I’ve Been Reading

Being There: The Benefits of a Stay-At-Home Parent
This short book discusses the issues of attachment disorder and behavioral problems that may arise from inconsistent care-giving provided in day care centers and by nannies at home. Its purpose is to provide a rationale for having one SAHP (stay-at-home parent) care for the child until at least 2-3 years of age, when the child is no longer in the pre-verbal stage. The book does provide supporting information from studies and reports as well as case studies. It also has a section providing financial ideas and solutions to help families make it feasible. It is definitely not a “feel-good” book. The author clearly states she is not against day care, just that most day care has so much staff turnover and that the frequent change of caregivers (even nannies) is damaging to infants. It’s a compelling book. If I needed reinforcement for my decision to stay home, this book is it.

Hot Flashes Warm Bottles: First-Time Mothers Over Forty
This book had once been on my wish list, and I’m so glad I borrowed it from the library instead. The basic thrust of the book is that women over 40 who have children face competing needs: those of their child versus their own “need” to assess their life purpose and explore themselves in solitude. It also focuses on how motherhood makes women feel frumpy and asexual, and how women over 40 become “invisible” in our culture; so it’s supposedly a double-whammy. Oh, and that women over 40 don’t have as much energy to give to their children because their bodies are aging. And that women over 40 have to deal with caring for aging parents as well as children. Well. My view on this is that a woman over 40 doesn’t typically become pregnant by accident for the first time; it’s often a conscious choice and frequently the result of expensive, painful fertility treatment. Women over 40 who never had a child before have had decades to find themselves, and by having a child they enter into a relationship where they understand they are trading solitude and autonomy for the joys and challenges of nurturing a human being. If you want time to still explore yourself in the second half of your life, then remain childless. As for grieving the loss of being the focus of wolf whistles and men’s appraising glances, this is something I don’t relate to, since being a sex object wasn’t important to me before, either. I’m not saying this is a bad book; it simply didn’t tell me anything new or interesting.

Motherhood Without Guilt: Being the Best Mother You Can Be and Feeling Great About It
A book full of questions submitted by mothers. This book might be helpful to women who are much younger and/or less insightful about who they are and what they want in life. Again, not a bad book, but one that covered issues I’ve either resolved or am aware I’ll need to contend with at some point, such as: You don’t have to be a good housekeeper or cook to be a good mom and taking care of yourself can be good for your whole family.
If you need validation or permission for being human and a mother (and who doesn’t now and then?), this book might be useful.

The Mother Dance: How Children Change Your Life
Of all the books, this one contained anecdotes that resonated. I still skimmed most of it, because it again told me nothing new. However, Lerner is a psychologist and pretty transparent when sharing her own experiences; she’s capable of a humility that drew me in. And the following did capture my attention:

Maybe love is the word we should be unraveling. I don’t believe in “unconditional love,” as it is conventionally prescribed for mothers like so much sentimental pap. Only highly evolved Zen Buddhists look at their difficult, out-of-control children and feel nothing but immense respect, openness, curiosity, and interest as to why the Universe has brought these small persons into their lives and what they are here to teach them. To achieve the transcendent state of unconditional love, it is best to have a cat, although even here you may discover your limits.

–Harriet Lerner

I suspect the Zen Buddhist mother I know would say that it is not achieving transcendence but rather the moment-by-moment process that matters, and that even Zen Buddhist mothers can feel frazzled and angry at times. However, I do like how Lerner summed up the question of whether children are worth the effort:

Children are never easy, so don’t bring them into the world or adopt them to bolster your happiness. And don’t have them if your life’s purpose is to dwell in complete stillness, serenity, and simplicity; or if you have a great dread of being interrupted; or if you are on a particular life path that demands your full attention and devotion. Also keep in mind that children are not a “solution.” As Anne Lamott reminds us, there is no problem for which children are the solution.

To opt for kids is to opt for chaos, complexity, turbulence, and truth. Kids will make you love them in a way you never thought possible. They will also confront you with all the painful and unsavory emotions that humans put so much energy into trying to avoid. Children will teach you about yourself and about what it’s like not to be up to the demands of the most important responsibility you’ll ever have. They’ll teach you that you are capable of deep compassion, and also that you are definitely not the nice, calm, competent, clear-thinking, highly evolved person you fancied yourself to be before you became a mother.

Your children will call on you to grow up. You will have the opportunity to achieve a more complex and textured view of your own mother. Your marriage, if it lasts, will be both deepened and strained. And whether you stay married or get divorced, the stakes are so much higher for how you navigate your part in the relationship with your child’s father.

…I also think that kids are the best teachers of life’s most profound spiritual lessons: that pain and suffering are as much a part of life as happiness and joy; that change and impermanence are all we can count on for sure; that we don’t really run the show; and that if we can’t find the maturity to surrender to these difficult truths, we’ll always be unhappy that our lives — and our children’s — aren’t turning out the way we expected or planned.

–Harriet Lerner

Hear, hear, sister!

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One Comment on “I’ve Been Reading”

  1. Karen Says:

    She said all that but she doesn’t believe in unconditional love? Perhaps she means that she doesn’t believe in uncondiitonal like. But love? Love contains everything she said.

    It is always depressing to read what psychologists say about Zen Buddhism. But then, that’s what psychologists are for.