They both pee where they’re not supposed to, and both need to be crated at times.

28 06 2012

I don’t have kids. I’ve said it here before, because, as we all know, it matters to some of our clients. I maintain that it doesn’t really matter. Not having kids doesn’t mean you don’t know kids. It doesn’t mean you’ve never taken care of a child, or have children in your life who you love dearly.

But there are some things you can’t entirely understand. One is the feeling of loving someone more than anything, knowing what’s best for them, and sending them out into the world to make mistakes. Another is everyone in the world thinking they know how to parent your child better than you do.

That last one, I can kind of relate to. Ever since I got a dog.

Now, I have no intention of becoming one of those lunatics who refers to myself as my dog’s mommy, or tells people I have a six month old, or requests maternity leave when I bring a pet home. But the fact remains that there are some similarities to life with a dog and life with a baby. I say things like “It’s not time for dinner yet” to someone who doesn’t speak English, my boyfriend and I regularly discuss the timing and location of poops, I feel guilty leaving him at day care, I show coworkers pictures of him doing cute things, I do way more laundry than I thought possible, and I have someone to blame all weird household smells on.

Also, everyone else is an expert.

I admit that I don’t know a whole lot. So I turn to the source of all modern knowledge, the great and powerful Oz Google. (It’s how Jenny McCarthy cured autism, you know.) And right away I’m confronted with guilt. “Your dog is exhibiting signs of separation anxiety. First of all, stop getting angry at him. Think of it from his perspective. He just wants to be with you.” What kind of an asshole do you think I am, Mr. Google? I already feel bad! That’s why I’m here. “If your dog has an accident in the house, do not rub his nose in it.” Yeah, I’m not the mean dad from The Wonder Years. I got it.

There’s also the confusion. To address separation anxiety, we must teach the dog that it’s ok to be away from us. Leave the room, and encourage him to stay behind. To ensure that your dog is entirely housebroken, DO NOT LEAVE HIM ALONE FOR A MOMENT! You must be right there to interrupt any and all accidents. If you miss one, you have no one but yourself to blame. But stop following him around, you’re making his anxiety worse!

There’s little consensus on what you should be doing to raise a happy, healthy dog. This person says you need a choke collar. That person says they’re damaging. Everyone has an Invisible Fence, so that seems like the way to go. Except this expert says that’s a move for lazy assholes. Apparently we should feed him fresh chicken once a week? Oh wait, only if we want terrible things to happen to him. Dog food or no food! Crating is good. I mean bad. I mean no more than six four hours?

Then there are people on the street with helpful advice. “You should praise him when he does something good. Give him a little treat.” Well, you should write a book. ” “Tap him on the nose with a newspaper.” Again, is it the 50s? Who has a newspaper? “It’s important for them to socialize.” With your yippy, feral, biting machine? No thanks. “He’s so skinny. Maybe you should feed him more.” Was that on Animal Planet?

I know that if I mention anything about how we train or care for the dog, someone will disagree and be able to tell me how I’m irrevocably harming him. I mean, his treats aren’t locally grown or organic, so they’re probably right.

This is a fraction of what new parents are faced with. If you’re single, a teenager, or a father, forget it. Obviously you know nothing.

Most people seem incapable of determining what a “safety issue” that requires intervention really is. Parents playing a round of Baby Tetherball is dangerous. An infant being bottle fed in public is not.

Other young parents have a million must-haves for an expectant mother. “How many Boppys do you have? You got the Bumbo as well, right? Those are amazing. Just don’t leave the kid unattended, or she will die instantly. Also get the vibrating chair. And a walker, but if you put her in it too soon she’ll become bowlegged and hate you forever. Which breast pump are you getting? Why are you getting all those bottles? You will be breastfeeding, right? Only breastfed humans have gone on to happiness and success, it’s scientifically proven. You also need the video monitor! Obviously you won’t have any blankets or anything in her crib, but you need this too, so you can make sure she’s breathing all night.”

OK, Babies R Us cashier. Can we just finish checking out and get back to being strangers?

The generation that raised us is great for making new parents feel stupid. “Ok, I didn’t have six special chairs for you before you could sit up, or a baby monitor, but sure, that’s a necessity” as the eyes roll. It’s true, but at some point things change and we need to deal with it. I don’t hear any of those grandmothers pining for the days of outhouses or maxi-pads with belts, so we need to accept some progress.

And some of those innovations are ridiculous, of course. Wipe warmers spring to mind. No baby has ever died of Chilly Tush Syndrome, so I think we would be fine without one. But we have to consider it from the point of view of someone who is excited to be expecting a child, and is then confronted with everything that will go wrong and kill your baby. SIDS is everywhere! You’re probably passing along pertussis through hugs! But vaccinations cause autism!

Everything a pregnant woman or a person with a baby does seems to be up for debate. Most of my clients don’t have the luxury of a million different items to make their lives more convenient, or even to make their child’s life a bit easier. But they certainly get to enjoy everyone on the planet telling them how they could be doing things better.

Many moms, especially young ones, get it from their mothers or grandmothers. Not that they don’t appreciate the help, but they want it to be clear who the parent is. They get it from their friends who have been through it. They hear it from politicians who talk about single and teenage mothers receiving welfare as the latest sign of the apocalypse.

And of course they get it from us.

We don’t want to be that way. We try really hard not to undermine parents, assume they don’t know basic, obvious stuff. We even get a bit defensive when it seems that clients assume that we’re like this. But the fact that they expect us to be hypercritical makes perfect sense. We need to remember that we’re the latest in a long line of people who seem to think that they know better, and how annoying and frustrating that is to deal with.

Because honestly, I know my dog is too skinny.





Real wars involve guns–step it up!

6 07 2011

I was recently asked if I felt that there was a “prejudice” against breastfeeding, that I experienced in my work. I was a bit taken aback by the question. Why would someone even think to ask that? Then I realized what I was being asked to take a side in.

Mommy wars.

The “mommy wars” is a ridiculous term used for the ridiculous practice of pitting women against one another based on their parenting choices. Working, or staying at home. Day care or not. Breast or bottle.

Because if there’s one thing I learned in social work, it’s that all families are exactly the same, and there is a one-size-fits-all solution to every problem that may develop.

Personally, I was raised by a working mother and father. If either of my parents were suited to stay home and take care of the kids, it was probably my dad. (He actually offered to do this when I was about 22.) I was fortunate to be surrounded by a supportive extended family and exposed to quality day care. This was my family’s situation, and it is what worked best for us.

But when it comes down to the families I work with, things are a bit different. My answer when people ask where I stand on these non-issues-breastfeeding, baby wearing, sleep training-is: I honestly don’t care. In the line of work I do, these are not choices. Being a “stay at home mom” or even more irritating “full time mom” (because my mom ceased to be a parent while working) as opposed to a “working mom” (yes, you’re the only one who has ever worked, your medal is in the mail) is not a choice. It’s whatever works, based on a number of factors: if the father is involved, if there are other family members available, if affordable child care is an option, if mom’s education, health, and job history make work a viable possibility.

It’s the same with breastfeeding. Like it or not, it doesn’t work for everyone. Some women need to leave their babies with whatever family member is willing. Those pumps you all register for, I assume for the express purpose of making me uncomfortable, are expensive. It might not be an option. And, as one 21 year old mother was kind enough to tell me, breastfeeding makes your titties hurt.

People who get to choose what works best for their family, or what they really want to do, and what is most fulfilling for them, are extraordinarily fortunate. A lot of people don’t have that. They do what they have to do. “OK, we can’t afford camp this summer, so I’ll stay home because my husband was able to get some extra hours.” “Well, I don’t love this day care, and I wish she didn’t have to start so young, but it’s the only one the city will pay for.” “I’d like to breastfeed, but I need to leave the baby with my grandmother and I just don’t have time.”

So, as for prejudice against breastfeeding – no. No one gives a shit. Be grateful that you have options and move on with your life. I’m sorry if someone looks at you askance for doing it in public, but if that’s the worst moment of “prejudice” you experience…as a great philosopher once said, “You’re gonna write a sad poem in your journal, and move on.” I’ve seen women breastfeed in public. I don’t fall to my knees to thank the universe for exposing me to such a beautiful and natural moment, but I. Don’t. Care.

I say this as someone whose mother is fond of telling friends about the time your favorite social worker was breastfed at the Bronx Zoo.

My point? I do have one. A lot of people on both sides make it an issue when it’s not. There are important things going on in the world. My concern and moral outrage is reserved for children without after school programs, families who have their child care or housing subsidy cut off, fathers who neglect their children, mothers who bring abusive men into their homes, kids in school systems with a 40% graduation rate, children who are forced to be soldiers in actual wars.

These issues simply don’t register. Let’s all learn to mind our own business and recognize that we don’t have all the answers.  Because this is just getting silly.