Curated Sage #Motherhood Advice (running list)

 

  1. “Babies are not meant to sleep alone.” – local La Leche League leader
    • I had asked at a meeting when Little Lion was nine months old, “How the heck do I get him to nap by himself?! He wakes five minutes after I leave the room!!”
  2. “There is so much going on in their first year, especially towards the end of their first year, do not worry about weaning. All babies will wean eventually, when they are ready.” – local La Leche League leader
    • Another attendee had asked, my 11 month old STILL isn’t showing any interest in weaning, is that okay?!
  3. The saying “eating for two” doesn’t really apply during pregnancy but rather AFTER childbirth and you’re breastfeeding! – myself
  4. “Cool as a cucumber.” – fellow RIE parent and good friend
    • When we were discussing how to handle babies testing boundaries
  5. “Do NOT get sucked into their vortex.” – Regalena Melrose
    • In reaction to her son throwing his first tantrum. Use in combination with previous mantra.
  6. “This goes out to all the new mamas: you will be so scared of your baby growing too fast and yes, it will grow fast. But let me tell you: each phase your child passes through is beautiful in its unique way and incomparable to what you know. Getting to know your tiny human is the most beautiful job in the world and every step will be rewarded along the way. Enjoy every second of being a mother but never fear the future; embrace it for it gets more exciting and beautiful every day.” – @jojoula
  7. “Be happy in the moment. That’s all we need. Each moment is all we need, not more.” – Mother Teresa
    • When I feel rushed or overwhelmed, I try to remind myself that… This is only a moment, and one day, I will wish to return to this moment to handle it better or to enjoy it more or whatever, and I won’t have that chance, so I only have the NOW to handle it better or to enjoy it more or whatever!

Review – The Drama Of The Gifted Child

The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for the True Self (buy on Amazon.com)

by Alice Miller, published 1979, 1997

Recently I was discussing economic and social philosophy with some friends and the question came up about why certain philosophical ideas aren’t more popular or well-known if they seem to be more logically correct than the alternatives. We entertained a number of reasons why this might be but the one that stuck out to me as particularly weighty is the idea that the truth is deep, long and heavily nuanced and doesn’t make for quick, emotional soundbites. I made the quip, “Why is the economy the way it is? Do you have 5 years to study what you’d need to know to understand it?” followed by, “Why does the political system look as it does today? Do you have an entire lifetime to devote to studying all of human history?”

The other weighty suggestion that was offered is that there are many philosophies that cater to telling people what they want to hear (ie, an easy to accept reality) and only one that emphasizes telling it like it is (ie, a hard truth about reality).

I see echoes of these two notions in the opening of Alice Miller’s “Gifted Child”:

The damage done to us during our childhood cannot be undone, since we cannot change anything in our past. We can, however, change ourselves. We can repair ourselves and gain our lost integrity by choosing to look more closely at the knowledge that is stored inside our bodies and bringing this knowledge closer to our awareness. This path, although certainly not easy, is the only route by which we can at last leave behind the cruel, invisible prison of our childhood. We become free by transforming ourselves from unaware victims of the past into responsible individuals in the present, who are aware of our past and are thus able to live with it.

Most people do exactly the opposite. Without realizing that the past is constantly determining their present actions, they avoid learning anything about their history. They continue to live in their repressed childhood situation, ignoring the fact that it no longer exists. They are continuing to fear and avoid dangers that, although once real, have not been real for a long time. They are driven by unconscious memories and by repressed feelings and needs that determine nearly everything they do or fail to do.

This book asks the reader to consider two troubling ideas. The first is that they are likely to be carrying some emotional baggage from their childhood that originates with the way they were cared for by parents and other important adults in their lives. The second is that they are likely to transmit this baggage to their own children (if they have any) and other important, intimate relationships if they don’t find a way to come to terms with it beforehand.

Like the consideration made about the popularity or penetration of certain economic and social philosophies, these ideas are troubling for most people to accept because it forces them to revise their current understanding of the relationships they have with important people in their lives, it forces them to take responsibility for the course of their lives and their choices and give up the perverse safety and security of seeing life through the eyes of the helpless victim and it forces them to concede that the present is not a unique or isolated moment pregnant with infinite possibilities, but rather one moment at the end of a string of moments stretching back into the earliest reaches of human history in which possibilities exist but are limited by certain choices and events which took place in the uncontrollable past.

There is of course great freedom in choosing to explore these troubling ideas but they come at the cost of a grave responsibility that few, based on my practical experience, seem willing to bear.

To find this freedom, one must seek out “the lost world of feelings.” Human infants are entirely dependent upon their adult caretakers for their survival, unlike most other animals who, while weak and undeveloped, are nonetheless able to move around, seek shelter, find food, etc., on their own almost immediately after birth. For a young human, being ostracized or unloved by ones parents is a death sentence. Therefore, the human psyche is wired at birth to prioritize adapting to the parents’ emotional needs over fully developing its own.

If certain emotional expressions or behaviors prove to be problematic for the relationship with the parents, the human child will work to repress and hide that part of themselves. They will disown it and their personality will become dichotomized into “me”, the feelings and behaviors and characteristics I acknowledge and accept because they have demonstrated value with my parents, and “not me”, the feelings and behaviors and characteristics I deny possessing or experiencing because they have been a source of conflict with my parents, on whom I depend for survival.

This is what Miller means when she talks about searching for the “true self.” The irony, however, is that

the child does not know what he is hiding.

That is, it is not as if the child knows what his true self is and isn’t and is lying to himself and others about who he really is. It is more like, he has shoddy vision and can’t see a focused image of himself in true detail, or else he has a map of himself leading to the buried treasure of his own reality but he doesn’t know how to read the map and therefore doesn’t know where his self is or even what he’ll find when he gets there. Every now and then this person might get a glimpse or a sense of their true self in a particularly emotionally charged moment but really all they’re experiencing is the anxiety indicating the existence of repressed and disowned selfhood, not a look at what is missing.

To heal, these emotions must be encountered and experienced. Further, painful emotions must be resolved by tracking down their genesis in early childhood experiences. Memories and relationships with respected and important adult caretakers must be studied and re-evaluated through the more objective eyes of an independent adult rather than the way they were first constructed by a subjective and immature child. This not only allows the adult of the now to be released from the terrors of the former child but it can enable the adult to have new modes of living and doing:

Rational, constructive action depends not only on the intactness of our intellectual faculties, but also on the extent to which we have access to our true emotions.

[…]

the inescapable conclusion is that for people to be able to organize their lives, they must have access to their emotions.

This is one of the many and for me, the most important, takeaways from this book. It is not enough to rationalize about a choice and a potential plan of action. To actually develop an impetus to act requires an emotional experience. Adults who repress certain parts of their emotional selves due to childhood traumas become incapable of acting in certain areas of their lives. They become procrastinators, perfectionists or otherwise evasive in the area of making a decision, acting on it and then sticking with it.

By finding and integrating one’s lost world of feelings, one has the opportunity to become active and empowered in new areas of one’s life that were otherwise mysterious, frustrating or dormant.

One question that comes up for some people as they consider all of this is, “But why did my parents ever treat me in such and such a way?” Using some of the memories and recollections of a famous cultural writer as an example, Miller says,

like so many gifted children [he] was so difficult for his parents to bear not despite but because of his inner riches. Often a child’s very gifts […] will confront his parents with conflicts that they have long sought to keep at bay by means of rules and regulations. These regulations must then be rescued at the cost of the child’s development.

The parents’ childhoods involved repression as well. For their own survival they learned to disown parts of their emotional experience or certain of their behaviors that caused trouble with their parents. They rationalized this turn of events and created rules for living that would help them avoid these perceived dangers. And then when they had children, these rules and procedures came into question by the existence of the innocent child. And so a new round of repression is started.

The only way the cycle can be broken is for the adult to make the painstaking effort to connect with his child self and understand what happened and how it has impacted him, and then he must choose to live his life differently with that new awareness of his past. This is hard for many to do because

What they do not see, because they cannot see them, are the absurdities enacted by their own mothers when they were still tiny children.

Another powerful idea contained in this book is an explanation of the appeal of irrational ideas to adults with traumatic childhood experiences. The trauma of childhood is itself irrational– there is no “reason” for any child to be abused or neglected by those who brought it into the world, and save those who are simply unlucky in having some external misfortune befall their family (ie, the child is made an orphan when the parents die unexpectedly), there is no excuse or justification the adults could offer a child as to why they are being treated as they are. For survival reasons, the child must make a place in their psyche for irrational ideas to exist because in doing so they “close the loop” on the irrationality and make it seem rational. “Some things just don’t make sense” is a way to make sense of things that don’t make sense.

When this space for irrationality exists, adults can become wedded to irrational ideas and beliefs, such as political ideologies, abusive social relationships or supernatural superstitions. On one hand, they lack the ability to rationally resist these ideas and beliefs because they are willing to accept that not everything has to make rational sense in their lives. On the other hand, they may positively identify with the claims of these ideologies because they appeal to their own experiences or sense of self as a victim who is oppressed by others, that is, they offer a way to feel like they’re getting even. On this point Miller is worth quoting at length:

Oppression and the forcing of submission do not begin in the office, factory or political party; they begin in the very first weeks of the infant’s life.

[…]

Political action can be fed by the unconscious rage of children who have been misused, imprisoned, exploited, cramped and drilled. This rage can be partially discharged in fighting “enemies”, without having to give up the idealization of one’s own parents. The old dependency will then simply be shifted to a new group or leader. If, however, disillusionment and the resultant mourning can be lived through, social and political disengagement do not usually follow, but our actions are freed from the compulsion to repeat. They can then have a clear goal, formed out of conscious decisions.

Once our own reality has been faced and experienced, the inner necessity to keep building up new illusions and denials in order to avoid the experience of that reality disappears. We then realize that all our lives we have feared and struggled to ward off something that really cannot happen any longer; it has already happened, at the very beginning of our lives while we were completely dependent.

The term “fighting yesterday’s battles” comes to mind when thinking about this irrational space.

While Miller’s analysis applies to any child and any adult experiencing emotional pain and depression (whether they’re aware of it or not!), the book is especially focused on the plight of “gifted” children because of the uniquely problematic experience they can have in this area due to their talents and abilities. Not only do “gifted” children tend to experience these emotional troubles more deeply,

many people suffering from severe symptoms are very intelligent

but they also tend to experience these troubles uniquely through feelings of grandiosity and contempt.

Grandiosity is the concept of identifying one’s personal value as a person with one’s special talents and abilities. One’s greatness isn’t just a part of one’s self, it IS the self. But this complicates the emotional life of the gifted child because it is inevitable that not every part of themselves is grand. There exists then another dichotomy, wherein all the parts that are grand (which may be very few and overall represent a quite limited part of the total person or experience of self) are “me”, and all the parts that are normal or weak (which is likely then the majority and the wider experience of self) are “not me”. And if my parents love and care for the grand gifts I have but dislike or don’t know how to deal with the unexceptional aspects of my self, then

we remain at bottom the one who is despised, for we have to despise everything in ourselves that is not wonderful, good, clever… we despise… in short, the child in ourselves and in others.

[…]

“Without these achievements, these gifts, I could never be loved. would never have been loved.”

An emotional experience that often goes hand in hand with grandiosity is contempt.

The function all expressions of contempt have in common is the defense against unwanted feelings. [ie, despising what is not grand about oneself]

[…]

Once we are able to feel and understand the repressed emotions of childhood, we will no longer need contempt as a defense against them.

[…]

Contempt as a rule will cease with the beginning of the mourning for the irreversible that cannot be changed… it is, after all, less painful to think that the others do not understand because they are too stupid.

Gifted people often experience contempt for others as an expression of insecurity about the repressed parts of themselves that are not part of their gifts. Unable to have empathy and kindness towards themselves in these areas, they become impatient and hostile towards those reminders of their own weakness that they see in others.

Sadly,

hating and offending an innocent person, using him as a scapegoat, can only strengthen the walls of our inner prison of confusion, isolation, fear and loneliness: it cannot free us.

And the most innocent person of all, the most unfair scapegoat a person can choose in this drama, is their child self. Whether these ideas are new or familiar, I encourage anyone reading this to consider the implications of the ideas contained in this book not as if they describe a set of generalized human experiences but rather as if they describe something specific and personal to the reader himself. If this book’s message can be taken to heart and internalized, it can be the jumping off point for great personal change that will ultimately resolve itself in what Miller refers to as a “healthy self-feeling”:

I understand a healthy self-feeling to mean the unquestioned certainty that the feelings and needs one experiences are a part of one’s self.

 

Looking Back On A Year Gone By

To Our Little Lion,

The allusion to a New Year reflection post is intentional, as is the suggestiveness of the title that time is moving past us at a regretfully quick speed. Although the first few weeks and months of your life you were changing every single day, the change appeared more gradual and more difficult to notice. Around six months, the pace of change accelerated and after a year you are already entering your personhood and the volume of change occurring is almost impossible for us to note with any detail.

Whereas in the past I sought to document some of the specific observations about your behavior and development that stood out to me, this time I want to share with you about an episode along the way which was particularly trying for the Wolf and me. I want you to understand what happened and how we came to our decision. Finally, I want to do some reflecting but not about you, rather, about us.

When you were born you had some trouble forming a proper latch when you were nursing. It took us several months to figure out that you had a minor and surgically correctable condition called a “tongue tie”– essentially, the fibers underneath your tongue connecting it to the floor of your mouth were a bit too taut for you to control your tongue the way you need to to make breastfeeding easy for you and your mother.

Eventually, with the help of some of our medical consultants, we realized what was going on and had the short (2 minute) procedure performed at a local dentist’s office. However, it took some time afterward for you to develop the strength and dexterity in your tongue necessary to nurse without difficulty. For five or six months, the Wolf was completely dedicated to pumping her milk for you which was then fed to you in a bottle. She had to do this six to eight times a day, for twenty to thirty minutes at a time, and then you had to be fed afterward. It was very hard for her and she was very sad and even angry at times as she learned to accept her choice, which was to provide you with a diet that was largely (75%+) still her breast milk — “the best milk” — even though you couldn’t get to it on your own by nursing. She made that choice because she believed you really needed her and it was important to your immunity, your brain and body development and long-term, your intelligence, health and well-being. It was a difficult challenge, and it was an opportunity for her to form an even stronger bond with you.

Eventually you gained the strength and ability to resume breastfeeding. You were taken back off the bottle and formed the relationship through nursing with the Wolf that she had hoped to have with you from day one. It was a great relief to realize she could give up the pumping routine and just enjoy feeding time with you like that… we were concerned it might never be possible.

Unfortunately, it took us some time early on to understand what was going on with your feeding and during that time you were undernourished. Then, as we made adjustments, you rapidly began gaining weight and strength. Perhaps because of this, your gross motor development was different than the average infant and you were considered, on a relative basis, to be slow to develop your sitting and crawling.

Because of the trying ordeal with your feeding early on, the Wolf and I decided it was important to get more checkups with your pediatrician than we otherwise would bother with because our principle is to not visit with medical professionals unless something seems to be wrong. At the time of this visit, nothing seemed to be wrong, just the opposite, you seemed very happy, healthy and growing every day. But we were fearful because of our early experience and we wanted to be sure. So your mother took you in for a checkup.

The visit with the doctor was uneventful until the pediatrician noticed you were not sitting up. She became extremely alarmed and said that this potentially indicated a major problem for your health and that you needed to be screened by specialists right away. She didn’t offer many other details beside that and was not willing to entertain questions or curiosities from your mother and me. She claimed she had never in her practice seen a child your age not sit up on their own.

To say this was hard for us to believe would be an understatement. I began calling some of the screening agencies she recommended and tried to understand what it was they wanted to do with you and why it was necessary. I tried to get names and contact information for the specialists who were actually knowledgeable about the specific concerns the pediatrician had for you so I could consult with them directly and skip a step. The more I dug, the more confusing the process we were referred to appeared to be and I began losing confidence in the pediatrician’s recommendation.

Your mother and I spent a three week period feeling absolutely awful. We were worried for you. We felt alone and vulnerable, not understanding what was apparently wrong and not having anyone in an authoritative position we could turn to to just ask questions. We were leaning towards taking the pediatrician’s concerns seriously, after all, we had been wrong in not recognizing your earlier nutritional challenges. On the other hand, it was hard to avoid the sense that we were facing a choice of believing her or our “lying eyes”, as you seemed otherwise to be a cheerful and ever-changing infant.

It seemed like a defining moment for us, and for you and for our relationship with you– to begin to see you symptomatically, as somehow “wrong” the way you were, or to have faith that if you were not showing signs of distress or pain you would develop in due time in your own way and that would be fine.

We did manage to visit with an occupational therapist for a consultation, skipping the strange screening process that was recommended to us. The occupational therapist observed you for a half hour and told us that she saw nothing to be concerned about, that she believed you would learn to crawl and sit up with time and that we could choose to work with her to accelerate the process through therapy if we liked. She seemed confident but we still had some uncertainty, what if you did not? What if there really was a problem and you got further and further behind developmentally, whatever that meant?

Ultimately we decided to wait. The very week the pediatrician raised the alarm you got yourself into a crouching (pre-crawl) position on your own, without any encouragement or assistance from us. Your body just told you to do that. As the weeks went by, your crawling changed and you began pulling yourself up against furniture. Eventually you sat up on your own and began playing and manipulating objects in that position. Today, you are on the verge of walking, spending more and more time every day pulling yourself up on furniture and ledges and practicing standing. It’s clear your body just keeps telling you to try this and you are gaining strength and confidence with each attempt.

In hindsight, there was nothing to worry about. You got there and you are getting there, on your own, in your own way. What might’ve been a disastrous path toward treating a “condition” that didn’t exist and becoming the ward of a variety of specialists and other agents that have no business interfering with your health and development at worst, or a subtle transformation in our own perception of you as somehow “flawed” and not okay as you happen to be at best, is instead an already seemingly distant but painful memory. As difficult as it was to go through, it certainly has given the Wolf and I increased courage to be patient with you and to look to the good in you, to focus on what you are capable of right now and what’s going well for you than to dwell on what you can not yet do or to focus on potential items of worry. It has consequently reduced our stress as parents a great deal to have experience to back this mindset.

So now, a reflection about us as parents.

When I watch other people interact with you, I am always surprised to see how much of what they do and say seems to be about them than about you. What I mean by that is, they seem to be playing out their needs and you are an object utilized in the goal, rather than they are thinking about your needs and treating you as the subject of a relationship they have with you.

What seems to be true of them could of course be true of us, your mother and father. And its something I think we need to be the most mindful of in our interactions with you.

Many people conceive of parenting as a project in filling up an empty vessel. Whether that vessel is to be filled with love, values, knowledge, experiences or anything else, the implicit idea is that the child is empty and the parents’ job is to put things in. The result is a “full person”, a wholesome, well-balanced individual.

We think you’ve got almost everything you need to be who you are. It’s inside of you, just waiting for the right time and place to come out. We can feed you, clothe you and care for you in any other way you need us but the real development work is done by you, not by us. In fact, we can interfere and get in the way of your natural development quite easily, but it is difficult to impossible to think of ways we could improve upon it.

The ways in which we would be tempted to interfere would be the ways in which we feel incomplete as ourselves. What we want to pour into you are the things we wish we were in touch with ourselves. If we feel empty in these ways it becomes more likely that the time we spend together is less about getting to know who you are and more about getting to know the distant parts of ourselves. The danger is that we use you like an object on this quest for self-knowledge.

The true heavy-lifting we can do as parents is to keep working on ourselves. If we can model whole, complete, satisfied individuals to you through our own lives, we give you an aspirational development goal that is in alignment with our parenting goal. If we spend at least as much time working to become the best versions of ourselves we can be as we do trying to be “better parents” with more tips, tricks, techniques, tools, knowledge, experience, values, resources, etc., we will be of far more value to you as you grow than we would be if we convinced ourselves that giving you things or putting things into you could make up for the existential emptiness we demonstrate to you with our daily lives, lives you are intimately aware of because you are right beside us the whole time.

What’s interesting about this for us to realize is that this is actually best for us, too. But since our goal is to live with empathy and look for ways to cooperate it maybe shouldn’t be surprising that what’s best for you is also best for us.

Review – 1, 2, 3… The Toddler Years

1,2,3…The Toddler Years: A Practical Guide for Parents and Caregivers 3rd Edition (buy from Amazon.com)

by Irene Van der Zande, published 2011

A friend had recommended “The Toddler Years” as a resource for continued learning and practice with regards to piloting RIE from infancy into childhood. And indeed, the book is similar in format, structure, tone and event content to works we’ve read previously and enjoyed such as Your Self-Confident Baby and Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect. Much of the material and insight in the book comes via childcare practitioners at a day facility in Santa Cruz, CA and the book has a preface by Magda Gerber. This is definitely “RIE-approved”.

As I was reading this book and noticing the similarities, I asked myself, “Why do we do what we do [as parents]?” When we first learned about RIE and NVC, it was easy to get overwhelmed with all the new DOs and DONTs in terms of behavior and lose sight of the goal. The goal is not to follow some set of rules, arbitrary or otherwise, or even to be Good Parents as some kind of exercise in living an ideal, but to live our lives in relation to our children a certain way– to treat them with the kind of respect we’d hopefully treat any other adult.

As I was reading the scenario-specific counsel in this book, I realized that “what to do” in any of these situations shouldn’t be mysterious. We can get to the answer quite easily by inverting the situation and asking ourselves what we’d do if an adult acted like a child? How would we treat that adult? With condescension, disgust, frustration, anger or worse, violence? Or would we practice patience, understanding, offer our assistance and respect their needs and choices as much as we could?

That being said, these lessons about commonly occurring parenting dynamics are indeed helpful pre-practice and may result in the thought processes and related behaviors becoming more intuitive and flow-y rather than flustering or rehearsed.

Choice

Just like all of us, toddlers are happier when they have some control over their lives. This also makes it easier for them to accept what they don’t have a choice about.

The first act of a child’s life, being born, is a set of circumstances the child itself had no choice in creating. Nor is the child aware of its lack of choice, in this situation or any others, for some time after birth. Nor even is the child capable of exerting any influence over the course of its life, via choice, even if it was aware of the choices that existed.

But over time the child’s life becomes increasingly defined by choice both in terms of awareness and in terms of action. It is no wonder then that “choice” is an important theme in the development of the life of the toddler and that we as parents and caregivers can render a great service to our children by giving them choices whenever we can and being understanding with them when they react against the situations where they lack choice but might like to have one for whatever reason.

One way to offer choice is via closed questions, that is, “Would you like to have an apple for your snack, or a banana?” versus “Would you like a snack?” The reason to offer closed questions is because it encourages the child to make choices we can live with. It can be easy to get bogged down in the subtle reality of how little toddlers have to choose about their life at times– we know they NEED a diaper change but they don’t WANT one, etc. Using closed questions frames the choice around taking a positive action the caregiver believes is necessary and hopefully avoiding fighting and antagonism over choices that don’t exist.

Similarly,

When there is no choice, we need to be careful not to offer one by mistake.

Saying, “We’re going to Grandma’s, it’s cold outside, do you want to wear your jacket?” might elicit a “No!” and a frozen child, when what we really meant was to offer a closed question such as, “Would you like to put your jacket on yourself or would you like me to help you put it on?”

Feelings

Spend a lot of time giving children names for their feelings.

As adults, we have a certain awareness of our feelings such that we can distinguish one feeling from another, the intensity of the feeling, its source and perhaps most importantly, we can label our feelings in order to communicate about them more clearly. (This is the ideal with adults, anyway… any student of NVC is aware of just how limited even many adults’ capabilities are in this regard!)

With young children it is different. Feelings might seem to come from nowhere and shock or surprise. They might seem uncontrollable. One kind of feeling of a high intensity might seem similar to that same feeling at lower intensity (ie, just “good” or “bad”, pleasant or unpleasant) and there is most of the time no sense of the character of a feeling and the name it carries. Talking about feelings with young children and repeating the names of the feelings we observe them experiencing can help a toddler start to gain mastery and awareness of their feelings.

Children need to understand their feelings. They need to know their uncomfortable feelings are just as important as their pleasant feelings. By accepting these feelings, we teach our toddlers to accept themselves and each other.

The goal of many parents and caregivers seems to be to raise a child who only experiences good feelings. Feelings of pain are warded off, “Oh you’re alright, nothing happened!” as are feelings of shame or fear, “Be a big boy, don’t cry!” Perhaps the motivation is to provide children with that ideal experience, “childhood innocence”, as long as possible and to protect them from reality which is sometimes disappointing, frightening, infuriating or just plain unfair.

But accepting some feelings and rejecting others leads to self-repression and a certain kind of schizophrenia. There is the “me” that has feelings which are acceptable to the adults and caregivers in my life, and there is the “not me” that has feelings which make them uncomfortable, which seems to pop up in my life at the most embarrassing times. Helping children to experience all their emotions as equally valid allows them to build confidence in the unity of their self.

Limits

Limits can be stated in firm but respectful words. We can do this by using what is called an “I” message. That is, instead of saying “You must do this” we can make it clear that we are speaking for ourselves:

“I want you to be gentle.”

“I need you to help me get your clothes on.”

“I don’t like it when you run away.”

We can talk about what the child is doing rather than using blaming or labeling words.

Some people find parenting with respect challenging because they equate it with a kind of “anarchy” and the giving up of their authority even in matters of safety or in enforcing their personal preferences in their own home or life. It can be hard enough to adjust to living with a messy spouse, for instance, now a diabolical two-year-old is supposed to reign over me?

This is a false dichotomy. Respect is a two-way street. And imperative to having respect and giving respect is to be clear about who is respecting what. Using the “I” technique makes it clear that limits have to do with individual needs and don’t involve arbitrariness or authority.

Building Confidence

Children who are confident in their ability to learn through practice are more likely to grow into independent people… making things happen rather than waiting for things to happen to them.

We learn to be action-oriented in our lives or we learn to wait for a rescue that isn’t coming.

There are two models of failure and its significance that humans can internalize according to recent psychological research. One model is failure-as-feedback, in which failure indicates that an action was not performed properly to achieve the desired result with the possibility that it could be performed properly with further practice.

The other model is failure-as-wrongness, in which failure indicates that a person is not appropriate to a task at hand in some existential way and their inability to achieve success in this instance is evidence of their wrongness or lack of completeness as a functioning person.

It is imperative that children have opportunities to practice actions, to experience occasional failure, and to be encouraged to try again in order that they build confidence in themselves and in the model of failure-as-feedback. Without internalizing this principle, they are apt to experience a life of growing self-doubt and confusion on a fundamental personal level.

Presentism

Toddlers live in the here and now. Yesterday is ancient history and tomorrow might as well be next year.

How wonderful that toddlers can remind us that the present is all we ever have! As adults it is so easy to live with regret, or to drift through the present ever-anticipating the future.

Of course, they may serve us these reminders in unpleasant ways with their seeming impatience, or their repetitious requests or insatiable demands for things they’ve already been given before. But it’s important either way, for our own sanity and enjoyment of life, that we remember that they only behave this way because the present urge is the only one they know at this moment in their life.

Sleep

Give warnings before bedtime so the child has a chance to finish playing.

Not only do small children seem to sleep fitfully at times, but they also go to sleep fitfully. And sleep seems to creep up on them and snatch them when they aren’t expecting it. One moment they are playing with their toys and screeching with gaiety, the next they are rubbing their eyes and ears and about to topple over with sudden onset of wooziness.

Adults can help children anticipate the future, and their own need for sleep, by following bed time rituals which include buffer time and light warnings that sleep is coming and it is time to begin winding down.

The “S word” – Sharing

Toddlers do not learn to share by having grown-ups make them do it. Having to give up a toy makes a toddler feel angry, not loving.

Why do adults think sharing is so important? Is it simply mindless repetition of their own childhood experience? Is it a social or cultural imperative tied to recent historical developments? Is it a way to feel equal while ignoring that we are not?

Sharing is not in the vocabulary of small children although, curiously, property rights are! The individual child’s property right, at least. While there are many ways to respect small children by thinking of them and treating them as capable of something they have not yet mastered, sharing seems to be one of those things that does not lend them respect or enjoyment when it is expected of them.

In our home we don’t care for sharing as a principle. So avoiding the “S word” will be relatively easy for us!

Tantrums

If a toddler finds out that having a tantrum is a way around our limits, the child may start throwing tantrums all the time.

Another idea that is interesting about tantrums is that they belong to the child, not to the parent. It is easy for the adult to assume a tantrum is a demonstration of a critical failure in their parenting, rather than a critical failure in the emotional regulation of the child. Of course they often come at the most inopportune times as well, right before trying to leave for an errand, or out in public amongst a bunch of gawkers.

Even during a tantrum, the child is experiencing an emotion they are truly experiencing and it’s worth it for parents and other caregivers to practice patience and understanding in these moments, validating the emotion even if it is disagreeable and talking through it with the child, along with giving them space to express their emotion, to exhaustion if necessary.

Toilet time

The time to start toilet learning is when our toddlers show signs of being ready, like:

  • having dry diapers for longer periods of time
  • letting us know that they’ve pooped or peed in their diapers
  • showing interest in sitting on a toilet or potty chair
  • wanting to wear underpants
  • disliking wearing wet or soiled diapers

The book does not call it toilet “training” for a reason. This is not a rote memory behavior or even a reflex. It requires conscious effort and it has a psychological root. Being ready to use a toilet for elimination is an egotistic decision and like many other similar experiences in life we can help the child by waiting until they’re ready rather than expecting to do something they’re not yet capable of or don’t see any benefit in themselves.

Eating and weaning

Toddlers will eat when they’re hungry, but might not eat much.

Toddlers need to eat more often than we do. Their stomachs are smaller.

Toddlers like to have choices.

Meals are served outside whenever the weather permits.

One thing I thought could’ve been added in this section is the observation that sometimes toddlers will eat quite a bit! In fact, too much and too fast if you keep putting food in front of them. We are learning to offer one piece of food at a time and waiting until our Little Lion requests more (with reaching, grunting and looking for the food). Even then, we try to pace things as his belly is bound to fill up quicker than his brain gets the signal that it’s time to stop.

Successful parenting

It helps to remember that, just as there are no perfect people, there are no perfect parents or children. There are no perfect families either, even if they look that way from the outside. It’s not our job to be perfect, but to do the best we can.

I’ll let that one settle in on its own.

It’s healthy for our children to see us having interests besides our families.

It’s also healthy for our children to see us acknowledging their needs without actually fulfilling them, instantaneously or at all. New parents often forget that it’s okay to use the bathroom, even if it means a crying child. And these kinds of over-permissive decisions can extend beyond those first few months to picking the child up whenever it beckons, interrupting a rhythm or flow in some household chore to immediately respond to the child’s request, etc. The child isn’t always going to get what they want in life and it’s okay to model that now, in toddlerhood. Just realize you may hear a bit more crying and whining as a result of your decision.

Being polite by acknowledging people socially is an adult need, not a child’s.

Teaching children to wave hello and goodbye, to high-five, to smile or “be nice” to strangers who greet them and to say please and thank you may seem cute but it is not necessary and it may even be unsafe (why undermine a child’s instinctive apprehension of strangers?)

Some people who do not understand that children are individuals and not objects can find it frustrating and demeaning to deal with an “aloof” child. Why is it so important to this person to be acknowledged by a tiny toddler who is more interested in drooling over their toys? What does their need for acknowledgement and validation-in-existence truly imply?

Guilt keeps us looking backward and feeling bad about what we should have done instead of looking forward and feeling good about what we’re going to do next.

This idea is tied to the failure-as-feedback model. If we are always learning and growing, as the toddler is, and we want to model this as normal, we would do well to focus on what we’ll do next and not to obsess about the past.

Enjoying your child

Childhood passes quickly. And it never comes back. “They won’t need me as much as they do now.”

A truly bittersweet thought. To acknowledge that the pain, discomfort and disruption of being always needed is ephemeral; but so too is the joy, confidence and excitement of being the center of a young person’s world.

4/5

 

Notes On Reading With Our Little Lion

The Wolf and I have been a bit negligent about reading with our Little Lion to date. When he was just out of the womb, I spent the first few weeks of life reading through “Our Oriental Heritage” from the Story of Civilization series, while the Little Lion and the Wolf breastfed to sleep. We made a lot of progress– we got through all of Ancient Egypt and most of the Mesopotamian cultures, through to Persia. I think we stopped right around Ancient India.

Many things got in the way when we set the book down and forgot to come back to it, not just one thing. But the most important reason in my mind is that it seemed like our Little Lion developing his other skills and capabilities was more important than trying to read every day. Eating, sleeping, walking (me + stroller + doge), rolling and crawling, etc. Reading was one more thing that seemed to have limited benefit on a relative basis.

I know all Good Parents read to their kids everyday, even when they’re not paying attention or can’t sit still on their lap. I also know all Good Parents do Tummy Time. We didn’t do Tummy Time. And we didn’t read to our Little Lion every day. So we might not be Good Parents. We’ll see.

One thing we do with our Little Lion is we talk a lot. We listen to music. We have adult conversations with one another, using adult words, and with our Little Lion, using adult words. We talk about our emotions and we don’t hide from him when we aren’t getting along with ourselves, each other or other people. His home is partially bilingual (trilingual… but I can’t seem to catch a break on getting that third language spoken more frequently than the second!) so our Little Lion is getting a lot of exposure to language.

The Wolf and I are big readers. Even if we’ve been negligent so far with our Little Lion, he will have no questions about whether he’s living in a literary household. Some day he’ll read our reviews on this blog, and hopefully contribute his own! He will see the Lion and the Wolf reading all kinds of things, nearly every day, often for long stretches of time. If he grows up hating books, I don’t think it will be because we didn’t do a lot of story time for the first ten months of his life.

That being said, our Little Lion seems like he’s able to get some benefit from being read to now and seems like he can actually enjoy the interaction actively. So we’re diving in a bit on this one now, reviewing potential titles to add to his library. We’re also thinking about principles for selecting books for reading and principles for how to benefit from reading together. Here is what we have thought about so far.

Principles for Selecting Books

  • Avoiding fantasy themes until much older; no books that depict characters or events which could not possibly be witnessed in real life
  • Emphasizing characters, events, animals, natural environments, that our Little Lion has a good chance of experiencing in his present location; there is plenty of time, as he develops and over the course of his reading career, to explore places and things beyond “home”
  • Emphasizing people, emotions and simple story lines with vivid images (real, or highly realistic is fine)
  • Action emphasized over values and meanings, though values and meanings we agree with are okay (things we’re not okay with: PC culture, sharing is caring, collective inclusion and individual exclusion, embedded authoritarian messaging)
  • Baby-centric narratives are okay for now, but modeling relationships and older people is okay, too
  • Questionable– “fairy tale” type stories like Aesop’s Fables. The Fables characters are animals, who usually talk, the emphasis is on the lesson and the action, not the talking animal, but the animals could easily be retold as people to make the stories useful
  • You can’t know if every book is appropriate ahead of time, it might take flipping through a copy at a book store or actually trying to read it after buying it to figure out it’s a joke

Principles for Enjoying Reading Time Together

  • Try it when everyone is well rested
  • Okay to read “the same thing” over and over, especially if baby chooses to do so; it’s new to them!
  • There’s more to story time than being read to or following the story; touching, looking, making noises, tasting, etc. are all part of the experience
  • If baby doesn’t want to sit on the lap and read actively, he can be read to “passively” while he plays, crawls, etc. in a safe space nearby
  • The adults can read “children’s books”, or read their own books that fall within these guidelines (actually much more likely with an “adult” book), whatever they’ll be interested to read with the child
  • Act it out and get animated if you like; tell a good story!
  • Use the book as a prop to tell a different story if you like, especially if it has limited text and can be easily modified
  • Talk ABOUT the book as much as you READ the book; discuss what’s going on, see what baby is reacting to, ask baby questions about the story; as baby gets older, you can both evaluate what you read afterward, and do critical reviews of “joke” books you’re sorry you read
  • Read baby history and the classics when desired (we’ll be working our way back through the Story of Civilization, and through some Shakespeare as well)
  • Don’t feel compelled to finish any book you start or to stop baby from “interrupting”, let baby do what they will and work with it; if it’s too distracting, try story time another day; the goal is to be together, not to “read” together
  • Understand that reading to “passive” baby is a specific activity and shouldn’t replace actively observing baby’s playtime or come to dominate such interactions

Beyond this, we’ll be treating it like a science experiment and expecting a lot of learning from failure!

A Tale Of Three Video Game Players

This past week I attended an event peopled mostly by engineers. Many of the engineers were trained as mechanical engineers but now work in companies on the forefront of engineering science– data and software-driven companies.

A topic that came up with several participants was the woeful state of education systems in the US, but not for the standard lament of their failure to properly teach the “STEMs”, but because of how efficient they are at killing creativity and the spirit to tinker, two things every engineer considers to be key to their mindset and personality.

Related to this lament were concerns about young people and screen time. There is a belief, backed by a lot of scientific study, that screen-based activities such as TV, video games and social media, breed passive minds because of their overstimulative effects. These engineers were concerned that many children will miss an opportunity to become creative and mechanically-oriented because their formative childhood years are increasingly dominated by interaction with media that treats them like a malleable consumer rather than a tool-wielding, problem-solving creator.

I share this overall concern, partly based in logic, partly based in my browsing of the scientific literature and partly based off my own personal experience. It has informed how we’ve approached the use of screens in front of our Little Lion– short story, we try hard not to use them at all in his presence, and frequently discuss how our habits and routines will need to change as it gets more and more difficult to use them only in his absence.

However, talking about this with the engineers got me thinking about three people I knew when I was younger who were video game players who all ended up with different life outcomes.

The first person I remember as a video game player growing up spent a lot of time playing games. Most of the times I visited him at his house we’d end up in front of the TV, usually with me watching him play something I didn’t have or that he was better at than me (an archaic form of the “Let’s Play” phenomenon). This went on for multiple video game generations, from the Nintendo SNES to the Nintendo 64. Over the course of our friendship we spent hours accumulating in days in front of the TV, playing games.

We also played outside a lot– handball against his garage door, riding bikes around the neighborhood, meeting up with other kids and hanging out. This friend was in Boy Scouts and was frequently found on camping trips on the weekends. He eventually made Eagle Scout. And he played team sports as a child, mostly soccer, until high school when he became an accomplished water polo player.

The second person I remember did not play many console games when we were younger. He was the first person who introduced me to PC gaming. I distinctly remember the weekend his family purchased an extremely economical “eMachines” brand PC with a Celeron-processor (read: slow) and a copy of the already almost decade-old Civilization II game. We stayed up until 2am, mindlessly punching keys trying to figure out how the game worked, for whatever reason we never thought to try reading the manual even though we were good enough readers to have done that. When we finally figured it out we were so excited we stayed up another 3 hours feverishly playing the game until we were so exhausted we passed out on the floor in the study where the PC was situated.

This person also introduced me to the card game “Magic”, and later in the era of the Xbox and complicated networking technology he was known for hosting Halo LAN-parties where he’d talk several other people into bringing their Xboxes and TV screens to his house where up to 4 supporting 4 players each could be networked together for a raucous neighborhood get together.

We, too, spent a lot of time riding our bikes around town together, he was also a Boy Scout and eventually an Eagle Scout, competed in soccer and other sports while younger and water polo in high school. Throughout his childhood he was extremely mechanical, building and racing offroad RC cars and RC gliders, camping and helping his parents rebuild and maintain an International Harvester Scout truck.

The final person I remember as a gamer growing up probably spent the least time overall playing games of the three, but it was definitely part of his life. I remember the time he brought his SNES over to my house and how jealous I felt seeing all the cool games he had that I did not. We also spent a lot of time riding around the neighborhood on our bikes, but a bit more aimlessly than the other two. With him we’d ride around until we found some mischief to get into, while for the first two bikes were a means of conveyance to other destinations and activities we were into.

He played soccer and basketball as a youngster, and in high school he did some cross country and track before giving up on team sports and, to some extent, giving up on his studies as well.

What happened to these three individuals who all played video games growing up?

The first one graduated high school with an excellent GPA after excelling in our school’s “magnet” math and science program. He was accepted at Stanford where I believe he studied engineering and may have continued playing water polo. He was hired by Accenture, the consulting firm, and I think has had a lucrative and enjoyable career.

The second one also graduated high school with an excellent GPA and also excelled in the school’s math and science program. He was accepted at MIT and studied mechanical engineering. I believe he went into a specialized mechanical field and has also had a productive and enjoyable career so far. Both of these guys are married and have families of their own now.

The third guy was a slightly sadder story. He seemed to burn out before high school ended. I don’t think he ever made it to college and last I had heard, he could be found around the beach on his skateboard with a very long beard and the nickname of “Jesus” because of his appearance. He may have even spent some time in jail for some pretty minor stuff I’d call “mischief” or “bad luck” rather than some kind of anti-social or menace to society kind of antics.

What I find interesting about all of this is that I never would’ve thought of the impact of video game exposure as children to their life outcomes until I had spoken to some of these engineers. Truly, what seemed to be more consistent in terms of impacting the drive and personality of each of these guys was their family lives. The first two guys grew up with siblings, their parents stayed married and they had what I’d call strong family cultures and values, even though they were slightly different from my own.

The third guy was a latchkey kid whose parents stayed together but it seemed like an awkward pairing and he’d regularly ridicule them behind their backs. It’s not clear what values their family had or that they even got through to their son about them.

Early video game exposure didn’t seem to stop the first two guys from having other interests and being mechanical and outdoorsy (Eagle Scouts) nor athletic (water polo, a terribly demanding sport). They seemed to be creative and had strong engineering minds (math and science outperformance) despite the stimulating effects of video games.

I don’t think I’d blame video games for “Jesus’s” life going down the tubes, either. As I mentioned, he played games but probably spent the least time with them. He was a decently intelligent individual and certainly didn’t struggle with math and science as subjects, he just didn’t seem to care much about them, school in general, or even apparently his life.

What I take away from all of this is that video games and screen time may not be “good” for a child’s development and may be distracting or counterproductive in terms of generating a passive vs. active mind and a consumptive vs. productive approach to stimulation. But looking at these anecdotes, it’s hard to draw the conclusion that video games or screen time necessarily would prevent a person from achievement in these areas.

More likely, natural ability mixed with a supportive family environment and complementary family values and lifestyle choices seem much stronger influences over future engineering talent and ability than how much time a child spends with screen-based gadgets.

Reflections On Your First Six Months (Or So)

Hello Little Lion!

Another 90 days (+/-) have passed since we last wrote and we thought it was time to catalog a few observations once more.

You went on your first cross-country trip by commercial jet in April. We decided to invest in a stroller and car seat system that were more travel-friendly and it was definitely worth the money. While we were a bit anxious about getting you and your equipment through security, onto the plane and then back off on each leg of the journey, the thoughtful design of our purchase made that part of the trip relatively stress-free, and believe it or not we got a lot of support and patience from the people in the TSA and the gate agents and flight attendants. You of course managed to fill your diaper several times before, during and after the flight but Papa Lion figured out how to get you changed in the tight quarters fairly quick and by the third time he felt like he was a pro and could do anything!

Our friends and their little daughter were so happy to get to meet you and spend some time with you while you were still little.

You slowly started to lose all your birth-hair over the last few months as it was replaced by new hairs you’ve grown outside the womb. You came into the world with a full head of fairly thick and long hair, and the way it fell out was so funny and left you looking wise beyond your years– you developed a “Philosopher’s crown” of long hair on the side and back of your head with a big bald spot on top. It’s now all replaced, except for a light patch on the back of your head where you pivot around to look while on your back. And also, your extensive original side burns, which remind us of the style of the Orthodox Jewish men.

Your teeth started coming in at four months! You have seven along the top and the bottom right now and you continue drooling and fingering your mouth so we think there are more. You’ve fattened up considerably from when we last checked in. We’re sorry to say we hardly recognize your early baby pictures, because we realize they are a glaring example of our first mistake as parents– not understanding how important it was to get you some extra supplementation with formula feeding. We really agonized over that decision and how to go about it but the encouragement to do so was unanimous from the professionals we consulted with along the way and they were absolutely correct. The tongue-tie you were born with just made it impossible for you to be a purely-breast fed baby.

Your mother, the Wolf, has worked tirelessly since your birth to pump for you so that you still get your primary nutrition from her breast milk, something we know is specially formulated just for you and your needs. We are happy that you shot right past our ignorance with her extra love and care for you and at this point no one would ever suspect you had started out the way you did if we didn’t tell them. You’ve had one minor cold that led to a few days of coughing and runny nose but aside from that you’ve been disease-free, cheerful and growing in weight and strength every day. Whereas last time we checked in you still looked and felt in our hands like something new and fragile, now you have some “heft” and chunkiness that makes you stand out as your own person.

Your mobility development as been amazing for us to watch! You learned to roll over a few months ago and just in the last week you have begun spinning on your stomach. You’re not yet scooting or crawling but that’s where you’re going next. By rolling and pivoting, you can get to a lot of places. We can no longer set you down on the middle of your play area and expect to find you there a few minutes later. And we’re having to get more and more creative at bed time in corraling you on the bed because you like to roll around a lot now as you continue practicing mobility in your sleep. We lay you down one way and come in at our own bed time to find you have rotated a completely different way.

You started sleeping through the night a few months ago, and we were so grateful to get a few weeks of mostly uninterrupted sleep. But you’re still growing and changing, and you’ve “regressed” to wakefulness at night again as you’re sensitive to our movements and your own, which are many. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night, talk to yourself and coo and play for fifteen or twenty minutes and then decide to go back to sleep! It’s really cute, but really challenging for us to get our rest right now. We’re never mad about it, though, we know this is what we should expect and we understand how important it is for you to keep growing and changing and we know we’ll get back to a place where we can all sleep peacefully. Eventually.

One thing we are so satisfied with right now is your incredible focus and self-reliance while playing. Your concentration and ability to emotionally self-sustain have grown over the last ninety days and it is very easy to lay you down on your mat and see forty-five minutes pass before you need an emotional recharge from us. Your toys are simple things– plastic hair rollers, wooden rings, rubber “muffin wrappers”, colorful bandanas, a geometric “wire frame” ball with holes for your fingers. You like test the properties of these toys in endless ways, handling them, chewing them, squeezing them, turning them around and around and looking at them from different angles, combining or swiping them past one another. Your at a stage where simple things that allow you to repeat and refine an operation over and over again are plenty stimulating for you. Every now and then you’ll look for our eyes, to see if we’re near, or to see if we’re watching, but mostly you like to just focus on what you’re doing intently.

Your verbalizations have changed, too. Cooing, quick breathing, incoherent chattering and shrieking. Oh yes, the shrieking! Sometimes you will use all your might to summon your voice and expel

 

(at this point, several weeks ago, you woke from your nap, I set my laptop down and failed to return to this post and complete it. So I am posting it as is… because you’re now 1.5 months older than when I wrote it and a lot of changes have taken place again!)

Review – Baby-Led Weaning (#review, #books, #parenting, #babies, #children, #food)

Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater

by Gill Rapley, Tracey Murkett, published 2010

If you pay close attention to certain parenting and child development texts, you are likely to notice one of two paradigms at work– the exogenous development approach and the endogenous development approach. Those are fancy words I just thought up to say something simple, which is that you either believe children can develop pretty well on their own, with parents simply playing a nurturing, supporting role; or else you believe that children are mostly helpless to develop on their own, with parents playing a primary, directorial role.

The idea of “Baby-Led Weaning” (BLW) falls firmly into the endogenous development model, along with other philosophies we fancy such as RIE for parent-infant communication and relationship building, self-esteem centered personal growth philosophy, Montessori for educational and pedagogical practice, and nutrition-based health and well-being (ie, vaccine-skepticism). People who take the BLW approach to transitioning their infant to solids, aka “adult food”, see linear continuity between the infant’s ability to feed themselves at the breast and the later skill of the toddler being capable of feeding themself at the table. The BLW user asks the question, “Why should there need to be a period in the child’s eating skills development where they regress to parental intervention with mush and spoon?”

The actual practice of BLW doesn’t require more than a paragraph to describe. So long as your infant has reached the motor skill maturity to sit up on their own (or you are willing to prop them up on your lap for the duration of their “meal”), you can put a small variety of 2-inch long, stick-shaped food items from the adult meal in front of them and let them choose what and how they’d like to eat. If they want more, you can offer them more as they go. The first few weeks and months of learning to eat actually consists of them “playing” with their food by exploring taste, texture, smell and other properties of the foodstuffs– only later do they discover that the food is nutritious and helps to satiate their hunger. Plan on letting them discover at their own pace, cleaning up the inevitable messes and continuing to provide most of their sustenance by breast or bottle until they’re fully capable of getting the majority of their calories and nutrients from shared family meals, likely past the one year of age mark.

That’s really it. While there are certain foods that are easy to choke on (grapes not cut in half length-wise! hard nuts which are difficult to chew! pieces of fish or animal flesh with sharp bone fragments!) and things children may develop allergies to if exposed too early (honey! dairy! peanut butter?!), like the risk of rolling over and crushing an infant via co-sleeping being almost nil for a family that does not consist of alcoholic cigarette smoking fat asses, BLW is essentially safe and the risk of choking is overblown. It turns out that infants have a gag reflex that begins near the front of their tongue and not the back, and most “choking” actually happens with spoon-fed infants wherein the eating utensil circumvents the natural choke-avoidance mechanism and allows food to get into the back of their throat when they haven’t fully developed the muscle control to swallow.

Like most endogenous approaches, the biggest challenge for parents and other adult-caretakers is having patience to let the infant explore at their leisure and behave as comes naturally without thinking they need to get involved and add something to the mix for any reason other than safety. The temptation to “help” the child learn to eat or to show them a more “efficient” way to get the food into their mouth, for example, must be avoided if the child is to develop the important motor skills of controlling food with their hands, not to mention the need to let the child determine that food is safe and enjoyable to eat. Chewing and sucking endlessly on the same piece of sweet potato stick may not seem like an effective way to eat one’s meal for us, but for the infant it is an essential part of figuring out “What is this?” and “What can I do with it?” Infants are highly empirical and don’t really have an ability to learn by causal explanation and the provision of logical theory. They need to just do stuff on their own.

The book is much longer than a paragraph because it spends a lot of time repeating itself, calming potentially frayed nerves concerning overwrought risks, relating a series of “BLW Stories” of parents who did it with their small kids and had success, and interjecting numerous verbatims from happy practitioners seemingly at random in an attempt to build credibility in the approach. This last bit is likely aimed at female readers– sorry moms, but your cultural appropriation model is highly consensus-based due to evolutionary biology.

A good primer for anyone interested in the approach, though you can skim-read it.

3/5

My Postpartum Experience (#motherhood, #parenting, #postpartum, #fourthtrimester)

As our lion cub is nearing his six month birthday and gaining more independence, I’m finding the time and energy to reflect on my postpartum experience. I want to document this for future reference for myself and for anyone else going thru postpartum.

Immediately after childbirth, I had a pretty good recovery. I gave birth at home, unmedicated, and so I was conscious and clear-headed within seconds of Little Lion’s birth. Getting to be at home with the whole family (my husband, our dog..) and in my bed after that crazy adrenaline surge was amazing. There is no other experience quite like it. I was tired from pushing for four hours, but I wasn’t quite ready to sleep yet (Mistake #1), so we had my in-laws come over and meet their first grandson. They commented at the calmness and peacefulness of our household despite the excitement and activity only hours earlier. Our lion cub slept next to me that night, but I barely slept because I was so excited; ‘There was a baby next to me.. That I had pushed out only hours earlier.. All-natural, at home, unmedicated.. I did it!!’

The months after childbirth are commonly referred to as The Fourth Trimester. It’s the adjust and adapt period: the hormones are regulating, the baby is learning to eat and sleep, and the new parents are rearranging their schedules and barely sleeping. Usually after this period, the new parents will gain some confidence and feel like they finally have a grasp on things (and maybe get some sleep!). 

Postpartum Help 

After the birth, a nurse from my birth center came to check on me and the baby and to teach me when to feed, when to pee (yup, you read that right), and what vitals to monitor. My doula, who was present the whole day, came back within a couple days to “debrief” me 🙂 And my midwife and her assistant both called and were available by phone to answer any questions we had. I really appreciated the open line of communication because I was so glossy-eyed over this baby that I was forgetting what I had learned beforehand! It was great to have people help us process what had happened.

The Lion and I are extremely fortunate in that we have family members close-by who are ready and willing to help us. Grandpa and Grandma Lion live within a quick drive, and Grandma Wolf is retired and can come spend a few weeks with us at a time. Our lion cub arrived right around the holidays, so my sisters in law were around and came to make food, fold laundry, sweep and dust, and keep us company. It was a lot of fun to have everyone over, with Christmas spirit in the air, and the arrival of a new baby 🙂 The next day, Grandma Wolf flew in and stayed for three months. My mom did ALL the laundry and ALL the cooking (except breakfast) and ALL the cleaning. I’m not sure how we would have survived in those first three months without her help! I was definitely ready by the end of my mom’s stay to try it on my own and find our own rhythm, but when we were sleep-deprived and trying to work out the breastfeeding thing, I really appreciated not having to worry about our next meal or having clean underwear (although I did run out once…………………….).

Within the first month or so, I invited some of my closest friends to come visit me, and I took them up on their generous offer to help (#unashamed). I asked them to bring their homemade chocolate chip cookies, I asked them to bring lunch, I asked to borrow their Moby wrap for our Little Lion, I asked them to grab me some olive oil and travel-sized bottles, I asked them to buy a Christmas outfit for the baby, I asked them for Pressed Juicery and acai bowls… These were friends who have either had babies or know what it’s like for new moms. I knew I wasn’t going to get judged for accepting help, I knew I didn’t have to shower or dress up, and I knew that they wouldn’t mind seeing my under eye bags or messy hair or postpartum belly. They were so loving and kind (and still are!), and I think having that support and encouragement (and advice!) really helped me a lot. Moms GET each other.

We are also fortunate in that my husband has the flexibility to change his work schedule and work from home as needed. The Lion worked hard to maintain a sense of normalcy within the first month when I was bedridden for most of the day. He made a big breakfast every day, he took over walking our dog TWICE a day, he ran for groceries after work, AND he got up to change diapers multiple times in the night. And somehow, he did all this while managing to have a good sense of humor and patience for me (and my mom 😉 ).

Recovery 

I did have some incontinence afterwards. My pelvic floor was s o r e and felt non-existent. I also had a tear and required some stitches, so I was pretty sensitive and tender down below. It was difficult to get in and out of bed, and walking short distances took a lot of time and effort. I didn’t immediately go back to practicing kegels because I was afraid of ruining the stitches. I also had hemorrhoids, which made going to the bathroom and even just sitting down a big challenge. I relied on my arms and my core a lot to help me sit up in bed to breastfeed in the middle of the night! My core was okay–I had made sure to keep up my core workouts during pregnancy, and at my six week check up, my midwife pressed around my abdomen and commented that my core was pretty strong, woohoo! (#poledoesabodygood)

One midwife that I had interviewed had told me she usually recommends her clients stay inside for a few weeks: “a week in the bed, a week around the bed, and a week around the house.” I required much more time than that. I had thought that by having a natural, unmedicated birth meant that I would bounce back quickly, but it definitely takes a lot of time and patience to allow your body to heal!

Breastfeeding ( . )( . ) 

I will be writing a separate, more in-depth post about my breastfeeding experience, but the short of it is that we had a tough time with breastfeeding.

My milk came in about four days after giving birth. I did not realize (or remember?) that this would happen, and when I became engorged for the first time, I thought I had mastitis! I was terrified, not to mention I felt like a truck had hit me (and left me with humongous boulder boobs). I felt very sick, and my chest hurt so bad, heavy and stretched out from being so engorged. My mom would run in and out of our bedroom to get more hot towels from the kitchen for me so I could lay them over my chest. I tried pumping it out, but the sensation was so painful I couldn’t keep it up (I also had a regular pump vs a hospital one) and so nothing much came out. It. Was. Stressful. And painful.

The first few times Little Lion latched, it hurt. I kind of expected that, this being my first baby and first time breastfeeding, my nipples were not used to having a baby sucking and pulling on them, etc. But what I didn’t expect was the abrasion on one of my nipples, which caused extreme pain, worse than giving birth. I had to call in two different lactation consultants (IBCLC-certified; why IBCLC over CLC) to find some relief and validation and advice on what to do next. My nipple took almost two weeks to completely heal, longer than anyone expected. Furthermore, Little Lion had a tongue tie, which made his suck ineffective. By the time my nipple healed and we had figured out the tongue tie issue, I was feeling very depressed and discouraged, and our Little Lion was starting to become underweight. We eventually reached a happy medium, where I could provide him with breastmilk through the bottle, and he could nurse at night or before nap time (nursing “recreationally,” as I like to call it), but it took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears to get there.
I am fortunate to not have experienced mastitis, but I did have clogged ducts and the beginnings of an infection… My breast would be hard and tender, I would get a headache, and I’d have the chills. I felt like crap, and that wasn’t even mastitis! It was unpleasant enough the 2-3 times I experienced it that I work hard every day to make sure I empty out my breasts adequately (plus it helps supply stay up).

Weight loss 

During pregnancy, I ate well. I ate a lot of protein (did not really have any food aversion aside from bacon, which was a staple in our household!), a lot of veggies (to keep away the constipation), not much sugar or carb. I referenced the book Primal Moms Look Good Naked a lot. I also continued stretching and physical exercise, walking daily and dancing.

Regaining the pre-baby body (or closer to it) is still a work in progress. Every fiber of my being during the first three months postpartum was consumed with trying to figure out a solution to the breastfeeding, and so even though I received clearance from the midwife at six weeks to resume light exercise, I didn’t do anything. I don’t think I even left the master bedroom for good until at least eight weeks postpartum. I lost weight after childbirth with the fluids and placenta and hormones regulating, but I wasn’t losing much very quickly (naturally, since I wasn’t exercising), and it got kind of depressing.

My mommy friends all told me that breastfeeding helps you to lose weight, but they didn’t mention that breastfeeding also significantly increases your appetite! I was SO hungry, ALL the time. I would need to eat a meal between all the meals, and I was able to eat almost twice as much as I usually do. AND, I would wake up starving in the middle of the night! Even though I was eating all the same healthy foods as I did during pregnancy, I was eating so much of it that it was getting out of hand. My mom and my husband were both concerned because I was always telling them I was hungry… Furthermore, since my mom was doing all the cooking and wasn’t familiar with our usual serving sizes, the proportions were all out of whack (she made two servings into one serving… and I ate it ALL). I also had an unhealthy addiction to granola for about… four months. That’s A LOT of sugar to consume!

Eventually my appetite regulated, and once I taught my mom how to proportion all the food, I started noticing that I felt better and the weight came off easier. When I started walking our dog regularly again, I noticed a big change in my body shape. It took me almost five months, but I finally started going back to my dance classes, and I am doing yoga at home. I don’t do anything too intense because I can tell that I’m still regaining my strength, flexibility, and balance, and I definitely cannot afford to injure myself now. I don’t expect to regain my pre-baby body this year (although it’d be great if I did!) because I am basically starting from scratch–I haven’t done intense physical exercise in over a year! But it definitely feels good to be working towards it.

Anxiety 

A lot of my anxiety stemmed from our breastfeeding issues. It got depressing quick. And I couldn’t dig myself out of it, and I couldn’t bring myself to find help either. It was a roller coaster every day: I would wake up feeling optimistic and great, and then by evening I was a mess and depressed. Not leaving the bedroom probably didn’t help. Once we figured out the weight issue for the baby,  I felt a lot better and more hopeful. Also, healing up enough to get out of the house and get fresh air and see people made my days brighter (the seasons were changing too 🌥). I also started seeing my therapist that I hadn’t seen for a year. It was good to talk to her, but looking back, it almost seemed like I wasn’t ready to accept the help. I was in a brain fog with the sleep deprivation, the breastfeeding anxiety, the physical pain… Once the Little Lion started gaining weight and I felt a little better, I stopped seeing my therapist, thinking that I had nothing left to discuss. But feeling better is not getting better.

Around four and a half months, I felt overwhelmed with all that I had to do at home. Again, I couldn’t seem to get myself together to find help. Again, I was on the roller coaster: happy and productive one day, angry and frustrated and bored the next. I think having this roller coaster of emotions gave me a false sense of security, like maybe things would pass and I would feel better for good soon. It was a denial of sorts, probably because I thought that admitting I couldn’t handle it meant that I was failing at being a mom! On the bad days, all the emotions and anxiety from the first three months regarding breastfeeding resurfaced because I hadn’t dealt with them thoroughly. Compounded with the feelings of being overwhelmed, I couldn’t handle it and lashed out. The Lion reminded me of all the available resources I had: therapy, self-help books, friends, family. I was floored. ‘Of course! Why hadn’t I thought of this before?!’ I immediately reached for Feeling Good and called my therapist for an appointment.

I saw my therapist once a week every week for a month. Now I am going to see her every couple weeks, and I think eventually, once a  month. Talking to my therapist has been unbelievably helpful. I’ve made a lot of changes thanks to these 50 minute sessions​ with her. I look forward to getting to talk things out and have them reflected back to me, and I enjoy having my feelings validated and understood. I’ve learned a lot about self-judgment and acceptance from my therapist. Reading about how to feel good and understanding why and what causes me to feel not-good has been enlightening as well. I catch myself relapsing sometimes, but I try to combat the negativity quickly before it consumes me. Feeling Good taught me some ways to cope with negative thoughts that enter my mind, including changing specific phrasing in our thoughts and speech that we don’t notice is damaging until it’s too late.

I’ve learned to manage expectations, to have acceptance, to not judge myself, and of course, to take care of myself.

Self-Care

The Lion and I realized early on that in order for me to take care of Little Lion and the family, I needed to take care of myself. Whether it’s dinner out with friends, an exercise class, a mani/pedi, or even just some quiet time tending to our garden, I need it to feel refreshed and rejuvenated, I need it to energize me to continue with my job of caring for the family.

I realized that I needed these things. I need the time to put on a little bit of make up (or even to just brush my teeth) or to wear things that I feel comfortable in and feel like I look good in. Now, the clothes don’t need to be fancy because I need to be comfortable and able to lift my arms (aka, pick up the lion cub), and they’ll probably get spit-up on them by the end of the day anyway, but I want to look good as a new mama. None of my pre-pregnancy clothes fit me, and they actually all seemed outdated and dusty from sitting in my closet untouched for 6+ months. And I definitely didn’t want to continue wearing my maternity clothes because now they were too big. So I finally decided, since I wasn’t losing the weight as quickly as I’d liked, I’m going to give my body acceptance, a break, some grace. My body went through A LOT, and I deserved to have a new wardrobe, even if it’s a small one (because my body will change again once I DO lose the weight and/or once I stop breastfeeding). I needed something that I fit in, could nurse (or pump) in, and something that I could feel GOOD about myself in! I’m happy to keep the weight and work it off slowly because I know it’s important for breastfeeding, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel and look good doing it.

The TL;DR of postpartum recovery is that caring for yourself, mentally and physically, is of utmost importance. Anytime that something doesn’t feel right, whether it’s the breastfeeding or feelings of anxiety, it’s time to find help, to find someone to discuss it with. I hope I remember that for next time because next time, I will have TWO lion cubs to care for!

 

Some favorite moments with our lion cub at 5.5 mos (#motherhood, #parenting)

  • Waking up: when our lion cub wakes in the morning, he is playful and cheerful, ready to take on the day. He’s excited to see both his parents in the morning, smiling and kicking and squirming in response to our morning greetings! The morning feels so optimistic and hopeful, and I am excited too, to see what our cub is going to learn today!
  • Nursing: breastfeeding has been quite a challenge for us (more on that in another post…), so I really cherish the time I get to spend with him nursing. My favorite spot is in our master bed where we can snuggle under the covers and maybe even fall asleep. I feel so relax and at peace, like everything is right in the world… 
  • Bedtime: our bedtime routine is to shower, have some milk, and then lay our cub down to sleep. The Lion used to be the one to do this, but one day the responsibility switched to me and now I look forward to this every night. Sleep is SO important for our health and well being, and I am glad I get to help Little Lion figure this out. I love winding down with him in the shower, getting him cleaned up, then feeding him in a dimly lit room as he’s “scratching” his ear and playing with his hands, and then laying him down, seeing him smile at me one last time, and then getting sleepier and sleepier… Leaving the room is the hardest part!!!