Menu

Low-touch parenting: The key to pursuing passions outside of ‘motherhood’

Why carving some time out of family time and using it for yourself is a great idea. ?

Low-touch parenting: The key to pursuing passions outside of ‘motherhood’

A few times a year my mother would clear off the dining room table and cover it with dozens of blank greeting cards. Then she took out her water colors and got to work, painting beautiful abstract designs on each card. Just a few flicks of her brush, two or three colors on each card, but the results were dazzling, deceptively simple designs. When the cards dried she gave them in packs of eight or 10 to our teachers, friends, or anyone celebrating something big or small. I was always disappointed when we received one of the cards in the mail, used as a thank you note for the gift. These are special, and you should save them for something amazing, I thought. Don’t waste them on thank you notes!

FEATURED VIDEO


My mother had a full time job as a social worker and three children, but she also had her artwork. She labored over water-colors, sketched us all as babies, and eventually she focused on papercutting, studying with other artists to hone her craft, which she used to make delicate painted papercuts, often around a Jewish theme. She gave her artwork away to friends, and long before Etsy she had a booth at art fairs, selling ketubot (Jewish wedding contracts) that she painted, calligraphed, and cut herself. She had other passions. She loved storytelling, and went to storytelling festivals and events.

This was mortifying to me—there was something deeply uncool about telling stories,I thought, seeing no irony in my reaction, when what I wanted to be was a writer. She became obsessed with Rachel Bella Calof, a Jewish mail-order bride who became a homesteader in North Dakota. She wrote a middle-grade novel based on Calof ’s life, The Homesteader’s Bride. While she was writing the book she joined a writer’s group, and she spent hours reading and giving feedback to other people in the group. She also had a weekly Torah and Mishnah study group with a handful of other women, and I loved to watch (and sometimes join) them as they gossiped over coffee and then dove into text study. In her fifties, my mom became close with a Jewish community in a Russian town called Kineshma, gathering supplies for them, and befriending a woman there named Lucy. Eventually she travelled to Russia to meet Lucy, and spent time training Jewish educators in Russia.

Most of my memories of my mother are of her doing things that had nothing to do with me. Her artwork, her stories, her Torah study, and travel. She has been dead for eight years now, and when I think of her, it’s rare that I think of her time with me. Instead, I think of all the things that kept her busy, the times I saw her consumed by her own passions.

My whole childhood, and into adulthood (she died when I was 24), my mother was there, but on the periphery. She was out doing the things she loved. I was one of the things she loved. She planned special days to spend with me, kept a journal with me, taught me cooking and sewing and algebra. But she was not always around. She was often off, busy, pursuing one of her many passions. I think of it now as low-touch parenting. She worked full time, and at night she was busy with the other things she loved. She ate dinner with us, and read to us and put us to bed, but we were not the focus of her days. She assumed that we would have our own passions, and gave us space and time to pursue them, largely because she wanted her own space and time for her own passions.

My mother was not a saint. She was sometimes too hands-off. In high school I pushed her away, and she became fully immersed in her job, to the extent that, when depression began to swallow me up, it was too long before she and my father noticed and found me help. And she was sometimes too present, giving feedback on choices I did not much want to hear her opinion on. But mostly, I walked around knowing she loved me, was invested in me, and was busy. She expected me to be busy, too.

I’ve been a parent now for four years, and I’m still startled by the expectations others have of parenting, of mothering mostly. In playgrounds and synagogues and at friends’ houses it seems I’m supposed to follow my child around, giving constant feedback and encouragement. My friends and I often talk about feeling pressure to be home when their child gets home, to supervise each moment of homework, attend each game, give our full attention to each child at all times.

There is nothing wrong with this. It is what some women want. But it’s not what I want. I want to be out in the world, making art, telling stories, being part of movements for social justice, organizing my community, and learning. And I want my stepdaughter and foster daughter to see that I’m sometimes distracted by my art, my friends, and the news. I want them to see that sometimes I leave the house to attend a meeting, go to a Crossfit class, or have a writing date with a friend. When they look out at the world, I want them to know that I’m in it, that they can be in it, too. That I love them, carry them with me wherever I go, and also that I have my own story, a story that is not about them.

As parenthood consumes more of my time, I’ve tried to think back on what worked with my mom, and codify my mother’s parenting style to guide me. She’s not here to tell me what she thinks of my own choices—and I am 100% sure she would have many many opinions on them—but I’ve tried to extrapolate from my memories and conversations with my sisters and my father.

Here are the 4 ideas that seemed to be at the core of my mother’s low-touch parenting style.

1. Consistency

We ate dinner together every night, to the sounds of whatever world music my father was in the mood for that day. Dinner was not fancy (we ate a lot of pasta) but conversation was lively and it was half an hour we spent together before we each scattered to our own projects and passions. (There is nothing sacred about dinner, it just happened to be what we did in my family. For other families it could be breakfast, or all walking the dog together in the evening, or something else.)

2. Benign encouragement

My parents encouraged us to try new things, take classes, and generally experiment, but they never seemed particularly invested in whatever we were interested in that month. If we decided we wanted to take kung fu, that was cool, and if we decided we didn’t have time for kung fu anymore, that was fine, too. They did not attend lessons unless there was some pressing reason (an end-of-season show or recital.) We were only ever encouraged to take classes that were a 15-minute drive or closer from our house. Mostly we walked. Looking back, I’m fairly sure that anything we were signed up for was seen by my mom as time she then had free to work on her own art.

3. Trust and freedom

We three Fox girls were goody- two-shoes. We were known to be sarcastic, but not prone to getting into big trouble. My mother saw that, and trusted us to do our own thing, spend time alone, go out to try to round up some friends if we wanted. We did not have curfews as teens.

4. Television

Screen time is a dirty word now, I know, but it was a fact of life when I was a child. Starting when I was eight and my older sister was 11, we were latchkey kids, coming home for at least an hour of TV before my mom got home from work. We sat in front of reruns of “Full House” or “Saved by the Bell,” doing our homework and making jewelry.

After dinner, we often watched another show. While we watched TV, my parents were busy with their projects. Television (and books—we all read a lot) allowed them time to do what they wanted. And when they did what they wanted, we learned that their passions had value.

Your passion can be reading fiction borrowed from the library, pen drawing, baking, or basketball. All it requires that you carve some time out of family time, and use it for yourself. Extra points for doing it in full view of your children.

This feels wrong to many of us, as if we must spend every possible moment with our kids, up close, directing them, making eye contact, parenting with every fiber of our being. But that has not been a requirement of parenting until recently, and it’s destroying all of us.

Free-range parenting is what was just called parenting when I was a kid—allowing a child independence and space to be herself without a parent’s or teacher’s constant feedback and supervision. But the free-range parenting philosophy is still centered around the child, insisting that we must orient ourselves at all times in relationship to our children.

Mothers, let us imagine a few hours a week when we can orient ourselves around the things we care about most that do not require diaper changes or lunchboxes. And let us trust that having a life that is not caring for children is okay, is even good for our kids.

Some days, the most important thing I do is have a serious, thoughtful conversation with my step-daughter about Black Lives Matter, climate change, or what’s bothering her at school. There is something sacred about giving your full attention to someone else. But other days, the most important thing I do is cook a meal for a friend, register voters, write a few pages of the novel I’m working on, or spend some time outside. I want my daughters to see how important they are to me, and that they are part of a bigger scheme of things that I love and care about and think about.

I am feeling squeamish as I write this, anticipating comments and takedowns, the sneering claims that I don’t really care about my family, that I’m checked out and selfish. That’s what we’ve come to—parenting is a full contact sport, from birth through high school, a three-legged race you run with your children to keep them safe and protected, and to prove to the world that you care, that you would do anything for your child. But I can’t do that, I don’t want to do that, I won’t. I wasn’t taught that way.

At the end of my mother’s life, she slipped away from us bit by bit. She lost her hair, and then 50, 60, 70 pounds. Her rings slipped off her fingers. Her voice drifted away just when I wanted to hear it more than any other sound in the world. Her eyes were glassy, vacant.

In those last months, it was not low-touch parenting anymore. In the morning, I lifted her delicate body out of bed, bathed her, fed her cream of wheat, and held her hand in doctors’ offices and pharmacies as we waited for more bad news, more pills, less time. I rubbed cream into her skin turned raw from radiation, and massaged her feet when her muscles suddenly tensed in pain and her face contorted as she tried not to cry out.

Her skin was papery and cold on the morning she died. I held her hand one last time as she took ragged, painful breaths and then stopped.

I’m glad I had those months with all of that touch.

But what I loved about my mother—what I still love, what still makes me ache for her when I allow myself a few private moments of grief—were the moments of watching her do something that had nothing to do with me.


This article was originally published on Lilith.


Join Motherly

By its very nature, motherhood requires some lifestyle adjustments: Instead of staying up late with friends, you get up early for snuggles with your baby. Instead of spontaneous date nights with your honey, you take afternoon family strolls with your little love. Instead of running out of the house with just your keys and phone, you only leave with a fully loaded diaper bag.

For breastfeeding or pumping mamas, there is an additional layer of consideration around when, how and how much your baby will eat. Thankfully, when it comes to effective solutions for nursing or bottle-feeding your baby, Dr. Brown's puts the considerations of mamas and their babies first with products that help with every step of the process—from comfortably adjusting to nursing your newborn to introducing a bottle to efficiently pumping.

With countless hours spent breastfeeding, pumping and bottle-feeding, the editors at Motherly know the secret to success is having dependable supplies that can help you feed your baby in a way that matches lifestyle.

Here are 9 breastfeeding and pumping products to help you no matter what the day holds.

Customflow™ Double Electric Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's electric pump

For efficient, productive pumping sessions, a double electric breast pump will help you get the job done as quickly as possible. Quiet for nighttime pumping sessions and compact for bringing along to work, this double pump puts you in control with fully adjustable settings.

$159.99

Hands-Free Pumping Bra

Dr. Brown''s hands free pumping bra

Especially in the early days, feeding your baby can feel like a pretty consuming task. A hands-free pumping bra will help you reclaim some of your precious time while pumping—and all mamas will know just how valuable more time can be!

$29.99

Manual Breast Pump with SoftShape™ Silicone Shield

Dr. Brown's manual breast pump

If you live a life that sometimes takes you away from electrical outlets (that's most of us!), then you'll absolutely want a manual breast pump in your arsenal. With two pumping modes to promote efficient milk expression and a comfort-fitted shield, a manual pump is simply the most convenient pump to take along and use. Although it may not get as much glory as an electric pump, we really appreciate how quick and easy this manual pump is to use—and how liberating it is not to stress about finding a power supply.

$29.99

Nipple Shields and Sterilization Case

Dr. Brown's nipple shields

There is a bit of a learning curve to breastfeeding—for both mamas and babies. Thankfully, even if there are some physical challenges (like inverted nipples or a baby's tongue tie) or nursing doesn't click right away, silicone nipple shields can be a huge help. With a convenient carry case that can be sterilized in the microwave, you don't have to worry about germs or bacteria either. 🙌

$9.99

Silicone One-Piece Breast Pump

Dr. Brown's silicone pump

When you are feeding your baby on one breast, the other can still experience milk letdown—which means it's a golden opportunity to save some additional milk. With a silent, hands-free silicone pump, you can easily collect milk while nursing.

$14.99

Breast to Bottle Pump & Store Feeding Set

After a lifetime of nursing from the breast, introducing a bottle can be a bit of a strange experience for babies. Dr. Brown's Options+™ and slow flow bottle nipples were designed with this in mind to make the introduction to bottles smooth and pleasant for parents and babies. As a set that seamlessly works together from pumping to storing milk to bottle feeding, you don't have to stress about having everything you need to keep your baby fed and happy either.

$24.99

Washable Breast Pads

washable breast pads

Mamas' bodies are amazingly made to help breast milk flow when it's in demand—but occasionally also at other times. Especially as your supply is establishing or your breasts are fuller as the length between feeding sessions increase, it's helpful to use washable nursing pads to prevent breast milk from leaking through your bra.

$8.99

Breast Milk Storage Bags

Dr. Brown's milk storage bags

The essential for mamas who do any pumping, breast milk storage bags allow you to easily and safely seal expressed milk in the refrigerator or freezer. Dr. Brown's™ Breast Milk Storage Bags take it even further with extra thick walls that block out scents from other food items and feature an ultra secure lock to prevent leaking.

$7.99


Watch one mama's review of the new Dr. Brown's breastfeeding line here:

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

Sorry, you can’t meet our baby yet

Thank you for understanding. ❤️

In just over three weeks, we will become parents. From then on, our hearts will live outside of our bodies. We will finally understand what everyone tells you about bringing a child into the world.

Lately, the range of emotions and hormones has left me feeling nothing short of my new favorite mom word, "hormotional." I'm sure that's normal though, and something most people start to feel as everything suddenly becomes real.

Our bags are mostly packed, diaper bag ready, and birth plan in place. Now it's essentially a waiting game. We're finishing up our online childbirth classes which I must say are quite informational and sometimes entertaining. But in between the waiting and the classes, we've had to think about how we're going to handle life after baby's birth.

FEATURED VIDEO

I don't mean thinking and planning about the lack of sleep, feeding schedule, or just the overall changes a new baby is going to bring. I'm talking about how we're going to handle excited family members and friends who've waited just as long as we have to meet our child. That sentence sounds so bizarre, right? How we're going to handle family and friends? That sentence shouldn't even have to exist.

Keep reading Show less
Life

Parents knowingly sent COVID-positive kids to school—and that's a sign society is failing families

Parents shouldn't feel as though they have no other choice.

Parents across the nation are adjusting to school being back in session during a pandemic. From converting dining rooms into virtual classrooms to totally derailing their careers, parents are finding ways to make it through this unprecedented crisis.

It turns out that there is yet another challenge to overcome: parents knowingly sending their COVID-19 positive children to school. Yes, it happened in Wisconsin this week.

Keep reading Show less
News