Momma Hawks

During his State of the Union Address a few weeks ago, President Obama proposed a huge expansion to state-provided preschool education and early education programs, such as Early Head Start and home visiting.   The feasibility of getting these costly improvements through the current Congressional climate notwithstanding, it’s great stuff.   If we can ensure quality — and that’s a big IF — the long-term benefits could outweigh the costs by as much as 7 to 1.

I’m discouraged, though, that our national conversation keeps focusing almost exclusively on educational settings, which, let’s face it, seem to be in constant need of reform precisely because we do have so much trouble ensuring quality, especially when it comes to educating poor children.  I’m frustrated that we keep overlooking the crucial role of parents in educating their children.   I’m not alone.  A big percentage of the comments posted online to articles about how to solve our poverty and achievement-gap problems point this out.

What the average person knows (and the average policymaker fails to grasp) is that parents are on this earth to provide more than any program or even school ever can — namely, the love, family routines, and life-long bonds that children need to thrive.     Politician and pundit Sarah Palin once coined the term “Mamma Grizzlies” to describe how mothers care for their children, but I think we’re more like hawks.   Moms provide the nest and we watch, watch, watch every move our chicks make, swooping in to provide love, address danger, and ensure they are getting what they need to venture out of the nest eventually.    That’s how it’s supposed to work anyway, and it would work that way — for all mothers — if we started thinking in terms of BOTH tangible and tangential supports.    Tangential supports, like those proposed by the President, allocate the bulk of the money to train and pay third parties — like home visitors and teachers — to help parents raise their children.    Tangible support give resources — like post-secondary education and money — directly to parents to apply directly to their family well-being.

In the age of welfare reform, we are allowed to talk about the tangential, but not the tangible because the myth of the welfare queen has poisoned our ability to discuss the tangible.   That’s a shame, because as a middle-class mom I can tell you that the tangible dominates and leverages the tangential when it comes to raising academically successful children.  If my kids need something  like a quiet, well-equipped place to study, I AM the change. I use my education and money to come up with what they need.  And if third parties like teachers aren’t doing their part, then I MAKE the change.  I lobby the school to address their needs specifically and, if necessary, I buy additional or new educational services.   Contrary to that welfare-queen myth, lots of poor moms do these same things, but their capacity and options are so much more limited than those of rich moms, and the stress they face while doing so is so much higher.    We could fix this, but, first, we have to put the role of parents back into the national conversation.

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Parents are the Key

In a previous post, I mentioned that I submitted a letter to The New York Times in response to An Invitation to Dialogue: Fighting Poverty.   Although I was disappointed that my letter didn’t get published (too long — oops), I was happy to see that several of those that did emphasized support for parents as the key to resolving child poverty.    Here’s what I wrote:  Response to Greenstein NYT letter .

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I’m a Fan of Two-Generation Programs

My friend Joan Lombardi, one of the world’s leading lights on early care and education, just posted this great blog entry on the Ascend website. Her post discusses the achievement gains produced for children when moms advance their own education, too.  I love the work on two-generation programs that Ascend promotes because, as Joan’s post shows, building the education/self-sufficiency of parents and children in tandem is effective and sensible.   The DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, of which I was the consultant Director of Planning prior to the hiring of full-time staff, is using a “Five Promises for Two Generations” frame around all the evidence-based cradle-to-college services the planning team pulled together and I think that that is smart, smart, smart.  I was also lucky enough to facilitate the first Ascend Aspen Institute Roundtable, so this topic just keeps popping up in my life.  A job is, indeed, the best anti-poverty program there is, so looking at how to make sure parents and children both succeed in the increasingly demanding 21st century economy makes a lot of sense.

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Commit to It

I’ve been feeling a bit stuck lately.  So, I decided to shake things up by finally making a commitment to Vinyasa Flow Yoga at my local branch of Down Dog Yoga.  Commitment is a big deal in yoga — not in the heavy “Omigod, I have to meet this obligation sense,” but in the “I trust that I can do this  and it will work out for me” sense.

Anytime I’ve done serious bodywork in the past, things suddenly  start to move in my life.   And sure enough, as soon as I had sweated my way through two 90-minute sessions on Monday and Tuesday, on Wednesday I opened the New York Times to find An Invitation to Dialogue: Fighting Poverty from Robert Greenstein.  So Thursday (yesterday), I submitted my response.   It’s an abbreviated version of an essay I’ve written on why mothers are the most important workers America has for fighting child poverty and saving the future economy.   If they don’t publish it, I’ll put it up in a future post.   I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time, but, other than sharing my ideas with close friends and colleagues, I haven’t gotten to the point of being willing to really put them out there.   My excuse has been that I’ve been busy (like all moms are) but, to be perfectly honest, fear has held me back from saying what I really think.  Fear of my ideas hurting poor families because they get twisted by people who want to punish the poor more than they want to help them. . . fear that my professional reputation will be hurt if colleagues and clients disagree with my views  . . . fear that some of my very liberal friends will be repulsed by the streaks of traditional values and libertarianism I have running through me (don’t worry, guys, I am pretty far from morphing into William Buckley still).  Well, I can’t worry about that anymore.  It’s time to take my own advice to “be brave, make mistakes, and find the words (or the pose as the case may be).”  It’s time to commit.

It’s working out fine already.  During the session today we took the pose “Happy Baby.”  Immediately I realized that this pose is evocative of what almost all moms and dads love to see their children express — not only when they are infants — but throughout their lives.   It’s a about peace, joy, security, confidence, openness.  We’re putting too many children under too much stress in this country.   We need to commit to supporting all parents so that they have the ability and resources to nurture and raise happy babies.  Then we’ll all be happy together, and America will continue to be great.

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Missing Voices – Part 2

I’ve decided not to post much more (or do much outreach beyond close friends and colleagues) until I’m done identifying other bloggers — particularly low-income women — to post with me.  It’s too hypocritical.   In the meantime, I’ll keep building the site, raising my children, and working as a poverty-fighting consultant.   I’m reaching out to some candidates now, especially searching for a co-editor-in-chief.   If only Johnnie Tillmon were still alive — she was fierce in standing up for herself and other poor mothers as capable, caring, and strong people!   If you haven’t seen her landmark 1972 piece in Ms. Magazine, Welfare is a Women’s Issue, wow, is it worth the read!  Of course, let’s face it, Johnnie would have already started blogging without me long ago!

Anyway, my hope is to identify several “blogging pairs” — one lower-income mom and one higher-income mom — from various geographic areas over the course of 2013.  If you know any moms you think would like to post here, email me at  Thanks!

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Missing Voices

The idea for this blog formed in my head when I started to look around for the voices of low-income mothers in the vast array of Mommy Blogs out here on the Internet.   What I found was that there are a few bloggers speaking out on behalf of the concerns of poor mothers and/or quoting their actual words.  However, perhaps not surprisingly given digital divide issues, I couldn’t find any blogs that were consistently written by low-income mothers.   What I did find were a handful of one-time posts from current or former low-income women that ranged from somewhat poignant pleas to be understood and accepted as good mothers (in spite of being on public assistance) to a hilariously defiant send-up of society’s favorite stereotypes of poor mothers.  Here are links:

blessings of welfare

Rants from Mommyland:  Domestic Enemies of Low Income Moms

I am the Face of Entitlement

Ho Moma!  A Blog for Slutty, Single, Low-Income Moms

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What Works . . . Through the Eyes of a Mother

I’ve been taking off some paid-work time to do research on the crucial role of mothers in the lives of their children — mostly to see if child-poverty fighters like me are paying enough attention to this research in the way we design interventions.   For years I’ve been concerned that middle-class liberals approach children and families like buckets to be filled with services.   That troubles me since we should know from how we live our own lives that services are merely the tools we parents use to shape our children’s destinies.  Sure, all parents need help from services providers, especially teachers and doctors, but the parent should always be the senior partner. And from what I’ve observed, most middle class parents do indeed go forth like personal shoppers, making straight-forward demands on boutique (doctor, nanny), retail (private schools, enrichment programs), and wholesale (public school) providers in laying a strong foundation for our children’s futures.  We often bring good information and plenty of money to a robust marketplace.  We demand and generally get an excellent customer experience.  By contrast, the relationship of poor mothers to their professional helpers is frequently complicated and inefficient, even when it is also warm and supportive.  At the lowest end of the spectrum, the exchange between parent and helper is manipulative, tense, and evasive.  Poor moms usually bring inadequate information and little money to a meager marketplace, if they are asked to pay at all.   So – no surprises here — their customer experience is often lousy.

So when the Hilary Rosen v. Ann Romney “she hasn’t worked a day in her life” flap hit earlier this year, I was really struck by how most of the reactions blew right past any discussion of moms and children in poverty.  I was ready for a new, inclusive conversation to bloom, but that didn’t happen.  Anyway, after the initial (and manufactured) “mommy wars” dust-up settled, a few intelligent articles did at least plant the seeds of the conversation I was looking for.    My hope is that this blog will keep the discussion going.  In the meantime, here are those articles I liked:

Mitt Romney’s Incoherent View of Mothers

Hilary Rosen, Ann Romney, and what the “stay at home” mom conversation

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Under Construction

This website-blog is under construction.  For now, I’m just road-testing it with a few friends and colleagues, and, probably for a long while yet, I don’t intend to push traffic to the site.   Anyway, if you’ve ambled in here, you’re welcome to comment on the work in progress.  You might find that some pages are password-protected — that’s because they are not ready yet or I’m showing them to a few advisors.  If you register with the site, I’ll make sure you know when the site is ready for to be followed regularly.

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