Sunday, May 23, 2010

Daddy Dearest

I’ve been accused more than once of being too politically correct. I have wondered if perhaps people are right; am I oversensitive? Do I have no sense of humor? Do jokes that we make about generalizations aimed at us ease our hurt feelings? Should I just lighten up?

I don’t think so – especially because I’m now a parent to a little girl with a very impressionable mind. I think humor like this is really damaging because our children absorb it as truth, and in our adult years we often find ourselves questioning the legitimacy of these generalizations.

The latest example I’d like to share has to do with a show on Disney that my daughter has become fond of, “Good Luck Charlie.” The premise of the show is that a couple who already have three older children unexpectedly have a new baby. The older sister makes videos to share with the baby, Charlie, when she gets older. Each video ends with the wish, “Good Luck, Charlie.”

In the episode in question, the mother is returning to work for the first time since the baby was born. She is a nurse and will be working nights, and the father will be responsible for the baby when the mother is at work in the evening. The teenage daughter has conflict with her mother because she wants to go study with a boy at the library that night, and the mother reminds her of the rule – all of the children must stay in the house to help the father take care of the baby. The father is not to be left to this responsibility himself.

Joke after joke roll off the tongues of the family members implying the father’s ineptitude. Years ago, my friend Cristi stopped watching “Everybody Loves Raymond” for this very reason, because what was being asserted was that the wife runs the household on her own. She is smart and competent, and this (Cristi, I’ll steal your words)“booger-eatin’-moron” to whom she is married wouldn’t be able to put his pants on without her direction, let alone be trusted to manage any parenting tasks. Well, he can make play-doh animals with his toddler sons, but you have to keep an eye on him to make sure he doesn’t try to eat the “doh” or stick it up his nose.

I took the opportunity to pause “Good Luck Charlie” to explain to Maddie what was wrong with the plot of the show. I told her that the people who made the show were trying to be funny, but they had failed, because what they created was a hurtful message, and one that is too easy to be accepted as “at least a little true” by too many people.

Why do we do this? Why do we think fathers are clueless buffoons who we just hope can manage with a child in the mother’s absence? Well, my guess is that it comes from that ages-old assumption that a woman is naturally a better parent. We perpetuate the problem of prescribed gender roles. These gender stereotypes we claim we want to change, but we are not taking the responsibility to move forward in this change.

How often do we see marital strain emerge after the birth of a child? In hearing these couples speak, we hear accusations from both sides – she says that she’s doing everything herself without substantial help from the child’s father. We hear him say that he’s backed off because every time he’s made an effort to participate in parenting, he’s scolded because he isn’t doing something right. She counters that if she doesn’t do something, it just isn’t going to get done…he takes no initiative in his parenting role and leaves things up to her. She argues that he doesn’t even wake up at night when the baby cries.

I read a study not long ago that when “allowed” to be an active parent, and man develops his own parenting instincts equally strong to the esteemed “maternal instinct.”

I’m not saying it’s our entire fault, ladies. This message has been engrained into the minds of men and women alike. I think it’s time to eradicate it, though. It might seem surprising to read a blog like this from me, as someone who has never experienced co-parenting. Most of you know I’ve been on my own with Maddie since day one, entirely. I think, however, that maybe I have become more prone to try to observe how the other half live! And of equal importance, I’ve watched some single fathers in action and have been very impressed. I’ve noticed how some fathers have more patience than I; some nurture their children as well or better than I. Mothers can be effective disciplinarians, good providers, killers of spiders and fixers of whatnots.

The short of this blog is this: We need to pay close attention to the messages our children receive in the books they read, games they play, and what they watch on television. We need to be on the lookout for more than sex and violence. Often damaging messages come in much more subtle form.

Posted by Jennifer

Thursday, May 20, 2010

This Blog is Complete

Recently, I went to a wedding. No, this blog is not about weddings, after all, what do I know about weddings? In the words of some wise woman, weddings are a whole nother story.
            At this particular wedding, the bride and groom made the choice to write and read their own vows to one another. Within one of these vows was the phrase “You complete me.” Awwww. I know, sentimental, isn’t it? But while I was sitting at said wedding next to my co-blogger, and these words were muttered, she and I immediately glanced at each other, and probably without even having to make the slightest facial twitch, we both knew what each other was thinking. Really? And then we both, for maybe just a fleeting moment, felt something that was very much unlike the initial “Aw” I earlier suggested.
            Perhaps we can once again blame Jerry Maguire for this one. Along with “You had me at ‘hello,’” and “Shoplifting the pootie,” “You complete me” is one of the phrases that has helped to immortalize this movie. But I cringe upon hearing it, because from the perspective of a single person, this phrase brings to mind many assumptions that I would like to explore.
            But first, I’d like to bring up another example related to this blog topic. Last semester I was in a class on the Modern Novel. One of our reading assignments was Franz Kafka’s novel The Trial. After an entire class period of discussing this novel, the professor asked the class if anyone had a reason for living. (These are the kinds of profound, intellectual questions professors ask when you study literature in grad school).  She asked this question for possibly many reasons. The novel is depressing, and one just might be inclined to commit suicide after reading it. Also, Kafka was considered by many to be a writer of characters with existential angst. We all have the freedom and responsibility to find or create our own meanings for our own lives. But enough about that. After she asked this, rather seriously, one student spoke up and said she had just gotten married, and then threw her hands into the air in a kind of post-touchdown victory dance fashion, as if she had just won. Again, I was sitting next to a girlfriend yet I resisted the urge to glance at her with that I-can’t-believe-she-just-said-that look that girlfriends can immediately recognize. Simply put, this woman’s reason for living is not only another person, but a man. Her spouse. A grown adult human being. And now that she has found him and married him, she is now complete and has a reason to continue living.
            And now back to the wedding. And to nicely tie these together. What is it about married people that makes them think they have won something? That they have found something giving their lives meaning or worth? And what does that say about how they might view single people? When I hear “You complete me,” I want to cringe, hang my head in a mixture of disbelief and sarcastic shame, and also, I want to take that person and shake them and say “Nooooo! Whyyyyy??!”
            Do married people (the ones who feel “complete” by having gotten married) think that single people are incomplete somehow? Do they think we are all just fragments of human beings, void of something meaningful in our lives? Are we just partial people walking around with some hollowness, some emptiness that we foolishly attempt to fill with booze and all the wrong men while they blissfully frolic through their lives feeling like full, completely complete individuals because they are married? Do they think we too should be looking for this elusive thing that they feel so proudly to have found? Do they pity us?
            Also, do they realize how ridiculous they sound? Do they realize that by announcing to the world that they have found someone who completes them, that they are inadvertently also announcing that they were once incomplete? Are they admitting that they actually were incomplete, hollow, empty? And what exactly made them feel this way, this incompletion that only another human being could correct?
            Of course, some people might not analyze something to the extent that I just have. Perhaps you might be thinking that telling someone “You complete me” is just a nice thing to say, a romantic thing to say, a compliment. If this is the person’s intention, I think something else may be more appropriate. What’s wrong with simply saying, “You complement me”? As in “We go well together.” You know, like peanut butter complements chocolate. Like a vanilla biscotti complements a cup of coffee. Like a nice glass of wine complements, well, anything really.
There is actually a lot I would allow someone else to complete for me. Complete my tax forms. Complete my sentences (if you dare). Hell, even complete this blog for me. But, please, don’t complete me. I am already whole and I am very certain of it.

Posted by: Missi

Monday, April 12, 2010

Dating Resumes

The single parent has a number of responsibilities that seemingly outnumber the responsibilities the married parent may have. One of the most notable of these duties is the very pressing responsibility of providing the only income for his or her entire household. As a degree-holding person who has made the decision to further my education and attend grad school in hopes of one day landing that perfect job (which will allow me to finally focus on a career and not the pursuit of said career), I have been working on updating, rewriting, and otherwise embellishing my resumes. This got me thinking: we all know that the first date is very much like a job interview. Both parties are nervous, usually dressed to impress, and inquisitive as to what the person/job would be like and if the person is right for the job. I’m sure we’ve all had that feeling at some point. If I continue with this analogy, the request for a second date would be the equivalent of being invited for a second interview. I think we can use our imaginations as to what would be the equivalent of getting the job.

I think, as part of this first-date-job-interview, one should be willing to supply, upon request, the equivalent of an employment resume: the dating resume. The dating resume would be similar to the employment resume, but dissimilar in content and purpose. Let me explain.

At the top would be contact information. Go ahead and tell us where you live. Don’t trust us? Then don’t apply. Following that would be your educational background. This is informative. Did you go to college? What was your major? Any specialized training, etc. We will skim over this part.

Following this would be listed your “work experience” AKA “dating experience.” How many significant relationships you’ve had in the past. How many marriages. How long did they last? What were your strengths? What were your weaknesses? Your major accomplishments during said relationships? Your reasons for leaving? Remember, one should never bad-mouth their previous “bosses” during interviews. Oh, and can you explain any gaps in your relationship history? What were you doing when not in a relationship? Traveling around Europe? Writing a book? Sitting in your dark apartment rocking back and forth and drooling in a catatonic depressive funk since your last break-up? We will assess these on a case-by-case basis.

Then we would have the “skills” listing. This is very important. Can you fix things? What kinds of things? Cars? Garbage disposals? Can you cook? Can you cook well? How are you with children? (Very important to the single parent.) And feel free to list any other skills (ahem) you may have that you think may be relevant to the position.

And, of course, we want to see some references. You will have to list at least three people with whom you have had some type of relationship in the past who will be able to positively support your character. And, yes, we will call them. We will probably even have lunch with them. And depending on the information supplied in your dating resume and the impressions we get from your references, we might get back with you regarding that second interview. But don’t call us. We’ll call you.

Posted by: Missi

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Everyone Wants to Be a Single Lady?

This video is all over the web and the news this morning. Between calls for work I saw it on CNN.

So, it seems like everyone wants to be a single lady, up in the club! But.... if that single lady is fabulous, and has children, please do offer to buy her a drink -- because she not only feels a little guilty for spending the money and that new dress and those amazing "Hello, Lover!" shoes, but she's paying $10 an hour for that sitter tonight.

Posted by: Jennifer

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Disappearing Act

One of my favorite quotes (among many others) from the HBO series Sex and the City is when the single and fabulous Charlotte frustratingly states, “I’ve been dating since I was fifteen. I’m exhausted! Where is he?” I hear ya, sister. I’ve been dating for about that long with the exception of a 3-year marriage. So, I realized the other day that I too have been dating for fifteen years. Wow. That seems like a long time. And I believe, during the course of those fifteen years, I have probably encountered every possible dating scenario with every possible type of man. The man who’s afraid of commitment. The man who wants to marry you one week after meeting you. The man too consumed by his job. The man without a job. The man who wants to meet your kids too early. The man who never wants to meet your kids. The man who forgets you have kids. The man who doesn’t even like kids. The man who IS a big kid. The man with whom you immediately have a connection and start dating. The man with whom you are friends for years before dating. The man who can’t commit…wait, did I already say that? But I have recently encountered a type I had never met before and which, I am learning, is actually more common than I first thought: The Magician.

Anyone out there know the type? You date him for a while, things seem to be going very well, or at least pretty well, you are really into each other, he may even say things to you that seem sincere or genuine…and then…POOF. He’s gone. Vanished.

After having met one of these types for the first time, I had to do some research. It was as if I had stumbled across some rare breed of bird not yet discovered by the Audubon society. Or something. In my research I was surprised to find that apparently this is not such a rare breed. Apparently this is actually a type wandering around out there in the world in such great numbers that articles have been written about how to deal with the situation, poems have been written about the aftermath of having met them, and the book “He’s Just Not That IntoYou” devotes an entire chapter on the topic. The Disappearing Man.

Ok. So now that I have gathered some comfort from the knowledge that this has happened before (it’s not me, it’s them) I start to ask questions. Like “why?” Not a why me kind of thing, but rather a why do this at all? Is this really necessary? Was whatever happened or whatever you discovered so bad, such an enormous deal-breaker that you can’t even tell the girl what it was? And why is this? Do men think that women are all delicate little precious beings who will completely fall apart and have their worlds come crashing down if we hear that there ended up being something about us that you didn’t grow to like? Just tell us. Man up. Call us and say what happened to change your mind. Say what it was that suddenly made you decide not to continue with the relationship. Don’t make excuses. Don’t try to be coy or beat around the bush. Tell us. We’re big girls. We can handle it. In fact, you know what? We’d rather know what went wrong than to be left guessing. I always say that after a job interview for a job I didn’t get, I’d like to call up the interviewer and ask him or her why I didn’t get the job. Not to whine or beg, but rather to know what I did wrong (or what the hired did right), so that I can be prepared better for the next time.

Why can’t we all just be brutally honest with each other? Is it really to protect one another’s feelings? Since when did our feelings get so fragile? Yeah, it would suck to be told that something about ourselves is unappealing, especially to a person to whom we want to be appealing, but, trust me, knowing is better than not knowing. And, trust me, even though we will never see you again either way, we will have more respect for you, and you will probably have more respect for yourself.

Remember, all you Magicians out there: no matter how smooth your patter, no matter how good your slight of hand may be, the woman always steps out of the box fully intact when the show is over.

Posted by: Missi

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Benefits of Wine (Uh, I Meant Friendship!)

Do a Google search on the health benefits of marriage and you’ll find countless articles on the topic. WebMD seems to have the most objective report, however. You’ll find statistics about how singles are more apt to be smokers, and are more prone to have psychological and social stress. Ok, that’s fair. They also reported, though, that married people are more prone to be overweight.

I’d like to see a different kind of report, because I think that single people can simulate some “married-like” benefits through close friendships and community. For single parents this is especially important. My most life-saving relationship since becoming a single mother is with my co-blogger, Missi. I was certainly lucky to find someone who lives a near parallel life. We are both single parents, we both work and we’re both graduate students in the same discipline. I know that might be hard for some single parents to find, but I would encourage that one make the effort to seek that out if at all possible.

Married people have the psychological benefit of having a partner, and in many ways I have the same. The following scenario is not uncommon:

Missi calls me: “Hey, I have to work this afternoon from 3 to 7. Can you pick the kids up today?”

Me: “Sure. I’ll make dinner and give Morgan a bath with Maddie. I’ll see if Raine has any homework.”

Missi: “Ok. If you bring them home, Maddie can just stay the night here. I’ll stop and get us a movie. I’ll get a bottle of wine. You can come over in the morning and pick Maddie up for school.”


Me: “I’m really stressed out. I have to finish this paper and clean my whole house tonight because I’m having company tomorrow. I have to start work at 5 a.m.”

Missi: “I’ll order pizza for the kids and come over and help you clean. I’ll bring a bottle of wine.”

The obvious difference between our friendship and a marriage is that we don’t cohabitate (yet) nor share incomes (outside of the occasional borrowing from each other), and naturally, we can’t meet all of each other’s needs (ahem!).

So no, it’s not the same, and a friendship isn’t going to have all of the satisfying elements of a love relationship. But the same can be said vice versa. I think that sometimes married couples get so immersed in “togetherness” that they neglect to build those important and valuable friendships that sustain us in ways that romantic relationships cannot.

When you have this kind of friendship, there can be formed a bond that affords a person the ability to be thoroughly her authentic self. It’s a pretty profound thing to find that person with whom you can share all of your deepest secrets, questions, doubts and judgments that sometimes feel threatening to a significant other. Oh, and someone with whom you can share a lot of wine.

Posted by: Jennifer

10 Things Never to Say to Your Single Parent Friends

1. “I know someone for you.” The variations are endless. Especially don’t say this if you are a) a family member (they should know you well, but they never know you well enough to know “your type”) b) a stranger. Ever met someone, as in literally just met someone, and you’re talking, and as soon as they find out you’re single, they jump right in with “my brother/father/cousin/best friend/therapist is single! You should meet him! You would really like him!” No, we shouldn’t meet him, and no, we won’t like him. Please don’t insinuate that you have all life’s dating answers. I know you think you’re just being a good friend or trying to help, or something, but when you introduce me to your friend/brother/father/cousin, etc. and he has a tattoo of a topless woman and thinks his idea of a great date is taking me to a sports bar and watching the UFC fights and wants to share a plate of buffalo wings and then wants to spit tobacco into a little cup which he places next to said plate of food and then wants to buy some PBR to take back to his place where he insists his Rottweiler share the couch with us as we watch a Steven Segal movie…I will probably not only never talk to him again, but I will probably never talk to you again, either.

2. “Wanna go to happy hour?” Don’t ask us this. Because the answer is yes. Yes, we really, really, really want to go to happy hour. When is happy hour anyway? 4:00? 5:00? 6:00? See, I don’t even know when it is, because I don’t think I’ve ever been to a happy hour. This is the time during which “second shift” begins. Single parents know what I’m talking about. The time of the day when you have already been to work and/or school and would really like to have a moment to relax a bit, but it’s time to pick up your kids from school. Second shift. Sometimes, we are watching the clock waiting for 5:00 to roll around so we can pour ourselves a glass of wine and not feel so weird about it. That’s happy hour for us. Either that or midnight to six when we’re asleep. And when they’re asleep.

3. “Want to go on a trip?” Basically, see above, but increase the frustration of not being able to go by about…a lot. Unless you want our fussy baby, temperamental toddler, or moody tween along for the ride, don’t ask us to accompany you on any trip, ever. Unless it’s a kid-friendly trip, like Disneyland. But even then, being single parents, it’s doubtful we could skip out on our lives for that long a period of time anyway.

4. “I love my hubby.” Don’t say this for two reasons. 1) You’re not special because you love your hubby. What’s your point, anyway? And 2) the word “hubby” is stupid. Stop that.

5. Any type of parenting advice. Especially if you’re not a parent. I know zero people whose unsolicited parenting advice is welcome. This means you aren’t one of them.

6. “He’s single.” This is usually preceded by a wink or nudge. Usually this comment is made because some guy somewhere has mentioned his ugly divorce or bragged about the size of his…bank account, or has mentioned that his wife just died, or has snuck the fact that he’s single into a conversation somehow. We’re not cats in heat wanting to lift our tails to anything willing to answer to our meow. I wonder how long I can continue with a cat metaphor.

7. “You need to find yourself a man/husband.” Honestly, if you say some variation of this to a single mother, she will most likely walk away immediately in an effort to keep herself from either spitting in your eye or interrogating you about what other antiquated ideals you may have meandering about in your fortune cookie wisdom-filled head.

8. “He/she looks like his/her father.” Don’t say this. Because we know this. Especially don’t say this if the parent to which you are referring is absent. If our child looks like his/her father, believe us, we are well aware of it. Every time she smiles like him, every time he grinds his teeth like him, every time. Ok?

9. “I’m so tired.” The only permission granted for this one is if you yourself are a single parent. Otherwise, knock it off. Ok, so you’ve had a bad day, are tired, didn’t get everything done, etc. Single parents are tired by noon. And the kids aren’t even home from school yet. Sometimes we’re tired by 9 am, and the day just started. Seriously, mornings are the worst.

10. “Give me a call any time you need a sitter.” If you say this to us, we WILL call you. And we’ll keep calling you. You can’t hide. And don’t say something like “Oh, I can’t right now, but any other time” because we’ll get out our calendars and date books and keep throwing out dates till you commit. Any single parent has, at any given moment, about five to ten days for which he/she needs a sitter. We’ll fit you in somewhere. And you brought this on yourself. You have no one to blame but yourself.

Feel free to help continue the list.
Posted by: Missi