Category Archives: Gentle Discipline

“Science” vs. AP?!

A beautiful sky; makes me happy, like parenting.

Entering into a new phase of my parenting journey (back in the throws of babyhood), I quietly wondered whether Attachment Parenting (or, AP, for short) has relevance for me anymore. I started this blog as a space for writing about Attachment Parenting & pursuing a career. Would I want to get back to writing about working & AP’ing as a blogger? (Well… here I am, blogging about it…) Would I be practicing AP with the new wee one?

The answer to that last question is complicated.

My short answer is yes. But it’s not because it has “worked” so well with my first child. And it’s not because I believe that AP is the only or best way to parent.

Here’s the longer answer (sorry… long post alert!)…

Before T was born, MFA Dad & I had no clue what we were doing or how we were going to approach our new roles as parents. We were living away from our closest friends & family, some of whom were starting to have kids, so we really didn’t have any models close by. Our fuzzy (or non-existent) memories of our own early childhoods were not much help. Our parents had selective amnesia & seemed to suggest things were a lot easier than they ended up being for us.

And honestly, we hadn’t thought about parenting at all before I got pregnant. And even then, it took a while for our brains to catch up with all that my body was preparing for. (A law school classmate of mine who had previously been a doula, once warned me in the hallway about books that would scare or scar me… That’s when I realized that “Oh, people take this parenting shtick seriously & actually think about how they want to parent…”)

So it was with some relief that we happened across Dr. William Sears’s The Baby Book while shopping at my least favorite store in the world (Babies R Us). A lot of what Dr. Sears-the-Elder had to say just clicked with both MFA Dad & I. (Also, some of it didn’t click.) We didn’t think that our son would be messed up if we didn’t follow all of his “Baby B’s” (Dr. Sears’s short list of AP “do’s”) but in the book we had found a bunch of baby minding tactics that seemed to mesh well with our lifestyle & world views. (For example, the basic idea that wearing your baby is an easy way to integrate a child into your daily life while keeping them physically close seemed practical to us.)

In short, it was simply nice to find an approach to this overwhelming endeavor that suited us as a couple & new family.

While we are not, perhaps, the AP “poster” family, I am grateful for what I have learned because of AP. It gave me the tools & confidence to parent in a way that felt right when I was a new & inexperienced mom. Even while I was making many first-time mom mistakes.

But here’s the bottom line. I don’t think, nor have I ever thought, really, that AP is the sole owner of “good” parenting. There are also many valid criticisms of AP, as it is represented by Dr. Sears & others.

I don’t know that any of my friends or family who are parents would identify as AP. But I’d babysit their kids or have them over for a sleepover any day. Like us, they all developed their own parenting styles. They’re all great parents & their kids seem to be normal & healthy & secure (most certainly securely attached). They are all delightful kids. And we all also have our challenges with our children.

Still, it is with some wonder (& frankly, confusion) that I observe certain types of blanket criticisms of AP. For example, take the “Science vs” Attachment Parenting podcast, wherein the host challenges the unscientifically-founded scourge of attachment parenting. The host of the podcast managed to find an overzealous follower of AP’s “rules” who takes the role of “motherly sacrifice” to an extreme & then uses the poor woman as a diving board into an equally overzealous critique of AP. (I knew the critique was off base when it started with the premise that the sample mom’s home was “child-centered,” which is opposed to my own interpretation of AP… My own take being that AP is family-based in a way that posits the child is not the center of the family’s existence & if you walk into my home it may take a few seconds to realize there are children living there too.)

Look, I get it… As the podcast’s host explained, there are books & websites & blogs (ahem…) laying out what may seem like “rules” at a quick glance. Dr. Sears & others use their authority as medical professionals and/or references to “science” to convince unwitting parents that AP is unquestionably better for babies & children. The idea of “rules” or getting things “wrong” (& possibly messing up your child as a result) makes AP simultaneously attractive & overwhelming to many parents.

Let’s get this out of the way: It’s never a good idea to blindly follow anyone’s set of rules when it comes to raising your children.

Discussions around different approaches to parenting typically present stark choices with severe consequences. The choices is almost never so stark (unless one of those choices involves neglect or harm—be it physical or psychological—of the child). But if you’re a parent, you are most likely an adult who should have learned the lesson that you don’t jump just because someone (even someone in a doctor’s or lab coat) yells “jump.”

AP’s “rules” are only rules if you let them be rules. Dr. Sears doesn’t care what you do or don’t do with your child. There is no test. You don’t have to prove yourself as parent of the century.

So, while I disagree with the “Science vs.” characterization of AP, I don’t disagree with the bottom line that using “science” to prove that AP is the only way to raise a healthy child is misleading & you won’t necessarily damage your child if you don’t follow the “rules” of AP.

But here’s the thing… There simply aren’t any such rules. Many AP families use strollers. 🙋 Many AP families have cribs (though we don’t always use them…). 🙋 Dr. Sears himself has advice on bottle-feeding. Sometimes, AP parents let their children cry because they’d like some privacy in the bathroom, it’s the nightly witching hour, or they literally just can’t handle nighttime parenting at the moment.

And I’d bet (if I were the betting type) that most of us don’t “do” AP because of science. AP empowers parents (or it has the potential to, in any case) to parent intuitively. That means I don’t need someone with an MD or PhD to tell me what to do when my baby cries, when she wakes in the middle of the night, or when my older child misbehaves. Nope, I got this! I know my children better than anyone & am not concerned with “outcomes” that have been tracked by researchers or artificially created in a lab.

This premise (that there are strict “rules”) pretty much guarantees “Science vs.” will get AP wrong out of the gate. I’ve already pointed out that AP isn’t necessarily a child-centered parenting philosophy, but it also isn’t parent-centered. The podcast’s host seems to corner the poor sample mom into stating that she doesn’t let her child cry because she can’t handle it. Then she leaves it at that, which is a totally inaccurate characterization of AP. I don’t like my baby’s cries either, but that’s not why most AP parents don’t purposely let their babies cry without responding.

So, let’s look at the topics the “Science vs.” attempts to cover: crying, attachment theory, and sleep.

Babies cry. It’s how they communicate. I wouldn’t ignore my older child if he came to my bedside & whispered “Mommy, my tummy hurts.” I wouldn’t ignore my bleary-eyed husband if he asked me to pour him a cup of coffee as I pour my own. So why would I ignore my baby simply because she can’t yet use words? I want to investigate, at least. I can usually figure out what she’s asking for in her prehistoric way.

But maybe I can’t figure it out. Maybe she’s crying for a long time. Maybe I’m so sleep deprived I can’t take any more crying. Well, then, perhaps walking away is the best thing I can do for her & for me. That’s certainly better than losing my temper or harming baby in some way. But that’s not where I start.

I start from the premise that this little person is completely dependent on me & it’s my job to respond. She’s trying to tell me something important. No matter what time of day or night. No matter if I’m tired. No matter if I don’t want to (though that’s usually not the case). No matter what.

That’s why I respond when my baby cries.

Now, back to those pesky “rules.” Quite simply, there are none.

The “rules” aren’t rules. The podcast unfairly characterizes common AP practices as “rules” when they are guidelines at best. Most literature on AP that I’ve read presents these ideas as “best practices” of sorts, but by no means have I seen any proponent of AP suggest that bottle-feeding, for instance will ruin one’s attachment with one’s child. That’s preposterous & untenable. AP folks tend to be hardliners on the issue of sleep training, but other than that issue, I don’t think most advocates of AP would suggest with a straight face that there’s only one way to do this whole AP thing.

Of course, some will take things to an extreme. But I try to avoid extremes in my daily life & parenting is no different. I have criticized those AP proponents who suggest extreme views of parenting, especially when those views are aimed at women in particular & have the potential to restrict rather than liberate. If someone tells you you must do something as a parent (be it baby wearing, bed sharing, breastfeeding, etc.) pause, reflect on their motivations, and then consider your own reality.

Interestingly, while the podcast correctly separates attachment parenting from attachment theory, it doesn’t quite get that right either. To be clear, attachment parenting as described by Dr. Sears et al., has a tenuous relationship at best with attachment theory. That said, the New York Times recently reported on new discoveries in the world of attachment theory, in an article entitled “Yes, It’s Your Parents’ Fault,” no less.

Of course, it’s not all our parents’ faults. As the “Science vs.” podcast points out, our pesky genes do influence our dispositions & the ways we interact with the world & each other. But, according to the new research reported in the NY Times, it does seem that parenting matters for our future relationships & …

Luckily, as I’ve pointed out previously, “good enough” parenting will usually do the trick. But to suggest that it doesn’t matter at all (as the podcast host does) is flippant & inaccurate.

Which leads us to sleep. Ah, sleep… so elusive with young children in the house! Yet it’s the one area where most AP’ers will agree on an honest to goodness rule: Do not leave your child to cry in order to “sleep train.” Many of us would say you should consider not sleep training at all.

Unfortunately for us adults, babies’ sleep habits are different from ours. In fact, they’re rather inconvenient. They interrupt our nights and our days. Annoying.

At least, we’re culturally conditioned to think that our babies’ sleep habits are annoying or, at best, less than ideal. I’m not going to argue that adult sleep is unimportant—Parents need sleep to function… to support their children & to be living, breathing members of society, even if barely sometimes. And I’m not going to tell you how you feel. Or what degree of exhaustion you should be able to tolerate. Or that your baby’s sleep is normal. Or that you should sleep next to your baby. Or that you shouldn’t.

You’re the parent. You get to make that call. Not some random blogger. Not someone hosting a podcast.

All I’ll say here is that there are a number of sleep configurations that AP families adopt. I’ve done a little of everything, even sleep training (short of intentionally leaving a child alone to cry). (I do have lots of opinions about sleep & I’m working on a sleep-focused post.)

The “Science vs.” podcast presents an extremely simplistic overview of the issue of safe sleep & a singular vision of what healthy sleep might look like.

I understand that folks might have legitimate disagreements over safe sleep. Parents need to talk to & consult sources they trust to decides whether or not a given sleep arrangement is safe enough for them. (I say safe enough because there is no 100% guarantee no matter your sleep arrangement, unfortunately.) “Science vs.” provides some talking points, but only scratches the surface. And it presents the safe sleep question as clear-cut, when I don’t think that it’s at all simple.

For instance, the podcast appears to entirely dismiss the research of Dr. James McKenna (without explicitly naming him) because he’s not an MD. But he happens to be the only researcher to study bed sharing & infant sleep in a lab. His work appears in peer-reviewed journals (some are medical journals). And his approach to bed sharing & safe infant sleep reads to me as being very nuanced. I don’t think he should necessarily be your sole source of information, but I also don’t think his work is so easily dismissed.

As for the sleep training bit, I have to admit that I just don’t understand why critics of AP much care that we don’t sleep train at all or in the conventional ways. I found sleep training to be more trouble than it’s worth. My older son has “slept through the night” (that silly but all-important “milestone”) since around 2 1/2, more or less. He’s 8 & just had his first sleepover with friends away from home, so he can sleep independently. I share these details only to stress that sleep happens. With or without parental fussing.

My 11-month-old does not sleep through the night. She still nurses a couple-few times every night. I’m tired most mornings when I have to wake up for work. Meh. … This, too, shall pass… So for now, I try to enjoy smelling the top of her head or the touch of her soft cheek during those nighttime feedings. For me, the stress of sleep training is not worth it.

I will sleep again. You will sleep again. Soon.

Perhaps critics of AP just want to make sure parents are getting enough sleep. Maybe. But I have a suspicion that the motivations are less generous. There’s a cottage industry built on selling us bleary-eyed parents on various sleep training techniques. And because some of these techniques don’t feel right, there’s a cadre of parents who have had to convince themselves that whatever sleep training they’ve engaged in is at best innocuous. Maybe, just maybe, critics of AP resent the non-mainstream, but more palatable, approach that AP’ers take to sleep. Maybe.

My point is not to make you feel guilty if you personally have tried sleep training. My point is that there’s a strong cultural current moving in one direction & I think AP’s approach to sleep is the focus of so much criticism (as seen in the “Science vs.” podcast) precisely because it resists that current. It’s really no one’s business how you or I, individually, approach sleep.

We deserve to be able to make informed decisions without folks badgering one particular method, particularly when there is absolutely zero evidence that choosing to forgo sleep training (or choosing gentle sleep training techniques) will harm children or babies. And yet, parents are pressured constantly to “do something” about their babies’ sleep. The “Science vs.” podcast host practically begs parents to sleep train for their own sanity with no discussion of normal infant sleep patterns.

It’s just weird. I mean, it’s worth exploring whether your child’s truly deplorable sleep has an underlying medical cause, but beyond that I truly do not understand the cultural pressure to sleep train.

And I say this not as the parent of a unicorn child who slept or sleeps well. Nope. I’ve been to the depths of exhaustion & back. I’m there again. Sometimes I still touch upon that irrational anger that is the special gift of sleep deprivation. I have fitful sleep. Weird dreams.

In other words, I can sympathize with parents of “bad” sleepers. And if your baby is an normal bad sleeper, I have been there. I’ll be there again tonight.

AP is an easy target for parent trash talk, but it doesn’t have to be a caricature. For most thoughtful families who have picked up a technique or two or three from AP, it’s not a silly, old-fashioned, anti-feminist endeavor. It’s not a cult or even a club. It’s just another set of tools in the parenting toolbox.

Just because the science has not definitively shown that AP is the best way to parent doesn’t make it any less or somehow worse than other ways of parenting. It is not necessary to prove that it’s somehow awful. It’s not. Engage in in-depth critique with an open mind, but don’t dismiss out of hand for no good reason.

It is telling that almost none of the critiques that I’ve come across recently have posited another parenting philosophy as a replacement as the proven winner in the (unfortunately) endless competition between parenting styles. Because, let’s be clear, “science” hasn’t proven that other approaches to parenting are “the best” either. We may turn to science for a lot, but on parenting, the science is lacking.

I’ve recently finished reading Our Babies, Ourselves by Meredith Small. She also uses science to provide an analysis of parenting styles from biological and cultural perspectives. You can find a lot to support practices typical of AP families in the book (e.g. bed-sharing, breastfeeding, responsive parenting, etc.) but the interesting thing is that it is clear from the book that these practices are not owned by AP or any particular parenting philosophy. And Small, though she has a clear preference for these AP-type practices, accepts that every culture will place its imprint on parenting practices. She also insists that babies are adaptable little beings & that science has not determined that any one parenting style is likely to result in better adapted or happier adults. (Not that results should be a goal of parenting…)

Now that I’m doing this baby thing for the second time, I can say that I love AP because it makes life easier &, more importantly, it makes being a parent more enjoyable. And even more importantly, I do it because the little person in my care is weird & has prehistoric needs built into her DNA & she doesn’t talk & AP is the best way for me to learn her language. I don’t do it because science or even pseudoscience tells me it’s better. I don’t do it because some “professional” says it’s better.

My journey on this earth as a human has made me appreciate that we are living every day we get to be here (wherever that happens to be). That is, our hours here are not (solely) in service of some yet-to-be-attained goal. My journey as a parent has taught me to enjoy the simple things in life & to connect fiercely with my family, among others. The two together have taught me to enjoy parenting. Sure, not every moment. But, most moments. Even the moments that don’t seem enjoyable at first blush.

AP is just one tool that helps me work toward that connection & enjoyment. It’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. That’s ok. What’s not ok is the hell-bent determination with which some approach AP, on either side of the fence. We are more than our parenting philosophies.

If you’ve read this long post: Thank you! And let m know what you think. What did I get wrong? Right? What helps you enjoy being a parent?

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Breastfeeding, Gentle Discipline, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Read, Simplicity

Focusing on the best

“Loving”—A reminder of my son

A mere 4 1/2 years ago (oh, where does the time go?!), I shared the parenting motivation that helps to keep me on my game. That motivation comes from Scott Noelle at The Daily Groove. Noelle’s format has changed a bit since then, but he still sends out nuggets of gold a couple-few times a week. Sometimes, I’m too lazy or busy to read the emails, but thankfully my partner (MFA Dad) will forward to me the ones that are resonating with our current parenting challenges. 

This morning he sent me one called “The Power of Attraction.” In it, Noelle suggested writing a reminder on your hand of one characteristic of your child that you “really, really adore and appreciate.” I chose “loving” because my son’s big heart is so endearing. At least, it is when I stop to allow him to fully express his loving nature, including both his capacity & need for love. 

The idea of Noelle’s experiment is to think about this particular attribute often throughout the day & observe how it affects your interactions. Noelle writes:

“Psychologically, attraction means you can focus on certain things, and your mind will ‘pull’ matching thoughts and conditions into your awareness and experience. …

“Can you see how, through your intentional focus, you created (attracted) that experience?”

I enjoyed thinking about T’s loving nature throughout the day, especially as we were apart for most of it. These days I have to admit that I am often rushed with him, as the baby’s needs are so urgent & ever-present. This experiment has forced me to (re-)create some space for him, which he deserves. 

And guess what? It worked! We had a delightful & playful evening. 

I find myself wanting to do this for MFA Dad, too! And even baby M. 

Try it!

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Mother-Anniversary #8

Sorta-still-life with a seven year old & an infant


I try to contemplate my journey as a mother every year around the time of my son’s birthday. I had a two-week wait between his guess date & the day he actually arrived. I spent those two weeks in quiet contemplation. A lot of solo (& very slow) walks. I thought about birth & I thought about impending motherhood. I like to think of those two weeks as my slow transformation to motherhood before the wild awakening. 

This is the first year I get to write this annual post as a mother of two. 

I’m letting that sink in (for myself), as I wasn’t so sure a year ago or two years ago that I’d ever get to say that. And three years ago, I was pregnant for just the second time, though that pregnancy would end in a missed miscarriage. 

But here I am. Here we are. Eight years after I crossed over in that so-sudden way from not-mother to mother. And the not-mother in me is starting to fade from my memory & my identity. I still have my own independent identity, but as my son grows & ventures more & more into the world, it seems that I identify more strongly as his mother, not less. 

Of course, he’s less physically attached to me (though I relish the brief moments he slows down enough to cuddle with me) but he is still very much attached emotionally, in a way that requires me to be ever more keen to his needs. 

And so, the mother-me keeps growing & changing & trying to adapt. I still fail often. But I am confident in this little family that we have all worked so hard to build. There are moments where I glimpse its vulnerabilities. And I realize how much work there is still to do. 

My own independent actions & words seem to carry even more weight these days. Children are sponges from infancy, but now my eldest consciously understands so much more. 

The baby has made a big difference in my parenting. I enjoy parenting her almost every moment. I’m not as nervous as I was when T was a baby & I was new to it all. And, so, I know I can enjoy parenting my older son almost always. The baby reminds me of that. 

His challenges are opportunities for me to reflect on what it means to be a child. We are now firmly in the age of my own memories. I know what it was like being 7 going on 8. I remember the joys & the difficulties & the weirdness & the excitement.

We are together. Now.

He deserves to be happy being who he is today. My daughter, too. Me, too. 

We’re not always happy. Sometimes I lose my shit. After our latest confrontation, I was sulking (angry-guilty) & my son excitedly told me what he does after he’s upset. He just forgets about it, he said. He throws it out of his mind & moves on. It’s true—He does this often & it’s remarkable. He takes the bad thoughts out of his mind like Dumbledore & his penseive. 

I tried it & it works. 

Of course it does. Children have this whole “being alive today” thing figured out. So, what have I learned in these eight years of mothering? Sometimes I need to shut up & listen to my kids. 

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iPad vs. child

For years now I’ve been exploring, questioning & writing about children & screens, especially around the time of Screen Free Week. Again, Screen Free Week is upon us (it actually started today–we’ll start tomorrow, promise)! What a better way to welcome the (slowly) improving weather than by putting down our devices for a bit & exploring life beyond our screens! In celebration (& hopefully to offer some inspiration), I thought I’d reflect on how my family’s interaction with technology has changed over the years & share a parenting fail that provided me with a wake-up call…

Things have drastically changed in my house since T’s arrival in this world. When T was born, we had a desktop computer & I had a laptop for law school. We had a TV. We did not have cable. We did not have smartphones. We did not have handheld devices aside from our not-so-smart, basic mobile phones.

So as I started learning about babies & screen time, it was an easy enough parenting choice. The TV stayed mostly shut up in its cabinet. There were no apps to tempt us.

When we moved halfway across the country, we ditched our old tube TV. (No, this was not the 90’s… this was 2011!) The old desktop stopped more or less working.

But what we lost in size I gained in handheld power. We had recently upgraded the laptop so I could avoid having to take the bar exam on paper… Seriously, terrifying thought! With law school & the bar exam behind me, MFA Dad took over. I acquired an iPhone. Eventually I got an iPad, too.

T was older, and as he exited the toddler years, we loosened up a bit. We now allow some videos: a mix of Netflix cartoons, documentaries, a few movies (everything from Frozen to Lego Movie to Episode IV of Star Wars to Sponge Bob in 3D, which is a story unto itself).

We haven’t yet had to set time limits. When T was younger & we were more strict, he never saw a screen he didn’t like, no matter what was on it. Now that the mystery is gone, it’s a bit easier to quietly manage his access. I don’t anticipate this will last, though… We haven’t yet entered the world of video games…

What I’ve learned is that my use of technology will prove to be heavily influential in how T views & uses technology in the future… And let’s just say I have a lot of room for improvement…

T & I had a quiet night together while MFA Dad had a rare Friday night out with one of his best buddies. I was looking forward to spending the evening with T. I meditated on the train ride home & prepared myself for parenting with awareness & compassion (as opposed to parenting under duress, which is how parenting after work sometimes oftentimes feels…). I was feeling relaxed, focused & ready for an enjoyable evening with my energetic little guy. 

And things were going well. We had a lovely dinner together. He sat mostly still & ate all of the chicken taco salad I had quickly thrown together (with the help of some tortilla chips). T then made himself dessert: a mash-up of frozen blueberries, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, plain yogurt & cinnamon. We were chatting & laughing. It was one of those (rare) magical parenting moments.

He was so cooperative. I thought, why not get get a jump on the weekend chores & get his help planning meals for the week ahead. (I like trying to include him in the planning as a way to get him invested in this family activity, hoping we’ll be able to more easily cajole home into helping with food prep & eating. It sometimes works, but usually it makes no difference. Oh well, I keep at it…)

We use Plan to Eat for meal planning, so I grabbed my iPad. Things continue to go swimmingly & I get some input for meals & snacks.

But then things start to turn…

T asks me (very sincerely), “Why are you such buddies with your iPad?”

Shit…

But he doesn’t stop there… Oh, no…

“I think you’re better buddies with your iPad than with me.”

Heart, in pieces.

Young children are astute. T recognizes that I have a relationship with my iPad. He also recognizes (& painfully pointed out) that my interactions with my device interfere with my relationship with him.

If I’m completely honest, I use my iPad a lot. It’s the way I connect with people (via email, messaging, Facebook, FaceTime, etc.). It’s the way I connect with myself (through meditation timer & apps, yoga videos, journaling & blogging). It’s the way I take care of household chores (meal planning, cooking, finances, shopping). And it provides entertainment (Netflix, PBS, etc.).

T, who can’t yet read, has no idea what I’m doing on my iPad unless it involves looking up a Jangbricks Lego review for him to watch. (Strangely entertaining, by the way.) Our lives are so intertwined with technology & it is so difficult to create & keep to boundaries when, really, we use our devices to manage everything from birthday parties to grocery lists. Not to mention our jobs! 

Since that fateful Friday night when T schooled me, I’ve meal planned in his presence again. I told myself I’d do it on pencil & paper, but, nope, iPad… It’s just so darn efficient when time is at such a premium.

So what is the appropriate way for us to use technology in the presence of our children? I don’t have an answer & I fail daily. I think eye contact is a start. I’m trying really hard to put down the device & make eye contact when T (or anyone) is talking. It’s kinda lame that I have to remind myself of that, but it’s the hard truth. 

This Screen-Free Week, I’m aiming low… Take my cue from T, who likes to do stuff with his hands, like IRL. Maybe play Uno. Make eye contact with my boy.

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Follow-up on mommy guilt

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So I realize that my post On mommy guilt sounded so sure & confident. I intentionally wrote it that way. I don’t think I can tackle mommy guilt if I’m wishy-washy. I don’t think it helps to think about mommy guilt while entertaining doubts.

But, nothing (no matter how objective we try or pretend to be) is fool-proof. I was reminded of this (painfully) yesterday.

T & I both had the day off (woo-hoo federal holidays!). The day started out on an emotional note: We dismantled T’s toddler bed (formerly his crib) to make room for a real bed.

The crib was a gift from my law school friends & I have vivid memories of putting it together by myself when I was 8 or 9 months pregnant. (That whole nesting thing…)

Then all of a sudden, here I am, handing my four-year-old the hex key to take out all of the bolts, which he did quite handily.

He looked at me like I was crazy when I teared up just watching him work away.

So, yeah, that’s the kind of morning it was at my house.

We had a dream-like day together, going on a nature walk, cooking & cleaning together, carving jack-o-lanterns, reading books, learning about organs.

Then after dinner, he said it.

“I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.”

He wanted to be with me.

And I thought to myself: I don’t want to go to work—I want to be with you, too.

Ouch.

Truth is, I can only pull off one of these mostly-perfect days once a quarter, if that. So, really, he wouldn’t want to be with me day in & day out.

And this morning, he was excited as we left for school.

Though I’ve done a pretty decent job at banishing mommy guilt, I am often reminded of how precious & important time spent together is for him & for myself.

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On mommy guilt

I have a friend who is struggling with “mommy guilt.” She’s started a new job & moved to a new city… She’s spending significantly more time away from her daughter than she did previously. I started writing to her & it turned into this post…

I see dealing with (& hopefully resolving) mommy guilt as a three-step process. What follows is the Mom, JD program for banishing mommy guilt for good.

First, recognize the true source of the problem.

As much as I think I’m self-aware & as much as I’d like to think I’m a completely independent thinker, I know that I am susceptible to cultural messaging. I am not immune from the image of the “perfect” mother, so revered by our society, especially at this cultural moment (a “moment” that continues to extol the wonders of motherly sacrifice, that age-old “virtue”).

Despite feminism & the rise of feminist mothering, I am bombarded with messages that insinuate that I do not spend enough time with my young child. Messages that suggest I am a bad mother for pursuing a demanding career with a young child at home. Messages that tell me there is nothing, nothing, that I could possibly prioritize over time spent with my son.

But while I am not immune from this cultural messaging, I am self-aware enough to know that these messages are external. I do not have to internalize the image of the perfect mother. I can consciously recognize that she does not exist. I do not need to be her. I do not want to be her.

Banish her!

I know it’s easier said than done. It just takes some practice. But it’s such a relief to clear that mental space & just dream about the woman & mother you want to be.

And it doesn’t matter that your mother did or did not stay home full time to care for you when you were young. Our own memories of childhood & motherhood might be complicated, even painful. My relationship with my mother confuses things a bit & in some sense I have to banish her, too! (I love you, Mom!)

Feel better? Onto step two…

Having taken off those perfect-mommy-goggles, I can take a more objective look at my own family & my relationship with my child. How is he really doing? How much of my worry & concern have I placed on myself? Is there really anything to worry about?

T has trouble with transitions. So Mondays (sometimes Tuesdays) are the challenging days in our house. Those are the days when, for him, it’s a little more difficult to be apart.

But it’s simply more “difficult” or “challenging.” He is not traumatized & is happy even on those days. I can see he is happy, despite my worries. Those perfect-mommy-goggles have distorted our relationship, have made me the epicenter of his world when in reality I can see that (as important as I am) he is his own egocentric being, with an ever-expanding place in his universe.

I can see that my concerns have more to do with me than with him. I miss him. I think I need to spend more time with him.

I don’t doubt that he misses me, too. And there is no question that spending time together is damned important. But our spending time apart is not some catastrophic thing. When I look at the situation objectively (or as objectively as I can) I see a thriving little boy. He is surrounded by people who love & care for him. He is happy.

The more important point is that I can now spot any serious or real problems & I can stop creating problems where they don’t really exist.

Which leads to step three in the Mom, JD “banish mama guilt” program: If there are problems or challenges, what can I do about them?

In any endeavor, taking an objective view can help us to be better problem solvers. Mothering is no different. No longer bogged down by images of perfect motherhood, I can analyze & strategize (which I just love to do)!

I have two examples from my past experiences.

First, I already mentioned that transitions are hard for T. I could rush to the conclusion that I’m causing the poor little guy undue stress by leaving for work every day, damaging him in untold ways. Or, I can see the problem for what it is & tackle it in a more sensible (& more productive) fashion.

So, transitions are hard… We talk about them & plan for them. I make sure that he’s gotten plenty of mama time over the weekend. We try our darndest to keep weekend activities to a minimum & keep it calm & simple. Come Sunday, we preview the week ahead. I help him pick out his school clothes. We talk about the friends he will see & the work he will do at school.

It’s not fool proof, but it mostly works! It definitely makes the transition less stressful for all of us.

My second, example is a bit more fraught.

T’s second (& beloved) nanny moved & we hired a part-time babysitter. I dreaded leaving for work. I had an awful case of mommy guilt. I don’t think I knew mommy guilt, really, until this period.

I tried to get rid of the guilt by banishing the motherhood ideal. But looking at T, I could see this transition was not working. The problem wasn’t me, it wasn’t him… It was the babysitter. She was a nice woman. But she introduced him to the concept of secrets. (Terrifying for us!) She was intractable & complained constantly about his behavior even though we had quite a few discussions about what we considered to be normal for his age & the situation (getting used to a new caregiver). She simply wanted him to obey & to accomplish this she suggested videos to teach T manners. She simply didn’t want to level with T. Or with us. And T rebelled like I’ve never seen my easy-going & kind-hearted (& polite!) child rebel. After a generous transition period, it wasn’t getting better.

I’ve never fired anyone before, but the decision to fire that particular babysitter was one of the easier decisions I’ve had to make. The situation wasn’t working & was (in fact) damaging. But I didn’t get there immediately.

While the problems seemed sort of obvious in retrospect, I think it would have been easy to ignore them had I allowed myself to be consumed by mommy guilt. If I was busy focusing on my own emotional response to the situation, I might have been tempted to brush off my concerns as just my own mommy guilt… the focus on me & not on my child’s needs.

And, really, brushing off my concerns as mere mommy guilt was my knee-jerk reaction when (after a couple weeks) things were not going so smoothly. Wasn’t it just in my head? I needed this to work! I didn’t have time to find another babysitter. After all, the babysitter wasn’t a bad person & I could see that.

It took deliberate effort to look at the arrangement objectively, to take myself (& my needs) out of the equation. There was no way it was going to work for T, who was the one spending time with this babysitter.

Now, I realize I had a sort of luxury in being able to fire this particular babysitter so quickly. Many families are a bit more locked into their care situations than we were. But it wasn’t easy for us & it never is easy for any family. We scrambled & called on the help of family & friends. The upheaval wasn’t easy for T. I was lucky to not have lost wages, but I lost many hours of productive work.

Mommy guilt is painful. It’s damaging. It’s a crutch. It’s a lie. And it gets in the way of creating a healthy family life.

Maybe I do & maybe I don’t spend enough time with T. I love him & prioritize his well-being above all else. But I can carve out a space for my career & individual pursuits as well. I can contribute to my family in many ways. Motherhood is not an either/or endeavor.

One last anecdote to illustrate my point of view on he whole mommy guilt lie:

I walked T to school this morning for early drop-off. I sometimes feel bad about shipping him off early & extending his time away from me & from home. But, looking at the situation objectively, I can see that he loves it. He gets to help set up the gym for the day & it makes him feel important. He gets to mingle with a few older children & that makes him feel mature. He gets to be in the school before most of his classmate & that makes him feel unique.

Does he miss me? Maybe.

But I wouldn’t know it by how fast he was running to get to into school this morning. Luckily, his teacher reminded him to give me a hug & say goodbye to his mama.

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Filed under Attachment Parenting, Feminism, Gentle Discipline, Living, Mothering, Parenting, Partnership, Simplicity, Working

Should apps for babies be marketed as educational?

I read today that the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (“CCFC”) has filed complaints with the FTC regarding marketing of apps aimed at babies. The complaints allege that the apps of two companies make educational claims about their apps that are not backed up by research.

Good for them. They stood up against the Baby Einstein & Your Baby Can Read scams & now they’re tackling the gargantuan (& seemingly ever growing) baby app industry.

Hanna Rosin on Slate disagrees. As in her Atlantic article (see my take here), she seeks to defend the app industry & read the scant research in such a way as to make touch-screen technology OK for very young children.

And, yet again, Ms. Rosin misses the point & confuses education & play. The apps that are the target of the CCFC’s complaints make educational claims. They do not bill themselves as the playful, high tech distractions they really are. If the apps were marketed as “a way to entertain your child while you take a shower, enjoy a sip of hot coffee, or talk with a friend for five minutes,” that’d be one thing. It would be an honest description of what these apps do for parents.

I am glad that Ms. Rosin can make sensible decisions about how her family will utilize apps & touch-screen technology, but consumer advocacy groups exist because many people simply aren’t media- or marketing-savvy. Ms. Rosin may be able to see behind the ridiculous claims. Not all parents can or do.

What touch-screen technology does for very young children continues to be a hotly contested issue (so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics continues, despite the proliferation of apps for very young children, to urge against screen time, “television and other entertainment media,” for the under-two set).

So for Ms. Rosin to blithely dismiss the difference between touching a brightly-colored shape with real-life contours & the screen representation of the brightly-colored shape (as if it were well-settled that they are of equal value) is absolutely disingenuous. Is it a “crime” that the “baby can’t actually feel the bumpy star”? Of course not! But just because it’s not a crime doesn’t mean it’s good or even just “OK” for young children. Touch & sensory exploration play a large role in how we learn & understand our world. I doubt that Ms. Rosin can point to any studies to suggest that tapping on the representation of a purple star on a screen is better than (or even just as good as) her old toy with the “real” purple star. I’m certain hand manipulation (at least for very young children) will win out every time.

Which is why a rock is better than any app.

Perhaps not as convenient in a restaurant. But better, nonetheless.

I suppose Ms. Rosin would dismiss my point of view as coming from one of those parents nursing a “nostalgic vision of childhood dominated by bubble blowing and sand-castle building.” I’m not. Technology does & will play an important part in my son’s life. And like most parents, I’m figuring out a way to help him learn to navigate our tech-heavy world. (And for the record, I think bubble blowing & sand-castle building get old really fast.)

Ms. Rosin, I’m certain, pictures herself as falling in the camp of parents who are trying to “make reasonable choices about, say, how many and which apps they will let their toddler play with and have reasonable expectations for results (that it will occupy your baby, not groom her for Harvard).” (Note the lack of any sense of “reason” or “reasonableness” associated with the other “camp.”) This second approach also sounds reasonable enough (though splitting parents into adversarial groups is a non sequitur & reveals the flaw in Ms. Rosin’s argument…).

So why, then, rail against these CCFC complaints? Wouldn’t honest, well-founded information on apps help parents make decisions regarding which to expose their young children to? And let’s not forget the apps targeted by the CCFC are for babies, not toddlers or pre-schoolers.

The bottom line (for me, at least) is that Ms. Rosin has shown once again that she is not an even-handed journalist on this topic. She appears to be more interested in finding justification for allowing screen-time than in getting to the bottom of the screen-time-for-tots issue. That’s what blogs are for… (ahem…) exploring these daily parenting quandaries. But we are justified in expecting more from journalists, even from quasi-news-culture sites like Slate.

Parents like me are desperate for real information on the potential benefits & perils of exposing our littlest ones to touch screen technology. We have to keep digging. And as I’ve written before, until there is reliable research showing that touch screen entertainment (which even Ms. Rosin recognizes is all that is out there in terms of touch-screen apps) is not harmful for very young children, I will advocate for following the AAP guidelines.

(Another bugaboo I have with Ms. Rosin’s coverage of this issue is her assumption that this is a dilemma most family’s face. Truth be told, we have not yet found room in our budget for an iPad & I use my phone exclusively as a tool, mostly to protect myself from the time-suck of games & other entertaining apps… But also to set an example for T. I’m lucky to have a smart phone but the screen-time issue is a first world, middle class problem if ever there was one… And really, the true problem is not whether we should be letting toddlers play games on an iPad… It’s what to do to raise up the tech-illiterate who don’t have access to technology, even at appropriate ages.)

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Filed under Gentle Discipline, Mothering, Parenting, Screens, Simplicity