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Keep Your Dot: How to Make Your Stay-at-Home Partner Feel Supported

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A tricky element of being a stay-at-home parent is that sometimes I share my job with my husband. I’m on kid duty most of the time because he’s employed full time, but when he’s with us, he’s a fully participating parent. The problem with this arrangement is that it also entitles him to complain about our kids when they get annoying (which they do), and that actually kind of annoys me.


I read an article about Ring Theory (or the kvetching order) a while ago that stuck with me because I think there’s a way to apply the concept to everyday life, particularly the experience of being a stay-at-home parent. This could be the secret to reducing the feelings of resentment, jealousy, isolation, and under-appreciation that can so easily build between spouses when one is employed full time and the other bears the load of day-to-day child care duties.

Ring theory explained

Ring Theory is all about how to avoid saying the wrong thing to someone who is grieving, ill, or coping with a tragedy or crisis. The aggrieved person is illustrated as a dot in the center of concentric circles. The nearest circle represents the person closest to the aggrieved, like their spouse. The second circle contains the next closest group, like the person’s children or parents. The further out in the circle you go, the looser one’s connection to the aggrieved becomes.

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The rules of the kvetching order are simple: “comfort in, dump out.” We offer support to people in circles closer to the center than us, and we vent to people in circles further away. The person at the center (the dot) earns the right to dump out to everyone else since they are suffering the most.

 

This makes intuitive sense when we’re dealing with sad situations. We know better than to say to a new widow, “I’m so distraught about the death of your husband. It makes me think about how hard it would be if I lost mine, and I’ve been losing sleep over it.” We’d never expect her to be concerned with our lack of sleep when she’s dealing with the loss of her husband. Instead, we offer our condolences and work through our personal emotions with someone more removed from the situation.

Applying ring theory to everyday life

When it comes to stay-at-home parents, I think of us as the dots in our personal kvetching orders. I’m certainly not comparing raising children to a tragic event. It’s the opposite experience, but it is a physically and emotionally demanding one. Stay-at-home parents get little respite, so the parallels I’m drawing between traditional Ring Theory and life at home with kids are related to the dynamics of support and communication people in the center of the circles need, not necessarily the experiences that put them there.

According to the theory, stay-at-home parents should get the chance to vent about the hard parts of being home with kids, and our friends and family have to listen, especially the person in our closest ring, like our spouses or partners.

Our partners also have their own kvetching orders for their jobs. When we ask, “How was your day, dear?” We’re signing up to hear about idiotic bosses, incompetent co-workers, grueling schedules, or boring meetings. The difference in our kvetching orders, though, is that I never get to hop into the center of my husband’s rings because I never do his job, but he jumps into mine pretty regularly, and there in lies the rub.

Keep your dot to yourself

After my husband has had a long day of his own and walks into chaos at home, he rightfully and occasionally gets frustrated with the kids’ loud, whiny, or unruly behavior. It does take a lot for him to get to this state because he’s a loving and calm man who is genuinely happy to come home to us, but he’s human and carries the burden of supporting our family. Our kids are non-stop curious little creatures, and that isn’t always a winning combination after he’s had a stressful day at work.

When I hear the impatience creeping into his voice, I think about how I’ve had to keep calm for the last eight hours that I’ve been alone with the kids, and how I’d really love to pass the baton to him, the man in my closest circle, so that I can be the one to lose my cool and let off some steam. But the rules of Good Cop – Bad Cop require one of us keeps it together. When he’s already reached his limit then I’m required to continue playing a comforting role, essentially erasing my dot and thus my shot at being supported.

Of course, this characterization isn’t necessarily fair to my husband. The stressors of his day don’t disappear when he opens the front door. He should feel at ease to express himself in his own home, and I’m the perfect person for him to talk to about the kids. Who better to understand the nuances of our family life than me? Yet I’m still miffed when my dot must move aside to make room for his when he re-enters the realm of active parenting (in which I’m perpetually immersed). After all, he already has his very own set of rings and I don’t want to share mine.

Stay-at-home parents already share everything with our kids, all day, every day. Our time is not our own. It’s devoted to the often mundane chores needed to keep the household running and to our children to keep them fed, clothed, bathed, safe, and stimulated. In return, our kids eat whatever food we’d prefer to enjoy, in peace, alone. They interrupt us no matter what task we’re trying to complete. They watch us use the bathroom. I’d at least like to have exclusive rights to vent about all of this and I want to be an ineligible receiver when it comes to complaints about the kids.

Imagine if the situation was reversed. Let’s say my husband is a dishwasher in a restaurant, and I join him at the end of his shift. He’s been steadily washing dishes for the last seven hours. I start doing it for twenty minutes and begin commenting on how the water is scalding my hands and that my back hurts from bending over. That would sound ridiculous, wouldn’t it?

It’s like venting to the widow. Sympathy is probably the last emotion he’d feel for me. Incredulity, frustration, and indignation would likely come first. This is how it feels as a stay-at-home parent when our partners walk in the door and make themselves at home in the center of our circles.

“I can’t take the kids’ high pitched screaming anymore. It’s getting on my nerves.”

↓↓

“I give you credit for taking care of the kids all day. Their shrieks are really hard to handle.”

The solution

There’s a really simple work-around to this, though, and it’s all in the delivery.

If my husband says, “I can’t take the kids’ high pitched screaming anymore. It’s getting on my nerves,” my immediate reaction is one of defense. “Oh, please. Don’t whine to me about that. Try listening to it all day.”

On the other hand, if he says, “I give you credit for taking care of the kids all day. Their shrieks are really hard to handle,” I will be so much more receptive to the complaint he’s voicing. As if by magic, his “dumping” comment that fishes for a consoling response from me is transformed into a comforting comment that validates my experience – my job – and I’m more than willing to listen to him and commiserate. We both win, and he still has the opportunity to complain about the kids or (gasp) about me to other people in his personal set of rings.

I imagine this theory works for any couple dynamic, not just a single-income family, and I’d be curious to know how you see it playing out in different circumstances. After all, this isn’t about us competing for who has the harder job. It’s about recognizing our respective rings, honoring the role we play for each other within them, and acknowledging that everyone needs their turn in the center. I’m not a marriage counselor, but I’m quite certain that if every couple drew their own set of circles and remembered to “comfort in, dump out,” we’d all do a lot less kvetching, particularly about each other.

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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

This article is sponsored by Nordstrom. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Ayesha Curry has a beautiful family. Her girls, 6-year-old Riley and 3-year-old Ryan, are so smart and adorable and youngest, 10-month-old Canon, is a beautiful, growing baby boy.

He's so cute it practically hurts to look at his sweet little face. So Curry was understandably shocked when an Instagram commenter suggested that Canon (again, he is 10 months old) should go on a diet.

Seriously.

The whole thing started when Curry posted a photo taken after her husband, NBA star Steph Curry, won the Western Conference finals with the Golden State Warriors. The group shot shows Curry holding Canon surrounded by friends and family. The problematic comments began when someone asked the mom of three if she was pregnant again.

That question is not cool. It's not okay to comment on a woman's body like that, even if she is in the public eye. Curry recently told Working Mother that she's had times since becoming a mom when she's been depressed about her body, and struggled with her reflection as she's gone from being an NBA player's wife to a successful woman who is landing magazine covers for her own work.

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"I'm not thin; I'm 170 pounds on a good day. It's been a journey for me, and that's why I want my girls to understand who they are—and to love it."

Despite this, Curry took the pregnancy speculation in stride, replying with "LOL" and stating she is absolutely not pregnant.

"My 30-lb. son is just breaking my back in every photo," she wrote.

That's when the comments about Canon came.

"30 at 10 months?? Sheesh," wrote one user.

"30?!?!? He's bigger than my 19-month-old nephew," another commented.

"Maybe portion control his food a little bit," replied another Instagram user in a comment that got Curry's attention.

While she had responded to the inappropriate speculation about her own body with grace, she was not about to take baby body shaming and unsolicited parenting advice from an internet stranger.

"Excuse you? No. Just no," she wrote.

👏👏👏

No is right. It is never okay to presume a woman is pregnant and it is never okay to comment on a baby's weight. Plus, Canon is adorable just the way he is!

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, every baby grows at their own rate, but usually by their first birthday, the average child triples their birth weight. What's important isn't measuring your child against any chart, but that they continue to grow at the same pace they set in the first eight months of their life, the AAP notes.

Many moms can relate to Curry's situation here. People (sometimes well-meaning) seem to think it's okay to comment on baby's weight, but it absolutely isn't. Every baby is different and growing at their own speed, and no one knows what is best for their baby like their mom and dad do so strangers on the internet or even relatives at a family dinner need to keep those comments to themselves.

No one should be judging Canon's weight or Curry's parenting. Canon is 30 pounds of cuteness and his mother knows exactly how and what to feed him.

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When I was pregnant with my first daughter, I attended a party where I ate the better portion of a wheel of Brie cheese. If you've ever had a baby, are thinking of having a baby, or know someone who's had a baby, then you might know that soft cheeses are strictly forbidden when you're expecting—according to most Western doctors, at least. (It's a pasteurization thing. Raw milk ups your chance of ingesting harmful bacteria.)

But what can I tell you? The notion that cheese can be dangerous just seemed ridiculous to me, especially given that when my mom was pregnant with me, they expected I'd be born with a brandy in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

I ate the Brie.

An hour or so later, though, when my stomach started to hurt, I became hysterical: Oh, no. Something is wrong with my baby! What have I done?

I called my doctor, a lovely, sane man who would go on to deliver all four of my children. He listened and then very patiently explained to me that my baby and I were fine. What I had, he told me, was a case of mother's guilt.

"Let me tell you," he said, "it starts the minute you conceive that baby and it will not stop until the day you die."

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Truer words have never been spoken.

As aden + anais, our then-fledgling baby-goods company, continued to grow by leaps and bounds, so too did the size of my family. And though I'd always been a working mom, even before I started my company, the struggle to manage work and family life did not get any easier.

Once while I was out of town on business, my husband decided to take the girls out for ice cream. He stepped up to the counter, flanked by four little girls, giggling and chattering and ogling the display case. The cashier looked down at them, looked back at my husband, and in a small voice asked, "Do they have a mother?"

My husband took it in stride: "Of course, mate. She's just traveling for business."

But when he recounted the story to me later, instead of scoffing at this person's ridiculous question, it was like someone reached into my chest and ripped out my still-beating heart.

Once again, I wasn't there. Once again, I had been away from my girls because of the business. It should go without saying the obvious and insidious double-standard at work here: I have never once been asked, on the days when I'm out and about alone with the girls if they have a father.

Women share a common anguish over juggling their responsibilities. No amount of starry-eyed optimism over the things that women can accomplish in the business world will soothe the guilt of the mom who feels she should be in two places at once: at home, with her children, and at work, doing what earns her a paycheck and what she (hopefully) finds meaningful.

Each of these—children and work—can feel like a calling, we can feel devoted to both. But which one takes precedence moment to moment? What is the cost to our children when we give our career priority in a given moment? These are questions all parents grapple with on a daily basis, even if unconsciously.

Mommy guilt shows up in different ways for different women. It can show up at the grocery store when our kid starts screaming in aisle seven and we think we should have it all under control.

It shows up when we work nights or weekends to finish that project—the one we worked so hard to land—which takes precious time away from them.

It shows up when we don't know how to make the changes they need or we lack the emotional energy to do so.

It's there when the "perfect birthday party" doesn't go as planned and ends in tears and tantrums.

It shows up when we don't have the space to be emotionally available to them, because, well, stuff happens.

For many of us, it starts at pregnancy with pressure to give birth vaginally like some heroic warrior goddess, surrounded by candles and people chanting.

It starts with the phrase "breast is best," which brings with it a heavy load of guilt for those who physically can't produce milk (I couldn't, despite trying for months), or have to return to a workplace with no lactation rooms, or simply prefer not to breastfeed.

It's there when we crave time to ourselves but feel as though we should be giving time to our families because to do otherwise is considered selfish.

Instead of seeing the conundrum for what it is—a Chinese finger trap which keeps us struggling instead of accepting our reality—we strive to do it all. We think we can be a superhero mom and superhero career woman all the time, every day. Not surprisingly, this leads to an incredible amount of burnout.

What I struggled with most, especially trying to juggle a full-time job, growing a side business, and raising an expanding family, is the societal belief that working moms are somehow failing because we choose work, rather than to be with our kids day in and day out.

Women are up against commonly held beliefs that we don't want to work, that we value our careers less than men do, and that huge swaths of us will ultimately leave our jobs to care for our homes and children. (I would guess that every mother reading this was asked at least once during her pregnancy whether she would be returning to work after she gave birth.) The fact that we've had children is often given as the reason that so few women have snagged boardroom or C-suite spots.

The judgment about women's career choices probably won't stop anytime soon. Most of us would say our choice to work is not, in fact, a choice. Most of us either need to work to support ourselves and our families, or we need to work to feel fulfilled.

Was it a choice to work, or to start my business? Not so much. Working was not only financially important to my family, but it was important to me. When I moved from Australia to New York and initially couldn't work for lack of an appropriate visa, I learned that I could not be idle for long without suffering the consequences of lethargy, depression and a total lack of interest in life.

My career is fulfilling, and I'm convinced I would be a terrible mother if I were a full-time stay-at-home mom. Even though I once had to use my whole salary to pay for quality childcare, investing in my career has always been worth it.

Excerpted from What It Takes: How I Built a $100 Million Business Against the Odds by Raegan Moya-Jones with permission of Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © Raegan Moya-Jones, 2019.

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In recent months there has been a growing awareness about the tragedy of maternal health care in America, specifically how much more dangerous it is for black women to become mothers. Black women are 3 to 4 times more likely than white women to die during or right after pregnancy than white mothers and racism and the implicit bias of health care providers allows this to happen.

This week, Sen. Kamala Harris reintroduced the Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act to address this issue."The health status and the well-being of Black mothers should concern everyone," she wrote on Twitter. "I re-introduced my Maternal CARE Act to ensure women are listened to in our health care system."

Implicit bias is basically the ways in which we stereotype people, even unconsciously, and how these stereotypes impact our actions. When it comes to maternal health care, the implicit bias of providers can mean black mothers' concerns go unheard, even when they're paying for the best medical care money can buy.

This is happening to moms at all income levels and is something that Serena Williams has been very open about, and even Beyonce felt the effects of.

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, "implicit bias may affect the way obstetrician–gynecologists counsel patients about treatment options such as contraception, vaginal birth after cesarean delivery, and the management of fibroids."

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Harris's Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act would create grants to ensure black mothers have access to maternal care and that healthcare providers are trained to avoid the kind of bias that results in black moms losing their lives, and babies losing their mothers.

Harris has seen this in her own state, where black women make up 5% of the pregnant population, but 21% of the pregnancy-related deaths. California's Dignity in Pregnancy and Childbirth Act is seeking to change that on the state level, and Harris is hoping to do the same on a national level by passing her federal act (and winning the Democratic primary).

Her future in the Presidential race remains to be seen, but with Maternal Care Access and Reducing Emergencies (CARE) Act she's trying to ensure that black mothers are seen and no longer overlooked in America's healthcare system.

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We've said it here at Motherly many times: The majority of moms just don't feel like society supports them. Our 2019 State of Motherhood survey found a whopping 85% of mothers feel this way, up from 74% last year.

We've wondered if anyone is listening, but the race for the Democratic primary proves many politicians are.

This week Kirsten Gillibrand, a mom of two herself, announced her new economic policy platform known as the Family Bill of Rights.

In a Medium post published Wednesday, Gillibrand explained that she believes Americans have the right to a safe and healthy pregnancy, the right to give birth or adopt a child, the right to personally care for those children in their infancy and access health care for them, the right to a safe and affordable nursery, and the right to affordable child care and early education before kindergarten.

She's proposing a lot here. Like Senator Elizabeth Warren before her, Gillibrand points out that the "U.S. has the highest rate of pregnancy-related deaths in the industrialized world, and black women are 3–4 times more likely to die during or after childbirth than white women."

Like Warren, she plans to make America a safer place to give birth. She also plans to "require insurance companies to cover treatments like IVF" to make sure that reproductive medicine isn't out of reach for families. She wants to make sure all families, regardless of sexual orientation, race or income level can welcome a child.

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That's why one of her promises is to ensure taxpayer-funded adoption agencies can't discriminate against potential parents, and why she plans to "provide a tax credit to ensure that a family's ability to adopt and provide a stable home for a child isn't dependent on their wealth."

That tax credit would help parents who are adopting older children, and Gillibrand's plan for safe and affordable nurseries would help parents who are coming home with newborns. She plans to provide baby boxes that contain a small mattress and can be used as a safe sleep surface but will also be packed with "diapers, swaddle blankets, and onesies."

And of course, like so many politicians in America right now, she's got a plan for paid family leave, but she's also tackling children's health care in the same breath. "It's past time we create a national paid family and medical leave insurance program, so that everyone can take the time they need to be with their loved ones without having to worry about how they'll pay the bills. And I would ensure that every child has the right to health care, by making the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) universal," she explains.

From there, Gillibrand is committing to universal pre-K and an expansion of the Child and Dependent Care tax credit to help families with the cost of childcare.

With more than 20 competitors running against her and a poll numbers suggesting she's nowhere near the lead, many may not take Gillibrand's announcement seriously. There are a lot of promises in her Family Bill of Rights, but that fact alone reminds us just how much American families are missing right now.

Time will tell how far Gillibrand will get on this platform, but we hope other politicians (in both parties) are listening. Because she was listening to us. And she's got our attention.

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