulfilled. I like contributing to my household income, and the intellectual and financial fulfillment I get from the position makes me more confident and willing to try new things, which in turn helps my marriage, my attitude, and my friendships. I love working, and I can't imagine not doing it. 

However, I do feel that anytime a study like this comes out, it throws fuel on the working mom/stay-at-home-mom debate in a way that can be counterproductive for all moms. To be clear, I'm not saying that I blame the study itself. I think that studies like this are important to contributing to our overall knowledge about the societal impacts of parenting and they can definitely help impact policy changes (for instance, the results of this study are already being cited as reasons that part-time work should become more available with better benefits). 

At the same time, it's easy to take a headline like "Working Moms are Happiest" and use it to promote our own stance without thinking about the impact it has on people who don't want to (or can't) make the same decisions. 

I've tried to get to the full-text article, but it's not available on the databases I have yet, so I'll check it out later. In the meantime, here are some questions and concerns I think we need to keep in mind when approaching a discussion on results like these. 

  • As I've written about before, happiness is a very strange meter to use to gauge success because it is so subjective. Happiness often has to do with an in-the-moment response and might be a complicated longterm barometer, especially when you consider individual's purposes for decision-making and the complication of memory. What does it mean to be the happiest mom? 
  • Studies are good at showing trends, but they can't and shouldn't be used to analyze individual decisions. While some (and maybe even many) working moms are happier than some (and maybe even many) stay-at-home moms, that doesn't mean that individual working moms aren't miserable and individual stay-at-home moms aren't completely fulfilled. How do you think that individual moms reading these studies respond?
  • I'm really interested to see how this study measured "sensitivity" and "learning opportunities" for preschoolers. Hopefully I can revisit it after I see the full text. 
  • I know I'm beating a dead horse here, but why are all the studies about moms? Dads have kids, too. Dads work, too. And what happens if you stop delineating by traditional gender roles and look at trends in parenting?
So, I find this study interesting (especially since it seems to support my own lifestyle decisions, and who doesn't love studies that do that?), but I feel the need to back up and make sure I'm not just seeking out headlines that I like. Finally, I caution against the rhetoric that uses studies like these to further the working mom/stay-at-home mom dichotomy because dividing moms into warring factions is the easiest way to keep us from recognizing our commonalities and joining together to make a difference in key areas. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Competition and Children: Lessons from Rachel Crow's X-Factor Breakdown

I hesitated to embed the following video because I think that it's exploitative and embarrassing, but it is already embedded in hundreds of articles and popping up in dozens of YouTube videos. Not to mention, it already aired on national television. The exploitation is already happening, and I think that it's important that we talk about it, so I'm including the video to frame the discussion.

Here's 13-year-old Rachel Crow getting eliminated from the X-Factor. She, like most 13-year-olds facing that kind of pressure would, breaks down.

The minimum age for competing in the U.S. X-Factor is 12 years. (In the UK it's 16, but there is talk that that is also too young.)

Watching the clip, it seems to me that there's a battle between contrived drama and real drama. When judge Nicole Scherzinger is near tears and sends the final vote to the viewers, the drama is working for the show. (I'm not saying that Scherzinger wasn't being sincere, just that the cameras and the overall tone of the show were lapping it up like warm milk.) When Rachel breaks down, however, no one's quite sure how to handle themselves. The host pushes the winning contestant away abruptly, even as he's trying to console Rachel. Rachel's mom and judge Simon Cowell rush to shield Rachel from the camera and hug her. Her mother can be heard telling her "It's okay. I promise." This is not the kind of drama the show wants because it's too real, too raw.

Don't get me wrong. Losing a contest is not the end of the world, and I know there are literally millions of children around the world going through far worse.

But I bet this felt worse than anything young Rachel Crow has ever had to deal with, and pain is--among other things--relative. It's also something you deal with differently as you mature. As bizchickblogs explains:
She’s 13 years old, competing for a $5 million record deal with adults. Maybe that’s no big deal, but I remember being 13. 13 is pretty young, and I think as a society we are so enamored with the talents of the young that we refuse to accept the idea that they may not be able to handle the lows that come with the territory.
Since I like to mix my pop culture analyses thoroughly, let me turn your attention now to an old episode of Boy Meets World, a show which may hold the answer to most (but probably not all) of life's big questions.

In this episode, Cory's little sister Morgan refuses to sing at the school's talent show because a talented girl in her class always wins. At the same time, she is hanging out with a young art prodigy who is world-renowned but lonely because her talent makes it hard to connect with kids her own age. Also at the same time (this show is more intricate than we usually give it credit) Cory is angry at his parents for not pushing him to become great, and he laments his mediocrity over a bedroom full of "eighth place" and "honorable mention" trophies. In the end of this episode, Morgan sings even though she's probably not going to win the competition because the art prodigy tells her she has to be true to who she is, and she is a talented (though probably not going to be world-renowned) singer. Cory takes this message to heart and breaks into horribly off-pitch song in the middle of Morgan's performance, embarrassing pretty much everyone.

While this show is obviously light-hearted, I think that the scenario is bringing up a lot of the nuances of the competition in childhood issue.

Competition can be a valuable tool. When we compete, we learn how to lose with grace, push ourselves to the next level, and recognize our own strengths. But in an age where the doling out of trophies to everyone who participates is so common it gets its own term (Everyone Gets a Trophy Syndrome, which was written about in Newsweek way back in 1992) and grade inflation is hitting all-time highs, Cory's anger over not getting pushed to his best might have some bite.

The benefits of competition are complicated, however, by our culture of constant pressure. The X-Factor is just one in a series of shows that highlight people being eliminated in order to get us to the "best": American Idol, The Voice, Top Chef, America's Next Top Model, The Biggest Loser, etc. Children are constantly bombarded with images of "losers" losing. There can only be one winner.

And it's no wonder that Rachel Crow expected it to be her. Have you heard the girl sing? She's talented. I'm sure she's been told--with good reason--just how talented she is over and over again in her young life. And she's 13--a tumultuous age when ego runs high and confidence abounds mixed with the need to belong and a constant fear of rejection.

I do think it's important for children to see that not everyone wins all of the time. I also think it's important for children to recognize natural strengths and interests and realize that they don't have to do it all. And some healthy competition can be an important tool in those regards.

At the same time, hoisting a child in front of a national audience (which is getting easier and easier with our technological landscape and the breakdown of privacy norms) and telling her to compete goes beyond those goals.

And just to round out my pop culture analysis into a triumvirate, I can't help but think about young stars who have had other very public meltdowns--many of which are much longer and deeper than Rachel Crow's. Lindsay Lohan, for example, is thrust into the public eye once more as her Playboy cover has been leaked, prompting an early release of the issue. Mail Online has a picture of Lohan as she prepared for the shoot, unairbrushed and beautiful, but as the article reports, "there is something uncomfortable about the image; a little girl lost beneath lashings of red lipstick and a confused expression." Surely Lohan's life has been complicated by rising to fame at such a young age. 

Is raising the age on shows like the X-Factor the answer? And--if that's (part of) the answer--should we raise the age for acting as well? What do we determine as "competition"? Is there a way to let children hone their natural skills while still protecting them from public humiliation? 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Christmas Giant

The Good, The Bad, and The Curious.

A round-up of things that made me happy, sad, and perplexed. What would you add for the week?

The Good
PhD in Parenting created a video encouraging moms of toddlers to help through the more challenging moments.

The Bad
Rick Perry decided to take the overt bigotry route in his race to the Whitehouse by releasing his anti-gay campaign video "Strong." (Though, it isn't without a little of the Good--it's the most disliked video on YouTube, and it's influenced some amusing parodies).

The Curious
Is this Quote Sexist Against Men? Love Ashely put the quote from the end of Miss Representation up on her Facebook page and angered one of her male Facebook friends. Though the guy's response was out of line, I definitely thought the quote was sexist when I heard it in the film, and its presence in an otherwise fantastic documentary bothered me. You don't fight sexism with sexism. Here's the quote:
"Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily that's not too difficult." 

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"Prefer Not to Respond" About Your Race? Too Bad!

Imagine that you are a student applying for a program, one of the application questions asks for your race, and you leave it blank or check "prefer not to respond." Then, in an interview with the director of the program, you're told that you are not required to self-identify, but if you don't, a racial designation will be chosen for you for reporting purposes.

How would you feel?

Under the Department of Education guidelines, this is exactly how this situation could play out.

The most recent recommendations can be found in the Federal Register Vol. 72, No. 202 and were published Friday, October 19, 2007. You can see the full text here. The section that pertains to the reporting of race is labeled "Final Guidelines on Maintaining, Collecting, and Reporting Racial and Ethnic Data to the U.S. Department of Education."

According to these guidelines, racial and ethnic data collection is to be done through a two-part question, first asking if the respondent is Hispanic and then asking for racial self-identification. The question looks something like this, though it can vary slightly depending on how the program words it:
1) Hispanic/Latino of any race; and for individuals who are non-Hispanic/Latino only
2) American Indian or Alaska Native
3) Asian
4) Black or African American
5) Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
6) White
7) Two or more races
The Department made these changes to avoid "double reporting of persons identifying with multiple races." It also allows institutions to "report only ethnic data for individuals who self-identify as being Hispanic/Latino, even though individuals will have had the opportunity to designate racial information" to avoid "double reporting of individuals who have self-identified as having Hispanic/Latino ethnicity and who have also provided racial information."

Also under these guidelines, reporters are instructed to assign racial designation to students who have not reported:
If adequate opportunity has been provided for respondents to self-identify and respondents still do not answer the questions, observer identification should be used
As someone who works in education and someone who is concerned about racial equality, I appreciate the attention to nuances in racial data reporting, and I do think that the Department of Ed has a difficult task in determining the best way to handle this data.

However, as someone who understands race to be a fluid identification that is largely based in social construct and someone who has a biracial daughter who deserves the freedom to figure out a racial identity that works for her, I am frustrated with the implications of assigning racial designation to people against their will.

The background section of this document indicates that some people were opposed to the adoption of these rules, but it appears that the nuance of this implication is not fully fleshed out:
Generally the commenters opposed . . . asserted that the changes would undermine the Department's collection of reliable statistical data . . . Other commenters objected to collecting any individual racial and ethnic data because they viewed the collection of racial and ethnic data as being contrary to the principle of racial equality.
These oppositions represent people who are most concerned with reliable data and people who oppose all racial identification questions. There's a middle ground opposition here, though. I am opposed to this questioning not because I am opposed to race-based questions (I do think that tracking this data can help us identify (and thus help us eradicate) racial inequalities and disparities), but because to assign someone a racial designation against his/her will is disrespectful and, quite frankly, mind-boggling.

The section that further explains the process for identifying race through "observation" is even more perplexing:
While the Department recognizes that obtaining data by observer identification is not as accurate as obtaining data through a self-identification process, places some burden on school district staff, and may be contrary to the wishes of those refusing to self-identify, it is better than the alternative of having no information [emphasis mine]
So, the Department recognizes that assigning a racial designation may go against the participant's wishes, but they prefer data at any cost. They also recognize that this data may be less accurate, but inaccurate data is apparently better than no data.

The part that really, really bothers me though is this:
Additionally, this approach should assist in discouraging refusals to self-identify because respondents are informed that if they fail to provide the racial and ethnic information someone from the school district will provide it on their behalf. In some instances, this may result in self-identification
Even though the guidelines later state that no one is to "tell an individual how that individual should classify himself or herself," this statement is a clear attempt to bully students into making a self-identification they have chosen not to make. And, while it may not tell an individual how to self-identify, it certainly tells them that self-identification is preferential to random assignment.

Finally, the Department recognizes the potential for complications when minors (elementary and secondary students) self-identify in ways different from their parents. To solve this problem, they declare:
at the elementary and secondary school level, the identification of a student's racial and ethnic categories is to be made primarily by the parents or guardians 
There are plenty of reasons a person may choose not to self-identify as any racial designation. Perhaps that person is multiracial and has yet to determine an identification that fits his/her identity; we are, after all, talking about students who are likely in periods of personal growth and philosophical exploration. Perhaps that person has a negative association with race because of exposure to racism and finds refusing to identify to have a shielding effect. Perhaps that person finds the question of race insulting. Perhaps that person considers racial identification to be a private matter. Perhaps that person sees race to be a fabricated concept and doesn't believe that it should be used.

Whatever the reason, a person has the right to not disclose racial self-identification. To try to bully that student out of that right by threatening him/her with a random assignment is unacceptable. Furthermore, assigning a racial category through "observation" brings up a lot of problematic questions.

What makes someone qualified to make an "observation" about someone's race? Is it based entirely on phenotype? Who's to say what someone's skin color, hair texture, etc means about his/her race? Is it based on interactions with that student, and--if so--then isn't making assumptions about that person's racial identity based on those interactions a form of stereotyping?

The Department shouldn't put educators in that position, and they should respect the autonomy of students who wish to keep their racial identification undisclosed.

UPDATE: After I posted this, I remembered a few resources that might help illuminate just why telling someone to make an "observer identification" about someone's race is more complicated that it might seem.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

We've Got the Power! (Or At Least Our Wallets Do)

Today's NPR article by Ashley Milne-Tyte examines some of the recent protests involving children's fashion. 

There was the "I'm Too Pretty to Do Homework" shirt from JCPenney. After an online petition, the item was pulled from the shelves.

Then there was the Forever 21 "Allergic to Algebra" shirt, which was pulled after similar protests just a few weeks later. 

Mine-Tyte also mentions a petition against Gymboree's onesies that allow babies to be branded as "Smart Like Daddy" or "Pretty like Mommy."

In addition to the campaigns mentioned in the NPR article, there have been some other successful consumer-intiatied marketing shifts because of protests like these.  Edmund Scientifics has changed the labeling on their novelty kits so that they are no longer divided by "Boy" and "Girl" after receiving many consumer complaints. 

To harness this kind of success and concentrate efforts, is promoting a Twitter hashtag of #notbuyingit to call out companies with sexist marketing practices. 

I'm really excited to see this kind of organized activism around this topic. I think that there has always been a large segment of consumers who have these concerns, and I think there is an even larger segment of consumers that would agree with these concerns if they were pointed out to them. Before the rise of social media, however, there was very little opportunity to do much more than speak about it to the few people who shared both your geographic locale and your feminist lens. Now, the sense of community is much broader and the boundaries of geography have started to break down. Every time that I see a complaint about a sexist product, I feel more confident in my own critiques. It's comforting to know that you are not alone in seeing the problem because sometimes social pressures can make you feel like you're overreacting, even when it is an important personal cause. 

This is touched upon in the NPR article as well:
Robin Sackin, a professor at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology, says people need to lighten up. Children are influenced by their parents, she says — not by slogans on T-shirts.
"So if my child says to me, 'Mommy, I want to get that,' " Sackin says, "I'd say, 'OK, you can have it, but I don't care if you're pretty — you're doing your homework.' "
While I think it's great to share with your kids messages counter to the sexist ones surrounding them, I don't think it's enough to combat the effects. I am not my daughter's sole source of guidance in the world nor should I be. And, no, I don't think that these t-shirts are going to single-handedly keep any young girl from growing up to be an engineer or doctor or whatever, but that's the thing. They don't have to do it single-handedly because there are a plethora of t-shirts, books, movies, games, songs, and shows that send the same message. That message then gets picked up by their peers who echo it in ways blatant and subtle. 

At the same time, I don't think it's enough to just point out when companies get it wrong. That's why I was excited to be part of a Tweetchat where we discussed the need for buy-cotts as well as boycotts. It's not enough to take our money away from companies that don't deserve it. We also need to invest our dollars in companies that work against these stereotypes. If we're going to see a shift away from sexist marketing and products, we have to promote alternatives. 

So, if you're looking for some alternatives to the sexist slogans featured on the t-shirts above, why not take a look at Pigtail Pals and Princess Free Zone.

The fact that companies are pulling items from the shelves demonstrates our collective power. If we "vote with our wallets" and purchase products that promote our ideals, we can start to see some real change. 

And since we're now solidly in the holiday shopping frenzy, what are you not buying? And what do you think we should buy instead?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Moms, Are You Going to Win Christmas This Year? A Frustrating Christmas Commercial Trend

I know that there are no shortage of eloquent explanations of frustration with the greedy nature of the holiday season (for instance, this NPR piece on the irony of A Charlie Brown Christmas--a film with an anti-consumerist message--selling as an overpriced app).

And, yes, I think we're all aware that Christmas-gift shopping can get a little hectic. We worry about how to teach our children the true meaning of the Christmas spirit and some of us curse under our breaths (and some of us just curse) when they start piping Christmas music through the stores in October.

But what's really got me going right now is the idea that Christmas is some kind of contest. We've got to win it! If we get the right things at the right price, we win! If we don't, well, let's not even think about that, because we're going to win!

And it's apparently a marketing dream scheme because it's everywhere:

  • There's the series of Target Black Friday commercials that show a woman obsessively working out in preparation for the sale. At one point, she's trying to psych herself up by telling herself "You will win this." By setting herself up as the "winner," even shopping for other people is ultimately about self-fulfillment. This mentality turns a potentially altruistic activity into a selfish one. 
  • In a similar vein, Wal-Mart's price guarantee commercial features a somewhat manic Christmas shopping mom who is extremely excited to hear that Wal-Mart will guarantee their prices. At one point she says "And then my kids will be like, 'You rule!'" while pointing to herself. Again, the goal is to "win" favor through the Christmas gifts. 
  • And one more mom who's going to win her kid's affection through gifts: in this Best Buy commercial, a woman isn't even happy to find her great deals at Best Buy. She is alarmingly stoic as the clerk tells her (light-heartedly) "Santa better watch out, huh?" Then we see her confronting Santa from the shadowy recesses of her living room, mocking him because there is no room left for him to leave presents. Here the idea of "winning" moves from an abstract concept to a more concrete one. This mom is literally defeating Santa Claus because she wants the glory for the things. 
  • Of course, these shopping moms can't be held completely responsible, especially when they're up against a world full of commercial children who are portrayed as entitled and greedy. In this Littlewoods (a UK-based retail company) commercial, kids use their school Christmas play to sing an ode to their mothers and the wonderful gifts they've given them. The moms beam with pride as their children point them out and list the great things they got for Christmas. The message is clear: if you get the right gifts, you're a good mom who wins your child's affection. If not, well, you wouldn't want to find out, would you? Go shopping. 
  • But at least the kids in the Littlewoods commercial are friendly and nice. Some other commercial kids are downright hostile. Take this eBay commercial where a young girl breaks into a snotty rant in the middle of a family rendition of "The 12 Days of Christmas" to chastise everyone for the horrible gifts they've given her in the past and to draw their attention to her very specific eBay list so that they don't mess up this year. 

This focus on competition depresses me, and it's even more frustrating that it's almost entirely moms portrayed in these commercials. We don't really need any more perpetuation of the crazy "supermom" who thinks she has to do it all. We also don't really need any more hyper-competitiveness between moms, who are already at each other's throats over everything from how to feed our children to what strollers they should sit in to how they should sleep. Not to mention, there are plenty of hard-working dads who (along with many hard-working moms) both make the money to pay for these mountains of toys and--yes, they sometimes do--go shopping for them themselves. These commercials make moms out to be slightly unhinged, vicariously selfish (because even though they're buying the gifts for their kids, their main concern is to "win"), and really annoying. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Interracial Couples Banned from Church

With a headline like "Kentucky Church Bans Interracial Marriage,"you might expect to check the date on some crumbling newspaper and see this sad story. Not that an earlier date would make the sentiment any better, but it is a bit more shocking to see that this story is from yesterday--December 1, 2011. 

A longtime church member, Stella Harville, from a small (40 person average) congregation brought her fiancé to church and together the two sang a duet. Afterwards, according to Yahoo News writer Eric Pfeiffer:
Dean Harville, Stella's father, said he was told by the church's former pastor Melvin Thompson that his daughter and her fiancé were not allowed to sing at the church again.
That's right, this pastor couldn't make his bigoted demand directly to the people involved, but to the woman's father.

As a point of clarity, the church made it clear that they aren't singling out couples who sing together. A WYMT obtained copy of the church resolution explains the complete viewpoint on interracial couples:
That the Gulnare Freewill Baptist Church does not condone interracial marriage. Parties of such marriages will not be received as members, nor will they be used in worship services and other church functions, with the exception being funerals. All are welcome to our public worship services. This recommendation is not intended to judge the salvation of anyone, but is intended to promote greater unity among the church body and the community we serve.
Right. So, that's pretty horrible any way you approach it, but let's pick this apart a little.

Note that it's the Church as an entity that does not "condone interracial marriage," and--at least for many people, and I'm willing to venture and say that for most churchgoing people--marriage is a union in which church approval is important, that is a formal act on the part of the Church.

People who choose to disobey the Church and marry anyway will be ostracized by being denied membership and access to church functions. In the case of Ms. Harville, someone who is already a member, I guess--though it's not explicitly stated--membership will be revoked.

Here's where it gets so sad it makes me laugh because the hypocrisy starts to run so deep I can't keep track of my reaction. "All are welcome to our public worship services." So, see, they're not racist! You can come to church!

And the decision to ban members who marry interracially is "not intended to judge the salvation of anyone." Well, how gracious of you, deciding only that these people aren't worthy of inclusion in your precious community, and not that they should burn in Hell.

And then--wait for it--the decision is meant to "promote greater unity." On the face of it, this is the greatest hypocrisy of them all. You choose to strengthen the "unity" of your community by refusing to let people into it. But what this statement really means is that unity can only be preserved when there is an other. There is no "us" if there is not a "them." To me, this Church's stance blatantly means that their priority is not in spreading God's message or providing a space for salvation, but to preserve their own short-sighted and bigoted definition of humanity.

And what, exactly, is an interracial marriage in the Church's eyes? What gets defined as a "race?" Can we just pick people we don't like and decide that they are too different to count? This sounds like an easy way to preserve "unity" indeed. And if that's what unity looks like, I'm glad I'm part of the "them."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Five Things That Helped Me Breastfeed Successfully

I did it! As of today, I've been successfully breastfeeding for a year. This was the goal I had in mind, and I usually do a good job of working towards my goals, but I have to say that this one was challenging. I was told (explicitly and implicitly) that I wouldn't be able to make it--because I was working full-time, because my daughter was born too big, because I would get too tired, because I wouldn't have time to pump, because I wouldn't be able to produce enough milk, because it would be a pain to nurse in public, because, because, because.

So, in honor of making it to one year, I'm putting together a list of the things that helped me get there:

5) The Right Gear-
Some tout the benefits of breastfeeding because it is inexpensive. While I was on maternity leave, that was true. Once I went back to work (when my daughter was seven weeks old), however, there were a lot of things that I needed to make it work. One of those things was a good pump. I didn't have a lot of time to pump at work, and I often struggled with production. A double electric pump was a necessity to help overcome these problems.

I have the Medela Pump-in-Style-Advance, but after learning more about the WHO Code (which I'd never heard of before my daughter was born) and how Medela has violated it, I won't buy from them again unless they change their marketing.  If I am ever in the market again, I will probably get a Hygeia pump, which is WHO compliant and gets good reviews.

Pumping hands free was also essential. At one point, I was having supply problems and had to pump in the morning after my daughter ate, three times at work, as soon as I got home, in the evening after she went to bed, and once in the middle of the night. That's nearly two hours of my day. I am not good (in case you haven't noticed) at doing only one thing at a time. I am also not good at spending money on items that seem superfluous, so I bought a few cheap clasp-in-the-front sports bras from Wal-Mart and cut holes in them. It may sound silly, but I honestly don't think I would have been able to stick it out if I hadn't found the freedom to read and write while pumping. 

4) Getting Over It-
I hadn't been around many breastfeeding mothers when I gave birth to my daughter. I had read a lot, and I knew that breastfeeding was important to me, but I hadn't seen it happen very often--certainly not in public.

Early on, I attempted to avoid nursing in public at all. I planned trips out around the feeding schedule, but sometimes she ate every hour, and it was exhausting. Once I started building a freezer supply, I tried to take bottles of milk to feed her. It worked sometimes, but sometimes she finished the bottle and was still hungry. I tried just going to the car whenever she needed to eat, but it wasn't always possible. I live in an urban area, and sometimes the car would be blocks away--she was also born in December, so it was cold. 

I had two choices: get over it or stop going out. I wasn't about to isolate myself from the world, so I got over it. 

I've fed my daughter in restaurants, at friend's houses, and in stores. By the time she was about six months and eating solids, I didn't have to nurse as often in public, and it's still my preference to avoid it if possible, but coming to terms with the fact that feeding my baby was not a shameful act was a major step in making breastfeeding work. I hope that becoming more comfortable with it also made some of the people I was around more comfortable with breastfeeding, too.

3) Balancing Medical Advice and My Instincts
My daughter weighed nine pounds at birth, and from practically the moment she was born the doctors were telling me I'd probably need to supplement. I ignored them. During her check-up on the day after she was born, they tested her blood sugar and said she needed formula. When I told them I didn't want to give her formula, they insisted that she had to have it and they would not be able to release us until this test was performed and the results were where they wanted them. I gave in, but insisted that she get it from a dropper instead of a bottle to avoid nipple confusion. She had four droppers of formula (the only formula she's ever had), the test came back fine, and we got to go home. 

Then we had to go back. She was jaundiced, and had to be on bilirubin lights for about 15 hours. There were again suggestions that I should supplement to help her get rid of the bilirubin, but I held firm. I fed her every hour or every time she woke up, whichever came first. Her bilirubin levels dropped and we got to go home. 

Then we had her first check-up. She didn't weigh enough, they said. She was few ounces shy of birth weight. If I couldn't get her weight up over the weekend, I'd have to supplement. I cried. I was so frustrated, but I just kept nursing her the way I had been, on demand, and her weight was fine--until the next appointment. We did this song and dance three times. Each time they said her weight was low (even though she was in the 60th and 70th percentiles) and each time I dealt with guilt, wondering if I was somehow hurting her by not supplementing.

During a more recent check-up, her weight wasn't the issue (she's still in the same percentile, but I guess since she's older there's less focus on her exact weight). This was her 9-month appointment and the doctor told me to drop the overnight feeding because she shouldn't still be waking in the middle of the night to eat and she surely isn't really hungry. I started to take her advice because she made me feel like I was doing something wrong by still feeding my daughter at night, but then that first night came. As I held my daughter, shushing her and trying to comfort her, I listened to her cries. She was hungry. I know she was hungry because I spend every day with her. I know what her cries mean. Sure enough, I fed her, she went to sleep, and I put her back in her crib.

It's hard to stand up to experts, especially as a first-time mom, and I do value expert input, but in the end, I have to do what feels right to me.

This website is a fantastic source for any breastfeeding mother. I love that, even though the author clearly has a viewpoint and an opinion on when/how to wean, she provides information for situations that she wouldn't consider ideal. The information is well-organized, thorough, backed up with tons of resources, and a welcome perspective.

1) A Supportive Partner-
My husband is a fantastic father. There are arguments that breastfeeding is a challenge to equally shared parenting because the mother ends up with a large bulk of the caregiving that she can't equally share. While, yes, breastfeeding meant that there were times (and in those early days, hours upon hours) that I was committing to caregiving on my own, my husband has always been supportive and worked hard to make up that balance. While I nursed, he would clean, do laundry, or even just sit and talk to me. In the middle of the night, he would go and get our daughter from the crib and put her back down after she ate. He put together bottles of pumped milk for daycare and was actively involved in the transition to solid foods. Though I did sometimes resent the ease with which he could have a Jack and Coke when all I wanted was one--not even very big--margarita but the baby had to nurse in thirty minutes, I never felt like breastfeeding threw our parenting out of sync. And since equally sharing parenting is an important part of our larger family philosophy, that was an important step to making breastfeeding work.

What about you? What things helped you (or do you wish you'd had to help you) reach your breastfeeding goals?