Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Having it All" Does Not Mean Doing It All, or Doing it All At Once (part 2 in a series)

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

If we examine the definition of "having it all" I wrote in my last post on this topic, we will find that it actually contains more doing than having. What it really says is that a woman who "has it all" is a woman who is busy raising children, maintaining a relationship with her spouse if she has one, managing household tasks, and working hard at her job so that she can continue to advance in it. I'm exhausted just reading all of that, and if that is really "having it all," then it is no surprise that many women these days don't want to "have it all." That is to say, they don't want to do it all.

And we don't have to do it all to "have it all." I believe for any man and woman to "have it all," he and she must first decide what makes him or her content, and do those things. "Having it all" should mean having the life one is content with at the present time.
Having it all, but not doing it all, could mean that during the season of raising young children (or teenagers), staying at home or staying in a less demanding job might be the best choice for a parent. Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House in the US, did not start her successful and visible political career until the youngest of her five children went to college. Ann Marie Slaughter, the Princeton professor who kicked off this national conversation a year ago with her article, "Why Women Still Can't Have it All," already had a successful (and flexible) career in academia when she went off to her "dream job" at the State Department. I would argue that taking that job was not about "having it all," but doing too much at the same time. One of my most popular posts was about a crossing guard who knew how to do his job joyfully, sharing his joy with other people in the process. He didn't need a jet-setting job to be content.

On my last post, one of my readers shared an important article by Deborah Spar, the president of Barnard College and author of Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. She answered her title, "Can Women Really Have it All," with a 'no,' but spent the rest of the article talking about all the things women feel they need to be doing, and how they need to stop trying to be perfect in doing everything. Her conclusion:
The most crucial thing for women to know today? No one does it all. We each, if we're lucky, will have our chance to leave a mark on the world, but we are trying too hard to be perfect. So don't emulate Wonder Woman; think about what's wonderful to you instead. Then boldly, audaciously, joyfully, leave the rest behind.
In other words, stop trying to do everything, and be content with who you are and what you are able to have now.

Many families in the US unfortunately do not have the resources or the support to make ends meet, let alone "have it all." Recently, for example, a McDonald's employee was arrested for allowing her 9 year old daughter to play in the park during her shift. The lack of affordable, quality child care is part of the problem, and the inability for many shift workers to predict their own schedules and arrange for child care is another. Being content does not mean being complacent - we do need to work together to make it easier for all of us to work and take good care of our families at the same time. The Schedules that Work Act, recently introduced in Congress, is one step in the right direction. So is the Strong Start for Children Act, a bipartisan bill that would expand access to early childhood education and infant and toddler care to low and middle income families. You can support that bill by clicking here.

What are other ways we can help each other "have it all" (according to my definition above)? Please comment below (or subscribe to my blog via email) for another chance to win my Moleskine giveaway. The last chance to enter is tomorrow, 7/30. US addresses only.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What Does it Mean to "Have it All"? (Part 1 in a series)

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom. I'm not sure. – PepsiCo CEO Indra K. Nooyi
I disagree. Women (and men) can, actually, have it all. And in this series of blog posts I am going to explain how.

To “have it all,” we first must figure out what “having it all” actually means. I’ll attempt to define it according to the national conversation in this post, and await your comments to refine (or redefine) that definition.

[Side note: This question is, in itself, a luxury. The Iraqi Christians fleeing Mosul are lucky to have their lives. It is just too painful for me to blog about that.]

A woman who “has it all” is a woman who is able to balance having a loving and fulfilling family life with children; run a household smoothly; and continue to advance in a career that challenges her intellectually while contributing (often significantly) to the household income. She really “has it all” if she can also maintain a workout schedule, a social life, and even a hobby or two.

Do you agree with the above definition? How would you change it? What would you add? Join the conversation and share your comments below, and be entered to win a pack of Moleskine Cahier notebooks. Gain a second entry by subscribing to this blog via email (giveaway ends on 7/30/2014, US addresses only).

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Primal Way to Show Love to Your Child

by Phoebe Farag Mikhail

Congratulations to Marianna A. for winning my "Brain Candy" giveaway, a copy of the novel Illuminations by Mary Sharratt. I'd like to Visit the "Brain Candy" section of my AStore for more summer reading recommendations, and stay tuned for the next giveaway!

I’ve written about how important it is to discover our children’s primary love languages in a previous post about The Five Love Languages of Children. According to the book, primary love languages don’t emerge until children are a little older, past the preschool years. Until then, parents should share love with their children in all five languages. So this is my second post in a five part series with practical examples of using the five love languages with my own children. You can read my first post, on words of affirmation, here.

Love Language: Physical Touch
Sometimes, my pre-schooler wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, often with no obvious explanation, like going to bed late the night before, or being unusually hungry (I admit, he gets this from his mom). We used to combat his negativity with more negativity, which of course led to a downward spiral of arguments and time-outs all day. Reflecting on this, I considered another way to combat his morning bad moods. Lately, he had been getting interested in medicine, pretending to be a doctor and giving us “shots” with any writing instrument he could find. I had an epiphany, and decided to try my new idea the next time toddler woke up in a bad mood.

Soon enough, pre-schooler had a cranky morning. After refusing to say his morning prayers or eat his breakfast on no uncertain terms, I looked him and said, “It looks like you lost your good mood somewhere. I think we need to go back to your room, have an operation and find your good mood!”

Curiosity peaked, he allowed me to scoop him up and take him back to his room, where we conducted the following “operation:”

“First, we smooth out the frown on your face.” I smooth his frown wrinkles in between his eyes with my thumb.

“Second, we find your smile.” I turn up the corners of his lips; by this time he may already be smiling.

“Third, we TICKLE TICKLE TICKLE TICKLE!!!” By this time he’s laughing.

Finally, I ask, “Did we find your good mood?”

Usually, he’s laughing at this point, and says, “yes,” which is promptly followed by a hug. Sometimes he says “no,” just so we can do the “operation” again. Occasionally, it doesn’t work – sometimes he’s just crabby, and sometimes it is for valid reasons, like hunger, a late night, perhaps a headache, or a bad dream that he can’t verbalize. Sometimes we don’t do the whole “operation” – just scooping him up and holding him is enough to remind him that he is loved, even when he is cranky.

It’s no accident that in the well known story in Luke 18 and Matthew 19, parents bring their children to Jesus so He could touch them, and pray for them. “Then they also brought infants to Him that He might touch them; but when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.’” (Luke 18:15-16, NKJV). By asking Jesus to touch their children, they were asking Him to express love for them. One of the first ways a child receives love from parents is through physical touch.

The emotional and psychological benefits of cuddling infants and young children are well known; some studies have even shown that cuddling premature babies helps them experience less pain during medical procedures.

I have no trouble finding opportunities to cuddle my two year old – she will often play for a little, then come over to me to be hugged and kissed, then go back to playing. My son did that too, but the “cuddle breaks” are fewer and further between as he spends more and more time focused on play. Thankfully, showing love through physical touch does not always mean cuddles, hugs and kisses. He still likes to sit on my lap to read a book, ride piggy back on Mom or Dad, play rough-and-tumble every so often, hold my hand when he’s scared, or help me “find his good mood.”

How do you show your older child how much he or she is loved?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Hair, Makeup, and My Kids

By Phoebe Farag Mikhail

I once was a skincare and makeup addict, rarely walking out the door without some kind of makeup on my face. That practice ended quickly when my first baby started habitually chewing on my chin as a teething soother, and I had to ask myself what else he could possibly be putting in his mouth when he did that. Add to this my second child’s love of playing with my hair, and suddenly I had to re-think all my skin care, makeup, and hair care products in light of what affects their ingredients might have on my developing infants—and on me.

Weeks of research lead me to this fantastic website: The Environmental Working Group’s cosmetics database, Skin Deep. I learned about this database through the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, which works to get potentially dangerous substances out of the everyday products we use, from shampoo, conditioner, lotion and sunscreen to foundation, lipstick and eyeliner. You can input the name of any product or brand in the Skin Deep database (also available as a mobile app), and if you don’t find a rating for the exact product, you can also search the ingredients of the product to see if it has potentially allergenic, toxic or carcinogenic ingredients.

So when I received a box of free samples of shampoo, conditioner, nail polish and lotion from Influenster to review in the mail, the first thing I did was read their ingredients. Then, I checked Skin Deep to see how the products were rated. As they are relatively new products, most were not, so for those I searched their ingredients instead.

My toes adorned with "Song of Summer," a nice nail color,
but not as cute as my two little ones enjoying summer.
(c) Phoebe Farag Mikhail
The Sinful Colors nail polish in “Song of Summer” seemed the most promising, stating that it has no formaldehyde, toluene, and DBP, toxic chemicals that were once common in nail polishes. Recent press about toxicity in nail polish has led to safer formulations in many brands. In addition, I like the subdued mint green color and the price tag – these polishes start at $1.99 per bottle. Skin Deep rated these polishes with a “moderate hazard.” I tried one coat on my toes and liked the color. There are even safer nail polishes on the market that include some of the traditional drugstore brands, so I would not go out of my way to purchase this brand.  

The Not Your Mother’s Beach Babe shampoo and conditioner did not appear in the database, but the other “Beach Babe” products from this line come up as a “moderate hazard.” I searched the ingredients of the conditioner, and some of them did come up as hazardous in the database. The strong scent is overwhelming, and while it did indeed produce “beach waves” when I tried it, I still had some frizz in my hair that I took care of with a little bit of organic hair oil. I’ll stick to my shampoo and conditioner from The Honest Company. Similarly, the Hawaiian Tropics Silk Hydration After Sun lotion came up as a “high hazard” in the database. I would rather soothe my skin after the sun with 100% aloe vera, like this bottle from Aubrey Organics.

Since being introduced to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and the Skin Deep database, I have done a purge of many of my cosmetics, skin care, and hair care items, gravitating instead towards safer and more pure products. This purge has also led me to reduce and simplify my use of these products in general, saving my family and me time, money, and our health.