Showing posts with label mothering. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mothering. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The Crib


I took down the crib a few weeks ago.  I moved the 'baby' into a big girl's bed (a mattress on the floor), even though it broke my heart to do it.  I chose a day that was extra busy, so I didn't have time to start crying, because I knew if I started, I might not stop for quite awhile.

That crib is the same crib that Jeff and I bought for our oldest, now off at college and nearing twenty-one years.  We were newly married, in our mid-twenties, and hardly had two pennies to rub together, when we found out we were expecting a baby due nine and a half months after our wedding.  My in-laws gave us seventy-five dollars to put towards a crib and we found one for a little more than that at JC Penney.  Everything else we received for our first baby, we were given at two small baby showers and thank God, there were no registries.  My mother and mother-in-law, seasoned aunts, grandmothers, and friends and sisters and a host of other relatives chose what they knew we needed. And just like the crib, I still have quite a few of those wonderful gifts.

Back then there were no Targets in our area, no Babies R Us, if Pottery Barn Kids or any designer brand name baby gear stores existed, I didn't know of them, nor would they have held any possibility for me either.  I had a short list I had typed (on a real live typewriter) gleaned from the pages of a baby book and checked off till I felt prepared.  

Fast forward eighteen years, when I'm expecting my sixth.  I walk into Babies R Us to get a few things and walked out empty-handed and overwhelmed and more than a little annoyed.  The choices! So many things marked as necessities!  So many bottles and formulas and infant feeding mechanisms! So many different seats and chairs and things with batteries and lights and sounds and motion!  The costs!    One thousand dollars for a stroller?  Three hundred dollars for a stroller? Unbelievable, I thought.  A new mom could easily be led to believe that she must spend or receive thousands of dollars worth of items to provide properly for her new baby.

I know that a baby needs some things.  Every mother has a list of necessities to take care of baby best with, and has since the beginning of time.  I had to fill in supplies here and there with each baby-it's fun to 'nest'!  But I can't imagine that moms who aren't yet "in the know" of what is truly needed, feel overwhelmed and pressured to provide their baby with all sorts of expensive items. Have baby supplies joined the ranks of clothes and cars and jewelry functioning as status symbols of wealth?  Have we invented hundreds of ways to not have to hold, or soothe, or touch, or carry, or care for, or feed our babies?  Are we trading acquiring things for time with our little ones?  It seems crazy to me.    

I think today new moms, more than ever, need to step away from this insanity and think.  

Our babies need us.  A baby needs his or her mother more than anyone or anything else.  We should be first on that list.  A baby needs the perfect, unequaled food that nature has provided our bodies with to help that baby grow and thrive.  That's free and requires no man-made equipment.  That baby needs our arms for holding, it needs our warmth, our scent, our adoration and tenderness.  Free again. 

No one can adequately take our place, and unless it means starvation or lack of basic shelter for our baby, there isn't much worth leaving our tiny, innocent, helpless babies for.  We have naturally designed intertwined instincts and chemical reactions towards our babies-we are designed to be good mothers, and if we stay connected, and trust these instincts, we will be able to take care of our babies well.  Staying connected means staying close in proximity, creating a bond that we don't allow to be broken for worldly things and cultural trends.  It means that we do the bulk of care, and a strong knowing bond will result from that care.

To simplify, there are very few material things to acquire for a baby that are more important than our time spent nurturing and caring for him or her.  I want to hang that on a big banner and drape it across the entrance of every baby super store in America.

The old crib went up in the attic.  It will most likely be deemed grossly inadequate and terribly unsafe one day and meet the garbage dump, but I will let someone else make that call, hopefully when I'm long gone, and save myself the heartbreak.  I have to laugh at my sentimentality and remind myself that nary a baby of mine slept a night in that thing anyways.  I recognize it for what it really means to me-the beginning of the journey of motherhood and marriage, how quickly time flies, how being open to life for two decades has blessed me in ways I will forever marvel at...and alas, of course, how "babies don't keep". 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Choreography of Mothering Teens


(This is a re-published and re-edited post from three years ago.)
Mothering teens.  A whole different set of skills is needed! It’s all so new and frustrating and scary and fun.  Just like when new parents are handed their first newborn, it’s so hard to describe to anyone that feeling-I think in a way parenting starts all over again at the teen age.  It has been quite a learning experience for me and I have far to go. Nothing humbles a parent like raising a teen.  (Or many of them at once!)
Here’s a recent experience to demonstrate what I’m talking about.

I received this comment years ago after I posted photos on my blog of a recent family vacation:
Do you sometimes think your daughter’s shorts are too short?
It made me laugh.  Actually the daughter in question was sitting at the computer when I read it and we both looked at each other and laughed together.
Because the answer is yes.  I do!  I  think my 15-year-old daughter’s shorts are a tad too short.  I also think she wears too much make up and doesn’t need one drop of it, so any is “too much” for me.  I am not fond of the fashions right now.  (Haven’t all mothers said this?  I know my mom did!)  And I wish she wouldn’t get so stressed about school, and friend drama and sometimes I really wish she would not be so picky and particular on just about everything. And the only nail polish color I really like on girls is light pink, and she likes yellow or blue or sometimes orange.
My daughter knows this.  Sometimes we argue about it and sometimes we downright battle about it. It’s hard. I wish she would listen to everything I have to say and do exactly what I tell her to do all the time. She did when she was little.  We could go shopping and oooh and aaah over all the same stuff.  The matching tights, the cute colorful knit dresses.  Those red sparkly shoes and the cute pink tennies. We got along great all the time.  Because her opinion and my opinion matched perfectly.
In junior high we started clashing about little things.  Maybe it was at what age we would allow her to get her ears pierced.  Or why I had to be so strict about how high the heels were that she wanted to buy for 8th grade graduation…”everyone else” was wearing those high ones, why couldn’t she? We started getting angry at each other as she pushed and I pulled -as she exerted her opinion that was different from my opinion – yes, she had somehow developed her own, how the heck did that happen?
I held her back against the growing-up-too-fast pull as best as I could.  Oh, if only I could keep her in my world, totally, completely, create that bubble.  If only I could just say yes to everything she wanted because it was the same as what I wanted, it would all be so easy.  If only she would stay my young little girl forever.
I’ve found the teen years are full of change in the parent and child relationship…that push and pull, back and forth, and a sense of loss for both of us as our children develop into adults.  We have both cried tears over the last years….over how darn hard and different it has been.  Me shedding tears of doubt – Am I doing this right?  Am I being too strict?  Should I have stuck to my guns?  Why oh why can’t she just trust that I know what is best for her? And her with tears of frustration, anger, and just plain old hurt feelings.
When it comes to raising teenagers I think there are three roads to take.  Two are easy…and so tempting because you, as the mother, can always be happy and there is little or no conflict, tears, drama.
One is the route where anything they want is fine with you.  The drinking, the boyfriends, the hotel rooms rented at prom.  Rules are a pain, and being popular is the name of the game.  There is never a fight because who wants to fight? “Yes,” is your answer, “sure go ahead honey, we’re best friends right?” You turn your head or laugh and say, “Teenagers will be teenagers, what can I do about it?”
The other end of the spectrum is just the opposite.  You keep total control.  You make all those decisions for them.  You require them to call you on their cell phones every hour because the big bad world out there is dangerous. You teach them that they can’t trust their own decisions and choices and that you have all the answers.  You criticize and control and protect and hover and warn and do everything in your power to keep them under your wing constantly.  Things stay the same as they were when they were three, seven, nine – when it was easy.  Their only choice is your way or the highway.
I have seen both styles of parenting teens and I know in my heart and from observation that both have pretty good odds of producing results that are less than ideal when it comes to healthy growth and development. The easy way, darn it, never seems to be the right way. Even so, it’s tempting.
See that place in the middle of those two extremes?  It’s tons of work.  It’s work every day, whether you are up for it or not.  As a parent we might be exhausted, sick, busy, or we might just want to keep that good mood going and not rock the boat for once.  We know we must gauge when to move up or down in that middle ground. Constantly we wonder when to let go, when to be quiet, when to just listen, when to speak up, when to hold fast, when to stay firm.
I’ve learned there are many rules or guidelines that start out one way, and end up another as teen’s progress, grow and struggle  – and as we parents progress and grow and struggle also.  Sometimes rules need to be adjusted as kids get older, and as they present a case that makes good sense.  There needs to be a gradual letting go of the reins…a handing over (literally!) of the steering wheel of life.  Trust is broken and gained. Lessons are learned and tears are shed. Sometimes consequences need to be learned the hard way – but it’s tricky to know ahead of time when something is going to be a good learning experience or digs a deeper hole with a price to high to be paid. Sometimes responsibility for decisions is given too soon, sometimes at the right time and sometimes late enough to cause major resentment.  It’s difficult to hit that “perfect timing” thing every day.  The light bulb moments us moms savor can be few and far between. And sometimes those light bulb moments are moments when my teens have taught me as much or more as I have taught them!
Every day, I’m making decisions large and small on the spur of the moment, in the heat of the moment, in the light of day and the dark of night and it all renders me mentally exhausted – weighing the pros and cons, thinking and rethinking, trying to figure out what’s really important – it’s a learning process.  And then on top of it all, I learn that what works for one child certainly doesn’t work for another. For some teens, the surefire way to get them to do something is to let it be known that we prefer the opposite. For other teens the tiniest hint of criticism from us leads to a breakdown in communication for months and we must work to regain that relationship.  I’ve had one teen say to me, “You don’t have to be so careful about telling me what you think Mom!   I want to hear what you have to say.  I need your advice!”  And I've had another child say, “This is what I want.  I know it’s right for me even if it isn’t what you would chose.”   Sometimes it's the same teen but a different week, stating both!  Keeps me on my toes, that’s for sure, and scrambles my brain at the same time.
But if I’ve learned anything in the last few years of parenting teenagers it’s this.  My role is not to turn my back and go with the flow and hope for the best and it’s not to keep them young and dependent with no choices of their own on us so they don’t really grow up.  My job is to get them to the point where they can make healthy decisions -large and small – for themselves and do it confidently and well. It’s to accept that my children may want different things out of life than what I had imagined for them when they were little children.  It’s to watch them develop their own styles and taste and opinions (which I have learned changes so quickly in these years) and try not to cringe too much when it’s not that super cute sun dress, the darling flats, the preppy shirt – or the friend, or the extracurricular activity at school – that I would have chosen for them.  
And yes, it is standing firm and strong at the same time, not being fearful of saying no, and not losing the battle against cultural norms.  Combine all that and we have a dance with the most complicated choreography between parents and teens. It is highly personal-what looks like a pair of shorts too short to someone outside of that intricate relationship, could have the most complicated story behind them-a compromise made after one hundred no’s, a battle not chosen at an emotionally delicate time in that teen’s life, a gesture of love and acceptance when she feels love and acceptance from no one.  It can’t be judged from afar, from the outside, by anyone.  This dance between teens and parents- it takes years and years to learn, it is an art-just as choreography is, dancing with trust, with compromise, with hope, with authority-but always with love.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Do Children Really Want? A Beautiful Video

Everyone has probably viewed this already, I am always way behind on this sort of thing but this short video is gorgeous in a heart-wrenching, really good reminder, way.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Notes on Resolutions and Joy and Heavenly Treasures



This year it was just me with the little ones at home for New Years Eve.  Jeff took the older kids on a special Christmas gift ski trip out to the mountains.  We all had so much fun.

Back here, I picked up a Dairy Queen ice cream cake (because it was my last day of sugar for me, and that was my choice for my "last supper" of sugar, and the kids coincidentally asked for one) and we all were in bed by nine.  That's my ideal New Year's Eve.  I had my calendar all filled out and I reflected on the past and the future (mostly the future) and the kids played with their new toys and it was OH SO EASY.  I remember thinking how exhausting and busy it was having three back in the day!  Oh, three is easy, it's a walk in the park, it's a piece of cake.  Give me eight or ten, and I'll be saying the same thing about having six, isn't that funny how that works?  And little ones vs. teens?  The saying "little feet, little problems, big feet, big problems", it's so true.  It was just a nice reminder for me-not a reminder of "oh how awesome it is with just three kids and no teenagers" but a reminder, that when all six are here I am doing BIG work and I need to give myself credit for that.  And also, that nothing tastes as good as a last supper of Dairy Queen cake.

It's funny how my resolutions have changed over the years also. I  have no new unreachable demands for myself.  I need to eat healthier, more fruits and vegetables and water, and less (which means no) sugar, which I would like to survive on, but it makes me more tired and crabby and is just no good.  I once again have to go cold turkey for awhile till I can eat small treats in moderation and not crave bags of Hershey Kisses morning, new and night.  I also need to do some sit-ups, no, I really need to do some sit-ups!

And on bigger things:
I was reading through a little journal entry I had written awhile ago.  I want to preface with this, please take note:  I didn't write this because this is the who I am, I wrote it because this is who I want to be.  I tend to take things seriously, I have a tendency, as I look back at twenty years of raising kids, to worry, to take things way too seriously, to project in the future.  I think it's a balance, that comes with age-the balance of helping shape them into the best versions of themselves, but also just stop shaping and enjoy them as they are at the moment.  They need us to do both!   I need to do both.

Here are those observations I made a few years ago, these are just scribbled notes, casually written:
(you doesn't mean you the reader, it means me the writer, writing to myself)

1. Pretty much anything you read, or do, isn't going to make more difference in how your kids "turn out", than you having an optimistic, joyous outlook on life and spreading that joy and optimism to them.  Also-showing love in many ways every day.  Making sure you spend time with them and use mostly positive words-making them feel loved.

2. FAMILY-it's all about what you do here in this house.  That will be the difference in the world-"Let everyone sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean" (Goethe).  There are service lessons, all kinds of lessons, right here.  No amount of work anywhere else is going to make the difference as what happens in your own home.

3. Love your "job".  Find ways to love it more-even the stuff you don't like.  Find a way to cook that is easy and serves your family and YOU well and makes it less of a chore.  Find a laundry system that works for everyone, so you don't grow resentful.  Find joy in caring for your home and family, using the talents God has given you.  Manage well, have systems that work so you can enjoy your work, and your days.

4. Worry-it's such a waste.  Explore the worry-it's based on fear.  Worry sucks joy, it's heavy to carry, it clouds thinking.  Meet it head on.  If that means a conversation you need to have with a teen, or a spouse or anyone, have it.  It usually also means time needs to be spent in prayer.  Prayer relieves worry, centers you and builds strength.

5. It's not complicated to know what the "right" thing is.  There is so much talk, argument, debate, fear-mongering in this culture.  The truth is the deepest, purest core of nature-what is right.  The culture is crazy right now.  It's backwards.

6.  Which means your need to be on the hunt for job, for that pure truth, and give it the attention it is due.  Concentrate on the joy, concentrate on the good.  You can switch everything around to find the good when showing the kids that it exists-using compassion and love and hope-remember the truth is obvious this way.  Dwell on the good, find it, point it out.  "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."  


7. Be careful of where and how you spend your time.  If you surround yourself with negativity, you will feel negative.  If you surround yourself with positivity, you will find joy.

8. Enjoyment-find the things you enjoy doing and do them.  Life goes so fast-the little things that might drive you crazy now with a busy family life-one day you will look back with the fondest of memories and laugh.  Remember that!

ENJOY LIFE.

After I read what I had written, I was thinking, what if some physician told me I had one year to live? Not to live sickly, but just to live.  One year.  Period.  How would I truly wish to spend the next 365 days?  Stressed?  No.  Worrying?  No.  Going on cruises, traveling the world, seeing this and that, experiencing everything?  No.  Not for me.  

I would spend more time praying and going to Church and reading the Bible. 

I would take care of myself so I would feel good every day-I wouldn't waste time with tasteless garbage food-I'd eat apples off the trees and strawberries off the fields like I did growing up-I would eat real food.  I would get enough sleep so I could spend every day full of energy.  I would go outside every day and listen to the birds in the morning in spring, and the crickets and cicadas at night in the summer and take long walks on the crunchy leaves in fall and watch the sunsets in the winter down by the river.

I wouldn't waste time on the negative-stupid politics, stupid gossip, stupid complaining, the internet and almost all media in general.  The news, blah!  I wouldn't want one bit of it.  It's not reality, it's not the present, it's not what life is made of, it's what drains life's energy, drains the soul.

I would spend more time with my parents, because they are truly the most admirable people, and hold a wealth of knowledge about life that I need and want to know.

I would want to spend every day with my husband and children.  Staring into their faces and soaking them up and truly truly just enjoying my life here at home.  

Having as many of those little moments, when I stopped living logistically, and just talked with my teenage daughter about life, listened to my older boys funny stories, or thoughts about this or that, listening listening listening, and played ball or games, or in the snow, or outside with my little boys, and kissed the face off the "baby".

What is stopping me from doing this NOW?  Nothing.  NOTHING.  There is no excuse!  I have a husband who works hard to provide for our family, my days, my hours, my minutes, are mine, I am doing what I love, there is NO job on earth I would ever love as much as the job as mother, so...
...what gets in the way of how I'd really like to live my life?

It reminds me of this Bible verse, I am NO expert in the Bible, or Catholicism, or Christianity, or anything (well, maybe babies) but this verse just strikes a chord with me:

"Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also

The lamp of the body is the eye; if, therefore, thine eye be healthy, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. 

If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and money."

Do I take the time to center myself every day and remind myself of all that is joyful?  Do I let myself fall into negativity too often?  Do I take care of my body, where my soul is housed, so I feel good, mentally, physically and emotionally, every day and can therefore enjoy my days?  Do I get distracted by "earthly treasures"-what are my preoccupations that take me away from being present every day?

This is what I want to strive for more than ever this year-the habit of making sure my heart is where my treasure is.  


Monday, October 27, 2014

Gems

I picked up my old worn out copy of Mitten Strings for God yesterday-I know I've said it before several times, but there is no other book I have loved more as a mother than this one.  Just reading this book calms my soul and reminds me of the kind of home I want to create and the kind of mother I want to be.  There is SO much wisdom in this book.

"I used to feel guilty about idle moments.  Time spent splayed out in the lawn chair, staring at the sky, was time "wasted".  A walk in the woods with a friend and her dog, meant that I wouldn't get my aerobic workout for the day.  When Henry, at three, wanted to hear the same story every day for a month, and have the same conversation about it every time, I could not help thinking about the stack of unread library books that was gathering dust in the meantime.  But I have come to believe that all of these activities are essential.  They are what is meant by "nurturing".  As the writer Julia Cameron reminds us, "So much of what we need, so much of what we want, is to be savored, cherished, cared for and cared about.  So much of what is missing is tenderness."  Our children do not need any more possessions to be happy; they need only to feel sure that they possess our hearts, our attention, our acceptance of who they are." -Katrina Kenison


Friday, April 25, 2014

Undertows and The Patron Saint of Fun

(photo taken by Abbey)

I was reading an article about Pope Francis a few days ago in our paper and Andrew was looking at the photos included and said, "When Pope Francis becomes a saint I think he should be the Patron Saint of Fun." I had to laugh at that one, and I think the Pope might like that.

There was an excerpt from a homily that Pope Francis gave last year included in this article, and it seemed that day, it was just what I needed to hear.  I had been feeling so overwhelmed, and angry, and discouraged all week-I had been feeling like it seems this might be one of the hardest cultures in history to raise children in truth.  Our children are fed lies constantly-lies about what happiness is, and how to achieve it.  The media feeds these lies, and politicians, and Hollywood culture, which markets directly to our children relentlessly, profits from these lies and this culture spreads from peer to peer.  It feels, and I know you readers probably feel the same, only because I've received many letters that have told me so, that it sometimes seems like a lonely job, being an intentional, present parent with a strong value system, more often that not.  And as my children have grown, especially into their teens, sometimes I feel like maybe I'm the crazy one-saying no to things (sometimes the craziest things that drop my jaw!) that other parents say yes to. Gosh, kids can't parent themselves, what the heck?  It's our responsibility.  Love them, and say no!  No, no, no, no.  It's a word that rolls of my tongue easier, for sure, as I see more and more what's out there, what our children battle every day against.

And sure I have felt bad for saying it, sometimes I have given in to that feeling of not wanting to displease, of not wanting the tears, or the anger, or the discomfort.  I have learned, and still am learning, that parenting today requires us to be so so discerning.  To grow a backbone, a strong one, to conserve that energy (so much energy!) to swim against the tide, the undertow is strong, it's strong always, it never seems to let up.

I have found that it is worth the time to hunt out those families (you will find them) that have the same strong feelings and passion for parenting that we do, who strive to remember the way things used to be, when children of all ages were protected because of their vulnerability while growing into adulthood.  I recently asked one of my veteran mom friends (kids mostly grown, some still teenagers) what her rules were about this or that and she told me and then said, "Sarah, remember that the important thing is to just say no and don't waver!  Decide your rules, whatever they may be and say no with conviction and without apology." She also talked about using the reasoning of purpose (something my mom talks about a lot also.)  What is the purpose of this or that from cell phones to dating-whatever it is, and if you can't come up with a really really good one, then it's not worthy of a yes, it's not worthy of the exertion of money, time and energy.

Another veteran mother who has raised great kids with very strong values told me that her older now grown adult children once said to her, "Mom, for as strict as you and Dad were, and as many times as you said no, and we were the only ones not allowed to do this or have that, you could have said no even more!  It's that bad out there!"  They thanked her, years later.

And strong family life-I am convinced that is where it's all at when it comes to the goodness, for us, and for our children and our children children's-(maybe this is what "eternal life" really means?). Parents who want to spend most of their time with their children.  Parents who require their children (that means teens too) to spend most of their time with their families.  Parents who are deliberate about fighting that tide, and teach actively good morals and values-who live them, which is the best way to teach them.  I think the home needs to be an oasis, a retreat, an example-that beautiful island to land in the midst of swirling undertows.  I am convinced if this would happen-if home life were strong across this country, with a mother and father at the helm, in a loving dedicated marriage, the tide would turn.

Here is the Pope's hopeful message, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

"How many difficulties are present in the life of every individual, among our people, in our communities; yet as great as these may seem, God never allows us to be overwhelmed by them.  In the face of those moments of discouragement we experience in life, in our efforts to evangelize or to embody our faith as parents within the family, I would like to say forcefully: always know in your heart that God is by your side; he never abandons you!  


Let us never lose hope! Let us never allow it to die in our hearts! The "dragon", evil, is present in our history, but it does not have the upper hand.  The one with the upper hand is God, and God is our hope! 


It is true that nowadays, to some extent, everyone, including our young people, feels attracted by the many idols that take the place of God and appear to offer hope: money, success, power, pleasure.  Often a growing sense of loneliness and emptiness in the hearts of many people leads them to seek satisfaction in these ephemeral idols.  


Dear brothers and sisters, let us be lights of hope! Let us maintain a positive outlook on reality.  Let us encourage the generosity that is typical of the young and help them to work actively in building a better world.  


Young people are a powerful engine for the Church and for society. They do not need material things alone; also and above all, they need to have held up to them those non material values that are the spiritual heart of a people, the memory of a people."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Getting Baby To Sleep Part Two

Part Two  (Part One Here).

First before I proceed, I have to reiterate once again that I am writing from my experience with my six babies. I might have a different lifestyle from you-I am my children's primary caregiver (with my husband of course), I don't leave my babies often with sitters (meaning I am almost always the one putting baby to sleep),  I have breastfed all my children for a year or more, and I learned early on that the only way I could survive feeding an infant/baby many times a night was to co-sleep (it wasn't a decision made for any other reason but because no one got sleep any other way), and how long that lasted depended on the baby.  I have found through trial and error, getting advice from other moms who I admire, and reading lots and lots, what has worked for me, my babies and my family.  

I do NOT have some special "get your baby to sleep through the night" method!  But have learned to accept my babies for who they were, and the stages they were at, and not mold them into something they "should" be doing because someone else says so.  I learned to trust my mother gut and my baby.  I learned that I am not comfortable leaving them to cry for extended periods of time (or who am I kidding, ANY period of time) and I am willing to do some extra "work" to get my babies to sleep.

So I am going to speak generally about my experiences and once again maybe it will help another mom who, like me, felt strongly that cry-it-out sleep methods did not feel right and then give a couple book suggestions that helped me with tips and tricks and reassured me also.

I was stumped on how to approach this "how I do it" section because I think it would be extremely boring to read about what I did with each of my babies sleep-wise.  My babies were all different, and those stages of that first year all change so quickly and go so fast.   I could say "Isaac was more difficult to get to sleep (movement worked for him), but once he was asleep he was out.  But during his first three months, I'm quite sure that little guy ate every two hours, so he definitely wasn't that "out"-not sleeping through the night!

1. The overall message that I must send is that you as the mom, know your baby best.  Every little one is born with different personalities and sensitivities.  When I look back with my five older children, I see each of their sleep personalities as babies are so much who they are now-I know I didn't "make" them like this- I can "see" that little baby personality, all those nuances-whether sensitive, or fun-loving, or laid-back, or intense, it was all reflected that first one or two years.

2. One of the most difficult parts of the first year is keeping up with the quick development and growth which often leads to changing schedules and patterns.  It seemed to me that first year, as soon as I could count on a schedule, a growth spurt would hit, a tooth would begin to break through, it was time to transition from three naps to two, or one, etc.  I love predictability and knowing I can anticipate a little quite time here or there, but the nature of the first year, does not lend itself to cut and dry time tables.  I have learned to adapt, but I also what has helped me is keeping a written schedule of the babies feedings and naps.  (Not all year, just here and there as needed.)  Just keeping track by writing down what is happening with feed/sleep/play patterns, helps me feel some control.  It also helps me eventually pull out a pattern and therefore establish some sort of schedule.  This isn't a stranger led schedule-this a baby/mother led loose organic schedule that we work on together.  I would look in books, ask friends with babies the same age, or look on-line to find out what a "typical" (remembering that every baby is different) schedule was at a certain age, but mainly I could be aware of a baby-led pattern.

Getting and keeping baby to sleep (and once again this depended on the baby) got SO much easier after that first year.  Gradually, of course, but that first year is intense.

3. I've had three fussy babies-my last three.  Andrew, my fourth, was colicky from morning till night, I held him all day and he slept on me or next to me all night-for months.  That was by far the most challenging experience I had with any of my babies.  It's survival mode for a long time and it is not easy, and sometimes lonely.  It's not just physically draining, it's exhausting work, and it's emotionally draining too, because not being able to immediately soothe my baby was so stressful to me.  (Nursing worked for all my babies, but did not for Andrew.)  I don't think anyone can really "get" how taxing caring for a gassy, and/or colicky, and/or highly sensitive baby is unless they've had one of their own.  These babies need extra tender care, they need us to drop as much as we can off our plates and care for them as best we can.  Rearranging our lives and reordering our priorities for a fussy baby is a must...if they aren't worth that, than what is?

When I have a fussy baby, I have learned to pull out any and every tool to get my baby to stop crying, fall asleep and stay asleep, without tears.

Nurse, swaddle, swing, bounce (exercise ball), rock, music, fans, pats, slings, stroller rides, car rides, pacifiers...you name it, I've experimented with whatever I could try to soothe that baby, and once I found what worked I stuck with it.  Do "bad" habits (which according to some sleep "experts" mean anything but dropping them in a crib and walking away) start with fussy babies?  Yes, I guess they do.  I still sometimes "bounce" Janey to sleep-that was what worked for her when she was younger.

I am OK with doing whatever works, no matter how "crazy" it might seem to some.  If it gets that baby to sleep, and helps me sleep better also, I'm good with it.  And you know, I look back on all my babies, and that hard first year, and do you think I regret the time I spent rocking, strolling, bouncing, reading?  Heck no.

With all my babies, not just the fussy ones, when I felt like we could move to that next step up (meaning less sleep assistance) without much or any angst, I did so.  Every transition was timed different according to the baby. For example, over a course of the year or two, we transitioned from sleeping in sling (my fussy babies), to being swaddled and put down in crib once they asleep in sling, to just bouncing or nursing (no sling)and then to just rocking and put in crib almost asleep then just being read to in bed.  From ages two to four we transitioned from reading while toddler falls asleep, to reading and then leaving while toddler fell asleep by himself, and then eventually they learned to read themselves to sleep.  We transitioned from baby in our bed, to a crib, or to baby on mattress on floor of our room, or toddler in big boy/girl bed in own room. Eventually when baby becomes toddler (after 2 or 3 or 4), and I know the understanding is there, I can and will be lovingly firm-("we are going to read 3 books and sing 3 songs and then I'll come back and check on you, you have to stay in bed") because consistency is the key.  Consistency and routine are the keys.  I say WE because Jeff helped with this transition a great deal. Once I am finished nursing, or even, depending on the baby, before then, or when I was pregnant with the next baby, Jeff would take over the bedtime routine mostly.  I found that Dad can help a lot after that first year, or during the weaning process.  For some reason, Dad is just not as fun to wake up to, and that worked for us.

4. I also had one baby that could and would fall asleep completely by himself early on. Matt was my third and I could set him in his crib (after a certain age, maybe 3 months? I don't remember exactly) and he would hold a blankie he loved and suck on his pacifier and he'd fall right to sleep. It happened the first time by pure accident (there was some emergency and I set him in his crib, tired, and he fussed (in a babbly sort of way, not crying) and when I went to go check on him he was fast asleep.  I tried it again and again and every time he snuggled in and went right to sleep almost always-if he didn't fall asleep and I could tell he was going to cry, I would rock him a little and lay him down.  I, of course, thought I had the 'whole sleep thing' figured out because of this-which is why God gave my Andrew next. :)  Matthew was such a laid back, non-gassy, super-content baby.  That's why this worked.

(My babies all slept so much better on their tummies-maybe I make "gassy" babies.  Not infants-babies who could hold up their heads.  I asked my doctor about this and he gave me the go-ahead each time and it really really really helped.)

5. I always tried to lay baby down for naps in the same place-their crib-so they would get used to that.  Some of the gassy babies slept in the sling as infants if needed, because they would immediately wake up when put down, or shortly there after.  Once those fussy gassy babies were able to sleep on their tummies, or just stay asleep for longer periods of time then it took to put them to sleep, I would set them in the crib, once I got them asleep (in the sling or nursing, bouncing, etc.) with the fan (white noise) on.  Sometimes if they woke up, I would go right in and soothe them back to sleep, whichever way worked for them (usually bouncing on the ball) and then try to set them right back down again.  It seemed eventually their nap times got longer and longer.

6. Perspective is important. "This too shall pass."  "The days are long but the years are short."  Two very important quotes to keep in mind.  And how about "I can do hard things", which isn't a famous quote but just one that I made up and works in this situation.  No, having a baby that is fussy or a very sensitive sleeper, or a baby who needs to nurse a lot, or wakes during the night isn't easy.  I have been exhausted before, and frustrated, and sometimes it seemed that next transition couldn't come soon enough.  But I have the gift of a broader perspective now, and what a gift it is!

Here is a beautiful article on the "the art of being"-something to keep in mind during those hard days.

7. Resources:
Here are some of my favorite books chock full of tips and advice and reassurance.  Once I read and understood about the science of baby's physical development it helped me so much-it helped me know I was doing the right thing by avoiding prolonged, ignored crying, and also recognized development stages and the sleep needs of infants and babies.

Elizabeth Pantley is the author of many books on the subject of infant and toddler sleep and her site and books are excellent.

The Happiest Baby on the Block
-lots of good tips especially if you have a fussy baby.

And of course Dr. Sears-
The Baby Book

The last sleep post had so many nice comments from other moms who are NOT comfortable with cry-it-out methods also.  Maybe if us no-cry moms all shared the little things that worked for us, or any tips, tricks or our experiences with our babies, in the comment section, it would be helpful for others who felt the same.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Getting Baby To Sleep-Thoughts and Tips and Resources


I've never had "that baby" that magically slept through the night at two weeks or six weeks or maybe even six months.  And with my first two children, I felt the entire time that I was doing something wrong in the sleep department because of that.  It took me till my fourth baby (thank you sweet Andrew) till I wised up and gained enough knowledge and experience to know and feel confident about what works for me and my family.

From what I heard from some "experts" or friends I was creating habits that would make my infants turn into toddlers and then children into teens with overly dependent terrible sleep habits.  Oh the things I heard.  They make me laugh now, six babies later.  Perspective is everything!

I've divided this post about into two sections.  Part One being my thoughts, and things I've learned the hard way, and Part Two some tips that have helped me and resources also.

Babies have always been the same since the beginning of time.  Yes, they are born with different temperaments and personalities but they are born with the same innate needs. It doesn't matter what part of the world they are born in, at what time (thousands of years ago, or today), what the culture is like, who the experts happen to be during their generation, or the parenting trends of the decade-they have always come from the womb with the same needs since the beginning of time.  They know nothing of Dr. Spock, Ferberizing, Similac, Graco or BabyGap.  I think every baby wants the warm loving arms of their mother as much as possible (she smells so good!!), food from their mother's breasts (and if that's truly impossible, the best substitute possible to survive), soft, warm coverings (probably not skinny jeans :), and a good diaper that is changed often.  Their only way to get their needs met is by crying (how frustrating would that be!)

Here are some thoughts from MY experiences and things I've learned from raising MY babies.  Hopefully this well help another mom who might be going through the same experiences and challenges.

1. Babies aren't naturally good sleepers. Here is a great article about how baby sleep patterns differ from adult sleep patterns.

2.  Don't ever compare a breast fed baby's sleep habits to a formula fed baby's sleep habits.  A breast fed baby should have different patterns of sleep.  Breast milk is perfectly designed for a baby-maybe not always perfectly designed for a culture that expects mothers to strive for 8 hours of straight sleep a night-but it is perfectly designed for the sake of the babies health.  It is digested more quickly than formula is.  I would compare drinking a bottle of formula to a carb/protein loaded Thankgiving meal-vs. a 'clean-eating style' meal of breast milk.  (We can only surmise that since nature intended for babies to thrive on breast milk they are designed to be more alert, and sleep for shorter amounts of time-for safety and developmental reasons.  Again this might not "fit" the trends today and our culture  right now, but babies know nothing of "fitting in" and it isn't their fault that they were born when our expectations don't match their needs and developmental stages.)

3. By very very wary of cry-it out sleep training methods.  I have found these are usually quick sells to desperately tired parents. I have also found the books don't paint a totally honest picture (or maybe the author just lacks the experience to be honest) of their "quick fix methods."  There are so many variables that they don't consider.

I tried one of the popular cry-it out approaches when I had my second baby and was told it was "my fault" and she would never fall asleep by herself unless she was taught.  This experience is on my list of "things I regret doing as a young, inexperienced parent."  It didn't work. Yes, I did follow the instructions.  And it was awful.  It left me feeling like my head and heart were going to explode.   It felt abusive to me.  It went against every maternal instinct I have in my body, and it felt so wrong.  And it didn't work, did I say that already?  I know that I gave up after the third or fourth day after following the instructions, when things weren't progressing according to the "experts" plan.  After finding my daughter with a messy diaper and her leg between the crib bars, delirious with misery, looking at me like "how could you?" I vowed never ever to betray my maternal instincts.  It took me weeks to get back to where she didn't cling to me with panic when I approached her room.  I made matters so much worse than they ever were to begin with.  I've heard this same story so many times.  Of babies that cry so hard they throw up, found laying in their vomit, asleep from the pure exhaustion of crying so hard.  Of parents who felt the same as I did in their hearts-that this is not right, it's not natural, it's not healthy.  Of older siblings crying too-asking why their mommy and daddy weren't helping their baby brother or sister, he/she needs you-from the mouths of babes!

Here are some other myths I have learned about the cry-it out sleep training approaches:

They are usually sold as a one-time deal.  As in, once you get through the couple hard days of listening to your baby sob in his/her crib alone for however long (they all have different times) then you'll never have to do it again. They will have "learned" to go to sleep.  Even those silly old nanny 911 shows that promote sleep training don't show the whole picture.  Sure, I'm sure there are some babies who "need" to cry only once before they learn no one will come and comfort them, but I think the "cry it out" approaches result in much more crying over the first and second year than many of them let on to.  I know when I realized this I wasn't willing to ignore my child's needs this much, and I didn't have the heart to repeat the cry-it-out process over and over again.

The first and second year of a baby's life is a huge time of growth in every facet of their lives.

Here are some scenarios I have found that have disrupted sleep patterns in my babies lives-
  • Growth spurts-these were very defined periods where my babies needed to eat more-it is their way of adjusting the milk supply to meet their growing needs.  
  • Some babies get teeth somewhat magically, others drool and rub their mouths and feel relentless pain.
  • Ear infections and other illnesses-usually don't show themselves for a few days which are preceded by night waking and fussiness due to real pain and discomfort.  Sometimes "bad habits" are established during these times (rocking baby to comfort, keeping upright, etc") and the process must start over again.
  • Wakening due to a new skill-One time Janey was sound asleep but mumbling and doing the "roll it" gestures of Pat-A-Cake perfectly (better than she had ever done them awake!) that I had just taught her.  She was all of eight months I think at the time!  It made me laugh-how quickly their brain is forming and how many new skills they are learning.  I compare it to when we adults have a new exciting challenging project we just began or are working on-we go to bed thinking about it, we might wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it, and it's one of the first thoughts we think of in the morning.  This is how babies are-about sitting up, talking, crawling, walking, speaking.  Their brains are wired to be passionate about these learning these new things.
  • Separation Anxiety-here is a great article about the science behind separation anxiety.  It is a natural development phase as babies learn about object permanence and build trust.
  • Colic (real digestive pain-more on this later).
  • Allergies (my children have never dealt with allergies but I've had friends whose babies were terribly sensitive to food, or detergents, etc.)
  • Fears
  • Sensitivities-More on this later, but all of my children were born with different temperments and reacted to their new world in different ways.  Some babies are much more sensitive to their new world than others. 
  • Family changes-Vacations, illnesses, "stress" of every day living (a death in the family, a break from routine because of moving etc.)
4. Be wary of "expert" advice. I've learned to be careful of advice about letting my baby cry, from other people who do not have the connection I have with my baby.  It's sometimes easy for a pediatrician (especially a guy) to say "let him cry". It's not his baby, and he doesn't have the same connection I have-he doesn't (and isn't supposed to have!) the mommy hormones raging through my body (that I AM supposed to have) when it comes to hearing my baby cry.  I should know my baby best-this is what nature intended.  If a mother is truly bonded she will feel the call in her brain and heart and very soul to soothe her baby when that baby lets her know he/she needs it.

One of the popular sleep training methods is called "Ferberizing".  In my opinion it sounds like something that is much more suited to dog training than "baby training".  It requires a lot of crying-not straight crying alone, but crying with parents checking in specified amounts of time.  (Which would just escalate the crying all over again.  "Oh good,  you've come, I've been calling you, didn't you hear me crying for you? Please come and get me and hold me.  Your coming, yay!  NO NO NO wait, wait, please don't leave, please don't leave and ignore me again! Why are you walking away and leaving me again?"  Repeat, repeat, repeat, and then eventually "I'll just give up, they don't care" or fall asleep from pure exhaustion of sobbing so long.)  Even the author has serious concerns with what he feels are misinterpretations of his methods, and talks about that here.  Very interesting.

Another popular method is from the book Baby Wise.  I understand that the appeal in the Baby Wise book is the need for predictability and schedule.  A sense of order to our days as mothers can turn a feeling of being overwhelmed and frustrated into contentment and enjoyment.  Establishing a pattern is healthy for my mind. (I will talk about tips on how to do this without force later).  Being aware of eating/play/sleep pattern is good (and this pattern was not discovered by the author), as long as it is not so rigidly led by me (or some man who wrote a book) that I let baby cry, or don't feed him when he's hungry because "so and so says not to".  I think it is important for mothers to know that Gary Ezzo has been excommunicated from his church (his books are "Christian" based teachings), he has called himself Dr.when he is indeed not and perpetuated other falsehoods about his education, he has little to no experience with children, nor has he studied child development in any sense.  He strongly advocates spanking babies as young as 14 months (and that's the tip of the iceberg in terms of his discipline advice that is utterly abusive) , his views and logic are twisted and ignorant, and the AAP has written a statement against his book because of the increase in failure to thrive babies that have been reported when parents follow the rigid feeding schedule he recommends in his books. Many highly respected, well -known child specialists have spoken out strongly against him and his books. There are many other books that teach more gentle sleep training methods using the same pattern of feed/play/sleep and don't have an evil man behind them.  This is a perfect example of the necessity of being very careful who we mothers take advice from!

5. Also be wary of falling prey to the fear of "creating a lifetime of bad sleep habits" that proponents of cry-it-out methods often employ.  I've heard or read many times that if I didn't "train" my babies to sleep the way some experts suggested I would have toddlers with terrible sleep habits and then children with terrible sleep habits who would turn into adults with terrible sleep habits.  If my babies nursed to sleep, or if I rocked them, or "helped" them to sleep in any way, I would 'create a monster' so to speak.  I can tell you that this has not been my experience at all, quite the opposite.  My older toddlers (around 2 and up, depending on the child) and children have all gone to sleep easily in their own beds and slept through the night barring the occasional nightmare or illness.  We establish night time routines, when they are old enough to understand what it means to lay down, stay in bed, and go to sleep.

I've found that it IS possible to 'sleep-train' babies without tears or at the least avoid heart breaking angst.  I know it's hard to be up at night again and again, I know it's hard to be tired.  I've had "easy" babies and desperately difficult babies.  That's part two-my experience-coming soon.

Here is an interesting new study about co-sleeping!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Love

When I hear Janey wake up after a long nap, I "spy" on her.  I can peek through the door and see her sitting in her crib looking around.  Sometimes she will play with one of the three little bunnies she has in her crib, but mostly she just wakes up slowly, and looks at things around the room.
It is just about the cutest thing ever.
And then I crack the door a little more, and she sees me spying and her whole face lights up into a huge grin.
My heart just fills with love and happiness.
I am grateful for every single day I spend with her.
I am grateful that I get to love her everyday, and be the first thing she sees when she wakes up.
I don't think there is anything in the world that can bring more joy than our own children, do you?

I made the mistake the other day of cruising the internet a little...you know, going to this link or that link and wound up off my strict course of my few favorite uplifting blogs.  I always regret it, darn it, I guess I just have to remind myself of that every once in awhile. When I stray I usually find something that just makes me feel so sad or like the whole darn society is going to pot. 

I hope I'm so wrong but it seems like it has become too common for parents to complain about their kids, or what a pain babies are, or think it's funny to have a misbehaving toddler or child. 

We parents reap what we sow, and much more often that naught, our children's behavior is the reflection of the time and love we put into our parental vocation.  

Babies are precious sweet little perfect creatures that need us, their moms and dads, to love them all day and night long.  So it's sometimes requires us to give a lot.  I just want to say to these parents-get over it!  Grow up!  

If babies are crying and fussy, they are tired or hungry or overstimulated and need some quiet time with us, their parents, alone.  Could we look at this huge new world from their eyes or do we always just have to think about ourselves and our needs?

Toddlers and children-they want so badly to be good, they want to please us, they want us to love them. They rely on us to provide stability and consistency and gentle discipline and exercise and a nice calm atmosphere and good food and enough sleep. 

And love and love and more love.  From us.  Directly from us. Which requires unselfishness on our part once again.  

It shouldn't be funny or cute or witty or popular to be a crappy parent.  Ever.  
But that's generally the stuff of the internet, so what did I expect right? 

I don't want to dwell on that stuff.  I want to see the good in this world, there is so much in it. 

Last Sunday at church we had the cutest little family sit behind us.  
They had four little ones, boom, boom, boom, boom, right in a row.  They looked so neat and cared for, they each had a book with them to keep busy, and were trying hard to sit still.  But two of the toddler boys had an argument over something, and mom had to take one to the cry room (in our church it's just the vestibule) for a little while.  I know she was probably cringing inside, but she shouldn't have been.  The love and care and time and investment these parents had was so apparent.  

The other morning in the grocery store, I saw a mom talking to her little son who must have been about four. They were at the checkout and he was having a hard time with something (gum or Matchbox car most likely, I can relate!), tears of distress pouring down his face.  She stooped down, and took his hands and listened to him, and said a few words, and he calmed down and wiped his tears. She didn't threaten to hit him, or just ignore him, or roll her eyes.  She loved him.  She took the time to love him. It was beautiful.

I know that I am not perfect for sure, far from it, no parents are.  I have had my days when I can't find even that little bit of patience.  I've for sure have had days when I've complained about my children and their endless needs, and when I've had a sleepless fussy baby, I've cried about how hard it is to have a sleepless, fussy baby.  

But I've also learned over the last two decades that when I find the joy in mothering, yes, even when it requires every ounce of me, when I look through the world from the eyes of those who call me mommy, when I stop thinking "oh, this is hard" and started thinking "oh, i'm so lucky", I've fully enjoyed all the aspects of parenting.  I think I owe love and devotion to my children-I think all parents do. 

I like to visualize each of my precious babies as little gifts I was chosen by the grace of God to receive-spiritual perfection enclosed in a tiny bundle of cute human-ness-I have such an obligation (sometimes overwhelming for sure!) to care and nurture these gifts-their little lives depend on us really, to survive and thrive for the rest of their lives.   

Monday, October 21, 2013

What Really Matters

I took a week off and didn't even mean to.  Janey was a fussy short-nap teething baby, and then I had a wonderful bout of mastitis, and if you don't know what that is, consider yourself lucky.

Oh, motherhood.  It's wonderful but it's not always easy.  I often feel pulled in a thousand directions.  I remember a precious letter my grandmother, a mother of nine, sent to my mom, a mother of five that said exactly that.  It was wonderful to know that my grandmother felt the same, felt like we all do-that we are doing our best, day in and day out but still always have a pull to do better.  

And I loved this essay I read recently about stay at home moms.  I absolutely loved it.  To me it's a love letter written to his wife and his children. 

This is my favorite part of the article by Matt Walsh:
"Yes, my wife is JUST a mother. JUST. She JUST brings forth life into the universe, and she JUST shapes and molds and raises those lives. She JUST manages, directs and maintains the workings of the household, while caring for children who JUST rely on her for everything. She JUST teaches our twins how to be human beings, and, as they grow, she will JUST train them in all things, from morals, to manners, to the ABC’s, to hygiene, etc. She is JUST my spiritual foundation and the rock on which our family is built. She is JUST everything to everyone. And society would JUST fall apart at the seams if she, and her fellow moms, failed in any of the tasks I outlined."

It's weeks like I had last week that make me all the more aware of how much I am needed here.  I've written about it before, but I have to say it again.  It's not the easy fun weeks of motherhood that make it all worth it. It's not seeing the baby's first steps, or spending a beautiful day outside at the park for an hour, or the loving hugs or sweet kisses.  

It's the hard stuff.  It's the fussy baby that makes me feel like my head might explode.  It's the diaper doozies-the ones that require a bath, only because that tiny twenty five pound baby is so strong in her insistence to do flips on the changing table that I can't get clean what I need to get clean.  It's the intimacy of even changing a diaper and wiping private parts clean.  It's doing that twice or three times (or more!) a day.

I want it to be ME.  It MUST be me.  My head feels a hormonal buzzing noise when she whines that makes me go pick her up, no matter how tired I am, no matter how annoyed that whining combined with the need to hold her while I get other things done makes me feel, no matter how sore my arm, or how exhausted or sick I am.  

I want her to know that even when she is smellier than what a human nose is supposed to be able to handle, I adore her so much, I will change her lovingly as many times a day as it takes and as soon as possible.  She deserves to feel loved every moment, especially in these moments.  All babies deserve that. 

I remember long ago someone asked me what I tell my oldest daughter about pursuing her education, combining a career and mothering, balancing life.  

Really the answer to that question doesn't just apply to my daughter (daughters now)-I could possibly be blessed with four daughter-in-laws that will raise my grandchildren too.  And my sons and sons-in-law have just as much a part in parenting also.

I can tell you this-more than anything else in the world, I want them all-my sons, my daughters, my son-in-laws and my daughter-in-laws, to be intentional thoughtful present parents.

I want them to be able to have the courage and intelligence to take a step back and see life with a wide angle.  To not fall in line with the rat race of materialism but look and see the beauty of life and the gift, the incredible gift, of parenthood-to know what is really really important and beautiful and true.  I want them to question the main stream, and try not fall prey to the lies that bombard us every day and lead us astray.  I want them to know that all that the society rewards us for, is almost always never what deserves an accolade, and the quiet work of caring for a family and being a responsible member of the universe usually never gets a write up.

Really, I want them to not need rewards.  I want them to be able to be still.  To be patient. To trust.  To wait.  To have faith that living with pure intentions will bring a reward that none of us can ever imagine. That's essentially what parenting is about down to the core.

I want them to not be afraid to make big sacrifices of time and money.  I want them to know the importance of being financially responsible and cautious always, because in today's world it is not just a trait to be had but a necessity.  I want my daughters and sons and their spouses to work together to put parenthood first always and to use their gifts and talents and creativity and intelligence and perseverance to make that happen. I want them to know the real meaning of wealth.

I want them to have knowledge, book knowledge and field experience, in infant and child development.   I want them to see how very very much a baby needs his parents present, and that there is no substitute caregiver that can match a parent's level of care.  I want them to always consider the true needs of their babies, their toddlers, their children first, and to recognize that they are their children's only and best advocates. I want them to know they are utterly undeniably essential every day to their children.  I want them to know this so much that they can easily dismiss any suggestion otherwise.

I want them to know love and selflessness and intention and patience is involved in parenthood and that same care given by a parent can never ever be replicated by anyone else.  

I want my sons and daughters to know they can be different kinds of dads and moms but I want them more than anything to be present.  To be smart enough to know it's impossible to be two places at once, and choices and compromises will have to be made day by day, year by year, decade by decade, to make that happen between them.  I want them to know that what ever kind of moms or dads they are, being present is what matters.  Being present is everything. That they are enough as they are. They are what their child needs, just as they are, strengths and weaknesses, flaws and all, always, day in and day out.

It might, it will, require some sacrifice. All different kinds, not just monetary.  Sacrifice, yes!  It's not a bad word.  It's a beautiful word.  If we are lucky life is long, and there is time to do everything we want to do, but babies grow fast and children grow faster, and on our death beds I doubt we think of money, fame, or even accomplishments as worthy as they may be.  We think of the time we spent with our loved ones.

I want my children, in their role as parents, to know they were each born with incredible maternal and paternal instincts and not be afraid to feel those, or ever feel like they have to tame them and tamper them or deny them.  I know this task will sometimes seems effortless and sometimes it seems so daunting it will scare them to death.

I want them to know their worth as parents deeply, internally, unquestionably.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Quiet Moments

I love spending all the hours with this sweet little girl.  She is teething and into everything and sometimes throws her food, but honestly, that stuff doesn't bother me much anymore.  I was thinking yesterday about how every single stage of childhood brings it's joys and tribulations, it's challenges and it's rewards, but it is all good in the end and all of it needs to happen.  Sometimes when a stage gets frustrating, I think of the alternative.  The alternative being that I don't have little feet pattering after me constantly, and my house sits perfectly clean but empty, and there is no little body to cuddle which will always be a great excuse for a nap.

I remember reading a blog post years and years ago-a young mom had written about the loss of her little girl in a devastating drowning accident.  She wrote the most heart wrenching post I've ever read, and it simply said how weeks ago she was so annoyed at the fingerprints left all over the house by her little toddler-she had just spent hours cleaning and was hustling and bustling to get ready for a family gathering and wanted just a little sense of accomplishment that would last more than five minutes.  I think we can all relate.  Life gets harried sometimes and we moms work hard for hours and days and years on end, and have lots of responsibilities.  But now she wrote, what she wouldn't give to see one of those little fingerprints back on the walls, how she looked and looked for them, hoping she missed a few here or there in her quest the last few days before the accident.  

She wrote the post as a lesson for fellow moms, and it has stayed with me forever.

I want to always remember the work I am doing won't last for long, it is fleeting, it is precious and not ever to be taken for granted.  I will wish it back one day, I already look at the years and wonder where they've gone. There are women who would give anything to be in my place, whether struggling with infertility, or experiencing the sickness or loss of a child and wishing they could have every thing back the way it had once been.

It isn't easy to see this larger scope but I have realized that when I take time every day, even just for a minute, to look at the bigger picture of mothering, it happens. If I stop my mind and cease "doing" I am able to see farther than what needs to be accomplished today, whether that be endless diaper changes, or laundry loads, or squabble settlements, or meal preparation.  I can see beyond the little nuances of every age. The little complaints that can over take my mood become trivial.  A feeling-sorry-for-myself moment can become a thank-my-lucky-stars moment.  Cheerios stuck on the floor become sentimental, an unbroken night's sleep becomes insignificant, the constant call of "mom!" becomes something I know one day will become too rare. It is an easy flip of the switch if I allow it to take place, and all it takes is time to stop and take a walk, sit down on the floor to play, take a moment or two or three to connect with a child.

The gift of motherhood should be treasured, no matter good or bad, endless or monotonous, rewarding or routine. There isn't anything I'd rather be doing, there isn't anything more important on earth, I know this with my whole heart.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Distracted Parenting


Dr. Neal Halfon, a physician who directs the UCLA Center for Healthier Children, Families, and Communities, refers to “parental benign neglect.” One example involved an 18-month-old and his parents:
“‘Their son seemed happy, active and engaged, clearly enjoying time and pizza with his parents. … At the end of dinner, Mom got up to run an errand, handing over care to Dad.’
“Dad … started reading phone messages while the toddler struggled to get his attention by throwing bits of pizza crust. Then the dad re-engaged, facing his child and playing with him. Soon, though, he substituted watching a video on his phone with the toddler until his wife returned.
“… [Dr.] Halfon observed a dimming of the child’s internal light, a lessening of the connection between parent and child.”5
-from a talk by Rosemary M. Wixom called The Words We Speak

I've been thinking so much lately about the benefits of growing up in certain generations.  We received a Newsweek magazine recently that outlined them each generation from the 1900's up-the Baby Boomers, Generation X, etc.  I don't know if I "believe" the little parcels of traits they tuck us all into, but I do notice and worry (because that's what mothers do best) about some of the drawbacks of being a child today.  I know my children are so lucky in so many ways, but I also know that as a mom, I can be so much more distracted and busy if I don't make a deliberate effort to be present, in the moment, with my children.

I am old enough to remember a time as a mother when there were no cell phones, when a computer wasn't a necessary addition to the household.  I know things have changed attention-wise because of all this technology at our fingertips.  If I go back far enough, I remember being raised with a phone that was attached to the wall.   Which meant if my mom needed to talk to someone, the only multi-tasking she could be doing was within 3 feet of the outer wall of our kitchen.  Do you know what that meant?  With five children, there wasn't a lot of multi-tasking while on the phone!  Phone calls were generally quick, and had a purpose.  Even if "catching up" was the purpose, we knew that we had to wait 5 or 10 minutes, quietly, and my mom would be "back".

There are plenty of good things that technology brings us moms-things that make our life easier, but I can't help but want to flip some of what we might think and are told are "benefits" and examine them for what they really are most of the time-distractions, causes of frenetic busy-ness, breaks in concentration, information overload in our brains and most of all, a tendency to not be present for many little minutes that add up quickly in our children's eyes.

Have you ever been talking to someone who you can tell is thinking about the text they just received or sent?  Or having a conversation or meal with someone who is constantly answering their cell phone?  We all know it's rude, but how often do we do this to our children-sometimes they don't have the words to say, "Mom, please look at me!  Mom, please pay attention?  Mom, are you listening?"

When I read the little excerpt from the talk above, the words "dimming of the child's internal light" really struck me hard.  How often does that little light dim?  How long till that light goes out because children give up fighting for our attention?  How often are we distracted and pulled in different, more trivial directions, when we should be focusing our attention on our children?

I was at an indoor soccer game with Patrick this winter...a little league that I usually would pass over, but I knew this little boy needed to get out and run once a week.  The first time I went I sat and watched him play-he was so darn cute, and he said to me before, "Mom, watch me, and cheer me on OK?"  He reminded me so much of Isaac, 13 years ago, at that very same age-a smile on his face, having the time of his life.  I noticed so many little things that made me hunt for a tissue in my pocket-this sweet sweet little boy and all his nuances that only a mother would see.  I've said it a million times before-they will be gone before you know it and there are no do-overs.

When I happened to glance around at the other parents way more than half of them were on their phones.  It made me so sad-these kids KNOW you are here, they want you to watch them, they ARE looking for you, and in that moment they look up, do you want them to see you on some dumb phone? What conversation/game/internet search could be important enough?  Do you all realize how fast time flies?  Don't you want to imprint that sweet little face in your memory forever?

But the next time I took Patrick, Abbey was driving to a lacrosse game in a neighboring town-she texted me to ask me how to get there.  Matthew was home alone and had a question about something and called.  Isaac texted me from school to ask about plans for coming home for the weekend.  If I had walked in on myself during that soccer session, I would have been just as guilty of that inattention as the group of parents last week.

It made me think of how often we are pulled away from our children-sometimes for good reasons, but those reasons wouldn't have even existed 20 years ago.  If I didn't have a cell phone, Abbey would have had to ask me the night before, or called a friend, Matthew would have figured out the answer to his question on his own, or would not have been home alone because he couldn't contact me, and I would have had one weekly phone call (remember when dorms had one phone everyone had to share out in the hall?) and we would have talked about it then-definite plans would have been made and settled without little tidbits of communication back and forth.  I see pre-planning, the development of independence and good decision making...benefits to being un-plugged and un-available.

I can make up (I'm sure we all can) hundreds of excuses for our inattention, but I am trying to decipher, more than ever, if any of them are valid.  I think we as parents must really really flip these excuses over and examine them for what they really are-mostly excuses.

I do know this.  Kids behave better when they get our attention.  Kids pay better attention themselves, when they get attention.  If you want kids to listen to you, listen to them. All kids want to be good.  They don't want to be treated like pests.  They don't want to feel less important than some device in our hand or some keyboard or screen.  Kids don't need to be the center of our world and feel it all revolves around them, but they do need to feel that they are just as important as anything else in our lives.  

The way you show someone they are important is too look them in the eye and pay attention...everyone knows, even the littlest child, when we are truly present.