Read, Connect, Reflect #1
A Cup of Ambition is a weekly newsletter filled with thought-provoking essays, interviews, links, and reflections on all things related to working parenthood. If you are here because someone shared this with you, I hope you’ll subscribe by clicking on the button below.
As promised, I have replaced the old Read-Connect-Reflect that used to appear at the end of each week’s newsletter, with an expanded monthly version.
In a nutshell: Each month I will provide a digest of important articles to read, new ways to connect with the people in your life, and a self-reflection question. Enjoy!
This article really resonated with me. Though I appreciate, to some degree, the realistic views of parenthood represented on social media, I sometimes fear that we perpetuate a narrative that motherhood is misery. And though there are certainly miserable moments, there are also moments of tremendous joy.
Describing the first time her son told her he loved her, the author Lucy Huber says: “My heart felt like someone had grabbed it inside my rib cage and squeezed so hard the ventricles were about to burst.” I know that feeling—the feeling of a love so encompassing that it takes your breath away. Let’s not forget to tell these stories too.
Ukraine has become a hub for international gestational surrogacy, due to laws regulating surrogate pregnancies (and favoring the rights of biological parents). This article highlights some of the tensions implicit in the surrogate relationship, and how they’ve been exacerbated during the war.
“Many people have jobs that force them to be separated from their families—military personnel, diplomats, foreign correspondents, international nannies, home care workers. And in Ukraine, being a surrogate is not only a job; it is often a well-paid job. But most jobs you can quit, or at least put on hold. This one you can’t, really. This one might keep you from your family or from acting on your sense of duty to your country. It might physically impede your ability to get to safety. It might require you to seek medical attention even as medics are overrun with the injured and dying.”
In an effort to advocate for paid parental leave, the internet has been flooded with personal essays from moms describing their postpartum experience and transition into motherhood. This is the first gut-wrenchingly honest essay I’ve seen written by a dad.
“I feel irrevocably changed by the first six months of my daughter’s life, and not in a grand, wedding-speech way. I still think of all the joy I failed to appreciate, still hold onto a nebulous sense that my daughter deserved better. Returning to work, after that stretch, was so much harder than I expected, like walking into your childhood home and realizing that everything is the same except you, and therefore nothing makes sense”.
Sweden has the highest employment rate for women in the EU and a national policy called Vård av Barn (VAB) may help explain why. VAB translates to “care of child”, and it provides parents up to 80% of their salary (for up to 120 days/year) when they need time off work to care for a child’s illness. Parents can also elect to give use their VAB payment to hire a family member or neighbor to provide care on their behalf. VAB is so commonly used that many jokingly refer to February as “Vabruari” (I chuckled at this).
Unsurprisingly, the demand for VAB days increased almost 25% between 2019 and 2020. Despite the increase in cost to the state, the policy is widely supported across the political spectrum. It’s almost impossible to imagine a policy like this here in the US, but it’s interesting to consider how it could change the landscape for some working parents.
To this author, “the dad in the basement” represents the ability to head to a separate area (specifically during the pandemic) and work, uninterrupted by childcare demands. But even before COVID, it could feel challenging to focus at work when we were preoccupied with the various responsibilities of motherhood. Perhaps, though, there is benefit in embracing this authenticity…
“But for myself, at least, I’m trying to see the divided focus that caregiving brings as signal, rather than noise. I’m letting it remind me that no one was ever only a worker, despite what our employers might want us to believe. I’m letting myself imagine what could be if we remembered that we are all humans who raise and heal and shelter one another, and that this capacity exists not independent of whatever else we do with our minds and hands, but alongside it, intertwined and inextricable, forever.”
Many of us are finding ourselves preoccupied with the war in Ukraine right now. Whenever these big national or global events occur, parents often wonder how to address them with their kids, or even if they should raise the topic at all. During challenging times, I frequently think of a Fred Rogers quote:
Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting and less scary.
The most important thing is to keep the conversation developmentally-appropriate. As with any difficult topic, it can be helpful to start by asking questions about what your child has already heard so you have a starting point (and so you can correct any misinformation). Balance being reassuring with being realistic, especially with older children. Our instinct is to protect our children, and while that may be appropriate for younger children, tweens and teens have access to news media and can tolerate greater levels of ambivalence.
This article is geared towards parents of elementary and preschool aged kids. (It even includes the Mr. Rogers quote above, so you know it will be good!) While this article is meant more for parents of middle and high school aged kids who may be using social media as their primary source of information on the war.
In March 2020, I started writing a letter to my kids, and I’ve returned to it periodically throughout the pandemic. I wanted this letter to serve as a narrative history for our family, an artifact of a challenging time. It captures the various emotions associated with each wave—anxiety tinged with hope, sadness overlaid with exhaustion, anger punctuated by exasperation. It is both universal and entirely singular.
My kids are still young, so I imagine their memories of the pandemic will be a blurry videotape of meaningful and mundane moments, not all that different than my own early childhood memories. As they grow up, they will rely on others’ stories to fill in the gaps. With that in mind, I invite you to reflect on the following questions:
What are the memories, lessons, or experiences you most want your children to remember from the past two years?
How will you communicate these to them?
I want to cover what’s important to YOU. I welcome reader input in deciding what and who to write about. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and put “newsletter idea” in the subject.
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