Saturday, December 1st, 2012
Kimberly is always a star!
I had lunch with one of my favorite people in the universe last week. Kimberly Seals Allers and I went to “our place” – the cozy and always delicious Black Market Bistro in Kensigton, Maryland. She came beautiful and brainy – as always. Her chic black ensemble was at once simple and stunning. And per usual, her smile and spirt made my day. That is what good friends are for, and certainly explains why the ritual of a long, lingering ladies’ lunch is so essential for surivial.
Since then I have been chewing on our conversation and the questions that Kimberly asked for her upcoming (oh, get yourselves ready) book. The bulk of the conversation and her inquiry had do to with the ways in which women support or derail each other in their role as mother. We talked about evolution and the state of the Mommy Wars - we did so with an eye on history ( thinking a bit about Rosie the Riveter – she was supporting a war not battling one with other mothers, no?!?!) but mainly with a deep desire for positive change.
I came to a very disheartening conclusion about how our daughters might experience their motherhood when I looked up and said (with great sadness) – that despite all our extraordinary efforts and the energy around advancing this critical dialog – our daughters would likely not have a very different experience…and I sighed….
Kimberly knows my POV – likely you do do. Success is a highly individualized state, it is based on a deeply personal, internal marker. This is truest in parenting sandbox where there seems to be so little fair play. And in specific, it is true when evaluating breastfeeding success, which I believe is found is in how a woman chooses to define it. It his hers alone to gauge. There is no clear answer, standard or finish line. This is a CHOICE
Riddle me this…why are we pro-choice in mixed company but full of judgement among out own?
Funny how we rally around the powerful notion of choice when a male dominated, institutional, governmental “threat” appears…we are good at that!
Just weeks ago there was an election where we clearly stood up for our rights, as women, to CHOOSE.
Still, when we are left among our own – you know with lactating breasts and ready wombs-we go harsh, unyielding and highly judgmental. Where is the sisterhood you wonder? Well so do I.
Two articles this week are well worth reading as you consider why we continue to fail to simply support other mothers. Why and how we have the audacity to support programs that are for the elite among us and that perpetuate the idea of a singular definition of success in parenting? And while our bodies, the very ones which we say we must protect via our right to choose - become a fertile battle ground among our own…
Take a moment to listen to Suzanne Barston discuss her new book Bottled Up on Take -Two…I neither know Suzanne nor have the read the book in its entirety – though I intend to change both those things! Her points are valid and well stated. Her questions important…
And then please give some focus the the brilliant way in which Alissa Quart and New York Magazine tackle the Milk Culture issues, especially the social-economic question (divide) of breastfeeding and regulatatory disconnect which is quickly becoming the new standard and very popular stance.
Having spent the week deep in the after-glow of my time with Kimberly (which means a great deal of thinking) and following along in the press, here is where I land:
We need to please stop and consider our actions not just our intentions. And find our way to caring enough as women, for women – to accept that we are not uniform because our parts are the same. We need to care enough to recognize and accept the full range of circumstances in which women live and strive to help to support each woman’s right to choose how to define her success as a mother. It is not asking a lot, but the outcome could be staggering. And, that might find us closer to free…
Thursday, June 21st, 2012
I have been cuddled up with some new data this evening. Thank you HANS VILLARICA for the great company. I have been turning over and again numbers reported in today’s Atlantic which considers how much time new parents spend on line. The sample size was relatively small 154 mothers and 150 fathers. The data attempted to make sense of how the time spent on-line, and in specific on Facebook, impacted their self-described success as new parents. According to the article - New moms increase their use of Facebook after giving birth, and their online activity may influence how well they adjust to parenthood.
Yes, new parents seek out communities (old school, tribal nurture and care if you will) on line. This is true. But here is the bit of the data that needs more focus — the more time these women actually spend on line the less happy they report feeling. So what is this fine line between stress and support — or really, where is it? Is there a magic number of hours spent on line? Is it about passive exposure versus active information seeking? It is about the composition of the community or the quantity of it? Is it some hard to compute formula of internal and external factors – the equation of which is still nebulous?
Hint: there is no right answer.
One could argue that we need to help women back away from their digital parenting a bit — perhaps take a break from getting it right and focus on getting to just get enough insight and connection to feel fed, seen and successful. We could encourage some delayed start program to the Mommy Wars (how though, this predates the birth and the bump) or a delay in game? But that is likely not on the horizon. In fact, I would predict just the opposite - and in short order.
Leaving us where?
Responsible (to a degree).
Forty Weeks wisdom goes something like this (if you are a client, forgive me, you’ve heard this mantra before): The building of on-line communities that feel supportive, nurturing accepting, open, honest and easy to access are the responsibility of the brand. Setting the tone, holding the line and raising the bar – also the responsibility of the brand. Be the brand a publisher or a manufacturer – the onus is the same. And while the shiny attraction of being the hub of a new mother’s life is alluring, for sure, the abuse of that that privilege will never go unnoticed (did I mention how savvy new mothers on line are?).
And so while we know that if you build it, they will come. I urge that you please pay careful attention to the larger impact of these communities and please proceed to build with care. Consider it your investment in the next generation of Moms.
Wednesday, November 9th, 2011
Today on Twitter I was overwhelmed and completely moved by being referred to as a Fairy Godmother. It was not the first time (thank you David Gaunt for the Dolly Levi comparison), but I must admit – in the big, reality show world of experts, gurus, and other super savants – all titles that clearly do not suit me, this one feels right. I know my wise friend Samantha Ettus would agree – this is my personal brand.
Nadia and Julia - Babymoon in NYC!
I have been in this space for quite a long time. And I have seen a great deal (understatement). Feel free to pursue the Back Labor Blog for a sense of just some of the madness I have witnessed. I have seen brands, trends and individuals rise from obscurity, take hold or more often than not – fade away. I have coined, encouraged, mentored, mediated and managed. I have advised, advocated and sometimes (ok, maybe more than sometimes) agitated. But in the final analysis what it comes down to is this – PEOPLE.
I have fought hard for one thing the care and feeding of expectant and new parents – ALL new parents. Be it my early, impassioned aspiration of helping brands to speak intelligently and with care to this very eager but also suddenly vulnerable market of new and expectant parents, or my desire to create real-time access to honest information from which parents can make informed decisions – or my sincere belief that brands, influencers and consumers alike have a real obligation to give back in a way that allows all parents access to this level of care and yes, honest, clear information. I have raised the bar and insisted that this industry can operate from a place of integrity and respect. And I am relentless in my pursuit and maintenance of this standard (mandate). It is no secret I am as tough as I am generous and I like it that way.
It is about respect. And with that comes care – and yes Jessica, Nadia and all of you beautiful creatures, that includes a blow-out and decadent nibbles when you are feeling at the end of your pregnancy rope. Because, to me, that is part of it too. There is fun to be had, life to celebrate and certainly there are quality relationships to forge. So, Bippity, Bobitty, Boop– I am happy – no, I am ecstatic, to be the Fairy godmother – it is nothing short of an honor and am I both humbled and proud.
And so while people keep popping up (oh should I have said Pope-ing) up in the expectant and new parent space – I am happy to let them have their Fifteen Minutes, two-seasons, blog-of-the-moment, what-ever floats their boat. If you need me, I will be here with my magic wand, making it so….
Sunday, May 9th, 2010
Last night I was cozied in a sweet corner banquette next to (a very handsome) Bob and our dear friends Steve and Ellen. We were at one of my favorite “hard to score” tables in town – The Little Owl. The evening was part catch up and part planning – the way it is with friends you see too little of but enjoy immensely. We listened to details of their most recent trip to the Four Seasons Punta Mita which sounded off the charts wonderful. They described their villa, the grounds, the pristine weather, the outstanding service, their travel companions and of course the food.
Steve was amazed by the number of small children who frequented the properties’ most elite dining spaces. He shared a story: One evening they walked in a dining room full of well dressed but less than well behaved tots and parents who while there were letting their offspring run wild among the haute cuisine. Steve and Ellen (along with their dining party) were a bit taken aback. Upon noticing their obvious frustration with the “population” the host quickly whisked them into the lounge where they were offered drinks and some nibbles to keep them around until the romper room turned back in the dining room. I think that was not a bad call…
In today’s New York Times, Shivani Vora leads us on a guided (and gilded) tour through the looking glass – she shares a parallel universe, or even an altered state in which tots dine on $32 spaghetti with butter sauce at New York’s L’Atelier De Joel Robuchon (dare I confess that I was in my 40s before I had the good fortune of dining at this particular establishment). This of course after their stroller has been checked and they’ve been given a DVD player and movie to keep them engaged. Ms. Vora clearly did her research and logged some serious hours getting this piece to bed. Obviously, this was meant to be a service article – one in which readers of certain means could learn where to fine dine with kids (necessary or not, you decide). I love the concept of all parents having good resources and the information they need – but if you take a moment to read the comments on the New York Times website you realize that Ms. Vora actually published a “where not to eat” guide that is nothing more than a new battle field for the same old war .
And so you can assume there will be a great deal of back- lash to follow. And, once again the conversation will not about something meaningful, but rather it will (it has) digress into an opening for yet another comment storm. At the time of this blog there were 73 comments (read them here) – ranging from outrage & absolute disgust to calls for death to the overindulgent, self-centered parents. And we are off…time for some good old fashioned, New York Times instigated parent on parent breeder v. non breader fighting. Oh yes another polarizing Sunday…
Thursday, March 25th, 2010
Disclaimer: The following discusses the relationship between women and caregivers in a positive, nostalgic manner. If you have an issue with women who work outside of the home or women who have nannies who love and care for their families please move on. Otherwise, enjoy!
I don’t know if I’ve really seen this particular scene from the outside before. And even if I had – I may not have seen it from such clear perspective. What I saw felt at once familiar, moving and near-heart wrenching but also quite distant from my present reality. Although what I saw was my truth, so very long ago. And this is why the view of this morning’s scene, which I watched unravel from the driver’s seat of my car (empty of children but able to accommodate the four I have) touched me so deeply. I was winding down Bradley Boulevard, listening to Jakob Dylan’s new single, “Nothing but the Whole Wide World” on XM 45, making my way from my workout to my desk. The traffic was moving slowly – I was just behind the number 36 ride on bus. And as I sorted my thoughts for the day – I looked to my right for just a split second – long enough to take in something powerful that stopped me in my emotional tracks. In that micro-bite of time I watched three females – a young mother, her toddler daughter and their nanny. The young mother was dressed for the day, nothing fancy but certainly fashionable and smart. The little girl wore a pink jacket with a hat on her head. The Nanny was dressed modestly, her head was covered and her body was round. The three sat waiting for the bus to arrive.
I don’t know if it was the first day the woman would leave her daughter for work or if this was a daily ritual. One in which the kind woman with the brown skin would at once fortify and calm the mother as she made her way, step by step away from her toddler and onto the bus – one in which the nanny, clearly dressed in non-American garb would make the toddler feel safe and loved as her Mommy braved her way away from the softness of the babies’ pink cheeks and into the maelstrom of another working day. Was this their daily routine: – the mother boards the bus, the nanny picks up the baby and together they wave goodbye. Then placing the toddler down, and reaching to hold her pudgy little hand – the nanny and the little girl head home and into their day. Or perhaps it was one in a string of similar days. I cannot be sure if this was day one – the day in which it would take every ounce of courage and conviction for the mother to “go back to work” or one of many subsequent days that would require a daily, whispered mantra of “you can do this” and an equal amount of conviction and support to make it out the door. No, I cannot say. But I can be sure that none of these days would be possible without the nanny.
The right nanny was never quite Mary Poppins, but rather a near-stranger near-saint who stands strong and dependable offering assurance and calm to the woman who walks out the door and into the world. She offers love filled days to the baby left in her care. The right nanny is near mystical creature – a woman who brings something from another place and another time – connecting generations and moving families forward until the great unknown. And yes, for pay.
Amaryllis was our nanny – she was with our family from the time Lila was a small baby until just before Samuel was born. She was a warm and loving woman from El Salvador – one who opened her heart to a young mother and her daughter in a way that gave us both wings. She was a mother to us both -a nurturer to the core and an expert papusa maker! She had her own daughters and grandchildren – but she also had us. She would arrive at our town home each morning and I would hand her little Lila – together they would busy themselves quickly in music, books and Teletubby toys (Lila was partial to Po) while I made my way out the door. There was comfort in leaving Lila with Amaryllis – I knew my little girl was safe and loved, getting what she needed and I was getting the same. Lila would crawl and then cruise, walk and later run. And so would I. Because of Amaryllis I was able to grow my young business and myself into a form I had hardly dreamed possible. What came next was beyond my wildest imagination (it always is it seems) and she made sure we all kept taking chances – Lila on the playground and me in my work and my “adult” relationships. We kept growing and one day our family outgrew Amaryllis (she said she only worked in homes with one baby). I cried for days – scared and insecure of what would come next despite the fact she had shown me that everything would be okay. And it was. Amaryllis was a remarkable pillar of strength, wisdom and kindness. We were lucky to have her.
I saw Amaryllis today – she was sitting next to me whispering in my ear “you can do this” – and then I got on the bus….
Saturday, October 3rd, 2009
This has been a remarkable week in the land of Twitter, SM and conscious raising in general. The Nestle Family Blogger event pushed some of SM’s best and brightest to their personal boiling point. It revealed so much about who each one of us are, what makes us tick and most importantly what we stand for. There is so much to learn about people not just by what they react to, but also how. We all saw the tweets, the attacks and the (sometimes inane) responses. In fact, for me this was one of the most transparent weeks I have ever experienced on-line – I saw so clearly exactly who I follow in much more than 140 characters. I am grateful for the opportunity and the experience.
So much has been covered and so well in fact by bloggers – some of my favorite discussions covered the question of responsibility on both sides. @that_danielle and @amamasblog did an excellent job of examining where the lines may actually be – and whose responsibility lay where. I took a hard look at Nestle as a case study in failed marketing to/with Moms (On Missing the Mark,) . @crunchygoddess took a long well considered look at the lessons of the Nestle Family tweetstorm. Ann Douglas shared her trademark smarts and experience to broaden people’s understanding of the scope of issues. There were so many more (for those of you I missed, please excuse me). Bottom line – so many brilliant women were thinking, communicating their passion and standing up for what they believe in.
We are all fully in, vested in SM – using this brave new forum to challenge, debate, stand-up and be counted, find-like minded souls and collaborators. Here on-line we have found it possible to identify and sort through issues – seeking out the “truth” in almost real time. This is remarkable when viewed through a historical lens of public debate . With these incredible advances also comes the issues associated with how quickly we “know each other” – though nuggets of information we identify our friends, enemies, experts and even leaders. How do we really know who to trust?
As for me – this week has been a living, breathing reminder of one of my strongest personal and professional philosophies: In short, you are the company you keep. Now – there have been others who have said it better for example:
The Spanish adventurer, author and poet Miquel de Cervantes said; “Tell me what company you keep and I’ll tell you what you are”
Or even -
My Grandfather, S. Arthur Lipson who was known to say the same in his wonderfully crass publisher’s speak: “Lie down with dogs and you’ll get up with fleas”
And it is true. Who you choose associate with can elevate or harm you. You will be judged, known, understood and revealed by the company you keep. This goes for all of us. And so it is important that we not wait to until we are mid-twitter storm to really know who it is we associate with. Bloggers and corporations need to carefully consider each other not just as conduits to their goals (whether that goal be content or advocacy, information or feedback) but as partners. Both are brands (as I have said over and over – bloggers are brands) and both must protect themselves and position themselves for growth. And here on- line, where most days it is encouraging, informative and positive – we need to take some time to know who are “friends” are – because it all counts.
Wednesday, September 30th, 2009
This post is not about breastfeeding or formula. And while I am absolutely qualified to talk about Nestle I will not. I have been in the breastfeeding space for more than a decade. And the long, dirty history of Nestle’s marketing practices, WHO violations and human-rights abuses are simply a factual prologue to the recent stir that the Nestle family blogger event has caused in the social media world.
There is enough Nestle talk out there. I choose not to recount the history or educate anyone. The facts are in the public domain and easy enough for anyone to access. Since yesterday’s powerful and well-written post by Annie @PHDinParenting the lines have been drawn and it is getting nasty. I have watched from the sidelines (OK I have not been totally silent) – we are all witnessing mommy bloggers out for blood and people are getting hurt.
To me this is a case study for poor planning, short-sighted thinking and other classic marketing errors. What is clear to me is that there was no strategic or top-level thinking applied to this horrific play for Moms on the part of Nestle. In fact, it smacks of lack of experience, lack of understanding and certainly lack of expertise. Nestle has undervalued women in the worst way. Can’t you just imagine the “big idea” meeting: so the idea is they will love us, ask no questions and go forth and re-build our image all for the low, low price of a hotel room, some meals and some swag.
So Nestle, as a woman who is always curious and is passionate about marketing to new mothers – I am dying to know — who the hell was in that room? Who sat around the big old Nestle table when you failed to consider the terms of engagement with these women you wanted to woo? Or when you decided to withhold key information from women on the off chance that they would not find out? The plan was what — these moms should be your advocate and not know of your true, controversial history? How about when they were left in a position to defend you against the endless attacks on twitter and on blogs – how were they to manage that Nestle, what was the plan?
In fact, what Nestle has done is continued their tradition interpreting/massaging facts to suit their objectives. Never mind who gets hurt in the way, right? There is no statute of limitations on the many blemishes on your corporate resume and now you have added a new abuse, abuse of women (and some men too from what I understand)– congratulations on that.
This is a stunning example of why those who are involved with marketing to/with women and in specific, social media need to have well grounded leader managing their strategy. Someone with experience needs to be in charge and minding the big picture. Without going into a high level of detail here (boring, for some) strategy is built from a clear and well – thought out assessment and analysis of a brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Simple – marketing 101 stuff. Gunning to fast tactics cannot, will not advance a brand. In fact, ill-conceived programs such as Nestle Family have the makings of a perfect storm. And today has been just that…
Nestle has lost control of the conversation – in fact the conversation that is being had is not only off-message (one would assume ) but the defense of Nestle has been left in the hands of those least qualified to handle it — the bloggers who answered their call and came for a few days of fun. This is damaging to the brand on a profound level (obviously) and leaves these bloggers in an untenable position. Feeling loyal, under attack, not knowing facts, frankly over their heads and outside of any normal scope of engagement for an event like this.
So Nestle – one more question(as one known for asking so many probing, hard questions of my clients) – Now you have a war with your name on it – now what’s the plan?
Wednesday, May 6th, 2009
For those of you who know me, who follow along and who “get” the Forty Weeks philosophy you know our credo is pretty straight forward. We focus on women and the Forty Week journey that leads to motherhood. We work with like-minded companies who offer products and services that are both needed and necessary. We focus on keeping products and services in the market-place that support and even enliven the journey. We care for all women – by providing care, adoration, respect, non-judgement and true consideration. We like to laugh too - it feels essential to the journey. And mainly we seek to protect women from those who would hurt us. We take this all quite seriously – that is who we are!
But what happens when women hurt women- when we hurt ourselves? When the pressure and the standards we set fail us and lead us to war with each other and ourselves. You know these wars of course because the media loves them so and covers them tirelesly and repeatedly. And so in all possible forums and with great frequency the Mommy Wars are front and center. They show up around almost every corner and they seem to be without end. But what is this really? In short, it is women hurting each other — and going to battle over very personal choices. Nothing new…nothing good.
But today I saw this on Momlogic and it was something new – a new level of wrong, of shame and of tragedy. I felt cold and sick reading the original article in the Mail describing how a new mother jumped to her death over her inability to breastfeed her baby. Yes – A woman killed herself because she could not breastfeed her baby well enough and considered herself a failure. The pressure was so great and overwhelming – her sense of personal failure so high and of course, of course her post-natal depression so extreme that it all slipped away. I am not taking away from any of these facts - all of these very real factors were at play. Yet somewhere she got the message (that then went through the lens of her post-natal depression) that her failure to breastfeed was a big enough failure to end her life over. She left behind a mother-less infant and a widower and a great void where she one stood. She died over breastfeeding. How did we get here and what have we done?
There is little to say and really all we can do is take a good hard look at ourselves. Who are we helping (and who are we hurting) with our positions. Is it worth a life? Is the Mommy War worth dying for.
I think not.