She’s a writer whose work is spread liberally across the web—and whose first anthology, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality (with a forward from Christy Turlington Burns) is hitting the stores at the very beginning of January. We wanted to know more about Avital—and her life as a good mother.
Give us a little background on yourself/what you do/how you came to it.
I’m a freelance writer with a hand in a whole bunch of different projects. I have a few regular places that I write for: Over at The Frisky I write “Mommie Dearest,” a weekly feminist-parenting column. And once a month (or so), I’m over at Ms. Magazine’s site for my series, “The Femisphere.” In addition to those, my work has been featured in Bitch Magazine, CNN, The New York Times, RH Reality Check, Every Mother Counts, Offbeat Mama and more.
I’m also currently working on a long-term project in connection with the Yale School of Public Health. I’m writing content and curriculum for a researched-based prenatal education program. This particular project is exciting because I’m able to combine writing with one of my biggest passions – maternal health!
And on top of all that, I have an anthology on motherhood coming out New Year’s Day! This particular project has been a long time in the making and one I am beyond excited to see come to fruition. A few years ago, I became disheartened at all of the headlines surrounding motherhood. They felt very much like click-bait. Rather than create drama and fuel faux mommy wars I wondered about tackling actual issues of importance to mothers. I felt one way to help combat that was to change what we think of when we hear the word “mother.” There’s already this stereotypical idea of what a “good” mother is, making it so easy for mainstream media to play off of that. What if we broadened the narrative, and diversified the definition? And so, the anthology The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality was born. It’s an amazing collection of voices and stories of motherhood. I have a feeling that pretty much any mom will see herself in at least one, if not many of the essays included.
Where do you live?
Do you work in a home office, and if you do, how do you deal with working from home (while parenting)?
I do work mostly from home, with occasional travel. My husband has a rotating schedule that sometimes allows him days off during the week so we’re able to balance our home/work lives well. As I’m typing this he is off to scoop our seven-year-old up from school and take him and the cat to a vet appointment. I also am able to work from home due to our wonderful community of friends and family. We trade off on picking kids up from school, helping out in a pinch if an unforeseen work meeting pops up, and swapping play dates. It truly does take a village!
What would you say is your “mom uniform?”
I’m pretty low-key when it comes to fashion, which works perfectly with our laid-back, crunchy-granola town. I’m a jeans, t-shirt/sweater and boots kind of gal and I’m lucky that I’m able to make that uniform work both at home and on the job (for the most part). I did get (lovingly) called out for wearing “casual Friday” on a Thursday when I had a meeting in a corporate office as part of the Yale gig!
Do you cook much–if you don’t, what are your ways around not cooking, and if you do, what are your go-to dishes–both for yourself, and for your kid?
I try to cook as often as possible, and it helps that I live in an area where I have abundant access to locally raised/grown food. Go-to dishes include anything that can be repurposed into lunch the next day, so lots of soups/stews, rice and bean type dishes, and pastas… That being said, we still do probably eat out more than the average family, but I still try and choose places that will provide enough for the next day.
What’s your weeknight family dinner routine?
My husband’s work schedule is ever rotating, and while that can allow for him to have two days off in the middle of the week or work only four days some weeks, it also means a lot of twelve-hour days, when he’s not home until 8:30 PM. That means my son and I are on our own for many dinners. I still try to maintain somewhat of a routine. If we’re eating at home, he helps me prep the meal (or if he’s not feeling like cooking he’ll set the table instead). Other times we go out on mother/son “dates.” We have a standing weekly date after his swim class at a local Middle Eastern restaurant where we get the same meal every week (eggplant sandwich for me and an egg and mushroom sandwich for him) but we switch it up by trying new crepe desserts each time.
How do you celebrate your child’s birthdays?
My son’s birthday is mid-January, which usually forces us indoors. Although, one year after a particularly big snowstorm, I armed his friends with spray bottles full of Kool-Aid and they decorated the snow outside to their hearts’ content. We have a party and my son is pretty good about choosing what he’d like to do for them. They’re fairly low-key but fun. We also have family traditions like going to a local hot tub spa and out for ice cream (both free treats for your birthday around here!).
Best kid purchase/most bang for your buck?
When my son was younger we got a ton of great use out of a Learning Tower. We lucked out and got one secondhand from friends, but it was really worth it. He would hang out with me in the kitchen while I cooked and he was able to see everything I was doing from a safe space, and even get involved here and there. Lately, any sort of board game has been a huge hit, and truly fun for the whole family.
Rules about TV/screens?
We try to limit screen during the school week, but I also understand how helpful it can be to unwind. During the school week the rule is homework first then screen, although no more than half an hour. We’re much more lenient on the weekends. We do have a screen-free day once a week and the whole family participates.
What websites inspire you and for which parts of your life? Preferred social media is…. ?
I am a huge Twitter fan and you’ll find me on there daily. It also acts as an inspiration. I’m able to connect with folks from all over the globe and hear what’s on their mind. It’s pretty awesome in that way.
Otherwise, I do have a Pinterest account. I mostly use that to store craft and recipe ideas I’ll most likely never tackle. And I’m totally okay with that.
What’s a typical weekend like?
We tend to sleep in/snuggle in bed for a while. If my husband is working and it’s just me and the kiddo we’ll grab a piece of paper and a pen and make our “wishes” list. We’re lucky if we get through half of it. Otherwise, we try to be as relaxed and plan-free as possible. We’ll usually hit up the farmer’s market in town, possibly catch a movie or have friends over. There’s always a dance party or two in the kitchen…
What’s the thing that always stays on your to-do list and never gets crossed off and nags at you?
Clean out my email inbox!
Do you have a fail-safe beauty product or routine?
Coconut oil. I use it for everything. It takes off make-up like nothing else, and I use it daily as a moisturizer after washing my face. Plus it’s tasty, so win-win.
Best family trip?
We’re a family that travels a lot, so this is a really hard question! I think staying in an apartment on the beach in Puerto Rico was one of my favorites. We rented a car while there and were able to just explore the island. We checked out various towns, hiked in a rain forest and got to experience a bioluminescent boat trip. Plus, we could wake up, roll out of the bed and hit the beach!
Personal/parenting “a-ha” tip?
Get used to change. I found that any time I had a handle on a particular parenting challenge, my method would work for a little bit and then every factor would change, forcing me to reevaluate and re-imagine a solution.
You feel your best when?
I’ve had a full night’s sleep!
Proudest parenting moment?
Watching my son read in Hebrew. While I grew up bilingual, I dropped the ball a bit when it came to my son and teaching him Hebrew. My heart pretty much exploded while I watched him sound out the words as he read—and understood what he was reading!
Best parenting advice you ever got?
Enjoy the little moments. And I try to. Sometimes it’s hard in between the frustrating and trying moments, but even those you look back on and remember (maybe not fondly, but…).
Can you talk about where you live and why you chose to live there?
My husband and I fell in love here in the Happy Valley back in college and knew in the back of our minds that we wanted to move back when it was time to start a family. Six months after getting pregnant we packed up and moved back here. It’s pretty idyllic. I joke at times that we live in our own little progressive bubble, but it’s kind of true.
What was something you learned from the book you edited that changed you—or you as a parent?
Well, I learned that getting a book out into the world is very similar to birthing a baby. I joked with someone that I could really use a book doula! But, in all honesty, there are similar challenges and doubts, and the support of your community is incredibly important. As far as content goes, it was really reassuring and validating to read all of these wonderful essays by fellow moms—both ones that made it into the book and those that didn’t because of lack of space. These stories are powerful and need to be told and shared. The more varied stories of motherhood we hear, the better able we are to disrupt the myth of the so-called “good mother” and widen this particular narrative.
What I also love about this book is that the topic lends itself to even more stories of motherhood. The book itself has prompted more mothers to share their stories and their lived truths with me. I’ve been hearing from so many, that I’ve even put out a call to hear what folks think a good mother is, and the answers are up on the Good Mother Myth site. So I invite you to please check out the book, and then come find me and let’s continue this important conversation!
Find Avital through The Good Mother Myth website or on Twitter, where she hangs @TheMamafesto.
Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser is a freelance writer and blogger whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Brain Child Magazine and Salon the Huffington Post, Babble and Ceramics Monthly. Her essays have appeared in various anthologies including The Maternal is Political and Wait a Minute, I Have to Take Off My Bra. A writer for Preview Massachusetts Magazine, she keeps a personal blog, Standing in the Shadows at the publication’s news site, the Valley Advocate and a tumblr Refractions. She is a sometime contributor to Momfilter. Follow her on twitter–@standshadows or Pinterest.