When Raising Arizona Kids magazine launched in 1990, my daughter Ellis was almost 4 and her brother Isaac was 19 months old. I joined the magazine in part because I needed a support system where I could find answers to life’s difficult parenting questions. I joke — but not really — that it was free therapy.
Fast forward 30 years: Ellis is married to “Big” James and parenting her 16-year-old stepson, “Little” James (yes, her introduction to parenting was a 12-year-old boy), and daughter, Rosemary, who recently turned 1.
And Isaac? He and his girlfriend are co-parenting Tater Tot, an adorable rescue dog of indeterminate lineage. I think of it as pre-parenting. Do they? Am I being pushy? Will it work?
It’s disheartening that some things haven’t changed in the past 30 years, like the need for affordable, quality childcare and the struggle to balance family life and work. Reassuringly, the needs of a baby have remained constant. Why is my baby crying? Does she need a diaper change? Is she hungry? Does she have gas or just need attention?
When Ellis and I talked recently, she was balancing work, a sick baby and this conversation. It turns out parenting hasn’t gotten any easier in the past 30 years. We’ve both grappled — not always successfully — with how to avoid holding ourselves to unrealistic standards, and social media can exacerbate the problem.
Lisa: The thing that has changed most dramatically is the way parents get their information. In the early 1990s, I got my information from printed books, print magazines, in-person parenting classes and in-person peers. I might hear about an expert and then read their book in hopes of finding an answer to my question. Before you were born, I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” It didn’t prevent me from putting your first diaper on backwards.
Ellis: I think what’s different is that I have infinite resources readily accessible 24/7, so when I was up from 2 to 3 a.m. feeding Rosemary, I was on my phone reading about sleep, which I certainly wasn’t getting. I would Google “baby sleep” and try to keep Rosemary on a specific routine. One of the most helpful resources has been Cara Dumaplin’s baby sleep blog, takingcarababies.com. She’s a local neonatal nurse and mother of four, and I recommend her blog and Instagram to all my friends. I look at “wake windows” — how long a baby should be awake before they should sleep again.
Lisa: The downside to online resources is social media influencers who curate what they post so that their life looks amazing, whether it is or not. Even 30 years ago many of us were guilty of comparing our lives and the way we parented against each other, judging how we felt inside against the way someone else’s life looked on the outside. But social media adds a new layer of judgment.
Ellis: Social media is great, and it’s terrible. It’s an amazing resource, but I see friends who take hospital selfies and look amazing and I think, “I didn’t look like that after birth. I looked puffy, my hair was frizzy, and I was tired because I’d just had a baby without an epidural.” Motherhood looks totally different in reality than it does on Instagram. My day never looks like me in my perfect white house, wearing my perfect red lipstick, with perfect hair, while my perfect baby and I casually do whatever. That said, social media has also been an enormous tool for me, because taking care of my baby is my number one priority. Facebook groups are a huge help. I don’t have time to get together with my in-person mom network as often as we’d like, because we have full-time careers.
Lisa: I don’t see that parenting has gotten any easier in the last 30 years. I’ve watched you juggle a full-time job and daycare, and then try to work when you have a sick baby at home. I didn’t have a full-time job, and I was exhausted at the end of the day. I just wanted to sit down for a few minutes and have an adult beverage.
Ellis: I absolutely need a glass of whisky at the end of the day. I try not to do it every night, but sometimes it’s all I have, despite how lushy that sounds. I’m exhausted as soon as I wake up in the morning, and the only thing that saves my life is that I work almost 100 percent from home. [Editor’s note: This story was written prior to the coronavirus crisis.] If I had to go into the office all day, then there’s no way I could keep my life together. Luckily, I have a really understanding boss. I do feel that having a baby makes me better at work; I’m a lot more patient with people. But if Rosemary is sick or has a bad night, no matter how good or bad things go or how tired I am, I still have to work. I don’t have a lot of wiggle room to take time off, so it makes it difficult. But on the flip side, if I need to come in late because I have to take Rosemary to the doctor, my boss is cool with that because I always get my work done.
Lisa: What do you worry about as a parent?
Ellis: I worry about everything. I worry about losing my job and having to take Rosemary out of daycare. I worry about Rosemary getting sick, and I mean really sick. I worry about me getting sick and dying before she gets old enough to know me as her mom. That’s a big one. I lie awake at night thinking about those things. Pretty much everything is about making sure I’m around for her. She doesn’t need daycare, and she doesn’t need her toys, but she needs her mommy.
Lisa: I worried about all the things that could happen to you and Isaac. But I knew your dad would take care of you both if anything happened to me. Somehow you manage to act calm around Rosemary when she falls or bumps her head. I always struggled whenever you or Isaac would hurt yourselves; I’d audibly suck in my breath and rush over to you.
Ellis: We were just talking at book club that when babies fall over and get really frustrated, you don’t overreact. You just calmly pat them and say something like “learning is hard.” We try to give her the tools to self-sooth. James and I will pick her up and say, “you got this” and then she’ll suck her thumb. I’ve noticed if I freak out, she freaks out, so I do my best not to.
Lisa: Yeah, your dad used to get upset with me because I’d gasp whenever something happened to you or your brother.
Ellis: Yes, I’m familiar with that.
Lisa: I really tried not to do it, but obviously I wasn’t successful.
Ellis: And look how I turned out.
Lisa: Thank goodness I didn’t scar you for life.
Ellis: Isaac says he’s noticed that he’s turned into you and will make a dramatic noise for something small. Like he dropped something on the ground and did a big reaction, like “OH, NO!”
Lisa: Poor Isaac. I’m sorry.
Ellis: It’s funny to listen to him describe it.
Lisa: You hope your kids will only pick up on your positive qualities, but I guess that’s not the case.
Ellis: It’s nice to be able to call you in the heat of the moment, like when Rosemary is vomiting, and say, “What do I do?” It’s just nice to get a little advice and sympathy. But you know, now that I have a baby, I don’t know how you ever let me move to China after college.
Lisa: Since your Dad and I had both traveled, it wasn’t that hard. I think what was harder for me was when you went to college on the East Coast. I was convinced you’d never come back to Arizona. When you went to China, it didn’t feel that much farther away than the East Coast; they were both a major schlep. And you came back, and now we have a new granddaughter. But why did you have to move to Mesa? What’s wrong with northeast Phoenix?
Ellis: So, how does it feel to be a grandmother?
Lisa: I’m delighted, but I can’t talk about it, because whenever I try, my eyes well up and my throat constricts.
Ellis: You’re verklempt?
Lisa: Yup, that’s it exactly. I’m overcome with emotion.
Lisa Sorg-Friedman was one of the founding members of Raising Arizona Kids and recently returned to help with special projects.