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What I've Learned from Modern Dads

November 24, 2014

Several years ago, while talking to a stay at home dad at my daughters’ preschool, he told me about how he lost his engineering job when his company got purchased, and in the same week his wife landed a new, well-paying gig for an accounting firm. His youngest had three years until he would be in school full time. When they ran the numbers, they determined it made sense for him to make a career change. After joking about the initial feeling of emasculation, he said he willingly embraced his new role.

Actually, I would say he was pretty damn good at his new job. In fact, he killed it as the primary parent. After watching him, I was the one that was eMOMulated. (See what I did there?)

It’s pretty typical nowadays to see dads playing an increasing role in their children’s lives. Some estimates say the number of at-home dads who are primary caregivers for their children totals nearly 2 million according to the National At-Home Dad Network. The 2011 census states that nearly seven million dads can be considered primary caregivers, meaning they are a regular source of care for their children under age 15. That’s nearly one-third of all married dads.

Every day I see them baby-wearing at grocery stores, early to school pick up, putting in pony tails at gymnastics and even rocking it at the completely misnomered “Mommy and Me” classes. Some of these men stay at home, and some share the child-rearing load with their partners; but the most important factor is that more dads are understanding that childcare is difficult, important, and not only for Moms.

What is particularly interesting is how men have redefined the “Mr. Mom” stigma. Instead of replicating the way their partner would provide care for their children, dads are parenting to their strengths — not to society’s preconceived notions. This is something us moms should note.

Here are a few things I’ve learned from some great dads:

1. Confidence. I would think you have to be pretty confident to be a stay at home dad — or even the primary care giver — in a world that still thinks a man’s job is to be the bread winner. The dads I know don’t seem to worry about that, and they don’t spend hours worrying about every little aspect of child rearing. They aren’t seeking advice from blogs or Pinterest or parenting sites. They do the best they can and know that it’s good enough. Point taken.

2. Efficiency. I entered Trader Joe’s the other day (by myself) at the same time as a Dad and his three young kids. He had his list on his phone and was in and out of that store with his four bags of groceries before I even got out of the meat aisle. And his kids got lollipops for finding the monkey. He didn’t waste time scanning labels, didn’t get distracted by the samples, and was barely phased when his toddler had a breakdown because he wasn’t getting muffins. He moved with laser-like focus. It was inspiring, but then I lost my train of thought while trying to remember if I needed eggs.

3. Guilt-free. Women feel guilt for working too much or not working enough or not doing enough with their kids or not cleaning the house or not cooking organic — and the list goes on and on. The dads I know who are primary caregivers don’t seem to wrestle with the same guilt. They make the most of their time and move on. I need me some of that.

4. Home-making does not define them. I do not want to marginalize dads in any way, but most fathers I know who are primary care givers are not defined by the cleanliness of their house or the complexity of their meals. That’s not to say dads don’t work hard at cleaning and cooking and doing the laundry, but I’ve heard some rousing games of sock football or putting together a paper plane army sometimes gets in the way of polishing the silver. A former male colleague turned freelance writer/primary parent said this: “When my wife went back to work, our deal was to hire a professional cleaner to come in twice a month. I’m pretty good at picking up, but not so good at the details that drive her crazy. I do the cooking, grocery shopping, house management and child schlepping, and she does the dishes. I hate doing the dishes, so it works for us.”

That being said, dads’ hard work in the home should not go unnoticed. One study found that daughters of fathers who don’t subscribe to “traditional” gender roles at home grow up to become women who feel confident to work outside of the house. And teaching our daughters that their opportunities are not limited should be celebrated.

5. Identity. I once shared a carpool with a dad who left his software sales job to take care of his four kids while his wife completed her residency program. He had the kids listening to The Beatles on the drive (no Kidz Bop for him), took his whole brood ice skating every week (he was a former hockey player) and taught them how to code their own web sites. Dads have a way of being involved with their kids while keeping their identities, while most women struggle with this. Which is kinda why dads can also be more fun — even when they’re doing the parenting every single day. When they like what they are doing, everyone enjoys it more.

Have you learned anything from a modern dad?

Whitney is the mom to three tween-ish daughters, a communications consultant and blogger at Playdates on Fridays. She is trying to break out of the mold of being a typical suburban mom despite that she is often seen driving her minivan to soccer tournaments or volunteering for the PTA. Follow her on Facebook or on twitter.

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A Childhood Without Waiting

November 23, 2014

While many families with young children were fleeing New York City in the mid-1960s, my parents put their names on a waiting list for a two-bedroom, middle-income apartment on the Upper West Side. In 1968 they moved in and my older brother was born.

They waited for a three-bedroom before having me, in 1969.

My father died in that rent-controlled apartment 40 years later, at the time he was still paying less than $500 a month rent. It was worth the wait.

We left the city, and its spiraling number of homeless and crack addicts, twice a year. In the spring, we visited cousins in Englewood, New Jersey who had a big, grassy backyard. In the summer, we drove to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in a rental car. On a kitchen calendar my two brothers and I counted down the weeks, then days, for those trips to begin.

My father meticulously recorded each day of our vacation with his 35mm Leica Rangefinder. Before we could start a round of mini-golf, or jump in the pool, we would wait for him to take a reading with the light meter, focus the camera and shoot. Printing 14 roles of film would have been an extravagance beyond his comprehension, so he developed them into slides.

When we returned home at the end of August we would wait more than a week for the slides to arrive in the mail, then take turns popping each 2×2 image into a viewfinder to relive summer memories – diving for pennies in the town pool, the last moment on a water slide before the plunge, dripping sand from fist to castle. Eventually, my dad set up the projector and a portal would appear to that other world.

My eight-year-old daughter got a digital camera for her birthday that she rarely uses; she prefers to take pictures with my iPhone. On our vacation to Paris she took pictures until the memory was full.

“When I was little,” I told her, “we could only take 36 pictures, after that the film ran out. I had to think about what I really wanted to remember.”

“Well couldn’t you delete pictures?” she asked.

No. I had to wait. I waited until I saved up enough allowance to buy more film.

If I wanted to see a movie I waited until my parents would take me to Loew’s 84th, where the floor was sticky with spilled soda and the balcony seats smelled like stale cigarette smoke.

Once a month or so, my mom took us to Shakespeare and Co. There, I read the back covers of dozens of books in the children’s or young adult sections, before choosing the two titles I wanted most.

My daughter’s kindle has 301 books downloaded.

When I was nine, I went to sleep away camp. Once a week I wrote to my parents and they wrote back. My father’s letters began “Dear Kimmy,” a name no one called me face to face, including him, and ended with a smiley face in the O that started his name, “Oscar.” It was so unlike his imposing personality. In fact, those yellowed relics are the only evidence that he addressed and considered me directly. I still have every one.

Recently, I suggested that my six-year-old son write a thank you note to his uncle for a birthday gift. “I can just text him,” he said, “Then he won’t have to wait.”

This past Halloween we watched “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown” on Amazon instant TV.

Halfway through my daughter asked, “What’s so special about watching this dog pretend he’s a pilot?”

Beginning in early October my brothers and I waited for this TV special. We marked it on the kitchen calendar because if we missed it we would have to wait another year. We watched in the reverent silence usually reserved for religious services, because it couldn’t be rewound. Each moment of that show was something to savor more than the Halloween candy that could be replenished in a store.

“What’s so special about this?” she repeated, impatient with not getting an answer as quickly as Siri can deliver one.

“We waited for it.” I said.

Kim Brown Reiner is mom to Tessa, 8, and James, 6. More of her writing can be found at kimbrownreiner.com.

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Photo by: Linda Wolfe

Which Do You Choose Ladies? Your Face, or Your Fanny?

November 22, 2014

I was at a costume party recently when a handsome young gentleman smiled broadly at me and remarked that it was “nice to see a woman eat and drink.” At the time I was holding a slice of pizza in one hand, a Vampire’s Delight (a wickedly delicious vodka concoction) in the other.

Looking around the room at the scantily clad women in their costumes, none of them were eating. Their attire left nothing to the imagination and could not hide the multitude of sins that my sheriff’s costume could.

A long time ago I heard a quote often attributed to Catherine Deneuve that at certain age you have to, “choose either your face or your derrière.” I dare not ask my husband which he thinks I chose. There is no win-win answer here.

Never one to be satisfied with a crouton and a glass of water, I’ve always liked to eat. Blame it on low blood-sugar, but I am forever grazing.

For the most part, I’ve made peace with my hips. The little bit of cushion I’ve accumulated the last few years (due to aging not indulging) has softened the sharp edges of my face and, strange as it may seem, at middle age I actually like my reflection better, wrinkles and all. Who’d a thought?!

While I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds, since lately it seems I can simply look at food and gain weight, I have no aspirations of being a “social x-ray.” I know plenty of women who practically starve themselves to fit into teeny-weeny Barbie size jeans. But that could never be me. I like cookies and pasta too much. And wine.

Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. And, as long as I still have the ability to chew my own food, I will enjoy every bite.

Bon appetit!

So ladies, what’s it gonna be: Your face or your fanny?

Linda Wolff writes the lifestyle blog Carpool Goddess where she shows us that midlife, motherhood and the empty nest aren’t so scary. Her essays have been published in numerous anthologies, and is a frequent contributor on Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, What The Flicka, and many more. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

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Photo by: Casey

5 Ways to Take Better Photos of Your Kids Without a Fancy Camera

November 21, 2014

It was the middle of a photoshoot with two adorably energetic little boys. I looked at the back of my camera and immediately exclaimed “YES! THAT PHOTO IS PERFECT!” (in my head, so as not to scare the children). I knew the image was a keeper so I flashed my camera for mom & dad to take a look. “Wow, you have a really nice camera,” was the response. It’s always the response. Nevermind that I strategically posed the boys, I was laying on my stomach in the dirt, and I was trying my best to say things that little boys would find funny (ahem, potty talk). No, it was most certainly my expensive camera.

Hah.

Yes, my camera rocks. Yes, I spent a lot of money on my equipment. But the truth is… you can take a great photo on ANY camera.

Here’s how:

{note: all of these photos were taken with an iPhone 4S, not my ‘fancy camera.’}

Tip #1: Be aware of lighting. If you take away one thing from this post, let it be this: lighting alone can make or break your image. The good news is there’s one simple trick. Look for something called a catchlight. It’s the ‘twinkle’ in your eye, as it reflects light.

Check out this example of my son, Colin. In the photo on the left, the lighting is flat and his eyes are very dark (no catchlights). On the right, the addition of the ‘catchlights’ (the reflection of the window on the right) make his eyes sparkle. Such a small thing (literally) can add so much life.

Look for catchlights in your children’s eyes- they’ll lead you to the best lighting. If you can’t see them, change your position or have your child tilt/turn their head or rotate their body toward the light source.

Tip #2: Get down on their level. Add variety to your photos by using different angles. With infants, don’t be afraid to lay on your stomach. With toddlers, kneel down and see things from their perspective.


(psst…. see the catchlights in his eyes?)

Tip #3: See the bigger picture. Yes, your child looks angelic while sleeping. Those chubby cheeks, relaxed & so kissable. But before you snap the closeup, take a step back. Can you use the room to tell the story? What else is happening that will help you document this moment? Think of it as a memory you’re trying to save. More than just a quick photo.

While you’re taking a step back, look for clutter in the background. Is there something colorful & distracting that’ll take away from your photo? If so, try to strategically crop it out or quickly move it.

Tip #4: Do NOT say cheese. I love cheese. I mean really, really love it. Cheese makes everything better. Cheese burger. Grilled cheese. Cheese cake. But not your photos. As soon as the words ‘say cheese’ leave your mouth, your child’s face changes. Out comes the ‘fake’ smile to kill the authenticity of the moment.

Instead, try a stupid joke. Ask your kid if he likes ‘fart pickles’ on his sandwich. Tickle your little baby. Make silly noises. Do whatever it takes to get that real smile. The one they save for mama. That’s what makes the photo a keeper.

Tip #5: Hire a professional once a year. I know, I know. This post was all about how you don’t need a fancy camera to improve your photos. And that’s still true. Because what will your kids treasure in a photo forever? You. Their parents in a photo with them. It’s important to document yourself with your family at least once a year. Hire a professional that will catch those candid moments. So that your children have those memories forever along with the everyday iPhone snapshots.

Casey, also known as ‘Freddy’ due to an unfortunate childhood resemblance to a Flinstone, is a professional kids photographer and blogger. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two-year-old son, newborn daughter & micro-mini golden doodle (that’s a dog). You can see more of her work on Facebook and Instagram.

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When You Do, and Do, and Do for Them, and They Call You Names

November 20, 2014

There is nothing quite so sacred as the time honored family dinner. And because I recognize and hold this ideal close to my heart, it has become a goal – no, a MISSION to get my nuclear unit together for at least one square meal a day.

The evening meal is that portion of the day reserved for carving out quality time with those closest to us; time to share news of the day, our hopes and dreams, laughing and catching up, really connecting with one another… just like in the commercials where everybody’s smiling and nodding approvingly at Mom for crafting such an excellent meal, right?

Who the hell am I kidding? It’s a clusterf*ck.

To begin, only one of the boys actually makes it to the table each night. Chances are pretty good that if Max comes running when I call, Miles will be AWOL, and vice versa. Sometimes Max saunters in just as we’re wrapping things up, because that’s how teenagers roll.

Of course, once one or both of them actually appears, dinner is inhaled in record time so as to get back to whichever video game level or television show I’ve dragged them away from.

And so it goes that when Kevin and I are left with the dinner remains, and a distinct quiet hangs over the dining room like a cloud of introspection, I take the opportunity to discuss with him the reasons I feel this time is so important, and the ways in which we might better enforce the dinner ritual.

This goes over about as well as one might expect – as leaden as the as the meatloaf your mother made that you always tried to hide under the mashed potatoes. It usually leads to an argument over his lenience and my overbearingness, and proves inconclusive as we walk away disgruntled, silently clearing the dishes, if not our minds.

Until that great moment arrives when both boys magically appear and I realize that we are entering The Dinner Zone. When this happens, I make sure they know how much I appreciate their presence, and just as soon as the foodstuffs are divvied up, I get straight to the question and answer portion of the meal. “How was your day?” “What’s new at school?”

Boys aren’t much for bringing their work home from the office, so to speak. At least mine aren’t. They don’t really want to talk shop at the dinner table or at all. I get it. But if not then, when? Still, I don’t press the issue. I let things take their usual path… usually toward destruction.

Take last night for instance. I was hell bent on forgoing Taco Tuesday in favor of a well rounded, all-the-food-groups-present kind of dinner. I toiled for a good two hours making a meal for a cold winter’s night sure to warm my family’s bodies, if not their hearts.

Because really, I do and I do and I do for those kids. And what do I get?

Max: Why do we always have to eat poor people food?

Me: What are you talking about? It’s Swiss steak, mashed potatoes and green beans. What’s poor about that?

Max: It’s basically stew. Why is it always some kind of beef in a pot with gravy and vegetables? It’s the cheapest thing.

Me: You were expecting filet mignon? Who do you think we are, the Rockefellers?

All the while Miles is pretend shooting at his own reflection in the kitchen window as Max demands he cut it out.

Max: I can’t eat with him doing that. Tell him to stop it! I don’t wanna eat this crap. And he’s bugging me.

Miles: Yeah! I don’t wanna eat this crap either!

Me: Woah! This isn’t crap. (Eyes dart to Kevin, shooting him “the look”, the signal for discontent and/or the need for back up.)

Kevin: Yeah. It’s not crap. It’s delicious. It’s one of mom’s favorite meals. I like it too.

Max: Well if it’s your favorite mom, you can eat mine.

Me: (Spearing a piece a meat from his plate.) Don’t mind if I do. (Kevin eyeing me as if to say “You sure you want seconds because you’re supposed to be on a diet?”)

Me: You really need to eat more guys, so you’re strong and healthy.

Miles: Yeah, but we don’t wanna get fat like mom.

Max: Ohhhh! I’m outta here. You’re done Miles. You’re SO gonna get it!

Miles: What? Mom ate a whole Payday bar and it was 600 calories!

Me: I thought it was 200 calories.

Kevin: But that was for 1/3 of the bar.

Me: I read the label wrong.

Miles: See. Don’t get fat like mom.

They both leave the table, discussing my level of fatness based on the accidental consumption of one jumbo-sized candy bar.

Kevin: Wasn’t it great to have the whole family together at the dinner table?

Lord, give us this day our daily DREAD. And hopefully I’ll forgive them their trespasses.

But perhaps I should consider leading them not into consumption.

Linda Roy is a humorist/writer/musician who blogs at elleroy was here She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two boys, and fronts the Indie Americana band Jehova Waitresses. She’s Managing Partner and Editor-in-Chief at Lefty Pop. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, In the Powder Room, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, Aiming Low, Mamapedia, Midlife Boulevard, Bon Bon Break, and The Weeklings. She was named a 2014 BlogHer Voice Of the Year.

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