Posts Tagged ‘children’

We All Need the Village

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

We all need the villageFor much of the day, I am solely responsible for my children’s livelihood, safety, and well-being. As a caregiver to three young children mine suddenly take on a particularly vulnerable feel. We all know the scenarios of varying likelihood—robbers, kidnappers, terrorists, clowns. I am a very vulnerable target with my car seats and non-mobile, slow-moving children who, now outnumbering me, are prone, as all children are, to getting distracted, being loud, and ignoring instruction. Of course the scenarios can be far more realistic. Allow me to demonstrate.

I’m at the grocery store with three young children. I’ll assume all goes well in the store, “well” being defined differently by various people who witness my existence. I get outside with a cart full of groceries, baby fussy and ready to nap and two preschoolers frustrated that the other keeps touching his side of the cart. It is 95 degrees outside. If I put kids in the car first with no car on, what am I doing? Trying to overheat them to death? Of course if I leave them in the cart or standing by the car, oh the horrific possibilities of cars hitting them or the cart rolling away on the never-even pavement. If I put them in and start the car, what about that one news clip I saw about people jumping into a stranger’s car to steal it—with my children in tow!? Oh the danger! But it’s hot.

I decide my course of action. I strap them all in as my frozen goods melt, because strapping in three children takes time. I’m not complaining, as I did choose to have these exquisite children all in a row, but who really wants melted ice cream even if they chose the lifestyle that leads to it? I start the car and stay vigilant as I quickly load the groceries. Then I must decide—leave the cart like a jerk in the parking lot or take it three cars up to the cart area. There is literally no way for me to complete that scenario where someone could not point out how I potentially endangered my children.

My scenario is relatively minor but that’s how it adds up for many of us. Mommy shaming seems like a phrase of the moment but I assure you it is a daily potential experience for many of us. I’m tired of hearing about mommy shaming (and blaming). I want to talk about something more important: the supportive village.

I don’t need to defend why I exist or why my children exist or that we deserve to exist. I don’t need to hire a sitter or leave them at home with someone else for your (or my) convenience. I’m not saying let’s allow our children to run amuck (though the argument can go so far as to say we all deserve a little grace and we all sometimes run amuck); nor am I saying you need to bend over backward for me. I’m saying I have kids and we are all invested in their outcome. Every time we go out in public, they learn to become more civilized, though at times the side glances or under-the-breath comments from adults are less than civil.

Instead of blaming me for all the ways I potentially put my children at small risk just in order to make it through the day—to put groceries in the car, grab a quick shower, let them learn to climb the monkey bars alone—help me. At the very least just let me be. Better yet, be the village. Instead of pointing out the ways my child could be stolen, create an environment where we instead blame the person who is…you know…stealing the babies. I’d even go so far to say care for the criminal too—I doubt he or she had a village. Mothers and caregivers get blamed and shamed rather than welcomed into the fold. Protect us and look out for us, the vulnerable. Offer to take my cart those 30 steps. Drive more cautiously in the parking lot. Stop looking at the things I do that seem potentially concerning in a minuscule way and look out for the things that are actually concerning.

I know, I know. I’m asking you to take on some responsibility for my choices of having children. That’s true. We all take turns being the vulnerable—we were all once kids, we all have times when we’re sick, particularly overburdened, or for whatever reason emotionally, mentally, or physically distracted in our lives. We become more vulnerable as we age, too. We all benefit from a village, so please care about it, whether or not you have children. Look out for others rather than point them out. Fellow moms I’m talking to you (and I’m reminding myself). We sometimes opt for mommy wars rather than help, maybe because we are so thinly stretched and know too well how vulnerable we are. It’s easier to keep vulnerability at a distance. We need to take the step, even in our exhaustion, to build the village too.

More is at stake than a smooth shopping trip. It’s our investment in one another, our relationship with each other that keeps us connected as individuals and groups at large. We’re living in an individual wants-before-greater good world. I am in a season of vulnerability. Look out for me, will you?

Lynette is a mom of three children from 6 months to age four. She has cloth diapered all three since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.

Just Buy the Damn Cookies

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Did you look at your checklist today?

Just Buy the damn cookies

Of course you did. Even though it was completely unnecessary, because you were up until 2 a.m. mentally running through every little thing left to check off. The presents left to wrap, the gifts to put together, the cleaning in preparation for family to visit, the packing to go visit family, the school holiday recitals, picking up the turkey for the big holiday dinner, planning the holiday dinner, calling a sitter to go to this holiday party, buying a gift for that holiday party, and what was that other thing you needed to remember to do?

Oh yeah. Bake cookies for your preschooler’s winter party.

Let’s revisit for a moment what it was like as a child during this time of year. Thanksgiving would come and go, and the weeks (weeks!) until Christmas seemed to crawl by at a snail’s pace. Nothing important was happening at school because the teachers were all burned out and in desperate need of a well-deserved break. Afternoons were spent wasting away because it was too gross outside to do anything fun. But the anticipation! The excitement! About to burst at the seems with joy over what you imagine your mother’s face will look like when she opens the thoughtful-but-not-quite-useful paper-towel-mache thing you made for her at school on Christmas morning. Everything was lights and hot chocolate and carols and fun back then.

As the adult, though, there is so much pressure to squeeze in all of that goodness for our children. And in the era of Pinterest and Instagram, we are now acutely aware of how much better and greater everything could be than we would ever have imagined without an Internet connection. We love our kids so much that our hearts could burst, and we want the absolute best for them.

But the best for them is you, as you are—not on the brink of implosion. And while it sounds more social-media-praiseworthy to make those kale and cranberry cookies (so festive!) from scratch decorated with fondant and tools from your fancy cake cartridges, none of it will come to pass if you end up in the fetal position under the kitchen table from all the stress.

So tell the Internet to shut up. And just buy the damn cookies.

Keighty Brigman is terrible at crafting, throwing birthday parties, and making sure there isn’t food on her face. Allegedly, her four children manage to love her anyway. 

Managing Holiday Expectations

Wednesday, December 9th, 2015

Managing Holiday Expectations 1

There was that one Thanksgiving we stayed home, just the two of us. I was 9 months pregnant, so I had a great excuse for not traveling the solid six-hour round-trip drive that year. Several things make that such a warm holiday memory for me. First, it was our last Thanksgiving just the two of us. Second, it was quiet and relaxing and without expectation. Don’t get me wrong. We are those people who are friends with our families. We get along, vacation together, and look forward to seeing each other again in no more than a few weeks. Still, I will not lie about the sweet joy of bucking the system that one holiday.

Great expectations often boil up most clearly (and painfully) at the holidays. There are so many strong feelings, traditions, and schedules to balance. Somehow all those things seem tied to family dynamics growing up twenty years ago. You know, mom always understood younger brother’s unique living style; Dad always defaults to what big sister suggests. The holidays are a great reminder of all the ways we could use a little therapy. The way we’ve found to work through all this muddle is wrapped up in one word: expectations.

Managing Holiday Expectations 2The Negotiables

For us, when we really thought about it, most things turned out to be negotiable. Family and friends who married into the wonderful love of step-families negotiate a little differently than us. As a nuclear family we generally have all days available while some of our siblings have to balance sharing their children on certain days. As a SAHM I don’t have an office holiday party while some family and friends have two to attend. When we are invited to events, we take time to consider how participating will contribute to (and detract from) our holiday season. We don’t expect to have Christmas on a certain numerical day in the month. We also don’t expect to participate in everything to which we receive invitation.

Another example of negotiation involves the age of our children. This is our fourth December with children but our first time having Christmas morning on Christmas morning. We previously opted to celebrate it that Saturday morning of my family’s get-together the week before Christmas. As they get older this expectation may change, but we’ve spent some Christmas days traveling across the country because being with family ranks higher than celebrating Christmas on a particular day of December.

Gift-giving is another point of stress in the holiday season. With some family members we openly discuss this and set a dollar amount we are comfortable spending on each other’s families. We don’t buy for every single family member; one side of the family we always buy for parents while the other side of the family does a single-name-draw exchange that includes the parents. On the chance that we receive gifts unexpectedly from family or friends, we don’t stress about it because giving and receiving gifts are aspects of the holiday season. We see them as an opportunity to accept gifts with grace and without guilt.

The Non-negotiables

Typically we spend part of the holiday season (Thanksgiving to New Year’s) with each family, 1,600 miles apart. For ten years we’ve managed to balance this, though every year looks a little different. It means we don’t take family vacations to fancy locales other times of the year, but saving up to see both families during the holidays is typically non-negotiable. This year, this is not part of our expectations because I am too pregnant to travel cross-country. My doctor (and baby) turned this non-negotiable into a negotiable.

As our children grow, spending Christmas morning at home may turn to into a non-negotiable. Not traveling on Christmas day may become more important to remove stress from the season. For others there may be Christmas Eve pajamas, stockings, a church/synagogue service, or going to a particular family member’s home that is important.

I can’t gloss over the way this relaxed approach to the holidays relies on other people to balance their expectations of us. Sometimes family may or may not entirely understand. Some older family members may want to continue the old traditions even after the younger generations give birth to more. Some family may see every invitation as important, more important than balancing with family gatherings. Even the meaning of family and friend may blur as not every “family” is created with the same make-up. In all of these things, if you know what you are willing to negotiate or not then you can only handle the situation with grace and hope others will understand.

Lynette shares her life with her husband and two sons, ages 2 and 3 years. She has cloth diapered both since birth and enjoys all things eco-friendly and mindful living.

Introducing Your Baby to Your Pets

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Introducing Your Baby to Your PetsBringing home your new child is incredibly exciting for you–but what about your pets? If you’re like me, your pets were your “fur-babies” first and they enjoyed copious amounts of exercise and attention. Our dogs and cats had been around babies and children, but never had to cohabitate with one and share mom and dad’s affection.

First, your pets probably have an inkling that something is changing. They are seeing your body change (and your scent change) if you are pregnant, and whether you are adopting or giving birth to your child they will see you preparing the home. Some pets may get nervous at this point.

There are a few things you can do to prepare your pets for a new child’s arrival, even before she comes through the door for the first time. For cats, here is a great article on making the transition as smooth as possible. For us, the biggest thing we had to do with our kitties before we brought our son home was decide which baby items or areas were off-limits to the cats, and enforce this from the beginning. Personally, our cats had a much easier time adjusting to a baby than our dogs.

Preparing your dog is a little different. There are a lot of great training tips out there that will help you prep your pooch. A well-trained dog will be a real blessing when your hands are full of seven million things, which they will be, often. With the influx of baby gear your home may be experiencing, don’t forget to leave a spot where your dog(s) can retreat to for some quiet alone time if things get too stressful. If it’s possible, whether you have dogs or cats, sending somebody home with an article of clothing or a towel that the baby or child has slept with can help acquaint both dogs and cats with the child before you bring him home.

When you first get home with a baby, give your pets some time to be excited to see you and then calm down before introducing them. There are tons of good tips out there on how to handle the introduction; it’s really important to remain calm, have a second person there to facilitate the introduction and reward positive behavior, and to pay close attention to the pet’s reaction. If you have any reason to believe you have a pet that may not handle being around a child well, this is again something to tackle before the child is home; a good dog trainer is worth their weight in gold and can help you with this (and also advise you if they feel the dog is not going to do well with a child even with training).

Finally, if you are bringing home an older child, you will also need to consider your child’s reaction to pets, and you will handle the introduction a little differently. If you are preparing a welcome book, make sure to include pictures of your family’s pets. Hopefully you can get information before hand on if the child is frightened by pets. Toddlers can be more overwhelming for pets to adjust to than a newborn, so consider your pet’s disposition as well and again, contact a trainer if you need assistance.

Meaghan Howard is a mom to two boys and a steady stream of foster dogs. She and her family currently live in Japan.

Top 5 Benefits of Co-Sleeping

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Co-Sleeping as a Conscious Parenting Choice

When I became pregnant with my first child we were living in a rather small house at the time. I was a bit concerned about all the “stuff” that usually accompanies a baby. How would all of it comfortably fit into our small space? I decided I would research to determine the top 5 pieces of baby equipment to purchase and limit ourselves to those. Surely I would discover if a swing was more important than a bouncy chair or an Exersaucer. Or perhaps I would find out if a changing table was really necessary.

Well, my research ended up taking me in a very different direction as I happened upon the concept of a “Family Bed” in an article questioning the need for a crib. See, I had assumed a crib was an essential, non-negotiable piece of baby equipment but here was this article that offered the idea of a “Family Bed” as an alternative. Needless to say my interest was definitely peaked and I googled “Family Bed” to learn more. Eventually I came across the term Co-Sleeping and the more I read, the more enchanted I became with the idea. So instead of buying a crib and associated nursery furniture, we upgraded to a king-sized bed to allow plenty of room for our soon-to-be co-sleeping baby. As I shared our co-sleeping intentions with others, I quickly realized what a controversial topic it can be from people thinking it’s unsafe, inappropriate, or just plain weird to sleep with your baby.

Thankfully there is a rather extensive body of research available that supports co-sleeping as not only a safe practice but also a beneficial one. Additionally, when we examine the anthropology of co-sleeping, we discover an innate desire to sleep close to our young has prevailed up until more recently. A shift has occurred in our cultural expectation of a baby to sleep independently through the night at a very young age. Where did this cultural expectation derive from and who does it benefit? While it might ensure parents get more sleep, I believe this cultural expectation to be potentially disruptive to the biological function and physiological sleep patterns of infants and young children.

Historically speaking, humans are a co-sleeping species just like all other mammals. A multitude of factors have influenced the current mainstream practice to have infants sleep independently. A few possible influences include medical institutions, consumerism, business entities, social class, as well as changes in family structure and dynamics. Of course, all of these factors are a valuable part of our culture and society, but they do not surpass the need for individuals to make educated, empowered, and personal decisions in regard to any parenting approach. In other words, if you feel drawn to the idea of co-sleeping explore it fully to make an informed decision for your family. Don’t be scared off by one individual claiming it to be unsafe and/or unhealthy. Honor the instinctual intuition you have to keep your little one close to you during the night knowing it is an enjoyable, beneficial and inherent tradition. The more you listen to your intuition as a parent, the stronger it becomes.

Daddy co-sleeping with his one week old son

Here’s a few ways co-sleeping has benefited my family:
1. Supported successful breastfeeding.
2. Allowed for bonding time and physical contact with working parent
3. Ease of traveling and flexibility in sleep space. We travel often and have never needed to pack a portable crib or request one at a hotel
4. Fostered sibling relationships
5. Made room-sharing an easy, practical arrangement. If every kid had their own bedroom it would impact the size of home we are comfortable in. A smaller living space has both economical and ecological benefits.

What are your thoughts on co-sleeping? Do you or did you co-sleep? In what ways has it benefitted your family? I would love to hear from you!

- Sarah

PS. When my second son was a few months old we participated in a co-sleeping study that was a collaborative effort between the State Department of Health and the local University. I was quite honored to be a part of an exciting project that aimed to re-evaluate state recommendations around safe sleeping arrangements for infants. Ultimately their agenda was to improve breastfeeding statistics and they recognized co-sleeping positively impacted a breastfeeding relationship.