Category Archives: Politics of Parenting & Parenting Theories

Messages and being a ‘good’ parent

Photo by John-Morgan via Flickr Creative Commons License

So I have been thinking about messages. You know, the short snippets of information that travels across all forms of media. Messages that convey what should be or what ought to be.

You see, I think most messages we are exposed to, as parents, citizens, consumers, ect, are short and black and white. They need to be. Let’s be honest, people get behind short, clear messages. People get excited or riled up or passionate or spurred to action, not by complex messages full of nuance and flexibility, but by very unquestionable statements. These messages can quickly travel from person to person with little explanation. The people that generate the messages may have done lots of research, but the people that spread the information and receive the information need not and may not have the same level of knowledge. The clearer, more engaging, more urgent the message, the faster and further it will spread.

Think about it.

Could you put “breastfeeding is normal and natural and most women can do it, though it can be difficult at first for some and it is important to get support and some women really can’t do it for a variety of reasons or they choose not to breastfeed for a variety of reasons and they can use formula, which although is not ideal, is a reasonable alternative” on a bumper sticker?

No. So instead we get:

Breast is best

Or

Formula is poison

Formula is as good as breastmilk

Co-sleeping is dangerous

Cribs harm attachment

Babies need to learn independence

Crying causes brain damage

Don’t leave your baby alone to cry

If you don’t use CIO they will never sleep

Put your baby down

Pick your baby up

You can’t spoil a baby

Don’t spoil your baby

Don’t give your baby solid food till 6 months

Give your baby cereal at 4 months

Babies only need breastmilk until one year

Toddlers need boundaries

Toddlers need attachment

I could go on.

The world doesn’t operate in black and white. The world is full of circumstance, nuance, flexibility. The world is case by case.

And as parents, these messages seem (although I don’t think it is intentional) to imply that parents are not to be trusted to make decisions. That we need guidelines. That our instincts aren’t enough. Truth is, kids don’t come with manuals. I am sure you have heard the joke about how we need to pass a test to drive a car but not to raise a human being. In today’s society, with our fragmented communities and it being rare for multi-generations to live together, we crave the ‘right answer’. We crave those clear statements to just tell us what to do. Give us the answers. However, when we get those messages and try to apply them we realize that they aren’t quite enough. They don’t cover all the bases, all the circumstances. They aren’t written with your child in mind.

Eventually, many of us, find our own middle ground. I believe that the masses are stupid but individuals are smart. We puzzle through the black and white messages we hear and we work things out case by case, based on our own circumstances. Through that process we often have to wrestle with our believes, guilt, confusion. We have to wrestle with not being the parent that we imagined ourselves to be, the one that seems ideal to us, that fits all the messages we believe it. We instead realize that we are the best parent we can be for our child. And that those messages need wiggle room.

Messages with little to no nuance do well on the internet. Bold statements make good headlines and they spur people to take sides and spread the word. And many of those bold statements are valuable. Unique perspectives that are needed in our overall dialogue. They stir up our thoughts and make us reconsider things from new perspectives.

But in the end most of us take the middle road. Or at the very least, modify and flex the road we are on. Strong convictions are good and it is important to have an idea of the kind of parent you want to be. The type of relationship you want to have with your child, the values you want to instill in them. But in the middle of the night, when push comes to shove you go with your best gut instinct on what is right for your kid at that time. Period.

And we shouldn’t feel guilty for that. We shouldn’t feel like we failed, or didn’t live up to expectations, or compromised our beliefs. And quite frankly, I don’t think we should have to deal with being told we have harmed our child, when we know we have done the best we could at the time. But we can’t control what people say, so the best we can do is trust that when we love, care for and do the very best we can for our child we should trust that no harm has been done. Or we accept what a friend of mine told me, ‘No matter what, you will find new and inventive ways to screw up your kid. We all need therapy over something our parents did.’ Anyway, back to the point. We shouldn’t measure our success as parents based on what anyone else thinks. We measure our success as parents by the relationship we have with our kids and if it is what we want.

And can I just say. If you are reading blogs and articles on the internet about how to be a good parent and are engaged in the online community of parenting dialogue, even just a little, chances are you are a good parent. Because you obviously care to be the best you can be. (Parents who aren’t online are also great parents, they just have the good sense not to get drawn into the drama online. Ha!)

There is nothing wrong with having a philosophy to guide you. The great thing about philosophies is that they are complex, changing, dynamic and there is often debate within them. They are not just an accumulation of a bunch of black and white messages. Personally, I like to borrow from multiple philosophies. And then I like to assess, question myself and evaluate. I think a lot of the mistakes in parenting come from doing things with the best of intentions but not thinking through or reflecting on the consequences. Not from lack of knowledge or guidelines or not following the messages.

What has the impact of messages been on you as parent? Helpful? Not helpful?

Hear me out

Photo by A National Acrobat via Flickr Creative Commons License

I read an other post last week about CIO from a baby’s point of view. An other account of how any baby left alone to cry will feel sad and lonely and start to distrust their parents.

I have to be honest with you, it drove me crazy, despite the good intentions of the author. I know I am defensive about this. It is just not pleasant to have someone, who doesn’t know you, imply that you harmed or caused suffering to your child. But beyond the defensiveness, I also question the implication for our society, which is already so fearful of emotion, when we are fearful of our infants crying from the get go. Fearful that doing something very natural- crying- causes harm.

The post I read is essentially an argument against CIO. I get that. It is not about crying writ large. Here’s the thing. Eventually most of us learn to fall asleep. I have yet to hear of a first year university student who needs to be rocked to sleep. So it’s not like I think CIO is the only way to help a baby fall asleep. Babies don’t sleep through the night and babies often need help to fall asleep. Furthermore, I totally disagree with using ‘sleep training’ with an 8 week old, for example. We should not expect that an 8 week old should fall asleep on their own and sleep a solid 8 hours– realistic expectations people. But somewhere between 6 months and 2 years I do believe 90% of babies/toddlers are ready to learn how to fall asleep on their own. There are lots of methods to support them to learn this and one does not need to use a CIO method if one does not want to. I call bull on anyone who says if you don’t use sleep training your kid will never sleep. But.

Why are we so afraid of crying? What is it about crying that makes us so uncomfortable?

This post is not so much about the merits or downfalls of CIO or no-cry sleep methods or anything of the sort (though I can’t help but question some of the key assumptions of the anti-CIO philosophy). This post is about our attitude to our baby/toddler/kid’s emotions. I know many a new parent (including myself) that felt like a failure at times because they couldn’t stop their baby from crying. But crying is not a measure of if you are or are not a good parent. And crying is not a measure of whether or not your baby is loved or cared for or has its needs fulfilled. All babies cry. Some more then others.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a good cry. And sometimes when I am upset the last thing I want is for someone to shush me or tell me everything is okay. I want to express myself. I want to have my feelings. When crying is the only way to communicate, that crying could mean a lot of different things. I’m tired. I’m over stimulated and need to block everything out. I’ve had a long day. Truth is we just don’t know what our babies are thinking. I strongly believe the range of thoughts and emotions for even a young infant are much broader then we sometimes assume.

One of the most interesting things I have heard about older babies who are adjusting to going to daycare or a dayhome is that they often cry when you come to pick them up. They know they are safe with you, so they are releasing the stress and tension from their day of experiencing new and unfamiliar things. They feel safe to cry. Is it not possible that the same could be said for their bed? They feel safe to release the tension from their day knowing that Mommy and Daddy are near by?

Our feelings are a part of who we are. And all of us, from the time we are infants, experience a wide range of feelings. Not all of them pleasant. And I can not accept that experiencing of feeling and emotion is harmful. And I do not accept that a parent that gives a infant the opportunity, in a loving and compassionate way, to feel the full range of emotions is causing harm. Furthermore, I do not believe that experiencing the emotions that can lead to crying (which are actually quite diverse- I cry when I am happy, as well as when I am sad) is synonymous with suffering. I often hear the argument that letting your child cry is letting them suffer. I don’t believe crying = suffering.

As parents, what is the impact on our overall parenting if one of the first messages we hear as parents is this ‘crying causes brain damage’ stuff? (Which I think it total bull, by the way. I wrote about it here.) What does that mean for how we parent when our kid is 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 8 years? If crying is the ultimate harm? The #1 thing to be avoided? I think a lot of us bottle up our feelings rather then letting them out and I wonder if all this focus on the perils of crying just makes that worse.

What is wrong with emotion? Why are we so uncomfortable with emotion?

I am sure there are lots of individual parents who are against CIO that are also wonderful at honoring, accepting and hearing their child’s emotions. I am not saying that to be against CIO = brushing emotions aside. Just as I am sure there are parents who use CIO who do not listen, hear and have compassion for their child’s emotions. Just to be clear, drawing that parallel is not my point. My point is to draw the parallel between the focus of our collective parenting dialogue on the prevention of crying seems to be at least somewhat reflective of our un-comfortability with emotion. Particularly the non-pleasant emotions of the human range of emotions.

What if instead we teach our children that crying is normal? It is something that we do as humans to express how we feel. It is something that we use as tool to let go and move on. It is something that helps us not keep things all bottled up inside. And so when a child cry’s we don’t say, ‘your okay’ or try to fix it. How about we welcome them to express themselves and acknowledge how they feel? How about we treat all crying the same… normal, natural, expressive. Instead of this intense fear that is causes harm. That doesn’t mean you need to use CIO or Sleep training… but it does mean taking a different approach to your child’s emotions. Accepting, acknowledging and hearing rather then preventing, distracting and avoiding.

Thoughts?

Update: I made a vague reference to the concept of crying to release tension and in the comments Kelly and I talked more about the idea of some babies releasing tension. Then I saw this timely post by @AskMoxie, who, so far as I can tell, first articulated the tension increaser/tension releaser concept, so I thought I would throw in a link. Check it out.

Free Range versus Highly Engaged Parenthood: The Debate goes on

Via Flickr: Pink Sherbert Photography, D. Sharon Pruitt

This is not a new debate. Not on this blog and not in the world of parenting. But it rages on none the less. And being a topic that is of great interest to me, I am content to bring it up and discuss it over and over again. The last time we talked around this issue was a ControverSunday topic. Check it out here.

This time, I am responding to this article, “Modern Parenting; If we try to engineer perfect children, will they grow up to be unbearable?” by Katie Roiphe. Go read it, I will wait.

Her point is this, there is a tendency in modern parenting whereby parents are highly involved in their children’s lives. (Not all parents, but many). This high involvement seems to include parents going to great effort to ‘control and perfect’ the child and the environment the child grows up in. It is in part a response to perceived and/or real risk, both of which exist. And it is in part a response to try and give our kids a ‘head start’ at success. There many many examples of things that parents now do that were not common place 30-50 years ago. Playing classical music to your baby with earphones before they are even born. DVD’s, toys and flashcards promising to make your baby capable of things not taught until preschool. Enrollment in a wide wide range of activities and programs to try and ’round out’ your child with art, music, sports, ect. Advanced education programs promising to get your high school kid a head start at university.

And then there are the more subtle changes. Closer supervision. “Showing” babies how to play. Doing homework ‘with’ your child. Parents calling up University professors to argue their kids mark. Did you know that some employers are now sending an information package to the parents of the new graduates they are sending offers of employment to, as they are recognizing that winning over the parent is key in the new grad decision.

Not all parents do this. And not all kids that experience this are anything but wonderful, engaged, warm children. But. But.

Think about the homework thing for a minute. In the article, Katie says:

“I can recall my own mother vaguely calling upstairs “Have you done your homework?” but I cannot recall her rolling up her sleeves to work side by side with me cutting out pictures of rice paddies for a project about Vietnam, or monitoring how many pages of Wuthering Heights I had read.”

Here the thing. If you are eight and your parent asks if you have done your homework and you say you have, but they don’t do it with you. You haven’t done your homework. You go to school and you fail a test. You have just learned there is a consequence to your action. Then the next time you study and do your homework, and you get a B. You have just learned that you can do it. You motivated yourself and you accomplished something. You feel proud of yourself.

But if every time you do your homework your parent sits down with you a monitors to see if you have it done. Answers any questions you have. Helps you through it. What happens when you go off to university and you don’t have someone to do that? No one to give you a gold sticker for finishing your homework.

Obviously, not every kid who’s parents do their homework with them is going to lack internal motivation. It is metaphor for the larger point. Our job as parents is to support our kids to live their own lives. Learn what they are passionate about. Learn their strengths and weaknesses. Learn how to make decisions, make mistakes, make changes, and motivate themselves. Learn how to like themselves.

“One sometimes sees these exhausted, devoted, slightly drab parents, piling out of the car, and thinks, is all of this high-level watching and steering and analysing really making anyone happier?… Is there something reassuring in parental selfishness, in the idea that your parents have busy, mysterious lives of their own, in which they sometimes do things that are not entirely dedicated to your entertainment or improvement?”

Children have their own lives. From the time they are babies their lives are their own. And as parents, we need to have our own lives too. Living your life through your child’s accomplishments is so not a life I want to live.

“Built into this model of the perfectible child is, of course, an inevitable failure. You can’t control everything, the universe offers up rogue moments that will make your child unhappy or sick or ­broken-hearted, there will be faithless friends and failed auditions and bad teachers. The one true ­terrifying fact of bringing an innocent baby into the fallen world is that no matter how much rubber flooring you ship to the villa in the south of France, you can’t protect her from being hurt.”

All you can do is set your child up to handle that disappointment, hurt, challenge. And setting them up means letting them practice, when they are young and you can be there to give them a hug and make them cookies.

I don’t believe Katie is suggesting we should stop parenting based on what we think is best. I don’t believe she is suggesting that we shouldn’t be involved and shouldn’t do things that mitigate real risk. What I believe she is suggesting is that we remember that the perfect world and the perfect child are unobtainable and that we need to remember that children have their own lives. And live is about ups and downs. From a very early age, children can direct aspects of their own lives. Make choices. Make mistakes. Learn consequences.  She says: “It might be time to dabble in the laissez faire; to let the imagination run to art instead of art projects; to let the imperfect universe and its imperfect ­children be themselves.” Dabble. Just dabble. Sure, I can dabble.

If you haven’t read it, I would highly highly recommend reading a book call “Under Pressure”, by Carl Honore. It is a fantastic book about the high pressure that many of our parenting and educations practices put our children under. If you want to really understand this whole debate, it is a great place to start.

Pick ’em up or Put ’em down?

So a while ago (quite a while ago, this post idea has been in the drafts folder for a while) I read a blog post on Phd in Parenting about babywearing, called “Babywearing gave me mothering wings”. As I was reading it I was nodding.

Nodding about how using a sling or wrap or other baby carrying device can really help. Particularly in that newborn phase where it is so important for them to be close to you. Freeing up your arms does make a big difference.

I really nodded when Annie said: “But I am also concerned with government advisories and regulatory practices that go so far that they discourage and marginalize safe and healthy parenting practices and bankrupt companies that make products that support those practices.” Yeah, totally.

I totally respect and admire Annie, but I just can’t stop thinking about that post and I want to express what got me thinking. There were two things that tweaked my overly sensitive- not always a fan of everything attachment parenting-senses.  One: Annie spoke about physically touching her newborn 22 out of 24 hours each day. And two: near the end of the article she said this: “Babies should not and cannot simply be put down every time their parents need their arms. Putting babies in car seats, swings, or bouncers for much of the day is unsafe and deprives them of the much needed warmth and bonding with their parents. Leaving them to scream in a crib or bassinet while their parents get things done or have a much needed break is neglectful.” And I went WHOA.

It is not that I totally disagree. I don’t think that baby swings, car seats and bouncers are the ideal locations for your baby, at least for long stretches of time. But I don’t begrudge the parent who discovers one of these things is the mystery cure for endless bouts of screaming. Essentially, if it makes baby happy and saves your sanity, then I am all for it. But, in theory, my preference would not be for baby to be in a car seat, swing or bouncer for most of the day.

I also agree that putting a baby down, who is upset and screaming, in order to get stuff done, is not the ideal response. I get really bothered by the word neglectful, mostly because the word is applied to so many many things in parenting that may not be great, but are not the same as true neglect. Like, the kind of neglect that would get children taken away from their parents. You know? I digress. Anyway, that being said, putting a baby down who has been screaming for hours and giving yourself a 10 minute break to save your sanity? Totally reasonable, in my opinion. Especially if you are at the breaking point.

I think what really bothered me about the ending of this post is the portraying the opposite to the extreme. For example, there are lots of parents who don’t hold their babies 22 hours a day and who do put them down, in part to get stuff done, without leaving their child wailing in a crib while they clean the bathroom. And there are lots of places to put baby down that don’t involve strapping them into a car seat. Get what I am saying?

In the first few weeks of Audrey’s life she spent no where near 22 hours a day physically touching me. Well, I take that back, I did spend A LOT of time breastfeeding, which was fine. So that was probably a good 12 hours of the day. And we probably had her in a wrap or sling a good 4 or 5 hours of the day. So, lets call it 16 hours. The other 8 hours? When she feel asleep we put her down in a bassinet, which we wheeled around to whatever room we were in. We didn’t put her down screaming, but we got that space and time to ‘get stuff done’. As she got older, that 16 hours probably went down to 14 and then 12 and then 10 and so on.

When she was older (probably around 4 months), she spent quite a bit of time on the floor on a big blanket. She loved listening to music and trying to reach for stuff and learning to roll over. By 5 month or so she was crawling. I valued this time, as it was amazing to watch her explore her world. She knew I was close by, so she was happy. And I got to ‘get stuff done’. By 9 months she was cruising, and being held by mama was not her idea of a good time. She still was happy in a sling while out and about, but at home she wanted to explore.

What I am saying is there is a balance. And I know there are babies out there that respond very well to constant contact and get very upset if they are ever put down. Maybe 22 hours a day is reasonable and appropriate for those babies. But I also know there are babies who are perfectly happy to observe the world a meter or two away from their parents. More over, there are babies who scream at the top of their lungs if you don’t put them down sometimes. You gotta do what is best for your kid.

Babywearing is awesome. AWESOME. But so is putting your baby down to let them explore the world. And so is getting some personal space for yourself.

I think it is unfortunate that a lot of supporters of babywearing present it in such a way that the average person, who may want to put their baby down sometimes, can’t quite relate. If someone had tried to sell me a sling when I was pregnant with the line that ‘you can hold your baby 22 hours of the day with this thing’ I would have run for the hills. I know Annie was just sharing her experience and what worked for her kids, but it still seemed to imply that that was the ideal. And the statement afterward, about depriving our babies from bonding with us, reinforced that.

Furthermore, I really believe that giving baby time to explore her/his world is important. As a baby gets older, it makes sense that they spend more and more time not physically touching their parents and that parents allow opportunities for the baby to reach out and interact with the world. I think each parent needs to find a balance between both wonderful, beneficial things for baby: physical closeness to their parents and that ability to branch out and have the space to explore their world.

Parenting with your Instincts

So I have been thinking lately about instincts and parenting. Probably one of the most common pieces of parenting advice that you hear is to not listen to all the (often contradictory) advice you get as a new parent and rather ‘follow your instinct.’ I 100% agree with this piece of advice. I truly believe that if you listen to your gut about what is best for your baby, your family and yourself you will make good choices.

But I have been thinking about this concept of ‘instincts’ lately and how it is presented as the antidote to advice overload. And how it ties in with ‘natural’ parenting. I have seen the linkage made a lot; natural parenting and instincts. And it makes sense, it appeals to our understanding of nature- that nature works on reacting to innate instincts.

In reading a bunch of the posts in the November Carnival of Natural Parenting. (You can check it out here if you are interested) a number of the bloggers I regularly read were talking about instincts in their posts. Jessica, over at This is Worthwhile spoke about being a natural parent as doing what “feels natural.” Kelly, over at Kelly Naturally wrote a post about following your parenting instincts when they choose not to circumcise their son.

These are both great posts (as I am sure many of the others in the carnival are). But in reading them they twigged some questions for me.

First off, if we all followed our parenting instincts would we all make the same choices? Because this is kinda how it is presented…. the persuasive argument for quite a few natural parenting methods are that a) your instincts would lead you to make this choice and b) it is natural and you just can’t argue with Mother Nature, she knows best. I tend to agree with argument b). Mother Nature is where its at. But the argument that billions and billions of parents would have the same instinct? I don’t know. People are pretty different. If you ran into a bear in a forest what would your instincts tell you to do? Do you think everyone else would have the exact same instinct?

The other question I have is how can you separate your ‘biological instincts’ or ‘nature instincts’ from our ‘learned instincts’ or ‘nurture instincts’? And are one set of instincts better then the other? If everything you have ever known was to do “x”, but maybe most other people would feel “x” goes against their instincts… you see where I am going with this? Very existential. But I wonder, you know?

The other thing I question is if our instincts are always ‘right’? I will give you an example. The other night Audrey woke up at about midnight and started SCREAMING. Which is very unlike her. But she had been sick and it might have been an ear infection or something, I don’t know. Anyway. She cried for well over an hour. I was there with her, trying to help her feel better, letting her know I was there. I talked to her and asked if she had a bad dream or if she had pain somewhere. She was too upset to communicate anything. I gave her advil and offered some water. And held her.

By 45 minutes in, with no idea what was wrong with my baby, my instinct was to cry. It took everything in me not to cry. Why did I try so hard not to cry? Because I was pretty sure part of why she was upset was that she was scared. And I knew logically that if I started to cry she would feel less safe and secure because she would take that to mean something was really wrong. (I do think there is a place for showing and sharing emotions with kids. I believe in being real with them. But 1am in the midst of an all out tantrum is not the time.)

So were my instincts wrong?

Or maybe I had two sets of instincts. My personal, how I relief stress and tension when I am upset, instincts. And my “mommy”, I must keep my baby feeling safe, instincts. Can we have two sets of instincts? Can our instincts tell us two different things?

I have also, on other occasions, when Audrey wakes up in the middle of the night and started to babble and cry a bit fought my instincts to go in that second, and rather give her a couple minutes. Because I know from experience that she often wakes up, babbles and then falls back to sleep in five minutes or less. Should I follow my instincts even though I know from experience that going into to her room in the middle of the night usually just gets her worked up and eventually she needs to fall asleep on her own? I know there are many people who would disagree that I should fight my instincts on this one, but they don’t know my kid.

I don’t write this at all as an argument against ‘natural’ parenting or any other school of parenting thought that advocates following our instincts. As I said from the get go- I think following your gut is good. I just think it is valuable to look at the basis for our beliefs. And the instinct-natural argument go hand in hand and are very seldom really deeply examined. I mean, suggesting that something is natural– well that is very hard to argue with.

But we do argue with it in other ‘hot topic’ debates. For example, humans are animals whom are biologically designed to be omnivores and historically were omnivores in nature. And yet there are many people who believe eating meat is wrong. And many of their reasons are very good (I am particularly persuaded by the environmental and health reasons.) But not eating meat is not ‘natural’. Does that make it wrong?

I know I am being argumentative here. And really truly, I don’t mean to. I am mostly just thinking out loud. But you hear so much of the same argument over and over again in terms of why one way is better then an other, isn’t think it is worth it to consider what that argument really means? Isn’t it reasonable to ask why instincts and nature are good? I am just saying that ‘instincts’ is not a perfectly definable concept. The word means different things to different people and trying to weed out what is an ‘instinct’ versus what is thoughts isn’t always easy. Furthermore, instincts are awesome, but where would we be without the other methods of decision making that make humans what we are: memory, critical thinking, problem solving, imagination. All of these tools in our brain are useful. And parenting is challenging- so chances are most of us need all hands on deck, so to speak.

I don’t know, what do you think?

ControverSunday: To protect or not to protect

Welcome to ControverSunday all!

First off, I have to tell you all that Amber over at Strocel.com wrote a great post earlier this week, that while she didn’t brand official as ControverSunday (though she is welcome to), is on exactly our topic this week. So check it out.

Okay, here is the low down. Everyone is welcome to join. Just write up a post re: protection versus acceptable risk (see the topic post for more details). Grab your handy dandy badge from Accidents. And come back here to put your link in the comments so I can link you up in the post. And you can do that today, tomorrow or whenever this week.

badges

Ramble Ramble

Altered Sky

You know that parent at the playground who is letting their kid climb to what seems to be heights inappropriate for the age of the child? That’s me. (Wave and say hello when you see me).

That’s probably not totally true. Maybe some days more then others. My husband is likely to let Audrey climb even higher. But I still feel like I am more willing to let Audrey try things she may not be ready for on the playground then others.

Maybe I am paranoid, but sometimes I think I see a look in the other parents eyes that either they think I am being neglectful and not caring, or I am being reckless and don’t know what I am doing. Truth be told, as much as I would like to be more confident in my parenting, when I see those looks I tend to give in and hover a bit more closely.

But it is not just because of the looks I get from others. I find myself constantly battling two parental instincts. One is to let Audrey explore, make mistakes and learn, and the other is to keep her safe. You see, I think we have two main jobs as parents: keeping our kids healthy/providing for their needs and teaching them to not need us. And I think those two things often come into conflict; at least for me they do.

I am all for reasonable safety measures. There is no need to be reckless. Car Seats, not leaving kids unattended in the bath tub, holding hands while crossing the road, knowing where my child is; these are all good things. I appreciate how things have changed in the last 50 years (at least based on my unscientific observations about parenting in the 1960’s via Mad Men). We have done a lot of things to keep kids safer. Safer cars, homes, schools, playgrounds. Warning labels, less chocking hazards and guidelines. We ‘baby proof’ our homes.

But I think it has gone too far. (Maybe not with the peanut ban in schools; I hear the critiques of my last post that why should one kid be at serious risk so a few others can have their favorite sandwich.) But I do think we don’t give our kids the opportunity to learn, explore and build confidence because we are so afraid to keep them on anything but a short rope. We don’t just try and protect them from physical harm, we try to protect them from any emotional struggles. We try to protect them from the feeling of someone not liking them, or not be included, or not getting an A. Normal things that happen to us emotionally throughout our lives that we need to experience.

One good example is toddler play areas. My instinct is to step back and let Audrey do her thing. But I see other parents hovering around their kids and apologizing to me when their kid touches mine. Or plays in the same space as her. Or reaches for the same toy. Or whatever. Really? Why?

We spend a lot of our time at outdoor parks where, more often then not, sadly, we are the only ones there. We go to the indoor play areas for Audrey to be able to interact with other kids. And my feeling is that we should step back and let them interact and learn about socializing. That means not stepping in unless someone is at risk for actually getting hurt. (And I don’t mean ‘hurt’ like when a toddler pats an other toddler a little to hard. I mean actual hurt- like enough to leave a mark.)

I don’t care if your kid hits mine. Or if they fight over a toy. Or if they have to, I don’t know, actually work something out themselves. I want her to learn about interacting with others. Certainly I would step in if I saw her being unkind to an other child and explain that it is not nice behaviour. But the line at which we step in needs to move back a bit, in my opinion.

And I know this is just the beginning. The beginning of seeing that stereotypical ‘hellicopter parent’. I don’t want to be that parent. I would rather my kid skin her knee riding a bike on her own then have me right there all the time making sure she doesn’t fall.

Would I take my school aged kid to the park and leave them there for the day, a la Free Range parenting? Hells Yes.

Would I let my middle school aged kid take public transit to school? Hells Yes.

Would I let my teenager walk through the ‘bad part of town’? Hells Yes.

Our kids need to learn how to protect themselves. How are they to do that when we suffocate them with rules and over protection?

I don’t know. It is not a black and white subject for me. It is all shades of gray. I want to keep my kid safe, for sure. But when I see the confidence in her eyes when she does something that I wasn’t sure I should ‘let’ her try to do, Wow. She knows she can accomplish something, even if it is difficult.

I just wish we weren’t so afraid. We hear all these awful things that happen in the news and we panic. We don’t want our kids to eat Halloween candy for fear of poising. Even though every year there is a ‘feature story’ on the news about how poison in Halloween candy is pretty much a myth; the only kids to ever be poisoned that way were poisoned by a family member or family friend. Tragic, none the less. But not the same. We are worries about our kids being kidnapped. Which does tragically happen. But again, usually by someone the kid knows, not a stranger. Is our kid really any safer if we drive them to school every day instead of letting them walk?

You see, you can’t stop every possible bad thing for happening. You can try to take measures to keep kids safe, like car seats and teaching them about strangers. But you can’t keep them in a bubble. Nor should you. A child who is sheltered and protected their whole life.. they struggle as an adult, because they don’t know how to make good choices. They don’t know how to assess risk.

It sucks being a parent with all these topics of internal conflict. It sucks. And I can certainly understand that we have different tolerances for different amounts or types of risk. But I also think we have to keep our eye on the goal; a kid who is confident, makes good decisions, knows they can get back up again when they fall down. One that can assess a situation and figure out for themselves if it is safe. And one that knows that their parents will always be there when they need them, but that doesn’t really need them.

Thoughts on Babywise type parenting

So I did a post on my thoughts on attachment parenting. And it generated a lot of good discussion. So I think discussing what is often viewed/portrayed as ‘the other side’ may be helpful as well.

Full disclosure: I have not read any of Ezzo’s books. So, while I can speak to my general impressions based on talking with other parents about their different experiences and reading a few blog posts here and there, I am not well versed in ‘the theory’. (Although I did do some extra reading just for this post to try and get acquainted with the main for-against arguments). And I think that is okay. I don’t think I was particularly well versed in AP theory when I wrote that post either. (I had read Sears, but while exhausted with a newborn and devastated over the struggle/loss of nursing… which probably did a number on my reading comprehension.) Like my AP post, I am not outright 100% against these types of theories writ large, just like I am not 100% for any particularly theory writ large. I am just talking about what I think based on my impressions.

You may have other ideas, but I don’t want to get into a discussion about Ezzo’s personality flaws, expertise or lack there of, or the whole messy religion aspect that surrounds the discussion of Babywise. When I started to think about writing this post, I came across a whole lot of debate going on out there. And Wow. I so don’t want to go there.

What I do want to talk about is the concept of scheduling. To be quite frank, I don’t care what Ezzo says or doesn’t say. I know dude wrote the book, but once it’s out there and starts being a ‘theory’ it kinda takes on a mind of its own. There are many voices out there shaping what ‘babywise’ parenting is, what it means, and how it is implemented now. In the bit of research I did I saw a lot of quotes from Ezzo’s book. Some of those quotes seemed to support a very rigid, inflexible and controlled application of the theory. Other quotes seemed to point towards flexibility and malleability of the theory. To be honest readers interpret words and remember different emphasis in text based on their personal experiences and mindset at the time. I think we could probably agree that two different people could read the same thing and believe two fairly diverse variations of what the book is suggesting that they do. Hence why I don’t want to debate “Ezzo”; I would rather focus on the issues. This is not a book review.

Also, I should start by saying that I think most people who turn to ‘scheduling’ type theories, it is all about trying to get some routine and stability in the chaos. They want a plan of action, something they can do to try and make things a little less nuts. And, with all theories, some parents are able to implement in a way that works for their kid and some aren’t.

With that long introduction said, here are my concerns and thoughts re: Babywise parenting.

1) Infant feeding and scheduling

One of the strongest criticisms of Babywise is regarding infant feeding. There are serious concerns out there that Babywise recommends feeding infants on a schedule rather then on demand. Some claim that babywise parenting doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feed your infant if they are hungry, just that you should attempt to establish a routine. Others claim that it is strict in it’s approach to ‘parent directed feeding’.

Here is my thinking: for infants, especially during the first 8-12 weeks of establishing a breastfeeding relationship, feeding on demand is really the only way to go. You know the phrase, ‘watch the baby not the clock?’ Yeah, this makes sense.

That being said, can I also say that I think being aware the clock is still called for in some circumstances. For example, my daughter was a sleepy baby. She was dropping weight or not gaining and we were instructed by our lactation consultant that we had to feed her every 1 1/2 to 2 hours at night and more often during the day if necessary. We had the torturous task of setting the alarm all through the night and waking her up to feed her. If we had only fed on demand she wouldn’t have gotten enough because she would rather sleep then eat. My point is just that the clock does come in handy some times and feeding on demand is only part of the picture.

The other piece of this puzzle though is that babies main way to communicate is to cry. And that cry can mean one of a number of different things, one of which is hunger. It makes good sense to try to feed a crying baby. It is something straight forward and proactive you can do that may just be the reason baby is crying. I remember having a list on my fridge of stuff that could be making her cry, so I could go down the list checking to see if ‘that’ was it. Hungry was on the top of the list.

But I do think it is also good sense, particularly with an older baby, to stop and consider why baby is crying before immediately going to feeding. Babies want to be heard and understand and I think there is potential to stifle their ‘voice’ by just feeding (or offering them a soother) them every time they cry. But that is less a critique of scheduling and more a critique of our collective intense fear of babies crying.

Back to the point, I can understand (and echo) the concerns others have about ‘scheduling’ and infant feeding. I don’t think the two go together. Realistically sometimes baby will need to eat more often, sometimes less. That is true of you and me as well. It is completely normal for infants to cluster feed (feeding multiple times really close together, particularly in the evenings). The idea of scheduling feedings for a very young infant doesn’t seem to set the parents up for realistic expectations in my opinion.

One last thing I will say though, is that I completely understand why women may find the idea of scheduling infant feedings appealing. I remember a time when I was feeding Audrey about every 1 1/2 hours during the day. For weeks straight. She had come out of her really sleepy newborn stage and we were having major feeding issues. She was hungry, but not nursing well. I wasn’t producing enough milk. But I also couldn’t continue feeding that often for that long. (Especially because she was taking a good 30-45 minutes to nurse, then I was topping up with formula and then I was pumping… so by the time I got through all that I had to start again). At that point, it was a chicken-egg scenario: IF she was nursing effectively and IF I was producing enough milk, within a week I would have probably gotten up my milk production to meet her demand and she would have started nursing about every 2-3 hours instead of every 1-2 hours (while still sometimes needing to nurse every 1-2 hours occasionally). She was 2ish months old at this point. I started to try and stretch out our feedings and I gave her more top up formula (which we were already doing anyway on lactation consultant orders). I am sure, in retrospect, this didn’t help my milk supply. But to be honest, as I say, (chicken meet egg) continuing to feed every 1-2 hours wasn’t doing my supply any favours either… and if I had continued I am pretty sure I would have 1: gone crazy and 2: still ended up switching 100% to formula by month 4 anyway. Trust me. Anyway, my point is that I get why someone would want to schedule feedings. But if they are in the position I was of feeding that often for weeks on end… what they need is a good lactation consultant and good support, not a feeding schedule.

2) Infant sleep and scheduling

In terms of infant sleep and scheduling… one part of me says HA! and the other part of me says, yeah, I kinda agree. The HA part of me is the part where any parent thinks they can put their baby down at any given time and expect 100% for that child to fall asleep. You can not ‘make’ a baby follow a schedule, trust me, they often have other plans. And you certainly can’t ‘make’ a baby sleep through the night. When babies are first born they don’t have any concept of day and night, and it takes quite a while for them to establish a pattern of sleep. Some older babies may start sleeping through the night, or not. And some babies who usually sleep through the night still occasionally wake up in the middle of the night every so often. Like infant feeding, the idea of ‘scheduling’ seems to me to set someone up for failure and frustration.

Especially because the concept of scheduling doesn’t seem to have any flexibility built in. What if baby wakes up 3 hours earlier one day; by the time you get to ‘scheduled nap #1’ that baby is going to be so over tired that they will have a hard time falling asleep. (Isn’t it a sick irony that an overtired baby is the hardest to get to sleep? It’s like the worst negative cycle ever!) Or they will have fallen asleep on their own way before your ‘scheduled’ time. What if you have a doctors appointment at nap time? What if…. ?? You know?

On the other hand. I do agree with the principal that babies like routine, predictability and consistency. I don’t think scheduled nap and bedtimes work with a 2 month old, but I do think you can do things to encourage a pattern or routine to sleep. Some babies will take to it and some really wont. As long as you accept that it may or may not work for your baby and don’t beat yourself up about it, I don’t see anything wrong with trying.

When I say ‘trying’ here is what I mean. Between about 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 months we worked really hard to establish a routine for naps and bedtime. For naps, we didn’t follow a schedule, but rather this amazing concept of 90minute cycles (from a book called “The 90minute sleep solution”). Audrey would wake up in the morning and we would try put her down for a nap 90 minutes after she woke up. At this point she was 100% rocked or baby carried to sleep. Sometimes she would go down, sometimes she wouldn’t. If she didn’t, we would wait 90 minutes and try again. If she went to sleep, we would try to put her down 90 minutes after she woke up from that nap. Rinse, wash, repeat. No schedule, but routine establishing.

For bedtime we established a ‘we are no fun past 7pm’ rule. We knew we couldn’t make her move her bedtime from 10/11pm to 7pm. But we could provide a very quite, dim, low stimulation, absolutely no fun environment between 7pm and whenever she feel asleep. We took shifts either staying with her in her room, rocking her, feeding her, singing to her or caring her in the sling for a walk or around the house. (Actually, I think the evening sling routine was one we started really really early, like maybe 1 month) Quite. Dark. Calm. Within a month or so she started to go to bed between 7pm-8pm. By 5 months she was the Queen of the early 6pm bedtime. Yes, I know, a lot of babies wouldn’t give in so easily. But I don’t think it hurts to try.

So I guess what I am saying is that I think routines can be a very good thing. I am a big believer in nap times and bedtimes. (By the time Audrey was 6 months or so those 90minute till nap routines turned into 2 naps at roughly similar times with an early bedtime.) (I also recognize that for many families nap times and early bedtimes are nit realistic and/or may not be your preference. Thats cool, I am just saying it is my preference.) But again, I think it is about being realistic, flexible and accepting of the different stages your baby goes through. Teething, growth spurts, travel, day light savings time changes, ect, are all going to throw sleep out of whack.

Overall, that is often my issue with many theories (with the exception of AP theory, which I have to give them credit, do seem to get this more them most): unrealistic expectations and no attention paid to the stages and changes through a babies first year. 1 month olds and 6 months olds and 10 month olds seem like they all came from different planets. A lot of these scheduling type theories don’t seem to get that. They just suggest a schedule as the cure all. Trust me, nothing is a cure all. Lots of times you do something and then things change and you have no idea if what you did ‘worked’ or your baby just grew out of a stage. Other times you think something has been ‘fixed’ for good, only for it to all fall apart (damn you sleep regressions!). So by suggesting that schedule= good baby, I think they set parents up for more frustration, failure and resentment. Not only are you doing everything to take care, love and provide for this baby, you have some unrealistic standard of what a baby is ‘suppose’ to do heaped on top of that. Granted, I am sure that there are many parents who use babywise and effectively adapt it to meet the needs of their baby at different stages, bring flexibility in to the schedule and are realistic about what they expect from their baby. But I do think that scheduling run the risk of making that first year harder, not easier. The last thing anyone needs from any parenting theory is to feel like they are failing at it.

*I know the ‘babywise’ theory is more then just scheduling. I get that. But this post is already way long. So, if you feel that there is another aspect of this theory you would like me to address, have at it in the comments and I will see what I can do about a post addressing it specifically. Okay?

Thoughts on Attachment Parenting

Yes, I know, I have been skirting around this issue for a while and have yet to really write about it. Truth be told, I have been hesitant, for a number of reasons.

First, I find the ‘mommy blogosphere’ to be very dominated by advocates of attachment parenting and writing a post about my reservations about the theory seems a bit like poking a stick at a wasps nest. There are a lot of AP bloggers out there who I have a lot of respect for and have very interesting things to say and great ideas. But there is also a lot of lashing out that happens when you challenge the norm.

Secondly, I have asked myself about the validity of challenging AP because it is not so much the theory itself that is the issue, but rather what I see as an extreme application of it. So I wonder if it is a bit of a straw man argument, in the sense that those who practice AP to the extreme are probably a minority and don’t necessarily reflect the majority. I feel a bit of the same way about the arguments against CIO. It seems to me what people are arguing against when they talk about CIO is the pure application of it in a very young baby. That image of taking a 2 month old, having unrealistic expectations that that baby will sleep through the night, and leaving them to cry and cry until they give up and fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. That approach is on one far end of the spectrum of use of that theory, and is a far cry (pun not intended) from recognizing a particular temperament in a older (5 months plus) baby who seems to need some time to release tension before sleeping, as was my experience.

Also, just as I don’t believe in lumping everyone who has used CIO in as a neglectful parent, I want to make clear that I don’t lump all parents who use AP together as all using the theory in a way, and with a result, that concerns me. Also, I am very supportive of the idea that different parents, different children, different situations. Do as you feel best. Lots of people find great value in AP and I can respect that.

I am not so much anti-AP as I am wary of ‘theory’ parenting in general. There are great AP parents and bad AP parents the same way there are great CIO parents and bad CIO parents. Some practice a theory (any theory) to an extreme, militant and inflexible manner and I suspect this usually has poor results. Some practice a theory like a flexible guide, holding true to certain principles, but flexing to meet their kids. Awesome. Some theories are better then others, and some are just plain bad. I don’t see Attachment parenting as one of the bad ones. More then anything else I am advocating that we put down the books and websites and magazine articles and just parent in a way that is aware of the unique needs of our child. I also am supportive of the need to do whatever gets you through with your sanity intact and your kid happy. It is important to meet the needs of our children, but I also believe that a happy and sane Momma is important. Really important. Whatever works.

So, with those caveats, here are some of my concerns.

1) To my understanding, one of the core beliefs of Attachment parenting is the need for response and comfort whenever a baby is crying, day or night. And, at it’s most basic, my reaction is of course. Of course you should respond to your child. Babies need 24/7/365 care, that’s what we signed up for. BUT. I do think you can do this to an extreme. I think that sometimes babies, as they get older, use crying to express themselves. And I think it is valuable to really listen and evaluate what they need, before swooping in and picking them up. Maybe then just need a safe place to express some frustration. I don’t think all crying is bad and I don’t think it is harmful, so long as the child feels loved and attended to. Crying is not the definition of neglect.

The other piece of the puzzle for me is that there is a difference between wants and needs for all of us. A two month old baby can only communicate needs- so my two month old got 100% response and I did what every I could to provide what she needed. Sometimes nothing would stop her from crying, and I tried to accepted that and just hold her to provide comfort while she expressed her feelings. A 6 month old baby can express mostly needs and some wants. If there is a need, I attend to it. But sometimes her ‘want’ isn’t compatible with what is best for her. I knew she would rather practice her crawling then nap and she would fuss a bit when nap time arrived, but then she went to sleep. She needed sleep; I tried to provide. Yes, of course, sometimes there is nothing we can do to help our kids to sleep even when they need it. My kid likes sleep, like a lot, so I had a much easier time of it. BUT I think the point holds that sometimes what the kid wants and what they need are different. And they put up a fuss when you try and give them what they need over what they want. I can tell you now that my now 16 month old is better at expressing wants then needs. And when she want’s a cookie, she puts up a fight. I don’t worry about if that 45 minute temper tantrum about not getting a cookie is somehow harming her. I might try and distract her, but I don’t go to all extents to try to get her to stop crying. Again, to me crying is not a harmful activity for a baby or a toddler, again given a good, safe and loving environment.

Just in case you are wondering, no, I don’t assume all AP parents give their children cookies whenever they cry. Again, I recognize that many AP parents don’t fall into what I see as AP traps. (And even if they do fall into what I see as ‘traps’, that doesn’t mean it isn’t what works best for their kid) My point is that I don’t believe in 100% respond to crying in older babies and toddlers. It seems to me that rewarding them for crying is only going to equal more crying. They are smart little buggers. So we need to strike a balance between ignoring whining and crying and providing for needs and comfort. Especially when they become toddlers and they want to establish control. Too much response can sometimes give them control over the situation. I believe the parent should be in control of the situation, the leader, if you will. You can’t control a child or a child’s behavior, but you can have control over the situation. Maybe command is a better word, the parent should have command over the situation. I think sometimes we give up too much to our kids in the interest of keeping them happy AKA not crying. To feel really safe they need to know where the boundaries are.

2) The next aspect of AP that I am not 100% comfortable with is the suggestion of exclusive baby wearing. I know Dr. Sears suggests it as a tool and not a ‘need to do 24/7 or else’. But some AP advocate seem to really rail against strollers and car seats. I can tell you that I had (when Audrey was little) 4 methods for getting her around and 3 of those involved baby wearing. We had a sling carrier, an ergo, a wrap carrier and a stroller. Which one did we use most? That depended on the week. I found that when she was really little, like under 3 months, we almost exclusively used the carriers. I wore her most of the day, interspersed with tummy time. As she got older I tried to respond to her needs. Sometimes she loved the close and comfort of a carrier, others she wanted to kick her feet and flail around and that meant a stroller, if I didn’t want a black eye or my hair pulled out. My point is that babies need to move around. Baby carriers are great, especially early on, but I think that needs to be balanced with their need for space and movement sometimes. There is, in my opinion, such a thing as too much attachment.

3) Which brings me to the issue of independent play. I do think that AP has the potential, because of the focus on responsiveness, ceasing tears and baby wearing, to not allow a babies need for independent play to flourish. (Janet did a great post on this recently, check it out.) We don’t need to be right there all the time. We shouldn’t, in my opinion, be right there all the time. Our babies and toddlers (and kids and teenagers) need space to discover both the world and who they are. And I am not sure keeping them so close and responding to them so immediately is always the best way to do that. At least it wasn’t for my child. Her confidence and imagination have flourished by providing her with a safe place to have independent play and encouraging her to not always need an adult right there. (Still within view though, supervision is important. They can make an ordinary object dangerous in about 3.2 seconds.)

4) Lastly, I feel a bit like AP (at times, in some ways, as practiced by some people) doesn’t always value just how capable our children are. Babies are amazing if you give them the space to be. And to always paint them as these weak, helpless, fragile, unthinking beings, who don’t understand what is happening seems to underestimate them. I think AP can paint children this way when they talk about crying as being an incredible harmful thing for a child. I also think it can show a child that they are not capable when their parent swoops in to comfort and fix the problem of an upset child, rather then letting them express and work it out themselves. (can does not equal does)

I feel my daughter has a very good understanding of what is going on. When I don’t respond to her whining as she falls asleep, she knows it is not because I am not responding or caring for her, but because I am supporting her to release tension. When I don’t pick her up every time she falls and crys, she knows it is because I trust her to get up and try again. When I don’t always play with her, she knows it is because I am proud of what she can do on her own. When I tell her NO and put her down (when she hits me, for example), she knows I love her and that I am setting a reasonable and age appropriate limit. She is smart. She is capable. She gets it. She can do lots of things without my help. I beam when she toddles away from me at the playground, not looking back. She knows I am there.

I believe our job as parents is so much more then providing for needs and comforting our children. It is about setting boundaries and limitations and it is about nurturing them to be independent in an age appropriate way. Attachment is important, but so is developing a unique sense of self. At some point we aren’t going to be there to provide for their emotional needs and they need the confidence and love to be able to provide for their own emotional needs. And I think beyond the really early baby stage the extreme use of high touch/high response that attachment parenting recommends isn’t always the best way to go. At least for my kid.

Advice for Mom’s-to-be

Annie from PhD in Parenting posted this question today on her blog. I was going to comment there, but realized that my response was going to be epic. So I thought it was better to just write my own post. Annie’s question is, essentially, what should we tell new/expectant parents and what should we let them figure out on their own.

Here is my list of what I would tell any new/expectant parent who asked for my advice/thoughts:

1) Be confidence and trust your instinct

This is a tall order. Being a new parent shook my confidence and self esteem to the core. I went from being great at my job to feeling like nothing I did was right. I would second guess myself all the time. So I am not suggesting that this piece of advice is easy to do, but I would still suggest that it is worth saying to a expectant Mom. Trusting your instinct and having confidence in your decisions will make a big difference. Not only will you feel better, but it will help your baby(ies) relax. Which brings us to #2.

2) Try to stay calm and confident.

Again, an other tall order. You won’t always be able to. Don’t feel guilty if you get frustrated, upset or sad. But, if you can try to stay calm, baby will sense that and it does help them stay calm. Especially during crying spells. The more worked up you get because you don’t know how to stop them from crying, the more baby senses you getting worked up, perceives that as something is wrong and then cry’s more. If you have attended to your babies needs and they are still crying, relax and accept that babies cry. The talent of staying calm will come in even more handy when baby is a toddler. Trust me.

3) Don’t feel isolated- reach out

I can’t tell you how many times I felt like I was along in how I felt or what I was struggling with. But with just about any struggle, challenge or feeling, someone else has gone through it. Reach out to family and friends and share how you feel. Chances are they know exactly how you feel and can empathize. If you have a really unique situation, there is good support to be found online, so long as your are careful and find a supportive community to engage with. Which brings us to point number 4.

3) Take the advice of strangers, online or offline, with a HUGE grain of salt

Strangers don’t know you and they don’t know your kid, so don’t let anything any stranger says make you feel bad, guilty or wrong. Online in particular, is full of people with opinions across the whole spectrum of just about any parenting issue. For any decision you make you can find someone who is going to suggest that what you did is wrong. So while online support can be helpful, be wary. If you are reading something and it makes you feel bad, guilty or like you are ‘messing’ up your child: stop reading. Even if the advice may be the right advice for you, try to find it in a form that makes you feel supported, relieved and heard. If you feel, deep down, that you are doing the right thing, don’t let someone else make you feel bad or feel like you need to justify yourself.

4) Be wary of ‘theory’ parenting

Parenting theories can be helpful, they give you a general philosophy to follow and some methods to try. But no parenting theory is one size fits all. If there was a perfect way to parent which worked for every baby and every family in every social/economic/geographical/cultural circumstance, we would all be doing in by now. The truth is, not matter what any theory has to say, there is more then one way to raise a intelligent, caring and confident child. On that note:

5) Don’t try and make a round peg fit a square hole

Let’s say you follow parenting philosophy X which says the best way to put baby to sleep is Y.  You think philosophy X is the one most suited to you (and your partners) believes and values. So you try baby sleep method Y. You try. You really really try. Over and over again. You were calm and confident in your decision and tried again. And it doesn’t work. What do you do? Stop. Try something else and don’t feel bad or guilty. If Y doesn’t work for your kid, Y doesn’t work for your kid. Again, there in no one size fits all parenting method. You got to go with what works for your kid.

6) Remember your bag of tricks and rotate often.

I felt, on numerous occasions, that I was doomed to learn the same lesson over and over again. I would figure out this great trick that worked wonders. Like a song that A really liked and calmed her down.  Then it would stop working. Then a couple weeks later when I was at my wits end I would remember said trick again and PRESTO it would work. The thing is that babies change really really quickly. So mix up your tricks and re-use often. For the first year of A’s life we rotated regularly through various methods for moving her around outside or out and about. We had 3 kinds of baby carriers and a stroller. It seemed like every couple of weeks one method would work better then an other. One week she would scream if put in a stroller and the next week it was her favorite place in the world. They change. Go with it.

So, as you can see, my general philosophy when it comes to advice is not so much to give advice on which way to go on specific decisions. (Although I do have some opinions on particularly decisions. If someone asked me my thoughts, or I feel like rambling about them here, then I will share those opinions.) But in general, I think the best advice we can offer new/expectant parents is how to approach the challenges. Because the actual choices they make should be based on their circumstance and their child, not my advice.

ControverSunday: Pacifiers and other comforts

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Our Lady of Perpetual Breadcrumbs

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The Disgruntled Academic

Ramble Ramble

It’s that time again! Thanks to Perpetua for her great hosting of this bloggy thing (and a big thanks for letting me guest host last week- it was a blast) and thanks to Accidents for the spectacular badge, as always.

Here’s the thing. I get the argument against pacifiers. And I don’t disagree. I totally buy that they can have a negative impact on nursing. I can totally see how a kid can get addicted to them. I hear the critics who say that they already have a built in one: their thumb. Yes, they are a pain when a baby can’t sleep without one but constantly spits them out, putting parents (ahem, Moms) on all night pick-up-pacifier-patrol. I totally agree that sticking a soother in a screaming baby every time they cry doesn’t allow you to really listen to what they need. Babies need to express themselves and crying is a part of that. Yes, yes and yes.

But.

The darn things work.* And, especially in the first couple months of parenting…. I care more about doing whatever works that buys me a little more sleep and a little less crying. I believe in survival parenting…. whatever gets you through the day/night. No shame.

Where am I going with this?

I want to talk about the difference between parenting for the short term or the long term. I think this is an important topic in parenting and one that we often don’t address. There are a ton of parenting theories out there and parts of all of them are great. But the truth of the matter is that when you have a 8 week old baby, crying their head off for 4 hours straight and you haven’t had more then 2 hours sleep at a time for, well, 8 weeks…. theories don’t help you much. They are great, they have value, but they aren’t going to hold your baby for you so you can go take a nap.

Truth be told, I don’t think a lot of our choices matter as much as they seem to. Pacifier or no, co-sleep or crib sleep, CIO or No-cry, bottle fed or breast fed, stroller or sling…. if you walk into a class of 5 year old’s you couldn’t possibly sort them based on the choices their parents made. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying choices don’t have impacts, consequences, positives and negatives. BUT. I think it is more the big picture things that matter: love, patience, kindness, trust, acceptance, comfort, respect, consistency. You know, the big things.

On the other hand… short term parenting has its troubles. For example, if you buy your kid a toy to end a tantrum every time you go to the store… Or cave to that extra candy every day to bribe a kid to clean their room. Or let your 3 year old stay up 2 hours past bedtime every night, despite how cranky and tired they are. We are all human, we will all give in sometimes. But every time? Sometimes you have to make the tough choice in the short term in order to get a better result in the long term. Sometimes the tantrum is worth it because the short term fix causes an even bigger issue in the long term.

The problem is, when do you do what you need to just to get through and when do you parent for the long term? Which situations call for which approach?

I don’t know, I just know. My gut tells me which is which. And sometimes my gut is wrong. But I never claim to be a perfect parent.

So what does that have to do with pacifiers? Pacifiers are totally a short term/long term parenting problem. However. You don’t know if your kid is going to be the one that wants to use a pacifier until they are 6. Or if it will be no big deal to take it away in a couple months. So do you suffer short term on the possibility that it will negatively impact the long term?

I don’t know.

We gave A a soother at about 10 weeks (I don’t quite remember to be honest). We did have it in our heads to not give her one. But I caved. Because it worked. We knew to wait until ‘breastfeeding was established’, but as regular readers know… that boat never really sailed. We waited a while anyway. Regardless, we have always tried to be careful of over using it. A is a pretty happy baby for the most part and was never one prone to long crying bouts. So we reserved the soother for bedtime or nap time. That has kinda gone out the window lately with the transition to the day home, where it was beneficial to use her comfort item a bit more, but that will go back to normal soon.

Along with the soother we introduced a ‘lovey’ when A was about 2 months old. Honestly? Best thing we ever did. The soother probably needs to go sometime soon, but that lovey? She can keep it until she is 10 for all I care. She loves it. When she cry’s we go and get it and it calms her right down (along with hugs from Mom and Dad). Again, we use it mostly for bedtime, nap time and times of high stress (traveling, transition to day home, ect.).

Where am I going with this? Oh yeah, whatever works. I know some kids who’s parents regret ever giving them the thing, but we all make choices we regret. The problem is that it is impossible to tell if you are going to regret that choice. So I say, go with your gut. And if it starts being a problem, then try taking the thing away.

We are right at the point that I think A needs to let go of the soother. As I said, we have been pretty flex lately as she has transitioned to spending her days at the day home. I felt she needed that extra comfort. But in the next couple months the soother is going bye bye. Honestly, I don’t think she needs it. About a week ago, due to a mis-communication between my husband and I, she went to the day home sans soother and she was just fine. Nap time was fine. So I think she is ready. First we are going to separate her soother from her lovey. Then we will get really tough on the whole ‘only at bedtime and nap time’ rule. And then the soother will make its exit. Wish us luck!

* Opps! Forgot to put the obligatory caveat- let me try that again. The darn things work. For A. Maybe not your kid. Every kid= different. There. Now I feel better.

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