The first month of 2023 has passed, and maybe it’s because we’re deep into winter (with already far more snow than we amassed all year last season) or the New Year New Me resolutions I promised not to make, but I’ve recently found myself scrolling more than usual, which means I’ve been on Instagram long enough to pass through the mom-stagramer accounts and now the Dads have started to come for me, 10, 30, and 90 seconds at a time. One such DILF (Dad I’d Like to Forget) remarked on his story, “Researchers found there are nine minutes each day that most influence your child, the three minutes after they wake up, the three minutes after being picked up from school or daycare, and the three minutes before bed.” The suggestion alone was enough to jolt me from my social stupor, but not before forwarding the video to my wife, who never commented. Fortunately, the idea disappeared from my mind as quickly as it had come, until I woke up the next day at 6 a.m. with a toddler foot to the face and immediately recited silently, “Your three minutes start now. Ready. Go”
My three minutes weren’t great. It was a quick squirmy snuggle followed by a suggestion she run into her room, attend to her sick stuffed animals (via her Christmas Veterinarian kit) and work (for what I assumed would buy me at least five more minutes) to swap her Pull-Up for panties. I gave myself a C- and assumed the Dr. who invented this theory must have been either an early riser or about as interested in parenting as Don Draper. I rolled over and decided to put the emphasis closer to breakfast when I could at least open one of my eyes and nod. But even over toast and smoothies, the question loomed - Can a complex parent-child relationship really be distilled to just nine minutes a day? And if so, will all our hard work be forgotten if we miss these key touchpoints? And what about parents who don’t pick up from school or travel for work? What about parents who work nights or can’t make bedtime? What happens in minute four? Put into perspective, what felt simple, now seemed senseless. I wondered how many more of these insane parenting tips I was going to attempt before I began to trust myself instead of Mr. 10k followers.
"I gave myself a C- and assumed the Dr. who invented this theory must have been either an early riser or about as interested in parenting as Don Draper. I rolled over and decided to put the emphasis closer to breakfast when I could at least open one of my eyes and nod."
My daughter was born one week before the pandemic shut down the world. By the time we got her home from the hospital, we were on our own. No family, no friends, no neighbors, just me, my wife, and two short weeks of parental leave before we both went back to work to save our sales and retail teams from complete furlough. I think it was at that moment that Google became our resident grandmother. We asked her everything, from how many poops a day is normal for a newborn, to whether you could actually die from being so tired. In our tiny cocoon, away from anyone with prior knowledge of what we should be doing, the internet began to parent me, and in turn, raise my daughter. Only now, three years later, am I realizing how heavily that experience weakened the confidence I craved, and continue to seek, as a new mom.
On Libby Ward’s account, Diary of an Honest Mom, (what can I say? Old habits die hard) she posted, “We don’t need more people telling us how to be good mothers. We need more systems in place to support mothers in a way that allows them the capacity to be the mom they already know how to be.” I love her sentiment, and despite the dos and don’ts of parenting on social media, I truly believe more and more moms are dropping the charade of perfection we somehow feel indebted to carry on. But even in Ward’s paradigm, as much as I want to agree completely with the implementation of systems and support to create authentic motherhood, I wondered if these would ultimately just end up as yet another set of scorecards against which I would end up measuring myself that wasn’t my own?
"...as I want to agree completely with the implementation of systems and support to create authentic motherhood, I wondered if these would ultimately just end up as yet another set of scorecards against which I would end up measuring myself that wasn’t my own? "
My father arrived middle of this week, a man I adore, and a man who’s been a bachelor for the last 30 years. I come from a very service-oriented family, which means being a good host, even to visiting parents (and especially those who aren’t used to dishes, sweeping, laundry, and toddlers) feels like a test to prove I’ve successfully launched into womanhood. By the time my wife texted me to grab her sunglasses late Sunday afternoon, I lost it, and responded as if I’d been asked to sherpa her luggage up Everest. I didn’t realize it at the time, but over a teary lunch it became clear I’d silently taken on the mental load of caring for my wife, my father, my daughter, and myself, while unconsciously congratulating myself as a great woman for “doing it all.” What I really wanted was to give the middle-finger to the day (and all those involved), grab my bikini (ok one-piece) and board the next flight anywhere warm - alone.
What I’d learned of being a woman growing up was how to take on more than I should, how to multitask, always move quickly, anticipate needs, cook, clean, run errands, pursue a career, and impress my parents. What I’d learned from my Google-Grandmother was to outsource my intuition, double check my assumptions, and never rely on experience. Both influences meant I was holding on to an idea of motherhood that provided a false sense of confidence, an external authority against which I was constantly verifying my efforts. It wasn’t about nine minutes a day, and it wasn’t even about just asking for more help (although that needed to happen too). What I really needed was a break in the chain, for me and my daughter, or she was going to one day end up head to toe in zinc with a pool-floaty around her stomach just as exhausted, overwhelmed, and ready to escape to Bocca.
Park City can feel like a small and lonely place at times for new moms. We’re a town of transplants, extended tourists, COVID refugees, and family black sheeps. It can be hard to entertain little kids through eight months of snow, and even harder when we’re doing it alone, without a village, without a tribe, and with the influence of 10 seconds of someone else’s curated opinion. But I believe we are capable, battle tested even, to raise children in the toughest terrain.
I’ve been fortunate enough in the last few months to chat with several moms, all with kids my daughter’s age, and all of us eager to book playdates. But let’s be honest, what we’re really saying in those we-should-meet-up-with-the-kids-sometime-texts is, I need support, I need community, and I need to verify that what feels hard for me is hard for you. Oh, and a friend and some adult conversation would be welcome, I mean, lifesaving.
Today I will pick my daughter up from school and for the first three minutes I will wrangle her into her jacket, stuff her beanie in her backpack, thank her teachers, answer a question about why school is closing, buckler her into her car seat, plug my phone into its charger, take off my jacket, buckle myself in, and pull away from the curb. The window for impact will seemingly close, and my theoretical chance to make a life-long lasting impression on her psyche will have passed. By the time we’re on the road, it’s minute four and I assume we’re in the dead zone, nothing I do from this point matters. Except that it’s at this moment when she will begin to tell me who she sat with at lunch, whether she went outside, and how much she loves the new music toy that makes a noise like a zipper. And it’s at this moment when I will know, without asking or doubt, that despite the incredible number of influencers doling out damaging and unvetted advice to their thousands of followers, she and I will be ok. In fact, we’ll be better. We’ll be mother and daughter. And not just for nine minutes a day, but forever.