TIME Family

I’m Raising My 3 Kids Overseas and It’s Not Always Easy

Amsterdam, Netherlands
Education Images—UIG via Getty Images Amsterdam, Netherlands

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

My daughter’s doctor once asked me, “Is it strange not to be able to understand what your own child is saying?” Yep, it is.

It was a straightforward plan: Take our three and one year-old to live in Europe, stay for a year, maybe two, and then return in time for the eldest to start school.

Six years later, we’re still here and have added a Dutch-born daughter into the mix.

Raising kids in a foreign country has been a fantastic adventure. It has stretched us out of our comfort zone, exposed us to new cultures and ways of living and has changed the way we view the world. On some days it has also been bloody hard work.

Picking up the new traditions of our adopted home has been a highlight of moving to the Netherlands. We’ve met Sinterklaas (Dutch Santa) and left our shoes in front of the fireplace with carrots for his horse Amerigo, waking up to find them packed with treats. We’ve draped ourselves in orange to join the neighborhood’s King’s day celebrations and bought a three wheeled box bike (bakfiets), loading it up daily with kids, school bags and shopping. The kids can hold a whole herring by the tail and expertly devour it. We’ve replaced ketchup with mayonnaise when ordering fries and have strong convictions about where the best pancakes can be found.

The real business of integrating into a non-native English speaking culture however has not gone so smoothly. As a devout mono-linguist (not by choice, but doomed by genetics) it blew my mind how quickly my kids picked up a second language. Three months at a Dutch school and they were rolling their R’s and doing all sorts of weird guttural stuff from the depths of their throats. They can chat with shopkeepers, make friends in the playground and, when feeling generous, even translate for me.

Learning Dutch has been great for the kids’ integration and is a fun party trick when we visit home, but it has permanently jeopardized my street cred with them. I am now the mom who doesn’t understand what her kids are saying, or the mom who sounds like an idiot when practicing her butchered Dutch. My daughter’s doctor once asked me, “Is it strange not to be able to understand what your own child is saying?” Yep, it is.

I try to convince my daughters that while my Dutch may be scrappy, at least my English is pretty good. But this holds little weight when we are surrounded by the most gifted linguists in Europe, with most Dutch people fluent in at least three languages.

A year after arriving, we moved into our sparsely furnished new home and I headed out to Ikea to rectify the situation with some Swedish DIY. Desperate for an hour of uninterrupted shopping, I set out to convince the woman in charge of the childcare facilities that my youngest was in fact three years old, the minimum age for admission. Meanwhile, my eldest was babbling away to her in Dutch.

The Ikea woman was getting increasingly irritated as I maintained that my daughter was three (“drie! drie!”) and she kept insisting she was two (“twee! twee!”). At last, thoroughly fed-up, she pointed to my very chatty five year-old and announced, “Your daughter is telling me that her sister is two.” Exposed by a five year-old. Ouch.

As a parent I’m constantly striving to instill in my children a sense of belonging and self-confidence, which is tricky when you stand out and are acutely aware of it. I suspect that no one is paying as much attention to the foreigner as I think they are, yet I carry around the weight of feeling conspicuous whenever I open my mouth.

If I’m at the supermarket and I’ve forgotten my purse, I’m the English person who’s holding up the line (Americans, Canadians, Australians: We are all English people here). The last thing you want is for your kids to be aware of your discomfort, so living here as an outsider has been a huge learning curve in faking it, putting your shoulders back and getting on with it.

Some days I entertain myself with seeing how long I can go without drawing attention to my outsider status but the Anglo giveaways are everywhere, even before I open my mouth. I may join in the peak hour bike traffic to take the kids to school, but my kids are one of the very few wearing helmets. And when I get to school I’m the 5’5” brunette standing on my tiptoes trying to catch a glimpse of the class performance amongst the ridiculously tall Dutch parents and their golden locks.

The rationale behind choosing a Dutch school over the many international schools, apart from the language bonus, was to help the kids integrate into Dutch society. And it seems to have worked. They know the dance moves to the Dutch pop songs, have picked up the adorable Dutch sign for tasty (a sideward wave of their hand by their cheek while saying “lekker”) and request chocolate sprinkles in their sandwiches. At the same time they are in an environment where they will always be different.

The jury’s still out, but I suspect I’ve done the right thing by them. I may not be able to read in class or help with homework, but they feel part of the community around them and can switch between the local and expat worlds without missing a beat. This sense of belonging no matter where they are is something I hope they will always carry with them.

Out of the blue my middle daughter recently announced, “We may not be the most well behaved kids mom, but I think we’re the most interesting.” I quickly agreed with the first half of the sentiment and she went on to explain, “All the kids in my class are from the Netherlands, but we’re from Australia and that makes us interesting.”

That may or may not be true, but I certainly like her view of the world.

Mihal Greener is an Australian writer living in the Netherlands. She wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

I Am About to Become a Stay-at-Home Parent and I’m Terrified

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I’ve had a career I love for the past decade, but I’m giving it up to stay home with my kids

xojane

I am about to become a stay-at-home parent. I’m not going to write about the mommy wars, whether staying home is a “luxury,” the state of maternity/paternity leave in this country, etc. You guys are all smart and have read all those articles. This is just about how I feel about leaving the workforce after over a decade in my career.

For the past 10+ years, I’ve been working with people with developmental disabilities. I started out in college working at a preschool for kids with special needs. I had 8 little boys in my classroom and I loved them all.

After that, I worked my way through jobs at an autism clinic, a feeding disorders clinic (not to be confused with eating disorders), a day program for adults, and most recently, as a case manager for people receiving various services.

I’ve really enjoyed my career. I’ve learned a lot and become a fierce advocate for a person’s right to self-determination. I’ve learned just how hard it is for people to access needed services. I’ve met amazing people doing amazing things. And I have been proud of my career. I like the answer I’ve been able to give to the question “What do you do for a living?”

But that’s all about to change.

When I was pregnant with my oldest daughter, my husband Mike and I assumed we’d both work and send her to daycare. We couldn’t comfortably afford a daycare center, so we found an unlicensed neighbor-of-a-friend who watched a couple of other kids. I was a little uneasy about it, but figured it would be fine.

After Amelia was born, I completely changed my mind. I had some PPD going on, exacerbated by my body’s inability to make breast milk (that’s another whole article) and was in agony about going back to work.

Mike and I sat down and really looked at our finances. We realized that we would be spending all but $500 per month of his income on day care. So he got a job bartending a few nights a week and quit his old job exactly 2 weeks before my leave ended. I went back to work, supporting my husband and our tiny baby. Around this time, Mike also went back to school to finally finish the degree he had started in his early 20s.

But it never felt right.

I hated juggling work and parenting. Some people love it and are great at it. I’m just not one of those people. Mike is an amazing stay-at-home parent, but he’s a total extrovert and starts going a little loopy on days he can’t leave the house. I started resenting my job for taking me away from my baby, even if it was paying all our bills.

I had never considered being a stay-at-home parent before but once Amelia was born, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew the timing wasn’t right, though. It wasn’t fair for me to ask Mike to work full time and go to school full time. My job had the benefits and better pay. At the time, Mike staying home made the most sense. It wasn’t awful, and it served us well for a couple years.

Fast forward two years and we have another daughter, Violet, and Mike has finished school. We’re about to switch roles. He’s going to enter the workforce and I’m going to stay home with the girls.

This is not a purely financial decision. I want to do this. I’ve been begging to do this since I first laid eyes on Amelia. I’ve cried and agonized about this. And now that I’m getting what I want, I am terrified.

What if I screw this up? What if this is a giant mistake? What if I regret this decision? Mike has set the stay-at-home parenting bar pretty high — what if I can’t reach it? What if the other stay-at-home parents don’t like me?

A big part of my identity has always been my self-sufficiency and independence. I’m worried that I’m going to lose a chunk of that by not having my own income. I have always supported other women in doing what is right for their families, and this is what is right for my family right now. But I still find myself justifying it.

There are things about being a working parent I will really miss. There are definitely mornings when both girls are screaming that I am thankful I can retreat to the semi-quiet of my office. I don’t have to share my lunch. There are no bodily fluids to clean up. If I need to, I can put on headphones and space out for 5 minutes without worrying that someone will run out the door, flush something down the toilet, stab their baby sister with a pen, swan dive off the sofa onto the dog, etc.

But I want my daughters to learn that doing what is right looks different for every family. I want them to see that I have supported our family both by working and by staying home. I want them to know that sometimes getting what you want takes years of planning and work. That it’s okay to change your mind about how you see yourself and what you want.

Mostly I just want them to be happy. And I want Mike to be happy. And I want to be happy. Hopefully this is a way to make that happen. Wish us luck!

Kate Ferris wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

How to Create the Ultimate Easter Basket

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You can replace sugar-coated treats with stickers and cars to keep things much healthier

The Base

1. Replace the typical Easter basket with a small canvas storage container, so “the basket is actually functional and useful after the hunt,” says Joy Cho, founder of Oh Joy. Create a special handle by connecting colored ribbons to the container.

2. Pile all the goodies in a Kanken mini backpack, says Camille Styles, founder of Camille Styles Blog and author of Camille Styles Entertaining. It may seem a bit pricey, but “I love the idea of giving kids their Easter goodies in something they can use all year long,” she says.

3. Stuff a clear paint can full of craft supplies like pom-poms, paint, and pipe cleaners. It’s a fun, unique idea that’s perfect for a little artist, says Sherry Petersik, Richmond-based blogger and author of Young House Love.

4. Create an atypical Easter basket for a young gourmand: Fill a kid-sized chef hat with an apron, wooden play food, and age-appropriate kitchen items like cookie cutters, says Petersik.

The Fillers

1. Instead of plastic grass, fill your Easter basket with cotton balls. “This Easter basket filler is about as inexpensive as it gets,” says Styles. “Pull each ball apart until it gets wispy for a fun Peter Cottontail-inspired Easter basket.”

2. “Use seeded handmade paper cut into strips,” says Cho. “That way, afterwards, the kids can help you plant the seeds in your backyard or in a window pot and see a part of their Easter basket come to life!” Here’s how to make your own seed paper with recycled scrap paper you have lying around the house (or, save time by purchasing pre-made seed paper)!

Egg Alternatives

1. A fun alternative to the traditional way of coloring Easter eggs is to write messages and designs with a white crayon on the egg, and wait until after the kids find their Easter baskets to color them, says Ceci Johnson, founder and creative director of Ceci New York. Set up a table with prepared egg dye, so kids can dunk their eggs in to reveal hidden messages from the Easter Bunny.

2. “If you’re doing an egg hunt, larger seeds (like bean seeds—which grow quickly and easily) are fun to hide inside plastic eggs,” says Sarah Copeland, Real Simple Food Director and creator of the Edible Living blog. Her family calls them “magic beans,” like in Jack and the Beanstalk, to help get the kids excited. Plant the seeds as a family, and keep track of the plant’s progress throughout the spring.

3. For an edible alternative to eggs, use oval egg-shaped donut holes (make your own with a special baking pan, like this one) glazed in natural egg colors like robin’s egg blue, white glaze, or light milk chocolate glaze, says Peter Callahan, creative director of Peter Callahan Catering. You can nestle the donuts in a basket, wooden crate, or even on top of some wheat grass.

The Goodies

1. A favorite inedible idea of Joanna Goddard’s, creator of A Cup of Jo, is a Tattly temporary tattoo. The kids will love applying and showing off their “ink” and parents will love the fact that they wash off with just a little soap and water.

2. A fun, interactive book like Pat the Bunny or a unique wooden toy make the perfect basket fillers for a little one, says Tara Mandy, publisher of Stroller Traffic.

3. “Fill your baskets with miniature animals, bouncy balls, stickers, cars, and hair accessories,” says Johnson. “These treats will surely up the fun and is much healthier than filling [the kids] up with sugar-coated treats all day!”

4. Fill your kids’ basket with rolls of colored washi tape. “Kids love tape. And parents love tape that kids can use that doesn’t permanently stick to anything,” says Cho.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME Parenting

How to Talk to Your Kids About Scary News Events

Cheyenne Glasgow—Getty Images/Flickr Select

"It can be scarier not to talk about them.”

We all want to protect our kids from the hard truths of life. Nobody wants to explain why the plane went down in the Alps, why that kid did what he did on that ISIS video, or the symptoms of Ebola.

But if our kids don’t learn to face bad news eventually, they can’t thrive. So how does a parent walk that line?

Richard Weissbourd, a child and family psychologist on the faculty of Harvard’s School of Education, and the author of The Parents We Mean To Be, says what a lot of parents already know: there’s no easy answer.

But that makes it even more important to talk with kids about tough realities, Weissbourd says. “Kids are thinking about these things anyway. They’re seeing things on the news, and overhearing the things adults are saying. So it can be scarier not to talk about them.”

And every kid is different, Weissbourd says: they “vary in levels of anxiety, and vulnerability.” With his own kids, Weissbourd shared tough truths based on “who they are, and what I felt they could emotionally manage.”

Still, there are some rules of thumb parents can follow.

At elementary age, fairy tales that may seem grim to parents actually work for kids because, Weissbourd says, “they’re trying to get some mastery over those really deep fears.” But kids that age are also concrete thinkers. So it’s good to start with concrete answers. And it’s all right not to have all the answers. According to Weissbourd, the real goal is just to have the conversation.

By the time kids reach middle school, they’ll have seen a lot of troubling things for themselves. But “sometimes they understand much more and sometimes much less than we think,” Weissbourd says. So it’s important at this stage for parents to listen. Hearing what kids are wrestling with, and how they’re trying to make sense of it, is key.

By high school, parents can begin to explore the deeper questions with kids, looking not just at immediate problems, but at the underlying reasons for them–and what they might be able to do to make a difference. According to Weissbourd, research shows that people deal best with problems when they “convert passivity into activity.”

So that’s actually the most powerful response to tough realities at any age, Weissbourd says: finding something we can do to make a difference.

For the best parenting stories and advice every week, sign up for TIME’s weekly parenting newsletter by clicking here.

TIME Parenting

How to Parent Like a Reporter

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Ask open-ended questions that get the source (your child) talking

Parenting articles are popping up everywhere. Everyone, it seems, has something to say about parenting.

On March 5, TIME.com published How to Parent Like an FBI Agent, but well before that there were stories describing helicopter parents, tiger moms, free-range parenting and so on.

Folks love to put labels on things–but parenting is a task many of us figure out as we go. One day I may be hovering over my kids, and the next I might be doing the opposite, so I can’t imagine that any parent is any one type all of the time. The nature of the job simply doesn’t lend itself to that level of certainty.

Just last week the child who had been giving my husband and me a hard time for the past few weeks suddenly became the easier one, while the other – who had given us no reason for concern for weeks – switched into high-maintenance mode again.

So in the spirit of these parenting “styles,” I present my own method: “How to parent like a reporter.” Loosely based on principles learned in Journalism 101, this is mostly for fun – but with practice and a little luck, these guidelines could lead you a better understanding of your child.

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Ask open-ended questions that get the source (your child) talking. Instead of questions like “How was school today?” – that can be answered with a simple yes, no, or O.K.– some better prompts might be, “What’s going on at the playground during recess?” or “What sort of things are kids fighting over in class?” Determine in advance what information you want to obtain, and craft a line of questioning that will get you there.

Ask follow-up questions. Who, what, when, where, how and why are particularly helpful to get more details or to get the subject to consider the matter more closely themselves.

Monitor social media accounts for tips and trends related to your source. For instance, search Instagram and Twitter with tags the kids and their friends may be using. I guarantee you will be both enlightened and shocked. If you aren’t sure what tags they use, ask them to tag something as a joke, and you’ll get a grasp of the pattern. They may not use the ones you think they are using, so try different combinations.

Observe interactions between the source and others to gain contextual information for follow-up questions or background. Listen closely when your child expresses concerns over trivial matters as well as large issues. Tune your ears to absorb the information as if you had to write down and explain the conversation to others. This technique will curb your daydreaming and the tendency to begin crafting your response in advance.

Be objective. Don’t throw your emotions into the conversation if it is unwarranted.

Don’t assume any details are correct. Confirm locations and chaperone details with an independent source.

Take lots of photos to document this moment in time. You never know when that one photo will tell the story better than written words.

Respect “off the record” details as confidential. Don’t share your source’s (child’s) private thoughts as fodder in conversations with friends, or you’ll lose that rapport.

Be prepared for the unpredictable. Parenting, just like covering breaking news, is a lot about reacting. Just as a reporter was not expecting a fire to ignite at that factory downtown, you may not be ready for your child to launch into questions about the birds and the bees on a Saturday morning. Take a breath, rely on what you know to be true, and figure out what you still need to know to properly inform and guide them.

Laura Stetser is a full-time reporter and mother of two school-age children. Get more parenting news by connecting with her on Facebook and Twitter @TheMomsBeat or via email at laura.stetser@catamaranmedia.com.

This article originally appeared on Shore News Today.

TIME Family

Now Mothers Have a Third Shift—on Facebook

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How do parents figure out what to post about their children on social media?

One evening while perusing Facebook, Christine encountered a profile with a public cover image that depicted her two-year-old son sitting in a pile of leaves. The profile belonged to Christine’s babysitter, and Christine hadn’t seen the picture before. (The names of parents in this article are pseudonyms.)

Initially, Christine felt uncomfortable. She told her husband, and they wondered what to do. Should they send the babysitter a Facebook Friend request? Talk to her directly about the photo?

Ultimately, they did nothing. They figured the babysitter posted the picture because she loved their son, and having a babysitter who cared about their child was more important to them than trying to control his presence on social media. Plus, Christine didn’t want the babysitter to think they were spying on her.

This exchange — the negotiation between parents, the consideration of a child’s digital footprint, and the time and effort that went into making this decision — illustrates the emergence of a “third shift” of work that parents take on to manage the online identities of their children. The concept extends sociologist Arlie Hochschild’s seminal work on family life, which described the “second shift” of homemaking work that occurs in addition to paid labor (the “first shift,” if you will). This “third shift,” which encompasses the work that goes into presenting family life on social media and other online platforms, extends debates about divisions of labor into the digital era.

Over the past two years, University of Michigan School of Information PhD student Tawfiq Ammari and I interviewed more than 100 mothers and fathers from around the country about their social media use. Working with professors Sarita Schoenebeck and Cliff Lampe, experts in social computing, our team discovered that while both parents participate in the third shift, mothers typically take the lead. Tensions emerge when one parent posts a picture that the other parent prefers not to be shared, or when extended family does the same.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we found that the task of managing family photos, a type of domestic labor that seeks to preserve memories of home life, typically falls to women. Our research suggests the same is true in this age of Facebook and Instagram, with mothers generally taking the initiative to negotiate sharing policies with partners, decide what pictures to share, and post them online. We call this work parental disclosure management.

Disclosure management is what you and I do when we think, “Do I really want to post this? Would I want my parent/boss/student/high school frenemy to see it?” For those who use social media often, these may be semi-conscious thoughts or reflexes. But layered beneath these questions lies a complex decision process where your brain weighs the benefits of posting with the potential drawbacks.

When parents go through this process, they’re often deciding to reveal information about themselves as well as their children, who might not be old enough to make or respond to that decision themselves. At its core, parenting requires making decisions on behalf of someone who doesn’t know how to do so herself. But throw the World Wide Web into the mix and you have information that spreads easily, is visible to a much broader audience, and is nearly impossible to control. If the Web resembles a megaphone, what do parents feel comfortable sharing with it?

We examined this question and learned that mothers and fathers share different types of pictures. Typically, mothers of young children post pictures that are cute, funny, depict a milestone, or show their children with family or friends. Many fathers, on the other hand, post pictures that showcase activities in which their children participate, especially athletics. Mothers of young children typically hesitate to post pictures that portray nudity or negativity (e.g., crying). Fathers are particularly wary of posting images of children, especially daughters, that could be interpreted as sexually suggestive.

And here, things get murky, because parents — however blindly or haphazardly — try to anticipate how others will respond to what they share. One father we interviewed avoided posting pictures of his daughter at gymnastics, where she wore tights. Another father said he wouldn’t share a picture of his ten-year-old daughter wearing too-short shorts or making a duck lip face. He nearly unfriended one of his Facebook friends after that friend made a sexually suggestive comment about a picture the father had posted of his daughter perched on one foot. Rather than take the picture down or cut off online contact with his friend, the father posted a sarcastic comment in response. He injected humor into the conversation while still signaling his disapproval of the friend’s inappropriate comment.

This father’s experience underscores the difficulty of trying to control the presentation of a child’s identity online. Parents can control their own actions, but not others’ actions or reactions. This lack of control online frustrates parents, just as it does in the classroom or on the playground, where they want to have say in what their child learns or how high she climbs on the jungle gym. According to the Pew Research Center, 57 percent of Facebook users with kids under age 18 strongly dislike when people share pictures of their children on Facebook without permission.

Rather than brood in silence about their frustrations, parents we spoke to used a variety of strategies to address them. Preventative approaches included e-mailing announcements to extended family about their preferences for sharing information about children online, using different social media sites than the ones they used for themselves to share information about children, or creating separate social media profiles for children. When problems did arise, parents typically decided to laugh them off, ignore them (like Christine did with the babysitter’s picture), or ask people directly to remove the images or information.

These are promising strategies. Yet this research reminds us that while the digital landscape offers new tools to share information, it presents parents and children with similar decision-making challenges as the analog world — difficulties that never have one-size-fits-all solutions. Parents tackle countless daily decisions that affect their children, and figuring out what to post on social media may feel trivial. But when parents decide what pictures of their children to share or how to describe their children’s mannerisms, they shape how the world views their children. Confidentiality becomes a real concern, especially when sharing information about taboo subjects, such as medical crises or mental health issues. These disclosures can help parents find social support, but they can also compromise the child’s privacy.

Parents may also disagree about how best to manage their children’s lives online. Divorce or separation can complicate efforts to negotiate sharing practices. One father’s ex-wife preferred not to share information about their child online, while he worried that he would never see pictures of their son except during in-person visits. Another father who was separated from his child’s mother could only see pictures through his father’s Facebook friendship with his ex-partner, since she unfriended him.

This third shift also poses challenges for children, who are destined to grow up and develop their own opinions and privacy preferences for social media engagement. Though it’s impossible to know what the social media terrain will look like in a generation, recent legislative actions seek to account for these children’s rights. One such California law known as the “eraser bill” requires websites to allow children under 18 to delete content they post. The movement to pass such measures indicates a growing public appetite to give minors greater autonomy and control over their digital footprints.

In addition to individual negotiations and government interventions, social platforms themselves can help families navigate third shift challenges. For example, the ability to create shared accounts on social media sites could help parents jointly control privacy settings or manage information. Parents could also use “silent tagging” which would store information in a profile that a child could eventually review and decide whether to share more widely online. Social media companies that are looking to the future would do well to integrate robust identity management features that help people respond to their already existing online life.

Today’s parents had the chance to shape their own digital footprints, while their children will inherit the digital footprints their parents create for them. As our social and economic lives increasingly intersect with digital technology, we must continue to study the scope and stakes of “third shift” labor for both parents and children.

Priya Kumar is a program associate with the Ranking Digital Rights project. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

It’s Time We Stop Pretending That All Same-Sex Marriages Are Identical

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Once again individual members of a minority group are forced to represent their entire collective

xojane

This article is a response to this piece in The Federalist.

In it, the author, Heather Barwick, says she is against same-sex marriage because, despite being raised in what she describes as a nurturing, loving home with two parents, and being left by a father who she describes as having no interest in her, she feels her mother deprived her of a relationship with a father by being married to another woman and that all children raised in same-sex homes are being hurt.

Heather addressed her letter to me as part of the gay community, so mine is addressed to her.

Her point of view comes from her growing up in a same-sex household and raising children in a heterosexual household. My response comes from being raised in a heterosexual household and raising a child in a same-sex household.

Heather,

First of all, I am sorry you are hurting. I am sorry you feel wronged and damaged by your upbringing. Your feelings are yours and thus are valid and no one can take that from you.

But I do have a problem with what you wrote, and as you said, “it might not be for the reasons that you think.”

You are against gay marriage. Fine.

I disagree with you strongly and think what you wrote is actively damaging to society; especially since you not only insult gay parents, but also single parents, adoptive parents, step parents, and parents of all orientations who use fertility treatments.

But my biggest problem is not your opinion. It is this: once again individual members of a minority group are forced to represent their entire collective.

You say, “Gay community, I am your daughter.”

No, you are not my daughter, Heather.

You can’t speak for my daughter any more than I can speak for your moms.

As a matter of fact, we’re close to the same age. Our kids will inherit the world we are both currently shaping.

But for some reason, you feel totally comfortable saying that you represent my child and your mother represents me. This is something minorities have to deal with all the time.

You are mad that your dad abandoned you. You blame your mom. Your mom is gay. I am gay. Thus, I am your mom.

If I follow your reasoning to it’s logical conclusion then it also applies to kids who have been hurt, or feel deprived and abandoned in the aftermath of straight relationships (which, by the way, happens in higher percentages than the kids of same-sex parents) which would mean traditional marriage should be banned. But you only want to talk about same-sex marriages, since that is your upbringing.

Since you like personal anecdotes, here is mine: I never met my biological father. This was my mother’s choice, not his, but it happened nonetheless. He has since passed away, so I also have no say in this. My mom married a man she fell in love with when I was three, he also raised me as his own until she died when I was 14. He then remarried (a woman) and the home became abusive and was damaging to me. I don’t need to get into details, but it was not the kind loving home that you describe with your mom and her wife.

Yet somehow, I never felt the need to ban all straight marriages because of it. I doubt anyone would ever propose that, because heterosexual marriage is the mainstream, and thus, each individual marriage, and parent, gets to be judged on their own merit.

This is something my wife and I have to deal with a lot. When it comes to our home and our family, we don’t have the luxury of being individuals, we are looked at to represent every lesbian home. It makes my wife angry. She wants to rage at the bigotry and the hate and violence. She has every right to. Change is often brought about by righteous anger. Being polite tends to create doormats.

I tend to handle things in a different way (because, gasp, my wife and I are different people despite both being lesbians). I try to live as what I call an “ambassador gay.” I want to mediate, to bridge the gap, to show how much we are alike, how normal and boring, and just like you I am.

For example, you and I are both moms and I bet our stories of being up at night feeding our infants and changing diapers would sound incredibly similar. I feel a lot of pressure to be the best mom, the best wife, the best person that I can be, not just for myself, but so that I can represent my community well. The reason I feel that pressure, is because of people like you who believe there is such thing as “people like me.” Like somehow every lesbian is just like me. Or every person of color is just like every other.

It’s the reason that when a film starring a woman tanks, Hollywood backs off, but John Carter can bomb without it leading to any shortage of testosterone fueled sci-fi films.

You are hurting and you have a right to voice your own opinion and point of view. Obviously, being raised in a same-sex home made you feel like you were deprived, despite the fact that you say it was a loving home. I am very glad that your husband is a good dad to your kids and you feel they want for nothing. I am sure it will be interesting for you to hear their take when they are grown.

But your experience is your experience and I would appreciate you leaving my daughter out of it and letting her speak for herself when she is old enough to have a voice.

My wife and I are going to make mistakes while raising her. Just like you are with your kids. There will be things that she hates about us and complains about us doing. Our hope is that these will be minor things and that in doing our best we will provide her with a foundation of love and support and some wisdom. She will definitely know that she was wanted, planned for and loved from the very beginning. That’s the best I can do as a parent.

Unlike you, I’m not the kind of person to make judgments about other people’s households. If I were, I’d be more worried about the hurt felt by kids raised in a home that actively belittles and campaigns against families that look different from their own. I’d be worried about a kid whose mother never outgrew the fantasy that somewhere out there exists a super parent who would have never disappointed her. And most of all I would be worried about the hurt caused to a kid who watched their mother project the feelings of rejection and hurt from a willfully absent father onto the person who stepped up and actually did the care giving and the loving.

But, I am not in your home, so I wouldn’t do that to you.

Amanda Deibert wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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I Didn’t Breastfeed My Daughter—Despite Judgment From Others

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Motherhood is hard enough, and we should be able to support one another’s choices

xojane

“So, how is breastfeeding?” the hospital pediatrician asked.

It was October of 2009 and just hours since I gave birth to my daughter Julia. I was elated, yet overwhelmed. Although I should have been prepared for this inevitable question, I really wasn’t. I had already made up my mind. Even so, it was a hard one. With a sigh, I told her that I hadn’t started. She wasn’t happy.

“Why?” she asked.

I politely explained that I would soon be starting medication to deal with my depression and had elected not to breastfeed at all. The doctor wasn’t buying my excuse and said I should still breastfeed anyway. She asked what drug I would be taking and promised to get back to me. I let it go.

I didn’t want to ruin this moment. I had my baby in my arms and was content. She didn’t know my story. She didn’t know that this wasn’t my firstborn child. She didn’t know how I cried myself to sleep every night since he’d been gone. She also didn’t know the strength that it took for me to get here, and the struggle I still faced. No, she didn’t know me at all.

On September 8, 2008, just a year earlier, my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world. Liam Jude was born with a severe congenital heart defect. My first days as a mom were spent in the NICU. I pumped breast milk for Liam every day; both in the hospital and at home. It was the only way I was able to mother him and I loved it.

A week later, I fed him for the very first time. It was an emotional experience. Liam, being the little warrior that he was, took it like a champ. I was elated. He was doing so well that the doctor’s anticipated he would be home in a few days. I was thrilled, but also terrified.

That night, after returning home for just an hour, we got the call. Liam wasn’t doing well and we were to go back to the hospital immediately. He died before we even got there. I remember walking in and a doctor handing me a lifeless baby. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I don’t remember much after that.

The next few weeks and months were hell. To say Brian and I weren’t “taking it well” was an understatement. We spent almost every day at the cemetery. I left my job. I could barely function. I was severely depressed and very anxious. I began seeing a grief counselor who urged me to try again for another child. We did, and I became pregnant in February of 2009.

Although I should have been overjoyed, I wasn’t. I suffered from panic attacks and severe depression. I rarely left the house. I had painful migraines and constantly heard a loud ringing in my ears. I was convinced that I was dying myself. I wondered if I was being punished.

Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The doctor and I agreed that I needed to start medication right away after the birth of my daughter. I did my research. They said breastfeeding was “probably” OK. Either way, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to handle the additional stress.

The goal was to get myself well enough to handle the challenges of motherhood. Most of all, I wanted to be a good and loving mom to my little girl. That was most important. I couldn’t let my past affect her present. It wasn’t her fault that her big brother had died.

When I took Julia home, I hoped and prayed I would be able to care for her. I began a formula feeding regimen. It just worked for us. I tried very hard to not let the judgment of the pediatrician bother me. However, almost immediately, I began to feel self-conscious.

A couple of days after Julia’s birth, a friend called to congratulate me. The topic of breastfeeding came up within seconds. She wanted to help me through the process. I told her that while I appreciated the offer, I wasn’t planning on breastfeeding. There was a bit of an awkward silence. She sounded genuinely confused and shocked by my answer and didn’t have much to say after that. I then questioned her main reason for calling. I guess I was silly to think that she would be most interested in seeing how I was doing after such a traumatic year.

I know I shouldn’t have cared, but I did. I traveled with “ready to feed” formula bottles for convenience. I would cringe every time I opened one, and would hope nobody would notice or say anything negative. I got some stares.

However, there was a turning point. Around the time Julia was six months, I attended a “mommy and me” get together at a friend’s home. There were about 15 of us moms there. When the topic of breastfeeding came up, the hostess said that she just never had any interest in breastfeeding. She didn’t even attempt. It was that simple.

I breathed a sigh of relief. I wanted to jump up and hug her. Why should we have to apologize? I began to relax a bit. I looked at my beautiful little girl. My daughter was happy and well cared for. That was all that mattered. I was happy too. We were going to be just fine.

While I don’t consider myself “pro-breastfeeding” or even “pro-formula feeding,” I do like to think of myself as “pro-mom.” Motherhood is hard enough and we should be able to support one another’s choices. Being that it is such a difficult journey, energy would be better spent on building each other up, not tearing one another down.

Breast feeding is an absolutely beautiful and wonderful process, and I have nothing but admiration for those who have done it. I also adore my formula feeding friends. And that is the way it should be. After all, we are all in this together.

Kathleen Sullivan wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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I Judged Women Using IVF Until I Had Trouble Conceiving

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I cringe at the thought of how judgmental I used to be

xojane

I began my first and only round of in vitro fertilization in the very house in Atlanta where my mother had died of cancer just a few months earlier. The bureau in the guest bedroom that was once covered with my mom’s cancer meds was now blanketed with the syringes, medicine vials, and alcohol wipes I would need for my fertility treatments.

Starting IVF so soon after losing my mother probably wasn’t the sanest choice. But I’d learned around the same time I found out my mom was suffering from terminal cancer that I had the severest form of a disease called endometriosis. Surgery confirmed the only way I would be able to become pregnant was through in vitro fertilization.

My mom was still alive when my husband Alex and I decided we would go ahead with IVF. Her doctors in California had originally told her she had about a year left to live, and when I moved my mother out to Atlanta, Mom and I both anticipated we would be able to share my pregnancy, and that she would meet her grandchild before she died.

But the cancer had a mind of its own, and my mom died just six weeks after she moved to Atlanta. I didn’t have a lot of time to grieve before I had to make a tough decision. My reproductive endocrinologist made it clear that the scar tissue created by my endometriosis was growing so quickly, soon IVF would no longer be an option.

And, if I’m completely honest with myself, I had another, more tenuous motive, in choosing to undergo IVF so soon after losing my mother. As irrational as it now seems, I was looking for a sign. That she wasn’t gone forever. That part of her still remained close by, watching over me, wanting to make my dreams come true.

I went through the physically exhausting process of injecting hormones three times a day into my belly, getting blood drawn each morning at the doctor’s office along with regular ultrasounds, and afternoon phone calls from my nurse telling me about my hormone levels.

At the end of the first two weeks, my doctor harvested enough follicles to be able to later transfer two embryos into my uterus, ironically on the two-month anniversary of my mom’s death.

A week later, I took a pregnancy test (even though the clinic told me not to, false negatives and all that), and for the first time in my life, I saw two lines on the stick.

I was pregnant.

A phone call from my nurse a few days later confirmed the miracle. From that moment, the most complete form of bliss imaginable enveloped me. Every morning before he left for work, and at night when he returned home, Alex would talk to my belly (even though the creature growing inside me was only the size of a sesame seed) and kiss my stomach, and say “I love you” to what we thought would one day be our child.

But my womb wasn’t built right, not for carrying babies at least, and the rosebush planted in the sand soon died.

My nurse called me to say my pregnancy hormone levels were dropping, and I would miscarry within days.

Whereas the past few weeks had been in euphoric soft focus, now suddenly everything was real and sharp and painful. My baby was gone, and my mother was gone. Forever. Mom wasn’t behind the scenes, orchestrating happy events for the rest of my life. I lost the pregnancy, and with it all the hope I had in the world.

Soon after my miscarriage, Alex and I moved back home to San Diego, the city where we had met and fell in love years earlier. Out of the crucible of pain Atlanta seemed to represent, we had more time to reflect. We didn’t want to try again to get pregnant. I was emotionally wasted. I didn’t think I could survive another loss.

What might surprise you (because it sure surprises me) is how positive I feel about the whole medical wonder that is in vitro fertilization. I’d been trying unsuccessfully to conceive for two years when I underwent IVF, and the process allowed me to take back control of my fertility. With each injection, I was actively preparing my body for pregnancy. I finally felt I had some power and order in a world that, at the time, seemed so chaotic and random.

Word gets around when you’ve had IVF, and I often get asked for advice from friends, and friends of friends, whether in vitro is really worth it – worth the steep price tag, the physical pain, the emotional roller coaster. Despite my less than ideal experience with IVF, I tell these women it is their opportunity to take control of their bodies and their desire for a family.

I cringe at the thought of how judgmental I used to be toward women who had their children through IVF. In my 20s, I viewed celebrities as terribly selfish to undergo expensive fertility treatments when (I believed) there were so many adoptable babies who needed homes.

But there are no guarantees with adoption. A birth mother can change her mind. With international adoption (an avenue we pursued for a year) timetables change and foreign governments can alter the rules in the middle of the process. There’s also the completely natural desire to have a child that carries on your family’s traits. I often dreamed that my baby would have my mother’s warm, cat-shaped brown eyes, or my husband’s fierce intellect.

Ultimately, Alex and I decided to change how we viewed what our family should look like. Now, ours is a family of two adults. My husband and I have a relationship of smudged boundaries, where one of us does not feel whole and complete unless the other is present. Our connection brings me enough comfort and peace to be content with what we have, instead of focusing on what’s missing.

Recently Alex and I went to dinner on a Friday evening with our friends Susanna and David, recent transplants to San Diego from the East Coast. Alex and David had grown up together in New Jersey. And in a case of synchronicity, Susanna is a fertility doctor.

As we discussed our weekend plans, Susanna mentioned she had a birthday party to attend for a two-year-old. I asked if it was for the friend of one of her two young sons.

“Actually, no,” she answered. “It’s for the child of one of my patients.”

It took me a moment to realize what she was saying. “Your patients invite you to the birthday parties of the children you helped create?”

She smiled with humility. “I don’t really think of it that way.” But the answer was yes.

And there it was. IVF helps create families that once did not exist. Just because IVF didn’t work for me, that doesn’t mean it can’t make other women’s dreams come true. The word family can mean so many different things to different people. If medical advances can bring you the kind of bliss I once experienced, it’s a risk worth taking.

Beth Ford Roth wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

Watch Steelers Player DeAngelo Williams Dance to Frozen Soundtrack With His Daughter

The loving dad may not know all the words, but he sure is enthusiastic

The children’s entertainment juggernaut that is Frozen has Steelers’ running back and doting father DeAngelo Williams firmly in its grips as seen by a video Williams recently posted to Facebook.

The video shows the former Pro-Bowl running back and his two daughters singing along with the movie and Williams pantomiming the action on screen for the song “Love is an Open Door.”

Williams admits in his post that he does not yet know all the words to the songs, but he sure makes up for that in his enthusiasm in the clip.

This article originally appeared on SI.com.

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