Adventures along the journey to parenthood

Archive for May, 2013

“What Will Happen If I Do This Thing I’m Not Supposed To Do?”

I read and was told by multiple “experts” (daycare, nurses, doctor) that during the first 6 – 9 months of a child’s life there’s no such thing as spoiling your child. Hug your child when they want to be hugged, feed them when they want to be fed, attend to their needs as they arise. I’ve also read and been told to not use the word “no” too much because it will lose it’s impact quickly if overused.

We’ve been in new territory the past few months as it’s become obvious that Archer knows when he is doing something he’s been told not to do: Walking into the street, sticking fingers in electrical sockets, playing with the cats’ water bowl, messing around with dad’s record player, putting gravel in his mouth. He will look at me as he’s doing it with a challenging look on his face, testing me — “What will happen if I do this thing I’m not supposed to do?”

I try a calm, but stern and direct tone giving a directive “You can’t go in the street by yourself” or a better option “You can look at the cats’ water, but you can’t touch it.” 9 times out of 10 this doesn’t work. I then say “Archer – no.” and shake my head with a grave look on my face. This elicits a smile because it’s a funny game.

I get that Archer is exploring and enjoying cause and effect. “If I do A, then B will happen.” It doesn’t matter what “B” is: It could be dumping the cats’ water bowl all over the floor or making mommy have a really serious look on her face as she repeats his name sternly. Either way, he is totally tickled that he elicited a response of any kind with his actions. The next logical step would be to ignore the behavior I don’t want encouraged so it won’t get him the response he’s looking for. Yet some actions can’t afford to be ignored: I can’t ignore him lunging into the street or messing with electricity.

I’ve considered slapping away his hand or some other mild physical punishment. However, he wouldn’t understand it as punishment, but as a way one should communicate with others. He would learn to communicate displeasure or frustration by slapping or grabbing someone — not what I want to teach my child.

He’s too young to understand the concept of “time out”.

So… what? I continue to talk him through what he can’t do and the reason for it, though he really doesn’t seem to be listening or understanding what I’m saying. I praise him when he does listen to me “thank you for putting the record player lid back down”, but then he is excited to lift the lid back up (against the rules), so that he can be praised again for putting it back down. Again, it quickly becomes a game. The cause and effect game. If he doesn’t follow my request/command, then I physically remove him from the situation, which often results in fussing and thrashing for a few seconds, but not too bad. But then he goes right back to it! It becomes it’s own game, or the “toe the line” game of seeing just how close he can get to being told to stop.

I haven’t yelled at him before, but I can see how tempting it will be as he gets bigger and continues to willfully ignore me.  The article below (and most of the 500+comments in response to it at the blogger’s site) suggests that once we have more children, it will only get worse – “it” being not yelling or having a parent meltdown. I take deep breaths as I try to steady myself for the arrival of Archer’s sibling and the new level of chaos we’ll be operating on when she arrives.

THE IMPORTANT THING ABOUT NOT YELLING

By: Rachel Macy Stafford at her blog Hands Free Mama

I cherish the notes I receive from my children—whether they are scribbled with a Sharpie on a yellow sticky note or written in perfect penmanship on lined paper. But the Mother’s Day poem I recently received from my 9-year-old daughter was especially meaningful. In fact, the first line of the poem caused my breath to catch as warm tears slid down my face.

“The important thing about my mom is … she’s always there for me, even when I get in trouble.”

You see, it hasn’t always been this way.

In the midst of my highly distracted life, I started a new practice that was quite different from the way I behaved up until that point. I became a yeller. It wasn’t often, but it was extreme—like an overloaded balloon that suddenly pops and makes everyone in earshot startle with fear.

So what was it about my then 3-year-old and 6-year-old children that caused me to lose it? Was it how she insisted on running off to get three more beaded necklaces and her favorite pink sunglasses when we were already late? Was it that she tried to pour her own cereal and dumped the entire box on the kitchen counter? Was it that she dropped and shattered my special glass angel on the hardwood floor after being told not to touch it? Was it that she fought sleep like a prizefighter when I needed peace and quiet the most? Was it that the two of them fought over ridiculous things like who would be first out of the car or who got the biggest dip of ice cream?

Yes, it was those things—normal mishaps and typical kid issues and attitudes that irritated me to the point of losing control.

That is not an easy sentence to write. Nor is this an easy time in my life to relive because truth be told, I hated myself in those moments. What had become of me that I needed to scream at two precious little people who I loved more than life?

Let me tell you what had become of me.

My distractions

Excessive phone use, commitment overload, multiple page to-do lists, and the pursuit of perfection consumed me. And yelling at the people I loved was a direct result of the loss of control I was feeling in my life.

Inevitably, I had to fall apart somewhere. So I fell apart behind closed doors in the company of the people who meant the most to me.

Until one fateful day.

My oldest daughter had gotten on a stool and was reaching for something in the pantry when she accidently dumped an entire bag of rice on the floor. As a million tiny grains pelleted the floor like rain, my child’s eyes welled up with tears. And that’s when I saw it—the fear in her eyes as she braced herself for her mother’s tirade.

She’s scared of me, I thought with the most painful realization imaginable. My six-year-old child is scared of my reaction to her innocent mistake.

With deep sorrow, I realized that was not the mother I wanted my children to grow up with, nor was it how I wanted to live the rest of my life.

Within a few weeks of that episode, I had my Breakdown-Breakthrough—my moment of painful awareness that propelled me on a Hands Free journey to let go of distraction and grasp what really mattered. That was two and a half years ago—two and half years of scaling back slowly on the excess and electronic distraction in my life … two and half years of releasing myself from the unachievable standard of perfection and societal pressure to “do it all.” As I let go of my internal and external distractions, the anger and stress pent up inside me slowly dissipated. With a lighten load, I was able to react to my children’s mistakes and wrongdoings in a more calm, compassionate, and reasonable manner.

I said things like, “It’s just chocolate syrup. You can wipe it up, and the counter will be as good as new.”

(Instead of expelling an exasperated sigh and an eye roll for good measure.)

I offered to hold the broom while she swept up a sea of Cheerios that covered the floor.

(Instead of standing over her with a look of disapproval and utter annoyance.)

I helped her think through where she might have set down her glasses.

(Instead of shaming her for being so irresponsible.)

And in the moments when sheer exhaustion and incessant whining were about to get the best of me, I walked into the bathroom, shut the door, and gave myself a moment to exhale and remind myself they are children, and children make mistakes. Just like me.

And over time, the fear that once flared in my children’s eyes when they were in trouble disappeared. And thank goodness, I became a haven in their times of trouble—instead of the enemy from which to run and hide.

I am not sure I would have thought to write about this profound transformation had it not been for the incident that happened last Monday afternoon. In that moment, I got a taste of life overwhelmed and the urge to yell was on the tip of my tongue. I was nearing the final chapters of the book I am currently writing and my computer froze up. Suddenly the edits of three entire chapters disappeared in front of my eyes. I spent several minutes frantically trying to revert to the most recent version of the manuscript. When that failed to work, I consulted the time machine backup, only to find that it, too, had experienced an error. When I realized I would never recover the work I did on those three chapters, I wanted to cry—but even more so, I wanted to rage.

But I couldn’t because it was time to pick up the children from school and take them to swim team practice. With great restraint, I calmly shut my laptop and reminded myself there could be much, much worse problems than re-writing these chapters. Then I told myself there was absolutely nothing I could do about this problem right now.

When my children got in the car, they immediately knew something was wrong. “What’s wrong, Mama?” they asked in unison after taking one glimpse of my ashen face.

I felt like yelling, “I lost three days worth of work on my book!”

I felt like hitting the steering wheel with my fist because sitting in the car was the last place I wanted to be in that moment. I wanted to go home and fix my book—not shuttle kids to swim team, wring out wet bathing suits, comb through tangled hair, make dinner, wash dishes, and do the nightly tuck in.

But instead I calmly said, “I’m having a little trouble talking right now. I lost part of my book. And I don’t want to talk because I feel very frustrated.”

“We’re sorry,” the oldest one said for the both of them. And then, as if they knew I needed space, they were quiet all the way to the pool. The children and I went about our day and although I was more quiet than usual, I didn’t yell and I tried my best to refrain from thinking about the book issue.

Finally, the day was almost done. I had tucked my youngest child in bed and was laying beside my oldest daughter for nightly Talk Time.

“Do you think you will get your chapters back?” my daughter asked quietly.

And that’s when I started to cry – not so much about the three chapters, I knew they could be rewritten – my heartbreak was more of a release due to the exhaustion and frustration involved in writing and editing a book. I had been so close to the end. To have it suddenly ripped away was incredibly disappointing.

To my surprise, my child reached out and stroked my hair softly. She said reassuring words like, “Computers can be so frustrating,” and “I could take a look at the time machine to see if I can fix the backup.” And then finally, “Mama, you can do this. You’re the best writer I know,” and “I’ll help you however I can.”

In my time of “trouble,” there she was, a patient and compassionate encourager who wouldn’t think of kicking me when I was already down.

My child would not have learned this empathetic response if I had remained a yeller. Because yelling shuts down the communication; it severs the bond; it causes people to separate—instead of come closer.

“The important thing is … my mom is always there for me, even when I get in trouble,”

My child wrote that about me, the woman who went through a difficult period that she’s not proud of, but she learned from. And in my daughter’s words, I see hope for others.

The important thing is … it’s not too late to stop yelling.

The important thing is … children forgive–especially if they see the person they love trying to change.

The important thing is … life is too short to get upset over spilled cereal and misplaced shoes.

The important thing is … no matter what happened yesterday, today is a new day.

Today we can choose a peaceful response.

And in doing so, we can teach our children that peace builds bridges—bridges that can carry us over in times of trouble.

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Developing One’s Own Parenting Philosophy

My view on parenting philosophies is similar to my view on religions: You can find some wisdom and truth in just about any of them, and you can probably find some silliness and examples of unhealthy extremism in just about any of them as well. I don’t think it’s healthy to form a blind allegiance to any one philosophy or faith: Life is too complicated to be captured so simply. They’re all the best fit for some child out there somewhere, and since every kid is different, every kid will need a different combination of approaches. Soon after Archer’s birth I read Pamela Zuckerman’s Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. I had been overwhelmed in guilt from trying to adhere to parenting pressures when it came to nursing, attachment parenting, loving every moment with my kid, never letting your kid hear the word “no”, sleep theories, etc. I found her book to be a refreshing shift in perspective, and though I don’t agree with every point she makes, it helped me loosen up and establish some relaxed parenting goals, such as:

1. Making a priority to have adult time: Archer has his own room far away from ours. Putting all baby toys and junk away when he goes to bed and not reading parenting books. Dining with Ted and relaxing in the backyard. Having nights away from baby, both solo and as a couple. Taking days off of work to do just do my own thing, or take a day date with Ted. Shopping, hair cuts, walks, gym. I don’t feel bad dropping my kid at daycare. I don’t feel bad not missing him if we’re apart for a day. I see it as healthy for us to each get our space and in turn, enjoy our quality time together.

2. Having high expectations of Archer’s palate: No “baby food”, Archer eats what we eat – bean soup, kale smoothies, spicy ethnic dishes, fish, donuts, all manner of veggies and fruits and meats and beans. Not to be discouraged if he doesn’t like a certain food a certain day – keep offering a wide variety and encouraging him to try at least one bite of each thing, but not forcing beyond that.

3. Giving Archer the space and respect to figure things out on his own, even when it means some frustration in the process: How toys go together or comes apart, fighting and crying over toys with another toddler, tackling stairs and how to climb onto furniture, getting trapped under a piece of furniture and coaching him on how to find his way out, settling himself to sleep, finding a way to entertain himself while I get ready for work. I hear some protests and whines, but usually he’s able to move on from it. And of course if he really gets upset, I come to his rescue with comfort and hugs.

4. Allowing Archer to take risks and explore, even though it means sometimes getting hurt. Thankfully there haven’t been serious injuries but there have been a few cat scratches, tumbles down a few stairs or off of furniture, bumps on the head at the playground. We try not to have a big reaction when he falls, because 99% of the time he’s fine: We tell him he’s OK so he knows not to be afraid of falling down. Sometimes you’re going to hurt a little – it’s part of the deal.

5. Giving a lot of freedom within firm limits: We keep a pretty strict bed time (7pm). Never allowed: Touching the record player, the cats’ water bowl, the garbage/recycling bins or  the electrical sockets. No going in the street without an adult. No to putting potentially harmful and swallow-able non-food items (rocks, mulch, trash, and bugs) in his mouth. I allow a little bit of foilage and dirt. 🙂

6. Expecting and teaching social skills and manners: Say thank you when someone pays you a compliment, greet and say goodbye to everyone you interact with. Not throwing fits or food at the dinner table. Down the road: Using “yes ma’am” and “yes sir” for anyone outside his closest circle of adults. Paying attention even when you aren’t interested in what someone is saying. Not interrupting while someone is talking. Learning to make friendly conversation with anyone.

Below is a blog post from an author who found wisdom in several parenting values from different cultures, some of which seem to even contradict each other (it’s important to let a child feel and deal with frustration VS attend to your child’s every need every time). I can see the value and limitations in each of them.

Have American Parents Got It All Backwards?

By Christine Gross-Loh

The eager new mom offering her insouciant toddler an array of carefully-arranged healthy snacks from an ice cube tray?

That was me.

The always-on-top-of-her-child’s-play parent intervening during play dates at the first sign of discord?

That was me too.

We hold some basic truths as self-evident when it comes to good parenting. Our job is to keep our children safe, enable them to fulfill their potential and make sure they’re healthy and happy and thriving.

The parent I used to be and the parent I am now both have the same goal: to raise self-reliant, self-assured, successful children. But 12 years of parenting, over five years of living on and off in Japan, two years of research, investigative trips to Europe and Asia and dozens of interviews with psychologists, child development experts, sociologists, educators, administrators and parents in Japan, Korea, China, Finland, Germany, Sweden, France, Spain, Brazil and elsewhere have taught me that though parents around the world have the same goals, American parents like me (despite our very best intentions) have gotten it all backwards.

Why?

We need to let 3-year-olds climb trees and 5-year-olds use knives.

Imagine my surprise when I came across a kindergartener in the German forest whittling away on a stick with a penknife. His teacher, Wolfgang, lightheartedly dismissed my concern: “No one’s ever lost a finger!”

Similarly, Brittany, an American mom, was stunned when she moved her young family to Sweden and saw 3- and 4-year-olds with no adult supervision bicycling down the street, climbing the roofs of playhouses and scaling tall trees with no adult supervision. The first time she saw a 3-year-old high up in a tree at preschool, she started searching for the teacher to let her know. Then she saw another parent stop and chat with one of the little tree occupants, completely unfazed. It was clear that no one but Brittany was concerned.

“I think of myself as an open-minded parent,” she confided to me, “and yet here I was, wanting to tell a child to come down from a tree.”

Why it’s better: Ellen Hansen Sandseter, a Norwegian researcher at Queen Maud University in Norway, has found in her research that the relaxed approach to risk-taking and safety actually keeps our children safer by honing their judgment about what they’re capable of. Children are drawn to the things we parents fear: high places, water, wandering far away, dangerous sharp tools. Our instinct is to keep them safe by childproofing their lives. But “the most important safety protection you can give a child,” Sandseter explained when we talked, “is to let them take… risks.”

Consider the facts to back up her assertion: Sweden, where children are given this kind of ample freedom to explore (while at the same time benefitting from comprehensive laws that protect their rights and safety), has the lowest rates of child injury in the world.

Children can go hungry from time-to-time.

In Korea, eating is taught to children as a life skill and as in most cultures, children are taught it is important to wait out their hunger until it is time for the whole family to sit down together and eat. Koreans do not believe it’s healthy to graze or eat alone, and they don’t tend to excuse bad behavior (like I do) by blaming it on low blood sugar. Instead, children are taught that food is best enjoyed as a shared experience. All children eat the same things that adults do, just like they do in most countries in the world with robust food cultures. (Ever wonder why ethnic restaurants don’t have kids’ menus?). The result? Korean children are incredible eaters. They sit down to tables filled with vegetables of all sorts, broiled fish, meats, spicy pickled cabbage and healthy grains and soups at every meal.

Why it’s better: In stark contrast to our growing child overweight/obesity levels, South Koreans enjoy the lowest obesity rates in the developed world. A closely similar-by-body index country in the world is Japan, where parents have a similar approach to food.

Instead of keeping children satisfied, we need to fuel their feelings of frustration.

The French, as well as many others, believe that routinely giving your child a chance to feel frustration gives him a chance to practice the art of waiting and developing self-control. Gilles, a French father of two young boys, told me that frustrating kids is good for them because it teaches them the value of delaying gratification and not always expecting (or worse, demanding) that their needs be met right now.

Why it’s better: Studies show that children who exhibit self-control and the ability to delay gratification enjoy greater future success. Anecdotally, we know that children who don’t think they’re the center of the universe are a pleasure to be around. Alice Sedar, Ph.D., a former journalist for Le Figaro and a professor of French Culture at Northeastern University, agrees. “Living in a group is a skill,” she declares, and it’s one that the French assiduously cultivate in their kids.

Children should spend less time in school.

Children in Finland go outside to play frequently all day long. “How can you teach when the children are going outside every 45 minutes?” a recent American Fulbright grant recipient in Finland, who was astonished by how little time the Finns were spending in school, inquired curiously of a teacher at one of the schools she visited. The teacher in turn was astonished by the question. “I could not teach unless the children went outside every 45 minutes!”

The Finnish model of education includes a late start to academics (children do not begin any formal academics until they are 7 years old), frequent breaks for outdoor time, shorter school hours and more variety of classes than in the US. Equity, not high achievement, is the guiding principle of the Finnish education system.

While we in America preach the mantra of early intervention, shave time off recess to teach more formal academics and cut funding to non-academic subjects like art and music, Finnish educators emphasize that learning art, music, home economics and life skills is essential.

Why it’s better: American school children score in the middle of the heap on international measures of achievement, especially in science and mathematics. Finnish children, with their truncated time in school, frequently rank among the best in the world.

Thou shalt spoil thy baby.

Tomo, a 10-year-old boy in our neighborhood in Japan, was incredibly independent. He had walked to school on his own since he was 6 years old, just like all Japanese 6-year-olds do. He always took meticulous care of his belongings when he came to visit us, arranging his shoes just so when he took them off, and he taught my son how to ride the city bus. Tomo was so helpful and responsible that when he’d come over for dinner, he offered to run out to fetch ingredients I needed, helped make the salad and stir-fried noodles. Yet every night this competent, self-reliant child went home, took his bath and fell asleep next to his aunt, who was helping raise him.

In Japan, where co-sleeping with babies and kids is common, people are incredulous that there are countries where parents routinely put their newborns to sleep in a separate room. The Japanese respond to their babies immediately and hold them constantly.

While we think of this as spoiling, the Japanese think that when babies get their needs met and are loved unconditionally as infants, they more easily become independent and self-assured as they grow.

Why it’s better: Meret Keller, a professor at UC Irvine, agrees that there is an intriguing connection between co sleeping and independent behavior. “Many people throw the word “independence” around without thinking conceptually about what it actually means,” she explained.

We’re anxious for our babies to become independent and hurry them along, starting with independent sleep, but Keller’s research has found that co-sleeping children later became more independent and self-reliant than solitary sleepers, dressing themselves or working out problems with their playmates on their own.

Children need to feel obligated.

In America, as our kids become adolescents, we believe it’s time to start letting them go and giving them their freedom. We want to help them be out in the world more and we don’t want to burden them with family responsibilities. In China, parents do the opposite: the older children get, the more parents remind them of their obligations.

Eva Pomerantz of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign has found through multiple studies that in China, the cultural ideal of not letting adolescents go but of reminding them of their responsibility to the family and the expectation that their hard work in school is one way to pay back a little for all they have received, helps their motivation and their achievement.

Even more surprising: She’s found that the same holds for Western students here in the US: adolescents who feel responsible to their families tend to do better in school.

The lesson for us: if you want to help your adolescent do well in school make them feel obligated.

I parent differently than I used to. I’m still an American mom — we struggle with all-day snacking, and the kids could use more practice being patient. But 3-year-old Anna stands on a stool next to me in the kitchen using a knife to cut apples. I am not even in earshot when 6-year-old Mia scales as high in the beech in our yard as she feels comfortable. And I trust now that my boys (Daniel, 10, and Benjamin, 12) learn as much out of school as they do in the classroom.


The highs and the lows and the zen

Ellyn and Erin both shared a blog post from a pastor who has 3 sons under age 5. His article has now been re-printed in multiple publications. It’s refreshing to see this new era of parenting where folks can be very honest about the hardships and annoyances in addition to the joys of parenting. For people who are considering having kids, I think it can become a little scary – like “Gosh, is it really that bad? It seems like all anyone talks about anymore is how awful it is.” But I think this new trend of exposing the ugly side of child rearing is in response to years of moms feeling like they can only say how wonderful it is (and it IS wonderful). There is a pressure to put on a big happy grin 100% of the time, and to be perfectly composed and in control at every moment – at least that’s the image parents saw as their guide for decades. Regardless of if you were up all night with a sick child or haven’t had an afternoon to yourself in six months. You didn’t see images in a magazine or parenting book of a mom sighing in relief and mixing a cocktail the second her kid went down for a nap (though I bet this has changed).

We all want to do right by our kids. That’s a fear and anxiety most parents can relate to. For some that fear and pressure dominates their lives and happiness more than others.

In my own short experience as a parent, I’ve learned that the highs are especially sweet and joyous and the lows are especially maddening and overwhelming. They each pass. The beautiful shining moments I try to fully embrace because I know it is a fleeting little special blip in time: Archer shrilling with joy as I play with his feet. Archer proudly sitting in his little kid chair after figuring out how to climb in it by himself. Archer marching through the house on a mission to transport blocks from the couch to the chair. Archer bringing a book over to me and curling up in my lap to be read to. Archer playing peek-a-boo. Archer smiling and toddling over to me as fast as he can when we’ve been a part for 10 hours (or 20 minutes), hugging my legs or reaching his arms up wanting to be held by his momma. How sweet is that? I know these moments are precious and will disappear. 10-year-old Archer will have a whole new bag of tricks, but not these.

When I’m gritting my teeth, it’s harder to appreciate the moment for what it is, but I try my best and continue to take deep breaths and reassure myself that this too will pass. And it does. And I almost always laugh at it later: Archer pooping in the bathtub right as the bath ends, then we have to clean out the tub and start all over. FINALLY ready to leave the house for work with Archer in hand, my purse, my work computer, his diaper bag, my lunch, his bottles, my coat, the car keys, we’re locking up the door, and then I get a huge splurge of spit up all over my work outfit, after struggling to find something spit-free to look presentable in from the start. Archer crying, whining, fussing for hours, and it’s only 9am and I’m already exhausted. In these moments I have a flash of “How can I do this?” but then I sigh and I do it and usually, it’s not that bad. At least not looking back on it.

There’s no way to know when either will happen and what each day will bring. Someone at work mentioned how it makes all other annoyances in the world seem trivial. If I’ve had a high stress day at work, it is forgotten within 10 minutes of being at home – because I have no choice but to be in the moment with my son, and as we’ve all been told, living in the present moment (as opposed to focusing our thoughts on the past or future) is the best way to live. This is why Archer is a zen master.

Here’s my favorite lines from Steve:

“You’re not a terrible parent. You’re an actual parent with limits. You cannot do it all. We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning. One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are over-saturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.

So, maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next president who knows how to read when she’s 3 and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.”

Read his full article below, it’s great:

To Parents of Small Children: Let Me Be the One Who Says It Out Loud

By Steve Wiens

I am in a season of my life right now where I feel bone-tired almost all of the time. Ragged, how-am-I-going-to-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-day, eyes burning exhausted.

I have three boys ages 5 and under. I’m not complaining about that. Well, maybe I am a little bit. But I know that there are people who would give anything for a house full of laughter and chaos. I was that person for years and years; the pain of infertility is stabbing and throbbing and constant. I remember allowing hope to rise and then seeing it crash all around me, month after month, for seven years. I am working on another post about infertility that will come at a later date.

But right now, in my actual life, I have three boys ages 5 and under. There are many moments where they are utterly delightful, like last week, when Isaac told my sister-in-law that, “My daddy has hair all over.” Or when Elijah put a green washcloth over his chin and cheeks, and proudly declared, “Daddy! I have a beard just like you!” Or when Ben sneaks downstairs in the morning before the other boys do, smiles at me, and says, “Daddy and Ben time.”

But there are also many moments when I have no idea how I’m going to make it until their bedtime. The constant demands, the needs and the fighting are fingernails across the chalkboard every single day.

One of my children is for sure going to be the next Steve Jobs. I now have immense empathy for his parents. He has a precise vision of what he wants — exactly that way and no other way. Sometimes, it’s the way his plate needs to be centered exactly to his chair, or how his socks go on, or exactly how the picture of the pink dolphin needs to look — with brave eyes, not sad eyes, daddy! He is a laser beam, and he is not satisfied until it’s exactly right.

I have to confess that sometimes, the sound of his screaming drives me to hide in the pantry. And I will neither confirm nor deny that while in there, I compulsively eat chips and/or dark chocolate.

There are people who say this to me:

“You should enjoy every moment now! They grow up so fast!”

I usually smile and give some sort of guffaw, but inside, I secretly want to hold them under water. Just for a minute or so. Just until they panic a little.

If you have friends with small children — especially if your children are now teenagers or if they’re grown — please vow to me right now that you will never say this to them. Not because it’s not true, but because it really, really doesn’t help.

We know it’s true that they grow up too fast. But feeling like I have to enjoy every moment doesn’t feel like a gift, it feels like one more thing that is impossible to do, and right now, that list is way too long. Not every moment is enjoyable as a parent; it wasn’t for you, and it isn’t for me. You just have obviously forgotten. I can forgive you for that. But if you tell me to enjoy every moment one more time, I will need to break up with you.

If you are a parent of small children, you know that there are moments of spectacular delight, and you can’t believe you get to be around these little people. But let me be the one who says the following things out loud:

You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out a way for your children to eat as healthy as your friend’s children do. She’s obviously using a bizarre and probably illegal form of hypnotism.

You are not a terrible parent if you yell at your kids sometimes. You have little dictators living in your house. If someone else talked to you like that, they’d be put in prison.

You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out how to calmly give them appropriate consequences in real time for every single act of terrorism that they so creatively devise.

You are not a terrible parent if you’d rather be at work.

You are not a terrible parent if you just can’t wait for them to go to bed.

You are not a terrible parent if the sound of their voices sometimes makes you want to drink and never stop.

You’re not a terrible parent.

You’re an actual parent with limits. You cannot do it all. We all need to admit that one of the casualties specific to our information saturated culture is that we have sky-scraper standards for parenting, where we feel like we’re failing horribly if we feed our children chicken nuggets and we let them watch TV in the morning.

One of the reasons we are so exhausted is that we are oversaturated with information about the kind of parents we should be.

So, maybe it’s time to stop reading the blogs that tell you how to raise the next president who knows how to read when she’s 3 and who cooks, not only eats, her vegetables. Maybe it’s time to embrace being the kind of parent who says sorry when you yell. Who models what it’s like to take time for yourself. Who asks God to help you to be a better version of the person that you actually are, not for more strength to be an ideal parent.

So, the next time you see your friends with small children with that foggy and desperate look in their eyes, order them a pizza and send it to their house that night. Volunteer to take their kids for a few hours so they can be alone in their own house and have sex when they’re not so tired, for heaven’s sake. Put your hand on their shoulder, look them in the eyes, and tell them that they’re doing a good job. Just don’t freak out if they start weeping uncontrollably. Most of the time, we feel like we’re botching the whole deal and our kids will turn into horrible criminals who hate us and will never want to be around us when they’re older.

You’re bone-tired. I’m not sure when it’s going to get better. Today might be a good day or it might be the day that you lost it in a way that surprised even yourself.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

You’re not alone.


Germs are our friends

The New York Times had an article today I was happy to see: It’s OK to pass your kids a bunch of germs! Every time Archer eats a mysterious who-knows-how-old food particle off the floor, or licks a toy at the library that has been licked by 10,000 other kids, or walks into the room with one of our filthy shoes in his mouth — part of me cringes, but then I shrug and think “well, it’ll just build his immune system”. Ha! I’m right!

My wonderful and caring mother-in-law works for the Kentucky Dental Association and takes great concern with everyone’s oral hygiene. It’s great, Archer has 3 different cool baby toothbrushes! This new research flies in the face of what she’s been preaching about sharing saliva/spoons, but it makes me relax just a little more about the whole germ thing. Though I have to say, I never “sucked my kid’s pacifier clean” – I don’t get the logic to this thinking: I have no illusions that my spit is any cleaner that whatever gunk was on the paci in the first place.

Interesting side note mentioned in the article: “Studies show that the microbial world in which a child is reared plays a role in allergy development, seemingly from birth. Babies delivered vaginally accumulate markedly different bacteria on their skin and in their guts than babies delivered by Caesarean section, and that in turn has been linked in studies to a lower risk of hay fever, asthma and food allergies.” One more reason it’s preferable to avoid a C-section if possible.

Sucking Your Child’s Pacifier Clean May Have Benefits

By ANAHAD O’CONNOR

For years, health officials have told parents not to share utensils with their babies or clean their pacifiers by putting them in their mouths, arguing that the practice spreads harmful germs between parent and child. But new research may turn that thinking on its head.

In a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, scientists report that infants whose parents sucked on their pacifiers to clean them developed fewer allergies than children whose parents typically rinsed or boiled them. They also had lower rates of eczema, fewer signs of asthma and smaller amounts of a type of white blood cell that rises in response to allergies and other disorders.

The findings add to growing evidence that some degree of exposure to germs at an early age benefits children, and that microbial deprivation might backfire, preventing the immune system from developing a tolerance to trivial threats.

The study, carried out in Sweden, could not prove that the pacifiers laden with parents’ saliva were the direct cause of the reduced allergies. The practice may be a marker for parents who are generally more relaxed about shielding their children from dirt and germs, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious diseases expert at Vanderbilt University who was not involved in the research.

“It’s a very interesting study that adds to this idea that a certain kind of interaction with the microbial environment is actually a good thing for infants and children,” he said. “I wonder if the parents that cleaned the pacifiers orally were just more accepting of the old saying that you’ve got to eat a peck of dirt. Maybe they just had a less ‘disinfected’ environment in their homes.”

Studies show that the microbial world in which a child is reared plays a role in allergy development, seemingly from birth. Babies delivered vaginally accumulate markedly different bacteria on their skin and in their guts than babies delivered by Caesarean section, and that in turn has been linked in studies to a lower risk of hay fever, asthma and food allergies. But whether a mother who puts a child’s pacifier in her mouth or feeds the child with her own spoon might be providing similar protection is something that had not been closely studied, said Dr. Bill Hesselmar, the lead author of the study.

In fact, health officials routinely discourage such habits, saying they promote tooth decay by transferring cavity-causing bacteria from a parent’s mouth to the child’s. In February, the New York City health department started a subway ad campaign warning parents of the risk. “Don’t share utensils or bites of food with your baby,” the ads say. “Use water, not your mouth, to clean off a pacifier.”

In the new study, doctors at the University of Gothenburg and elsewhere followed a group of about 180 children from birth. The children were examined regularly by a pediatric allergist, and their parents were instructed to keep diaries recording details about food introduction, weaning and other significant events.

By the age of 18 months, about a quarter of the children had eczema, and 5 percent had asthma. Those whose parents reported at least occasionally cleaning their children’s pacifiers by sucking them were significantly less likely to develop the conditions — particularly eczema — and blood tests showed that they had lower levels of a type of immune cell associated with allergies. Analyses of the children’s saliva also showed patterns that suggested the practice had altered the kinds of microbes in their mouths.

The researchers then looked to see if the method of childbirth provided any additional protection.

It did. The children who were delivered through Caesarean section and whose pacifiers were rinsed or boiled had the highest prevalence of eczema, nearly 55 percent. The group with the lowest prevalence of eczema, about 20 percent, were born traditionally and had parents who cleaned their pacifiers in their mouths.

But are these parents also transmitting harmful infections to their children?

The bacterium that causes dental cavities, Streptococcus mutans, is highly contagious. Studies show that children can be infected at a very young age, and that the strain they pick up is usually one that they get from their mothers. That is why health authorities tell parents to do things that can lower the rate of transmission to their children, like not sharing utensils or putting their mouths on pacifiers.

But Dr. Joel Berg, president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, said those efforts are misguided, since parents are bound to spread germs simply by kissing their children and being around them. “This notion of not feeding your baby with your spoon or your fork is absurd because if the mom is in close proximity to the baby you can’t prevent that transmission,” he said. “There’s no evidence that you can avoid it. It’s impossible unless you wear a mask or you don’t touch the child, which isn’t realistic.”

Dr. Berg, who does salivary research at the University of Washington, said the new findings underscore something he has been telling his patients for years, that “saliva is your friend.” It contains enzymes, proteins, electrolytes and other beneficial substances, some of which can perhaps be passed from parent to child.

“I think, like any new study, this is going to be challenged and questioned,” he said. “But what it points out pretty clearly is that we are yet to fully discover the many and varied benefits of saliva.”


This blog is being reborn!

My old Brooklyn roomie is having a kid! She told me that she found this blog helpful in navigating the parent-to-be waters. Really? Wow. It got me thinking that maybe I have gained a little bit of knowledge and experience along the way.

So I figured that a year and 2 months later is a good time to breathe some new life into this thing. If nothing else, it is a great resource for me as a place I can collect articles, recommendations from friends, and anything else related to child rearing – an endless mystery and art. And for those of you not on Facebook, you’ll get plenty of Archer pictures. He’s a saucy young man now nearing 15 months old. And he has a baby sister on the way! She’s due to arrive around September 13th. He won’t know what hit him.

I’ll continue to be a sloppy blogger, but for those of you thinking about doing the kid thing one day or on your way there, I hope this might be insightful in some way. Hit me up with questions, it’ll give me something to write about. 🙂

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