DEAR NATALIE: I am a young mom and just had my first child. I know how incredibly privileged I am to stay home and spend time with my baby while my partner works. After a number of months, I will reconsider what going back to my work can look like. I’m thrilled to be a mother, but I’m worried that I will lose a sense of the identity that I connected with through my creative job. I’m uncomfortable with my partner being seen as the breadwinner, even though I know that my role in our family and to society is equally as important and necessary. How can I stay connected to the outside world of the arts and culture while having a new full-time gig raising my kiddo? – BALANCING ACT
DEAR BALANCING ACT: Whatever choice you have decided to make as it pertains to your family is a private choice and does not need to be explained or defended. Unfortunately, everyone will have an opinion… which is odd because the father is rarely met with the same questioning. Recently, I read that after birth there is a phrase called the “father bonus” and the “mother penalty.” Men tend to make more money after they become fathers and women tend to make less. Considering the lack of social safety nets in our communities, like a lack of affordable and accessible child care, paid leave and universal health care, as well as a crumbling public education system; it is no wonder more women feel as though they can’t work after having a baby, or have to juggle stressful situations post-baby if they don’t have adequate paid maternity leave. These are all policy choices that we can – and must – change. While you may be uncomfortable seeing your partner as the breadwinner, perhaps it may be the best option for a while. Even going back to work part-time can cost more than it is worth from the paycheck because of the expense of child care. If you want to stay active, however, what about joining a board or two that focuses on the arts or community engagement? You may make some new connections and then when you feel as though you are ready and able to return to the workforce, having networked along the way could set you up for success.
DEAR NATALIE: I’ve recently lost some weight, as I am grieving the loss of my grandmother and managing other changes in my life. I have always been curvy, which some people might say is overweight. As I’ve grown older I have started to truly love my body, regardless of what society thinks. Losing weight does not feel good for me and the comments I receive at the office make that even worse. I do not want to be praised for this weight loss, not only because it is attached to deep grief, but because there was nothing wrong with me before I lost weight. Due to unrelated circumstances, my work bestie has started to gain weight, which she doesn’t feel as positively about. People have started talking about our bodies in the same conversation. We’re both on the same page about wanting the comments about bodies in any capacity to stop, but our coworkers think they’re being well-intentioned when they’re complimenting me or making exercise suggestions to her, or comparing her body to mine. It’s completely inappropriate. Mostly, I’m bothered that I’m being congratulated for a change that I don’t believe is an inherently good one. How can I talk to them about this? – JUST LET US BE
DEAR JUST LET US BE: I recognize that people think they are being complimentary whenever they comment on your body in a way that they think is positive. When they say, “You’ve lost weight,” they are really calling attention to their own internalized fatphobia that has been ingrained in all of us for decades. It can be frustrating to hear, but think of how difficult it must be to still have those negative thoughts playing in their own minds all day long. I have learned to find other ways to compliment people. I like to say things like, “You always know how to cheer me up,” or “You are so much fun to be with,” as options so that I am less fixated on others' appearance and subsequently my own. We are all works in progress, so give everyone – including yourselves – space and grace around these issues. If it upsets you, you are allowed to say something gently in a way that calls them into the conversation instead of calling them out. Most likely it is just a reflex on their part. If someone says, “Have you lost weight? Or “You look so good now that you’ve lost weight,” you can say something like: “I appreciate you taking an interest in me, but I don’t want to bring attention to my weight, whether I have gained or lost it. I hope you can respect that by refraining from commenting about my body.” Some people may be taken aback. Some people may become offended. But you are allowed to speak how you feel and let the chips fall where you may. And who knows? Maybe one person will think about what you said and change how they approach people in the future.
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