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IN SUPPORT OF MOTHERING Sandy Jones focuses on needs of babies -- and parents

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sandy Jones is the mother of one, but the nurturer of many.

More than 19 years ago, she gave birth to a daughter and, soon after, to a writing career that has touched families all over the country.

"I have one daughter and seven books," says the Monkton resident. No. 8 is on the way.

Born of her own needs as a young mother in Cockeysville, the books focus on infant care and family issues. There are dozens of magazine articles as well, all lending parents a helping hand.

"My goal through my whole writing career is to help parents be more compassionate and responsive to their babies -- and to support parents in this lonely job," says Ms. Jones, a hint of her Southern heritage lingering in her soft voice.

She began in 1976 with "Good Things for Babies," a catalog of baby gear. She's working on a significant revision of "Crying Baby/Sleepless Nights," first published in 1983 to help parents cope with "the outback of mothering" -- the fussy baby.

Between these, she's produced a book about every two years, despite regular protests that she will never write again. Drawn from her own experiences, from those of many other parents and from current findings on child care, her books span parents' needs from the philosophical "To Love A Baby" to three editions of the extremely practical "Consumer Reports Books Guide to Baby Products."

"She has great sensitivity to what mothers are experiencing as new mothers and to the needs of their babies," says Marian Tompson, co-founder and president of LaLeche League, an organization that educates and encourages women to breast-feed their infants. Ms. Jones has spoken at LaLeche League conferences locally and at the league headquarters in Evanston, Ill.

"She brings to our attention the specialness of this [mother-baby] relationship. I just think she's a sensitive voice," says Ms. Tompson.

Though she considers herself primarily a writer, Ms. Jones, 48, is no stranger to the microphone. She's been on radio and television in many cities and spoken at numerous conferences and workshops on family issues. She has also been a spokeswoman for Fisher-Price toys and Health-tex children's clothing.

In the mid-'80s, Ms. Jones put together an educational program for teen mothers at Baltimore's Woodbourne Center. Her colleague there, Nina Kinsey, called that program "a smashing success" despite its lean budget. "She's able to empathize and help people who require some assistance," says Ms. Kinsey, who worked as a nurse at the center.

Divorced eight years ago and with her only child, Marcie, at college in California, Ms. Jones lives in a tenant house on a Monkton estate, where she enjoys long walks with her Labrador retriever. She mixes her "monastic writing life" with "an active dating life and dear and supportive friends," she says. "I couldn't do one without the other."

When they divorced, Ms. Jones and her ex-husband were given joint custody, an arrangement, she says, they were determined to have. Moving back and forth frequently between her parents' homes, however, proved hard on Marcie, her mother recalls. So her parents set up a "home base" -- for the first few years with Ms. Jones, and later, when Marcie was in high school, with her father in Towson.

"I felt bad about that," says Ms. Jones, conceding, however, that the arrangement worked well for her daughter.

Ms. Jones draws on her experiences as a single mother for her work. She also shops constantly for ideas -- in bookstores, in computer data banks, in what she hears from other parents. And, now she's nursing a new one -- one-day seminars on mothering, where women can gather informally to share their experiences and get some pats on the back.

Moms need mothering, too

Although today on Mother's Day many mothers are being praised -- and brought cards and flowers and breakfasts in bed -- such is usually not their fate, says Ms. Jones. Conversations with women around the country tell her that "often mothers feel devalued."

Mothers need to be mothered, too, she says -- "To feel loved and nurtured and cared for, which will enable me to surround my child with love and compassion. A lot of us are giving off of a dry well, we're putting it out, but we're not getting it in.

"The cost of denying that you need mothering is called burnout. It means feelings of loneliness and anxiety and excessive guilt about your child. It means you're not getting enough pats on the back."

But today's mother can't look to others for this mothering. "In this male-dominated society of ours, the role of mothering . . . is given precious little support. Babies and children and families are way down our list of priorities, and it is tragic. We in this generation . . . are having to learn how to pat ourselves on the back."

Although Ms. Jones is no longer immersed in family life, she has not lost her empathy for families.

"There are virtually no courses in how to be a mother, how to be a good parent. We are all having to fly by the seat of our pants," she says.

"And even those things that we thought were instinctive are not instinctive, and we realize that all too early in a hospital room with this new little bundle before you."

Life in the '90s

The jolt of parenthood is exacerbated, she says, by the nature of life in the '90s, namely separated families and severe economic pressures.

"We don't have the old aunt and grandmother system of teaching you how to handle a baby," she says. And the system that spends so much time preparing a woman for childbirth has only recently started to teach her how to respond to that baby once it's in her arms.

Today's economy, she adds, often sends women back to work "before their hearts are ready" and makes it difficult for mothers -- and fathers -- to stay home with their children.

"The workplace, even though there have been changes toward better child-care policies, is not a friendly place to parents. Women are expected to walk through the door of their jobs and pretend that they have no children," Ms. Jones says.

Tempering these pressures, however, are some new trends in family life that Ms. Jones did not see when she was in the early throes of motherhood: the expanding role of fathers in birth and child care, the growing number of support groups for parents, hospitals that encourage newborns to stay in their mothers' rooms rather than in the nursery, the continuous flow of research on children's needs and development, and new light on how caring, effective parents react to their children.

"We have gone through a dark age of parenting in which people . . . have decided that you had to be careful not to spoil your baby and that you're supposed to come in and discipline it from Day 1, train it not to cry, train it to sleep, train it to stay in a playpen and not demand you."

Instead, she says, parents should be encouraged to listen to their hearts, to stay close to their babies and respond to them.

Over lunch recently, Ms. Jones recalled a role model from long ago. When her ex-husband was in graduate school in Charlottesville, Va., the family lived in a student apartment complex. There, she met a woman from India who cared for her grandchild. "She squatted outside with him, . . . totally present to him for hours on end, focusing on him, interacting with him," she remembered.

"And she would look at us American mothers and cluck under her breath and say, 'You are always in such a hurry.'

"And it was true," Ms. Jones concedes. "We were just spinning . . . instead of being able to slow down and be on baby time. As she knew, through centuries, when you had a baby, you went on baby time and you sat in the sandbox."

Admitting that "baby time" isn't in sync with fast-track America, Ms. Jones does say parents need to watch and listen to their young children and know how to read the signals the youngsters are sending.

When to slow down

They'll tell parents when to slow down, for instance.

"When you get in a real hurry, your baby's going to let you know in no uncertain terms that you're breaking sort of this basic way you're supposed to flow," explains Ms. Jones. "And every mom will tell you that: 'My baby knows when I'm in a hurry and I've gotta get somewhere because that's exactly when he or she is going to start crying and getting in trouble.' "

Likewise with crying. "I don't think babies cry because they like to or want to. They cry because they are in conflict, either mentally or physically," she says. In the coming edition of "Crying Baby/Sleepless Nights," the author devotes many pages to the meaning of different cries and how to quiet them.

She staunchly disagrees with other child-care experts -- Dr. Spock among them -- who say let a baby cry and he will soon learn not to. "Letting him scream is not humane, and it hurts his spirit," she says.

Although Ms. Jones is firm in her beliefs, she is not pushy, says Linda Ziedrich, who is editing "Crying Baby/Sleepless Nights" for the Harvard Common Press in Boston.

"She believes that a baby's cries should be answered. She gives the reader a real feel for what a baby's needs are, . . . for helping babies instead of neglecting them. She really does have empathy," adds Ms. Ziedrich, who has three children under the age of 8.

THE JONES FILE

Current position: Writer and speaker on family issues. Author of seven books, including "To Love A Baby," "Crying Baby/Sleepless Nights" and "The Consumer Report Books Guide Baby Products."

Born: Aug. 16, 1943; Atlanta.

Education: Bachelor's in psychology from Furman University in Greenville, S.C.; master's in psychology from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

Personal: Lives in Monkton. Divorced; one child, Marcie, 19, a freshman at Mills College in Oakland, Calif.

Reading habits: "I like to read, of course, and it's non-fiction, of course. I read books and magazines about what's happening in the corporate sector. I don't watch TV very much and I don't read newspapers because I'm allergic to the ink. Now I'm reading Gloria Steinem's "Revolution from Within: A Book on Self-Esteem."

Lifestyle: "I rather lead a stream-of-consciousness life. I'm not well-regulated. I might spend a week meandering. I often postpone writing until the last utter minute."

Sandy Jones will lead a one-day seminar, "The Mothering Journey," at her home in Monkton June 6. Seminar topics include childbirth and babies, adolescence, husbands and fathers, and the spiritual journey of mothers. Women will have opportunities to share their experiences and to hear informal lectures by Ms. Jones. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with lunch provided. The cost is $55. For more information, phone Jean Sobus at (410) 366-1659.

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