I’ve written on Offbeat Families before about my desire to take a very short maternity leave. I opted for a shortened leave because I really love my job and knew I’d feel out-of-place staying home for any extended period of time. I knew that was the right choice for me. As it turned out, my daughter had awesome timing. She was born on a Friday night (after I got back from work!), I left the hospital on Sunday morning. I spent the next week at home and returned full-time to work the next Monday. This was totally made possible by the fact that my husband and I are lucky enough to have both our families close by.
On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, my husband takes our daughter to work with him. He works at his family’s business, so when my daughter is there she is with her grandparents, father, one uncle and three aunts. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she spends the day with my parents, who are semi-retired and run their own business, and three of her four aunts on my side. After work and on weekends, she is mostly with my husband and me (although relatives stop by often).
This week, I was able to leave work early. I went to my parents’ house to pick her up and, having a key, walked right in. I saw my father (all 6 ft. 6 in, 250 pounds of him) giving her a bottle while my mom was talking to her, trying to teach her Gaelic. It made me realize something profound: I’m not my daughter’s only “Mom.” Heck, I’m not her only parent. Neither is my husband. Our daughter is parented by a dozen loving, awesome people, each of whom is shaping her, guiding her and helping her grow. It is already happening — last night, when she heard me speaking German on the phone, she smiled and laughed. I realized that she already has memories of my father speaking German to her and remembers his language — and him — fondly. She is already becoming a product of her family.
I worried initially about how my daughter would fare being passed around so many people. I worried a bit about whether this would affect her ability to bond to me in any way. I am happy to say that no such thing has happened. She reaches for me when I pick her up at night, in the mornings and other times. But she also smiles and reaches for my mom when I drop her off, and for my husband’s parents when they come into the office. She has formed a bond with each person who cares for her. She knows already that each of these people love her, and she has bonded with all of them. It has validated the choices that I made.
I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about what “parenting” actually is, and who a parent is, as well. I, before giving birth, assumed that parenting was something that was done solely by the actual parents of a child. Other relatives would come in and out, caring for a child but not parenting them (since that was not their role). But what is parenting, other than providing for a child’s physical needs but also their emotional, spiritual and other needs as well? I can’t say that I’m the only one who does that (or even the one who does it the best).
Yes, I am part of the group that parents my daughter, but I am not the only one. I cannot imagine denying her the incredible formative experiences that she is getting now, and that she will continue to get. I am comfortable saying that I am not my child’s only parent. She has over a dozen! She has all these people who are equally invested in guiding her, loving her and seeing her grow into a responsible adult.
In the eyes of society, I may be her parent more than anyone else, but I do not feel that way. I adore her more than life itself and want only the best for her, but I’m sure the others feel much the same way! I cannot place myself in a position above them, or as having more authority. Both my husband and I were blessed to have remarkable mothers and fathers. We think it’s outstanding if they can be “mom and dad” to our daughter as well. I’ve had friends who struggle to get it when I explain that our daughter has multiple “parents.” They say “Well, you’re the mom and they are the grandmoms — it’s different.” But is it so different when we all are providing much of the same thing?
This is the story of what happens when two children of lesbians (each their mother’s only child) have a kid. The short version of the... Read more
I totally get that this is a very unique situation. Many parents do not have families close by. Many relatives are not close by, are not equipped to help with childcare, do not want to, etc. We are incredibly lucky to not only have families that are close, but who have volunteered to help us and parent when we cannot. Their selflessness helps my husband and I achieve our goals and be a better family overall.
I initially doubted whether or not I was making the right choice in choosing to work so soon after birth. But every day since has proven to me that I made the right choice for me. My daughter does not have two parents — she has six times that.
So what has the one-week maternity leave taught me? Above all else, that it’s only possible because of the support system I have. It’s taught me that babies bond to those who love and provide for them and that there’s nothing wrong with not wanting to stay home. I got my freedom back when I realized this.
I hope that when my daughter is old enough to attend school and draw a picture of her family, like everyone else, she can draw not three people, but all of us. I’ve realized that how we categorize families — nuclear, extended, nontraditional, etc. — has failed us. What do you call a family like mine, where so many people are so close together and equal partners in raising one (for now!) child? I’m not sure! Like so many others, we’ve found ourselves in a bit of an undefined territory.
I realize now that there is nothing “extended” about us, and that is really an awesome thing.
Comments on My daughter has a dozen parents and it’s awesome
I appreciate the help from family members and day care providers–but no way are these people PARENTS to my kid. YOU are in the unique position of being this child’s parent. That’s a special designation. DON’T give it up!
I don’t know how to feel about your comment — it feels really dismissive toward extended families and non-nuclear/non-bio family structures. Parents aren’t the only ones who can lovingly raise children.
I agree! While I maybe wouldn’t use the term ‘parent’ I do think that there’s something very relaxed and beautiful about this post. It’s like, she knows she’s the mom, so she doesn’t have to compete with the family members to assert her parentness or momness…nothing can take away the fact that she’s a loving mom to that little girl, and she embraces all of the ‘parenting’ love of her family members equally. I think it’s really quite beautiful.
I don’t think it’s dismissive to acknowledge that there’s a difference between parents and other caregivers. It’s not about biology – it could be a foster parent or a grandparent – but the buck has to stop somewhere. At some point, there will be a disagreement about discipline, or food, or schooling, and then it is up to the parents to decide how best to raise their child, and for everyone else to accept their decision. I agree with Lori, I wouldn’t cede that responsibility to anyone.
Why does the buck have to stop anywhere closer than exactly where Mum wants it to?
Not all families are the same.
This doesn’t really make sense to me. In a two parent household, if there’s a parenting disagreement, there’s not usually one parent who makes the decision without regard for the other person’s thoughts. Decisions are made together, sometimes including compromise. Why couldn’t that model expand to more than two people?
And, in many families there is mom/stepdad and dad/stepmom….so 4 parents would be okay, but not 6?
I think it’s a bit optimistic to think all decisions can be resolved through compromise. There’s not much compromise to be found on whether or not to circumcise one’s son.
And I also don’t think we should trivialize the difficulties many blended families face in trying to co-parent their children.
She allowed for that: “Decisions are made together, sometimes including compromise.” Just wanted to point that out. 🙂
Lori, I never have really gotten this viewpoint, which I guess I why I think differently. When I was pregnant, I actually sat down and tried to say to myself, “What is a parent and what do they do?” Some of the stuff is material – they provide food, shelter, etc. Well, when my daughter isn’t with me, I’m not the one providing that stuff. It’s also about providing the intangible stuff – guiding them, giving them a sense of ethics, morality – that kind of stuff. And frankly, I’m not the only one doing that either.
Truth be told, in some situations, I am happy to cede my authority. My parents (and my in-laws) are older than I. They are wiser. They have accumulated a ton of life experiences I do not have (and never will). They are remarkable people (all immigrants, all business owners, all educated, successful people, and all amazing parents and relatives. I am glad to have them be such a giant part of my daughter’s life!
Another majot factor in my decision was looking at human history and what kinds of traditions we wanted to have. My sister in law is an anthropologist who told me something profound. She pointed out that the idea of parental authority over all else is, relatively speaking, new. The nuclear family is largely a 20th century Western creation. For the majority of human existence (and a big part even now), the “traditional family” WAS the extended family by necessity. Multiple people invested in raising and caring for a child. So in a way, “kinship parenting” (which seems to be a common name for what we’ve chosen to do) is the oldest way there is.
YES THIS! I’m reminded again of this post I wrote in 2009: http://offbeatfamilies.com/2009/10/mother-martyr
That’s an excellent point, the idea of ceding authority. Some parents are comfortable with that idea, and some aren’t, and I know it depends on who they’re ceding to. But I personally have been asking myself the same thing, being pregnant – when I hand my child to my husband’s parents, do I trust them to do the right thing for my child, even if it hasn’t been 100% approved by me beforehand? I absolutely do. And I clash with them on plenty of things otherwise! But I trust them with my kid. They’re intelligent, they’ve raised plenty of kids and spend lots of time with the other grandkids, and they know our views on the ‘big’ stuff. Everything else is just details.
Am I lucky that my in-laws are trustworthy? Yes. I know that some aren’t. But mine are, and I’m grateful for that, just like you. 🙂
Thank you, this is very comforting to read. Best of luck to you and your family!
I was wondering what state you lived in, I am from California, and I dont know of any work places that take a mother before the 6-week recup time frame. Or do you run your own firm?
Check Ashley’s prior post for more context:
I work for a legal aid organization on the East Coast. I work almost exclusively with attorneys, and a pretty good number of them took less than the full mandated 12 weeks (one of my bosses did less than 2 weeks). I personally find its just better to honor the mother’s preferences. I will say, however, that my story is NOT typical. I am a mountaineer and martial arts instructor as well and I am heavily involved in high-performance athletics. I have an ob/gyn who actually specializes in working with pregnant athletes and new mothers. He emphasized that most women are not back in tip-top shape so soon (and truth be told, I wasn’t totally 100% either). I volunteered to provide my job with a doctor’s note stating that it was safe for me to come back, but they were fine. My mother did the same thing 5 times and turned out okay, so I just hoped to God that I took after her.
I think this is so lovely! Yes, you are your daughter’s parent, but you are also in the unique position of getting to decide how you define your family. If that means your daughter has six parents, awesome!! Your village sounds rich with love.
I returned to my job when my daughter was twelve weeks old. I absolutely adore the work I do (I manage a non-profit scholarship program for low-income women). I also love my daughter fiercely. I’ve questioned whether I’m doing the right thing (although I don’t really have the option not to work, sometimes it’s nice to pretend) but when I see my daughter with her grandmama and their beautiful relationship, I know it’s totally worth it.
And I’m happy to hear that your birth and recovery went so smoothly! Congratulations!! 🙂
I’m so glad to hear the follow-up!
I think that this is the definition of “it takes a village!” Just yesterday I noticed how attached my son was to his “uncle tio” and smiled, even though it meant that he didn’t want to be held by my husband (who had just gotten off work) because he was too busy playing with his favorite uncle. While we also use traditional daycare, grandma has a primary role and his aunties and uncles see him on the weekends. He’s very much an attached little bugger to me and my husband, but it’s so sweet to see him reach for so many other loving adults, too!
What a lovely post. Thank you for sharing! I was wondering, is it Scots Gaelic your mom speaks?
Anna – No, my Mom is Irish all the way! I am actually fascinated by the difference between Scots Gaelic and Irish. Some people assume that Gaelic is a singular language, but that is so far from the truth. I have heard Scots spoken before, but could not understand a great deal of it (at least just from hearing it – I’ve heard that written is easier).
Congratulations! It sounds like things are working out perfectly. I am curious about one thing. You don’t mention what kind of businesses your families run, but do you expect the caregiving situation to change once your baby is mobile?
Amb, the business my parents run is a dojo/gymnasium and personal training business. Usually, on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they have her, they are “retired” (on the other 3 weekends, they “unretire”). My parents are still relatively young (in their late 40s) as well. They right now have assured me that they are well-prepared to deal with a mobile baby – especially since they had 5 babies in the gym before when they had their own kids (and were working full-time!). My husband’s family runs a financial consulting firm out of their family home. They also raised their kids in the business, so they also say they will be ready. Of course, plans can change, but for right now, we are seeing how it goes and taking their word for it.
Fascinating! Lovely! I don’t know that anyone could replace my mother, but I was raised in a very large family, often in the care of aunts, uncles, and grandparents. They raised me, fed me, taught me, disciplined me, loved me as much as any parent. In fact, if I were to count hours, I’m sure the combined time I spent with cousins and other family members surpasses the time I spent with my mother growing up. Thank you for sharing your story. It takes a village, blah blah 😛
I feel a little conflicted about the “everyone’s a parent” thing. On the one hand, it’s really beautiful to honor all of the other people in your baby’s life like that. But I also think there’s something really sacred about a mother-baby bond, especially as life goes on, that other family relationships can’t exactly replicate. (I would say the same about father-child but I don’t know because I didn’t have that with my dad, and my kids don’t have a dad either.) I imagine one of the pitfalls of having a large group help out could be that a small child might not develop a very close relationship with any one person. I don’t know if that would be confusing or not but I’m sure as that child gets older, he or she would figure out which relationships felt the most special and lean into those. Of course, I’m just the kind of person who prefers fewer, more intimate relationships in general so maybe this wouldn’t be a worry for a kid who likes lots of relationships.
However, I’m flat out jealous that you have so many remarkable, trustworthy family members in the first place. I have two that I trust to look after my kids on occasion (they live nearly two hours away) but everyone else is a MESS. I’ve got fundamentalist Christians (who are very anti-my little queer fam), chain-smokers, people with major anger problems, abusers, addicts, megalomaniacs and more in my family. Ain’t no way I’d leave any of them alone with my kids for any amount of time, nor could I ever cede to their judgment on discipline issues or anything else. But congrats to you on winning the family lottery! We really all should all be so lucky.
Anon, I think we’re fundamentally going to disagree on the “mother-baby bond is sacred” point. I have always viewed that with a good amount of distrust, primarily because I have seen that viewpoint used by some seriously anti-feminist people. They use it to justify shaming working moms who are not always at home (like my mom). They use it to argue against male or trans led families (like, for example, where does that view include gay men, trans people). They use it to create “birth essentialism” in which adopted families aren’t “real” because nobody in the family actually gave birth to the child. They use it to argue for all kinds of restrictions and hurdles to making the kinds of family we want. I’m not attacking you in the slightest (at least I hope not), but there are a lot of variations in families – some of which do not even include mothers. So my initial instinct when I see that statement is kind of viseral.
Yeah I should have explained that further. What I really meant was the primary caregiver-child bond is sacred. But you know–what do I know. Maybe most kids would be better off if they had 12 primary caregivers. I had one reliable caregiver (my mom) growing up and while it wasn’t the best childhood, it was okay, and we’re very close now. For my kids, I want to be the one they feel the most attached to, (along with my partner) but I also wish they had a few more family members they could rely on for love and care.
Wow, I think you are so very fortunate to have this work for you. There will be bumps along the road- for sure, but it sounds like you truly trust these other “parents” and have already let go so much of your need to control how your daughter is held, fed, talked to, etc… so you will be in a good position when discipline comes in the picture.
There is a lot out there about the importance of a primary caregiver and I think that your situation is unique because it isn’t that your child is being passed around from teachers, aides, daycares,etc… The people caring for your child will be in her life forever, something that cannot be compared to the “studies” about children and attachment in daycare settings.
I’ve been thinking about these things a lot lately– my role as a mom, as a parent, and the role I want our (mostly dysfunctional) family to play. There’s definitely an element of control involved, plus I think a healthy dose of protectiveness given the not-so-healthy family members. However, I’ve also been reading “Necessary Losses” by Judith Viorst, and there’s a lot in there about the importance of the mother-child relationship during the first 3 years of life. She claims that a working mom can still be a “good enough parent” which is the phrase she uses throughout (in a non-disparaging way), but doesn’t talk a lot about extended family caregiving, or primary caregivers who are male, for example. It seems like some psychologists and parenting approaches (RIE, attachment) say that having baby with mom full time during infancy is ideal, and maybe it is? Maybe there can be ideals, but with extenuating circumstances (Mom’s sanity, finances, etc.), we figure out what is good enough? I definitely aspire to have the OP’s ability to let go of her ego of being her child’s everything, which seems very healthy as the child becomes more and more independent over time!
It seems like some psychologists and parenting approaches (RIE, attachment) say that having baby with mom full time during infancy is ideal, and maybe it is? Maybe there can be ideals, but with extenuating circumstances…
As a mother, I personally disagree with this statement… but I’d be livid if I was a gay dad facing the suggestion that my parenting was some sort of “extenuating circumstance.”
i hope it’s clear that i’m not saying i know the answers to whether having a (female) primary caregiver for the first 3 years is ideal or not– just that the things I’m coming across (that were definitely written years ago) are saying this, and it’s something I’m struggling with as a future parent who wants a career outside the home, but also wants to take into consideration what my baby’s needs will be. i personally find it overwhelming to imagine that the healthy “psychological birth” of my child is going to be predicated primarily on their relationship with me, and not also with his/her father, which I am hoping is a sign of a lack of research!
The research, I can tell you, is decidedly mixed. (Speaking as a Psych major and former counseling center worker). Yes, there is some research that touts the benefits of a single primary caregiver. However, that research was largely done 1.) on animal, not humans and 2.) they were usually done through association, not through vigorous testing.
There is also research that runs totally counter to it. For example, there’s data that shows that human babies form multiple secure attachments to multiple people. That is actually the dominant research now. Listen, here’s the thing – if the ideal situation was a child being raised by its biological parents, then you have an absolute TON of kids right now living outside that paradigm – kids of gay parents, adoptees, working parents, single parents, kids who live with grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, etc. And all the research we have suggests that those kids are doing FINE (in fact, if you page back on this site, you’ll see a piece that shows that the kids of LGBT families are doing positively excellent).
Just a note: I wouldn’t rely too heavily on books put forth by specific parenting philosophies (while I have nothing against Dr. Sears the person, it is worth noting that he is a pediatrician and has no training in child psychology, development or cognition). If I were you, I would subscribe online to perhaps a psychology journal – Developmental Psych or the Journal of Child Psychology are good ones. If you want to really see good research about parenting and children, I’d say your best bet is to go to the actual sources. Unfortunately, the media is not always the best when it comes to scientific reporting. If you want a nice concise breakdown of some of the current state of attachment research the Wikipedia page is a nice breakdown:
Yeah, some of the recent stuff I’ve read really shows that there are some (in relation to mothers working, for example) that show some negative things and some positive things. I think it’s too often used as a scare tactic for mothers to not go back to work…
My first reaction to this piece was , “Wow, I can’t relate to this at all.” Then I remembered that this isn’t Familiesyoucanrelateto.com, and I was like, “Phew!” But also, where are the downsides to this setup? There must be some. Every parenting choice my partner and I make (and the ones our friends make) seem to always come with pros and cons.
I agree. There are always downsides. I hesitate to say this because I am all about empowerment, but there will be things that you will look back on and wish you had done different. I’m not saying what OP is writing about will be one of those things, but I also want every parent to feel comfortable saying, “hmm, maybe we should’ve done x,y,z instead” without facing huge feelings of guilt or resentment. It happens to all of us.
…isn’t what you’re saying true of almost every post on Offbeat Families, from cloth diapers to co-sleeping to daycare? How is this post any different, and where is this idea of “huge feelings of guilt or resentment” coming from?
I’m genuinely curious, because comments like this seem to come up a lot on Ashley’s posts, which are surprisingly triggering for our readers. Ashley is sharing a family structure that’s working for her right now. It’s not an indictment of anyone else’s family structure. Why do readers seem to feel the need to remind her that she might be wrong, when the same is true of every other post we publish?
I don’t think there’s always resentment or guilt over choices but I find that the hard parts and how we negotiate them are the stuff I tend to bond with other parents about regardless of what our choices are. I’ve been a full-time working, a full-time staying home, and a part-time working parent and there have been incredible plusses and very difficult minuses to each of those experiences. I don’t feel like I’d be giving a balanced portrayal of any of those experiences though if I only listed the good parts of each of those situations.
HOWEVER, maybe this kinship parenting thing really is working totally perfectly for the author right now. I mean, if so, then that’s awesome. My four years as a parent, no matter how I’m doing it, has just never been so smooth–but maybe that’s because I don’t have so many kin I can lean on.
I attribute the smoothness of it to the fact that I myself was raised this way – my parents, other relatives, friends, the occasional employees – so during pregnancy, once I knew this is what I wanted to do and everybody was on board with it, my mom worked with me to ensure that it was smooth. One of the things we were able to work on was transporting her home at night without waking her up – since if she was asleep, it tended to throw off her schedule. But we invested in a good carrier and yes, we did wind up sleep-training to get her on a manageable schedule a few weeks ago. But we knew that would be an issue because mom told me it would be and we worked to head it off at the pass.
The biggest challenges have not been material in nature. They are mental. I went through a period of profound doubt as to whether I did the right thing and whether it was okay, as a mother, to be okay with giving up a large amount of parenting to others. And yes, it’s okay. Many of the messages we get are societally constructed but have little to do with what actually works best for us. Once I got past that, it got much easier.
To answer Ariel’s question above, I think the triggering part of Ashely’s posts is that… I’m not sure if it’s the content or her writing style, but I feel almost defensive when I read what she says. I feel dared to question her abilities; and even though she says it might not work for everyone, I read a little bit of a tone of condescension or arrogance in her posts and comments. Whether that’s fair or not, that’s the taste it leaves in my mouth. It is very likely just my baggage, but maybe others’ too.
And in full disclosure, I haven’t left any comments on this post (though I think I did in one or both of her previous ones) — just this meta-comment. Also, FWIW, I do very much enjoy reading Ashley’s posts and they challenge me to think about why I react the way I do. For example, I am thinking about why I feel bothered by the idea that my MIL or my mom could also be my son’s mom.
ETA: a lot.
I too am curious about this last bit. I have definitely made parenting mistakes and taken routes I shouldn’t have, but I don’t feel hugely guilty or resentful about any of them. I know you said you don’t necessairly mean this specifically, but still feel like you’re taking a fairly large leap in possibly implying that Ashley will feel either of those things.
I wasn’t saying she will feel that way- just saying that it’s okay to change your mind. I didn’t invent mom-guilt, but it is very prevalent and I think it is important for new moms to know that EVERYONE (even those commenting on your articles) has things they would do different.
I had the exact same reaction. I can appreciate that this situation is working for her, but I can’t empathize at all.
For myself at least, the strong reaction this generated had to do with the classification of caregivers as parents. It was a visceral reaction, like being hit in the gut.
Working moms are still hearing “I could never let someone else raise my baby” All.The.Time. And if you’re using daycare??
I trust and love my daughters caregivers. But they are not raising my baby. Her father and I am. We don’t have to be with her 24/7 to be the ones raising her. We value her caregiver’s experience and judgment, but in the end, she’s ours and ours alone, and we decide whats best for her. I’m happy for my daughter to have many people who love and care for her, but it would be very painful for me if she considered anyone else her mother.
Again, I appreciate that the OP has a different situation and a different point of view, but I can’t empathize. I may as well be a bat trying to understand what it’s like to swim.
Ours and ours alone sounds a bit like ownership to me, which is triggering because it reminds me of the guilt-trip my adoptive mom has in relationship to any mention of my biological-mom (with whom I’m in reunion)…as in…we paid good money for you by adopting you, you are OURS.
She’s not talking about everyone this kid meets as being a ‘parent’ she is talking about her family and her husbands family. I mean, the noun definition of ‘parent’ is father/mother and the verb definition of parent is “Be or act as a mother or father to (someone).” If she’s cool with her kid’s grandparents acting as a mother/father for her child, why wouldn’t it classify as parent?
We came at it with the exact different attitude. For me personally, the idea of “she is mine” brought up a lot of negative feelings for me. Years ago, I had an abusive relationship in which my ex would say “You are mine and mine alone. I know what you need, I know what is best.” The words still make my skin crawl to hear them. When I was pregnant, I thought a LOT about what kind of autonomy I wanted for my daughter (especially after we discovered she was a she). I don’t ever, ever want my daughter to hear anybody say (and I do mean anybody) that she “belongs” to them. She belongs to herself – full stop, end of sentence. I helped create her, but she does not belong to me. I have been entrusted with a duty to care for her, but I would never, ever say she belongs to me. If we acknowledge that saying such a thing about an adult partner is wrong, I don’t get why it’s okay with kids.
I spent some time in a children’s counseling center, so this colors what I am about to say next. I do not always, nor will I always know what is best for my child. I am a human, I am fallible. I like to think of myself as smart, but I know my knowledge has limits. Sometimes, I won’t know best. That is why I think the best I can do is strive to know when its NOT best to just make decisions. Sometimes, its better for me to defer to a counselor, or a doctor, or somebody older and wiser who has been there before me. I remember the parents at the center who espoused corporal punishment and beat their kids under the pretense of “I am the parent, you are not, I know what’s best for him.” When NO, they did not know.
I’m not saying that you are anything like what I’ve described above – not in the least. But if we disagree on stuff like that, that is chasm that I don’t think there is any reaching over.
I think that her particular posts are about things that she is planning on doing or currently doing as a very new mom. When I was a new mom, I remember getting annoyed when people would tell me that I would change my mind about something or that “we’ll see how you feel in a couple years” speech, so I sincerely trying to not be one of those voices, but a voice of- hey, it’s okay if it doesn’t work out forever or if you come to wish you had done something different. The issues of work-life balance and childcare touch most of us much more deeply than say posts about baby names or cloth diapers or what-not. I am happy that this works for her now and am not offended by any implication that my child is missing out on 10 “parents,” but how the article is written seems a little too good to be true, or too good to be true forever.
But isn’t that totally subjective? Personally, for me, my “too good to be true” moments happen when I read about stay at home moms who are doing great. But that’s not because I don’t believe they can really do what they do. I do believe it. That’s because, for me, that situation isn’t possible. My husband and I are not in a position where either of us could stop working. It would put a serious hurt on us economically. Now, I am lucky in that my own desires aligned with the economic reality – but what if they hadn’t? I don’t read those pieces and think “that can’t last forever.” I can’t do that because I am not in that author’s place.
Some people really do get it (mostly) right on the first try. I attribute a lot of it to my mom – because she was the exact same way. She raised her kids in an extended family made up of relatives, friends and even the occasional employee. So I knew from the outset that with the right support, it was doable.
We communicated constantly with our families and we are still working out that small kinks, but overall, it really has been smooth. Can that change? Of course – the unforeseeable is always present, but that’s for everyone (I have a co-worker who was a very happy stay at home mom until her husband got very ill and their medical bills shot up – time to renew the law license).
I wrote this because I wanted to illustrate a family structure that doesn’t get a lot of time in the general media – large extended “kinship parenting” families. And yes, sometimes they really do work that well. Are there small blips and problems now and again? Sure, but I didn’t want to take up the post just talking about them.
I think that there are very few SAHMs who paint a picture of their life as this rosy picture where everything goes along wonderfully, but I do see your point. What I mean is that your arrangement must have some downsides and to not mention them makes it seem like it is too good to be true. I actually would love to hear about the hard parts, the imperfect parts- it makes the journey seem more real.
(For the record, I went back to work at my first pt job at 2 weeks postpartum and my other pt job at 6 weeks. My husband had an opposite schedule and was able to watch my daughter. So, from that angle, I totally understand the misrepresentation of families who do not go the SAHM route or the straight up ft daycare route.)
But I never said there are SAHMs who paint a “rosy” picture. What I said is that I do not automatically assume that when somebody offers a post here about preferring staying at home or how a certain style worked out for his or her family, I don’t have an instinct to consider it “too good to be true” if they don’t immediately talk about the drawbacks. The minor blips we’ve have tend to mostly deal with transportation each morning and evening – but that’s really it. Logistical stuff, mostly. I’m just not of the mind that talking about one particular way of doing things obligates anybody to also talk about the cons (minor as they can be) to prove its “realness” to somebody else.
I think you are, perhaps, looking more for a technical piece than what I wrote. I didn’t write it as a “how-to” on how to set up a kinship care family. I’m not sure how it could be done, since by definition, extended families vary wildly in their size, composition and needs – so even among extended families, what works for me will not work for anybody else, necessarily. That’s why I knew I didn’t want to write that kind of a piece. I firstly wrote it because my last piece about taking one week off provoked a lot of discussion and I felt I owed the readership an explanation and secondly, because I wanted to talk about a family and parenting structure that isn’t all that common and to let people know that (1) its okay to do this if you want to and (2) its okay to not parent in a way that conforms to our current societal expectations.
I get where you’re coming from, I really do. I get that it can seem amazing that this “experiment” (and that it what we called it at first) has gone so well. But I attribute that to a lot of planning and communication (and also that I myself was raised this way, so I went into it with some background). But it really has. I am not trying to argue that this can work for anybody (just as I haven’t met a SAHM on this site who argues that her way will work for everybody). I could have written a great deal more about how this is actually working and the mundane details of working out the kinks, but I didn’t want to bog down the spirit of the piece, which is more general and introspective. Perhaps a more detailed one would have worked better, but this is the piece I wrote.
Ashley, thank you for this post so much. Your family sounds fantastic, and they are so lucky to have you and each other!
As a little girl, I was raised by SO many people. When I was born, my mother and father lived in a house with my mother’s brother and my father’s brother and sister, and I was indeed parented by EVERYONE. And when I say the word parented, I’m also choosing that word deliberately. It was a great experience for me, and it also allowed my parents to work while allowing me to always be with family and have a parental figure nearby.
At the end of the day, the thing I remember most is how happy everyone was, including my mom. That’s what your daughter will remember, too. She’ll remember how happy and fulfilled her mom was, and that memory will be just as important as all the great ones she’s making with the other people who are parenting her.
I am a parent to my younger brother. I was 12 when he was born, and even though we still have a sister-brother relationship in some respects, we are far, far more parent and child. It’s something that my own parents encouraged, it gave my brother an opportunity to have a parent around that he saw as younger and more able to understand some of the things he was going through in school, etc. And, when my mother died a year and a half ago, he knew he had me there for him in the exact same capacity as my father. I am an authority figure, I am a mentor, I guide him and help him and teach him right from wrong to this day, even though he’s 18 now. I love him like my son AND like my brother. And I know having me here has made the loss of my mom easier to handle, which I guarantee you my mom would be happy about.
It takes a village. 🙂
I really enjoyed reading your post — both about your parenting/caregiving arrangements and that it is really working for you!
The books about parenting that I’ve liked best are mostly by anthropologists or primatologists (talking about human parenting alongside the parenting of other kinds of primates). In most human cultures, and in many primate species generally, “alloparents” (non-parents playing a parental role) play an essential role in raising children. A lot of ideas that go along with what is currently called “attachment parenting” appeal to me, such as co-sleeping, feeding on demand, etc., but I really disagree with the idea that only mothers can/should form close bonds with babies. It was such a relief to me to start reading more about the history and diversity of human parenting, and to put it in the context of primate parenting, and realize that the idea that mothers are the only important parent is really an aberration. I do feel that breastfeeding creates a special bond that no-one else has with my child (though in many cultures women sometimes breastfeed each other’s children), but that’s really the only connection that is specific to the mother-child relationship. (And of course not all mothers breastfeed). There are lots of other ways to create loving connection besides breastfeeding, which a child can experience with other caregivers.
That sounds wonderful having so much family around! We have family who visits, and who can do occasional caregiving, but unfortunately noone who is able to take care of our son on a regular basis. Fortunately we have several excellent nanny/babysitters — one who is with him most week days, one who comes a couple times a week, and one who comes a couple times a month (for a total of about 35 hours of babysitting time a week). It was very important to us to find caregivers who loved spending time with him, and to have them start spending time with him early enough that when he got to the age where he was more discriminating about people he already knew them and loved spending time with them. Our son is almost 8 months now, and so far we all really love this arrangement.
As far as feeling guilt or regret — I do sometimes wish I were spending more time with my son, and sometimes wish I had more time for my work (I’m a musician, and my work is really central to who I am). But I think I went into parenting knowing that it would be about balance, and that there is no perfect way to do everything, and that it would take a lot of people to provide our son with all the parenting and alloparenting that he needs! Overall I’ve been amazed at how good the current balance feels. I think there’s a lot of pressure on mothers to feel guilty about our choices, and we have to remind ourselves not to buy into that!
This is so powerful, and reminds me of a really wonderful article we published a last year, Why are moms so hesitant to view their male partners as full, competent parents?, which includes this line:
I think it’s because deep down there is a part of us that believes if we demand equal parenting, if we demand holding onto ourselves … then we are not good mothers.
I highly recommend reading the full post: Why are moms so hesitant to view their male partners as full, competent parents?
When I was first reading this post I just kept thinking about how *foreign* it all sounded to me. After some thinking though, I think I was just getting hung up on terminology and semantics. I don’t think we could give up the idea of my husband and I being her only parents with everyone else in her life being grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. I don’t know why, I’m not sure why we’d need it, but that ultimate veto power means a lot to us.
That being said, I love and can totally get behind the rest of what you’re saying. My husband and I already know that when we leave our daughter with his parents or other family she’s getting the same quality of care she’d get with us. That’s why we leave her with them! I love the idea that we all have different passions that she’ll be exposed to over the years and that I can count on both our families to fill in where my husband and I have weak spots.
In re-reading it makes me wonder, if my husband and I had a family dynamic that looked more like yours, would I think differently about our labels? Thanks for a thought provoking article. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your family as your daughter grows. 🙂
Yay! I was waiting for a follow-up to your article and am not disappointed. Your parenting arrangement sounds wonderful and your daughter is so lucky to have so many loving people in her life. Plus, your community is really lucky that you’ve been able to continue with your legal work. Keep on with your bad self!
You had basically my exact reaction when this post came in!
This post interested me greatly because I love the idea of it and am a bit jealous that it is working so well. The two issues I have for myself is that we live far away from family, so obviously this is tough. But the bigger issue for me is that we live a very alternative lifestyle than our family members and although I love the idea of a village raising a child, I do feel strongly about how I want my child raised and I definately know that extended family members are not on the same page with our diet, peaceful parenting choices, and such. I do not feel I can leave our kids with family members and have them discipline, feed, and caregive in a similar manner. But I would love a group situation like this where the burdens and joys are shared with many! How wonderful! Not to say that my parents and my husbands did a bad job….we are just doing things differently and feel strongly about the different choices we have made. But I am so glad to see a situation like this working for someone! We are tribal by nature!
Juli, we have had to address diet as well with our family. I am a vegetarianl, so I do no meat. My husband was raised in a dual Jewish/Muslim home and he today is a practicing Muslim. So one thing that we definately do not do is pork. My husband’s family has never consumed pork, so this wasn’t an issue. However, I did have to emphasize (respectfully) to my parents that, please, don’t feed the baby any pork products (she isn’t at the age yet for solids, so this hasn’t been an issue so far). I am very lucky that my parents understand about these desires (my mom is a vegetarian too). I’m sure that small things will pop up througout this “experiment,” and we will have to deal with them as they happen. You are totally correct that doing something like this really depends upon people getting on the same page, and often, that just won’t happen.
It’s always really interesting for me to read about families where having so many people involved in parenting children works. It’s foreign to me because, although my family is all very deeply involved in each other lives (even more so when we were all younger), it never worked.
My parents and grandparents lived about 100 feet from each other my entire childhood. Mom had me at 17 and depended on dad’s parents an enormous amount. My youngest brother and I ended up living with my grandparents eventually. My mom has hated my grandmother for as long as I can remember and accuses her of taking her kids away from her. I was a very unhappy kid. I remember the constant fighting and bickering over how we kids were being treated, how dad wasn’t being paid what he should be, how granny needed to keep her nose out of mom’s business…on and on.
Right as I was preparing to move out at 21 mom got serious about moving away from granny. They built a house at the other end of the county, complicating everyone’s lives, and moved. At the time I remember being utterly devastated that mom never cared enough about creating a ‘normal’ life years before, when I still could have benefited from it. Why wasn’t I important enough for her to want to be more involved? I know now that all hinged on being able to afford the move, but at the time that didn’t matter. It crushed me.
This was a wonderful read for me because I’m looking at, a few years down the road, expanding my beloved triad by having children. I was raised with step parents, and truly with “four parents,” but I still don’t know what it will be like to raise a child/children with three primary, equally, living together parents. Even though our situations are different, it’s encouraging to read about alternate family structures that (with lots of communication) really can be the best arrangement for everyone.
Yay! I actually came across some stuff in my “extended family parenting” research that talked about poly families and how they work. Obviously, not exactly what I needed, but many of the tips were helpful. I can certainly see how it can be difficult to challenge the idea of two parents and nothing more. Poly families vary wildly in how they handle parenting situations, but I must say I came away inspired after reading about some of them. I’d love to hear more from any families who are parenting (or considering it) that are outside the mainstream. Good luck to you!
I think the reason this hit a nerve for some people is not just that it’s a different parenting situation (what isn’t on this site?) but that the author talks about how she is not the only MOM to her daughter. As much as we’re all open-minded & encouraging of differences, etc., the whole idea equating other caregivers on the exact same level as yourself feels somehow insulting to the status as a primary parental figure (regardless of gender), no matter how much you love or trust these people with your child. Reference any amount of statistics or cite any number of other family structures as much as you want, but implying that anyone else is another mom/dad besides the child’s primary parents–gay, straight, multi, adoptive, what have you–and it feels somehow hurtful, as if it degrades our own status as parents by throwing around the title so loosely.
With that said, I think it’s great that you were able to work out something so perfect for your family–it’s actually similar to what we do with our daughter, although I was in no hurry to return to work & took my full maternity leave. But she stays with my father one day a week, my brother another day a week, a close friend another day, and I’m able to work from home 2 days a week too. Seeing her thrive in all of these different environments and seeing the bonds she’s created with our loved family members & friends–and seeing all the fun places they take her to & the creative activities they do together–is priceless. And she’s really flexible as a toddler now, which is incredibly rewarding for all of us including my daughter; I feel like we’re teaching her to love variety & not be afraid of doing new things or going new places. She’s curious and adventurous and has an almost-too-healthy amount of independence 🙂 She goes with the flow, and even though she has her own meltdowns every now & again–she is a toddler, after all–I’m confident we’re giving her what she needs to be a well-adjusted, loving, happy person. She’s formed a special bond with every one she stays with. However, her special bond with her “bapa” as she calls my dad is different than the bond she has with me, or with my husband. I’m her mom. My husband is her dad. No one else fills that exact role.
I do agree with the comment that I would’ve liked to hear a little more about the ups/downs of the arrangement–not to feel vindicated by any setbacks or try to inflict guilt on the author by suggesting we’d like to hear them, but simply to be able to relate a little more as a parent. We all do things a bit differently & we don’t always hit it out of the park on the first attempt; hearing about the struggles you’ve dealt with and how you’ve overcome them would have made for a more personal, relatable story, that’s all. Best of luck to you & I’m sure your efforts will help shape your baby into a healthy, happy, well-adjusted little person.
The reason I talk about the term “Mom” so loosely is, I think, because for me, it IS loose. I thought long and hard about WHY so many people seem to react strongly to the implication that the role of “Mom” might not be so special – at least in relation to other caregivers. For a lot of people, I’ve noticed that it comes down to “well, the mother carries and births the child, so that’s what makes it special.” But I’ve known enough people from non-birth mother families to know that’s not always true. For me, emphasizing motherhood through pregnancy and birth can degrade non-birth moms (including adoptive moms and lesbian moms who didn’t give birth), single dads, same-sex male families, trans families, and others. And if you think that doesn’t happen, it does. One of my collegues at work is a gay dad with a husband and new baby through adoption. At a parents-baby run they attended, a well-intentioned woman actually said to them “I’m sure you’ll be good parents, but your child has been deprived of the most profound relationship on Earth.” Yes, she actually said this. Stuff like that is why I have always been wary of the “language of motherhood.” It gets turned around and thrown out against lots of alternative families.
I also always am wary of the language of “the role of the mother” and “the role of the father.” Mostly because its language that pops up all the time in debates against same-sex parents (as well as others). I find it hard to argue on such grounds because it always seems to have a tendency to come back to gender essentialism.
Personally, I would strenously disagree that labeling more than one person as a “parent” degrades the term. Far, far from it – I think it uplifts it! Parenting is hard, hard work at the best of times. In my family, I am very lucky that this hard work is able to be spread a little more than in other homes – it is a blessing. And acknowledging that help by saying “our family members parent my kid too” doesn’t take anything away from me. But it does acknowledge that these people are sharing the workload with me and sharing my burden. And that is the work of parenting. It’s not a zero sum game for me. I am not less of a mother because others in my family also mother my child.
Right–I totally get what you’re saying about gender roles, same sex couples, adoptive parents, etc. and I included all of those scenarios in my comment. It’s not about male or female or mom or dad (although that may be the roles of you & your partner). I have a lot of experience with same sex couples and their struggles, and 3 of my cousins were adopted. This doesn’t make their parents any less their parents–but if anyone were to suggest to them that someone else is equally a mother or father as they are, I know they’d be hurt by that (and understandably so, considering everything they’ve had to deal with as far as people unfamiliar with adoption culture using terminology like the “real” mom instead of the birth mom, etc.).
I added my comment not to tear down your position or question your belief, but simply to add to the dialogue in what I think is the reason some people are reacting negatively. As silly as it may sound, I think it hits home when you feel your position as your child’s parent is being indirectly challenged. Maybe that will change, and hopefully more of society will adopt (no pun intended) the more integrated, “it takes a village” approach of raising our children. I think that would be wonderful; less pressure on the parents and the kids always benefit from more positive influences in their lives. But as of now, implying that others are equal parents instead of beloved grandparents/aunts/uncles/friends isn’t something most parents feel comfortable with.
It’s just semantics. And I’m sure that will change as society changes. Until then, my hunch is this is the reason you’re getting some people, including your friends, who “struggle to get it,” as you said. It’s not the situation but the wording that is bothersome.
I don’t have kids, so I can’t see it from the mom perspective, but as a child who had many parents, and even more parent-type people, I think your comment fringes on insulting the status of the primary parental figure if they aren’t the biological parent.
My biological mother was around for my whole childhood, as sole legal custodian. But the person who was effectively my MOM was my grandmother. I’m sure my mother doesn’t want to acknowledge that fact, but it is the truth. Yes, I have a special bond with all of my parental figures, but just because my mother gave birth to me doesn’t make my bond with her a mom bond. Likewise, she was adopted, but my grandmother, her mother, was her MOM, not whoever contributed DNA.
Likewise, my stepfather is my DAD, not my biological father. I mean, he’s also my dad, but the DAD role was filled by a man who isn’t related to me by blood.
But I think the wording is what holds people back from creating families that they want. And I did not intend to say that you personally hold any anti-gay, or anti-adoption beliefs. However, you do need to know that the arguments you are making are the same arguments that are used to ostracize less traditional families.
I think the nuclear family has become ingrained in American consciousness too deeply, and that has harmed a lot of people. Mothers often crack and suffer under the expectation that they will be the only parental figures in their kids’ lives and they then try to do too much. Oddly enough, I remember research that found that kids raised in extended families are far less likely to be abused – not because they are inherently better, but because having others around to take stress off parents makes for less stressed or depressed parents – and that lowers the risk of a parent acting out against a child.
But as to the wording – if we can’t push back against wording, what can we push back on? Words are powerful. But in this case, I think they’ve done harm. You have parents who believe they should shoulder the full burden of their child’s care, even when that is neither practical or wise. You have mothers who go into depressions over placing a child in daycare because she thinks doing so abdicates her responsibility as a mother. So for me, personally, I almost feel a duty to question this stuff. The fundamental question I asked myself is “what is parenting?” And that is the question I ask everybody who inquires into my childrearing choices. And nobody has yet produced a sufficient answer. If we are solely going by the actions that comprise it, then yes, a lot more people than just you and your husband are parenting your kid. Other family members, friends, daycare workers – yup, they are parenting. And I think we sell these people (many of whom can be more influential in kids’ lives then parents often know) short if we try to erect false barriers between “the real parents” and “everybody else.” It’s language that has come due for a change.
I never said you shouldn’t push back against wording, just that that’s where the disconnect is happening. Push back all you want–but don’t expect it to be well-received if someone feels their position is being attacked or diminished. To me, I can see wording holding someone back from the kind of family they might want, but in a different way than you suggest: I imagine most parents faced with the suggestion that they share parenting roles–and therefore give up their role as the primary parents–would be turned off from the idea rather than turned onto it.
Also, just for the record, even people who believe in multi-generational, cooperative style child rearing may not react well to calling other caregivers mom/dad. Call me selfish, vain, or whatever you will, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying my daughter has one mom, and that’s me. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate all the help we get from the rest of our family, or that she doesn’t have a special bond with her grandparents or aunts or uncles–she most definitely does. But it is a different relationship and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with acknowledging that. Saying a child has 6 mothers to me, sounds forced and dilutes the very meaning of the word… perhaps even bordering on mockery of the term.
Hey guys, thanks to everyone for contributing! The conversation on this post has been varied and awesome, which is always exciting. I’m going to go ahead and close comments because I don’t think anything new is being brought in. Thanks again!
Every time I read your story, I feel so sad for you Ashley, and your daughter :'(