Leakage after having a baby

Anonymous writes:
 

"Can we talk peeing? Our own peeing?

Several years after the birth of our kid, I'm still dealing with significant stress incontinence. Our kid was born vaginally with nearly zero molding of her head. So her round basketball of a dome "turtled" for two hours.

I used to run regularly but it's been ruined. Coughing, slipping, a good sneeze here and there and I have leakage. This was a long, long winter.

I know Kegels. But have any of you done anything more substantial? Pelvic floor therapy? Surgery? Something else?

I mourn running but more I mourn in advance not being able to do things with my daugher because I'm worried I'll pee. I don't want to be the sedentary parent. And I'm cognizant that this just gets worse as we get older.

I want to believe there are answers and success stories."

I would try physical therapy specifically for pelvic floor injuries. I've heard of plenty of success stories for stress incontinence and even prolapsed uterus, but don't know enough to recommend anything specific other than starting with physical therapy. 

Does anyone have any experience with this that they'd like to share with Anonymous? (Feel free to comment anonymously yourself, obviously.)

What happens after rehab, and talking to kids about addiction

Anonymous writes:

"I'm hoping you or your readers can help me with a big life thing, hopefully a big change. My dad is very close to my family, and an alcoholic. On Monday morning he asked me to drive him to detox, which was amazing and a day I thought would never come. But I was home with my three-year-old daughter, so she came with us. It wasn't traumatic but it was different and strange and she knows something is going on. Plus there are all these FEELINGS happening all over the place that she's picking up on. Monday, we told her that Grandpa was sick, and was going to stay in the hospital until he gets better. Today, she asked why he was sick and we told her she couldn't catch what he had, he was born with it (why did that come out of my mouth?!) and that he is getting better. 

So... what's next? I don't know what will happen in terms of detox, if he goes to rehab, when we will hear from him, what he will even be like. How do I help my kid understand what is happening at an age-appropriate level? If anyone else has gone through this with a parent, spouse, or other loved one, it would be so, so helpful to me to hear how they communicated with their children. 

And yeah, I have a therapist, a good one. "

The baby questions are always easier than the adult questions, aren't they?

First, congratulations. I have no idea what's going to happen with your dad, but the fact that he asked you to drive him is big and wonderful and made me tear up.

Now, I've recommended it a couple of times this week already under different circumstances, so here's another recommendation for Al-Anon. The entire group is there to support you in your relationship (and parenting your kids through their relationship) with someone with a problem with alcohol. They know the patterns, they know the language, they know what you're feeling. They're there and they will help, and they're free. You can go and they'll be able to tell you what a typical pattern is for someone going into detox/rehab and what to do when he gets out, and also how to help your daughter through this.

You can find them here. Local in person meetings, and it looks like they have electronic meetings, too: http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/

This is all complicated right now, but I think the simple answer you gave is good, and tells her what she needs to know without scaring her. Obviously when she's older she'll need to know specifics, but for now this is good. And what she's also going to take out of this is that if she has a problem, you're the person to go to, and also that she and you are the kind of people who help. Good lessons, both of those.

Has anyone else been in this situation from any side? Any good words for Anonymous?

Kindergarten, Facebook, Sixth grade (not all together)

I'm officially opening registration for the Kindergarten support group for parents of kids entering Kindergarten (SK in Canada) this coming fall or winter. The group starts April 24 but registration is open until September 6. It starts in April because we want to have time to talk about all the stuff that's going to happen (and our reactions to it) before people disappear for summer vacation, and then prep for the first few weeks at the end of the summer.

If you're considering it but don't know where your kid is going to K yet, please join and don't feel like you have to wait until you know. There are few people in the group in the same situation right now, and the group is the perfect place to stress about that without tiring out all your other friends who aren't in the same situation. The group is half full already and we have a diverse, interesting group.

In other news: Facebook is making some changes in a few weeks that mean that anyone who's Liked my AskMoxie page is probably not going to see the things I post. If you want to be connected on Facebook, join the AskMoxie group instead. It's a Closed group, so anything you comment or post can only be seen by people who are also in the group and won't appear in anyone's feed or the spy ticker unless that person is also in the group. (After  you join, go up to "Notifications" on the homepage of the group and turn them off, or else you'll get a zillion notifications, because the group moves pretty quickly.)

Middle School: Did anyone else who has a sixth grader feel like the switch to multiple teachers instead of just one teacher was emotionally good but logistically horrible? Mine took awhile to get on top of the idea of multiple teachers and multiple assignments that sometimes overlapped, but he seems to be thriving with having multiple adults teaching him instead of one in charge of everything.

It feels like we're through the adjustment period of the multiple teachers and concurrent/conflicting assignments now, so this semester is easier (by that criterion) than last semester.

Anyone else?

Gatekeeping your child's relationships

I've been thinking about the topic of gatekeeping parent-child relationships and how it feels like a loving thing to do but actually creates a cascade of problems that last for decades, so I thought I'd break down how it happens and what the stakes are and how to stop.

Warning: This whole post is going to be really heteronormative, assuming that we're talking about a male-female partnership. That's because this most often happens in male-female relationships precisely because of our cultural dynamics. So single parents and parents in same-sex partnerships, you can go get a glass of water for this one if you want, but if you read through it might help you understand your friends and how culture can screw things up for people.

Gatekeeping, as I'm using it today, is when the mother protects the father and the child from each other. The mother takes on the Parent-in-Charge role and the father and child only interact in ways approved by and dictated by the mother.

This happens all the time, and it happens because women think that's what we're supposed to do. We're the baby's mother, and often we're the one feeding the baby. The father has to go back to work right away, so we're the ones spending the most time with the baby. So we develop our systems and our coping techniques, and then in our minds (and in the fathers' minds) we're the ones who know what to do, and the fathers don't. We know how to soothe the baby, and the father doesn't do it the same way. If the baby keeps crying, we know the father doesn't know how to soothe the baby "the right way." It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But this ignores the fact that our expertise is merely circumstantial. At the second we meet our children, mothers and fathers have the same potential for caring for the child. (One or the other may have read more about baby care already, but the other could easily catch up.) It's only the way our society is structured to channel men into paid work and women into child care that causes this unequal distribution of time that causes unequal distribution of expertise. We do not have to go along with this, and indeed, we shouldn't.

Gatekeeping also assumes the men inherently don't know how to care for children. Yes, it can be scary to be with a baby when you don't feel like you know what to do. Dealing with toddlers is excruciating. Preschoolers can be super-frustrating. But when a mother takes over most of those duties to "protect" her partner from having to deal with them, she implies that he's too weak/stupid/incompetent to go through a normal learning curve. And she implies that there's something wrong with the child, that the child is something the father shouldn't be forced to deal with.

We know what happens then: The mother takes over child care and the emotional relationship with the child. The father becomes the breadwinner (even when the mother is fully employed, too) and feels like he doesn't have much to contribute to the child's emotional life. The father and the child never establish a true, honest emotional relationship. The parents resent each other for unequal distribution of work and emotional connection. Everyone's siloed.

(It looks like the relationships in Mad Men.)

Men are smart. They are strong and resilient and resourceful. They have clear voices to sing lullabies and speak discipline, strong hands to change diaper blow-outs and braid hair, fast feet to run to latch a baby gate and play chase with a toddler. They have broad shoulders that children ride on. They are tough and tender and smart enough to know when to listen and when to help. They are the best fathers for their children, from birth through adulthood.

Fathers do things differently than mothers do, and that's ok.

If you are a mother who wants to give your child a gift and give your child's father a gift, the best gift you can give them is to leave them alone together, for extended periods of time, so they can work out their own relationship. And work on the assumption that your child's father is an equal parent who can and should be able to care for your child seamlessly (even if it's not the same way you'd do things). This is also the best gift you can give yourself, because then you don't have to be the only expert on everyone.

You're worth it. Your child is worth it. Your child's father is worth it. And you're worth it as a family.

Q&A: The slog

Anonymous writes:

"Is it normal to be a little depressed by the never-ending cycle/gauntlet of tasks that are involved in having a full-time job and being a spouse and parent? Every day feels like a slog. Sometimes it's a happy slog. But more often than not, the thought of the sheer number of things that have to get done -- laundry, grocery shopping, bills, commuting, work, bedtime routines, the whole lot -- feels like a real grind, and it often leaves me weary and just bummed out by it all. I'm not someone who procrastinates or shirks responsibility, so that's not it. But people don't talk about it all that much, so I don't know if that weary and bummed feeling is normal, or if it's a sign of depression. I'm not asking anyone to diagnose me with anything, I'd just like to hear from other people on how they feel about the constant treadmill of tasks, and perhaps even how they gain some relief from those gunky feelings."

You asked not to be diagnosed and I can't diagnose anyone with anything anyway, but as a person who lives with depression, I know that when my depression is in remission the daily routine feels busy and annoying and stressful but fine, and like there's something to look forward to every day. When I'm in a phase of depression, the daily routine feels like a slog and like every day is the same, and like it's all demoralizing and futile.

Which is to say that yes, I know what you mean. Right now it doesn't feel that way for me, but it has during many times in the past. And it wasn't about shirking responsibility at all. Depression isn't laziness, and it isn't a choice to be "in a bad mood." It's an illness that makes daily life dull and painful, and makes normal tasks require more effort than they do when you're not depressed and for people who aren't depressed.

Also: sometimes depression is a totally normal reaction to crappy circumstances. If you're doing way too much, or your work is disappointing, or your relationship is having problems, or your kids are going through tough ages, then yes, it's a normal reaction. But it's still depression, and it still hurts.

When I feel myself sliding into mild depression I do the things that I know from experience work for me to get myself out of it--I start doing core exercises (Pilates or barre or T-Tapp or yoga) every day; I make sure I'm supplementing B vitamins, C vitamins, magnesium, and Omega 3s; I try to get eight hours of sleep (and I take Calms Forte to stop the racing thoughts); I got outside into the sunshine every day that there's sunshine; I talk to other people; I ask other people to hug me long tight hugs (not the short perfunctory kind, but the long tight therapeutic kind. If someone will give me a massage or backrub that's even better, even if it's just 15 minutes); I drink enough water.

For me, doing those things for two weeks gets me out of the mild depression. For you they might not get you fully out of depression, but they should give you enough emotional space to talk to the people who love you about getting treatment.

I know other people are reading this and thinking Anonymous is telling their story. Thoughts?

Daylight Savings Time cometh

(Earlybird pricing and registration for the Kindergarten support group starting April 24 for kids starting K or SK this fall is open. Info here. Regular registration and pricing starts March 24.)

(My friend Roosevelt Credit is on the soundtrack for "12 Years A Slave," and it won an Oscar for Best Soundtrack last night. Here's Roo's song.)

(Today is my older son's 12th birthday! I've been a mother for 12 years, and he's almost a teenager.)

Daylight Savings Time is here this Sunday, March 9, for the US and Canada and Mexico at 2 am. We are springing forward so we lose an hour of sleep, and what's 6 pm today will be 7 pm after the time change. Benefit: lighter later in the evening, for the illusion of summer despite the piles of snow everywhere.

(We're switching FROM Standard Time TO Daylight Savings Time, and we won't switch back to Standard Time until November 2.)

There are three ways you can handle it. (There are more, of course, but I'm only describing three):

1. Starting tonight (Monday), put your kid to bed 10 minutes EARLIER each night. So if your kid normally goes to bed at 8, tonight put them to bed at 7:50, then Tuesday at 7:40, then Wednesday at 7:30, etc. On Saturday night they'll go to bed at 7 pm, but through the magic of the time change, that will be 8 pm on Sunday night.

2. Starting Wednesday night, put your kid to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. So Wednesday at 7:45, Thursday at 7:30, Friday at 7:15, and Saturday at 7, and then 7 will be 8 again on Sunday.

3. Do nothing different and then just let it sort itself out next week.

No matter what you do, Sunday probably won't be bad, but Monday and Tuesday will suck, and then it'll be better by Wednesday and by Thursday or Friday you should be mostly ok with it. Try to get everyone (including you) a nap on Sunday and Monday, if possible.

IME, babies and kids over the age of 7 seem to do just fine with the time change, while toddlers through Kindergarten or 1st grade and adults over the age of 35 seem to be hit pretty hard and can be really cranky for days and days.

What if those tongues of flame

What if those tongues of flame
are actually petals

Caressing us down to our very essence
Not
Burning hot black charred

Burning away the old the forced the mistaken
the who-you-thought-you-had-to-be

But gently coaxing the sleek new vulcanized you
to poke your head out and turn your face to the sun

Ready to face the world with steely will and dewy cheeks.

 

 

Magda Pecsenye, for the Mawrtyrs, FD 2014

5th grade mean girls

I just added a new search box over on the column on the right, and I really really hope this one actually allows people to search the site. I'm still trying to figure out how to get the comments that don't show up to show up. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, an email from Anonymous:

"I think I need your advice and the advice of your excellent commenters about how to best cope with a social situation at my daughter’s school. I’m probably going to give way too much rambling detail, so please edit brutally as necessary. {Ed. note: I didn't edit any of it down.]

My daughter is 10, and in 5th grade. She is profoundly gifted and accelerated and was sort-of diagnosed with PDD/NOS about a year and a half ago. I’m not so sure the label is accurate or particularly helpful, but she is not in synch with her classmates in some ways, and not always adept at interpreting social cues, or at giving the cues she wants to give.

She goes to a very small school, and there are only 5 fifth grade girls. There is another girl, G, in her class, who has spent this whole school year taking the girls in the class on fun outings and having sleepovers and birthday parties (well, she’s probably only had one birthday party), and not inviting my daughter. A couple of times a month, at least, my daughter comes home from school and tells me “G. took all the girls ice skating” or “they’re going to look at gingerbread houses. They’re probably still there right now”. At least once, they’ve even all been picked up from school together to go on a fun outing. I have heard about other playdates hosted by other girls from which my daughter was also excluded, but not with the regularity or ostentatiousness of G.

One of the weird parts is that last year I was taking college classes and G’s family babysat my daughter a bunch of times when I had class, and I thought we had the beginnings of a nice little relationship there. I don’t know what changed. I don’t know whether I’m paranoid to imagine that being a single mom or not having as much money as the other families at school could have something to do with it.

I don’t know the best way to handle this. I’ve spoken with her teacher, who insists that my daughter is not excluded during school, but that there’s not much anybody can do about what happens outside of school, and none too gently reminds me that my daughter is intense and not as sophisticated as other girls her age, subtext: deal with it, she’s going to be excluded.

I am starting to see school refusal, and tummy aches, and she is starting to procrastinate, daydream, and otherwise slack off on her schoolwork, which is a fairly new thing for her. I don’t know how much of this is directly related to the social difficulties, but certainly some, at least.

We have invited various of these girls out to tea and roller skating and things. Sometimes they come. It doesn’t seem to help. My thoughts have been to:

• Invite G to do a bunch of stuff, thereby creating a debt that her family will have to blatantly ignore if my daughter continues to be excluded.
• Send an email to G’s mom, and I alternate between wanting to be conciliatory, angry, begging, or some combination of all of them.
• Confront G’s parents in the parking lot at pickup time and demand to know why their little brat of a daughter is such a mean girl.
• Take my daughter out of school
• Burn the place down.

It’s no surprise that my kid is socially awkward; I am too, and I am terrified of confrontation and I am confused about social expectations. But I do know that this situation is hurting my daughter.

What would you do?"

This is vicious and mean and completely uncalled for. G's parents should be ashamed of themselves.

What would I do? I'd have a meeting with the principal in which I made it very clear that by not helping your daughter they are actively encouraging the exclusion, and that it could turn to outright bullying easily. The subtext from the teacher that your daughter deserves to be excluded because she's different is unconscionable and (I believe) unethical.

I asked a friend of mine about this. Her daughter was in almost exactly the same situation at a small school, and the school did not respond, and then it turned into threatening and bullying, and the school told my friend they just had to take it (and actively defended the bully girls and their families). So my friend pulled her daughter from the school and put her in a bigger school, where her daughter has found friends and is happy.

One mean girl and her mean family and a teacher who is enacting her own cruel agenda doesn't define who your child is. It doesn't define who you are. Not everyone will want to be friends with you, HOWEVER no one ever should be cruel to a kid who is different from them. And there are plenty of people who will want to be friends with your kid.

A big digression about friendship:

I feel like the failure of my marriage along with getting older has given me a deep immersion in the process of making and being a friend, and I've learned some stuff that would have helped 10-year-old me a lot. I had never really thought about people who are on the spectrum, or that just statistically speaking I was interacting with a lot of adults who had PDD/NOS, until one of my friends told me that she is. She doesn't pick up on some social cues, and she told me that and asked me to let her know when she was missing stuff. So now if I see that she's not picking up on something I just let her know, and if she thinks she missing something she asks me, and it's fine.

What's important about this story is that: 1) we both want to be friends so we talk about how that works and how to make it work better for both of us, 2) she has a right to be who she is and to be treated well and to ask to be treated well, and 3) not everyone wants to be friends with me and not everyone wants to be friends with her, and that's ok, but it also means that we're being smart by being deliberate about being friends with each other since we know we both want to be friends.

I don't take friendship lightly, meaning that I don't take just being/having friends lightly, but I also don't take it for granted so I'm willing to work at it. What I'm trying to teach my kids is that you need to be secure enough in yourself to know what is important to you in a friend, and then when you find people like that, really be friends with them. Sometimes it doesn't work out (I had a friend date a few months ago with someone who won't return emails now) but sometimes it really does (lunch yesterday with someone I didn't even know a few years ago who is now one of the people I trust the most in life, because we both liked each other and we tend our friendship). But if you know what you want in a friend and are willing to invest in the people who are worth it to you and let the others fall away, you'll have the friendships that sustain you.

I feel a strong imperative to model the process of making and tending friends to my kids. I want them to know that it doesn't happen automatically and that you have a choice about how you treat people, and that there are consequences of how you treat them (both fantastic and bad). I want to give them the gift of being able to create their destinies by having wonderful friends in their lives.

Back from the digression:

None of what's happening with G and the other girls and their parents is acceptable. Fight for your daughter. You're ok and so is she, and both of you can have and be friends. Just not with shitty people. So hold the principal accountable for what's happening, and do what you need to to get your daughter into a place with more kids and kids who aren't as easily led so that she can find her people.

Has anyone been in a similar situation?

Edited to add: I'd like to thank by name my 4th grade teacher Steve Krebill and my 5th and 6th grade teacher Mike Mayo for tending us kids carefully and never letting any kind of mean girl culture develop in your classrooms. We knew we didn't have to be friends with everyone, but we had to work together, and you just didn't accept meanness. Thank you.

Taking care of yourself but watching for others

This year we're focusing on the word NOURISH and on taking care of ourselves. I've been urging all of us to try to find some time to do things that are good for us and that make us feel more like ourselves. But I've been realizing that for some mothers/parents that might be a bit of a trap. Let me explain why.

There's a cultural pressure to be a perfect mother, and part of that mythology is being self-sacrificing. Which is fine when it means sacrificing your want to meet your child's need, waking up with a sick child, giving your kid the big piece of cake, etc. But when we start to take that to mean that we deliberately don't do things we like or take any time for ourselves or maintain our friendships and physical health, etc. as a way of trying to prove what great moms we are, well, that's messed up.

So my reminder to nourish yourself is also a reminder to stop buying into this weird competition in which people are trying to prove they're good mothers by being mean to themselves. It's really not ever you vs. your kids. You can all feel great. And your kids will be more likely to be centered and content and connected if you take care of yourself so you're able to bring your best self into mothering them.

But. This assumes that you already have the set-up to be able to stop the madness and just switch some things up to focus on yourself. It assumes that you have the time and resources and energy and support to shift the focus of what you do. Asking your partner to spend four hours on the weekend with the kids while you go do something for yourself, and knowing that while your partner may be surprised at the request, they'll do it and you won't have to pay for it later. Rearranging your schedule so that you use nap time for something you want to do once or twice a week. Going to book club after work once a month instead of being the only one who knows how to put the kids to bed.

If you don't have a setup that allows you any leeway to take care of yourself or make choices that nourish you, then my telling you to nourish yourself is cruel and vile. If I continue, it's blaming you for your own unhappiness. Because if you are in a situation in which you cannot do things for yourself (or you technically could, but the price you'd have to pay would be too high), then my telling you to pull yourself up by your own mom bootstraps and just go get an eyebrow wax is making it even worse.

Note: I'm not talking about being in a temporary situation that sucks, like three snow days in one week or being in the middle of the 9-month sleep regression or family illness or moving house or anything else that means you have no leeway and just have to buckle down and suck it up for a few days/weeks/months.

I'm talking about being caught in the system (with the system being your family situation). Of having no childcare so you're burned out from constant care of children, and are so burned out that you can't even figure out how to get any relief. I'm talking about having a partner you can't trust. Of working a job that pays you just enough to get by but not enough to give you any relief, and not knowing how many more days you're going to have to wake up feeling like you're already running late. Of being trapped.

If it's not depression, it sure feels like depression. (All my fellow depressed people are nodding right now, because what I'm describing is the echo chamber aka "circular thinking" aka the Death Spiral aka circling down the drain.) And it's really a trap.

If you're in a trap, you can't nourish yourself. You need help to get out of the trap.

You know I love action points, so here's what I've got for this:

1. If you recognize yourself in the first category, of not nourishing yourself because that feels like being a good mother, cut it out. You're a great mother, and you know it, even if you don't do everything perfectly. Do it, even if you have to take a deep breath before asking your partner to learn the bedtime routine so you can go out with a friend. Just do it. Three months from now I bet everyone in your household is laughing more because you're being yourself.

Also, we need your improved energy for the next step:

2. If you have extra (energy, motivation, resources, time), look around carefully at the other mothers you know. The ones that are drowning are not wearing signs that say "I'm drowning" so you'll have to look at the edges to see the signs of white-knuckling. These moms are locked down, so they might seem aloof and they might be invested in making everything look ok and they might even seem defensive (because they have to be). Stay quiet and listen and pay attention, and don't be hurt if your overtures are rebuffed the first time.

3. If you are drowning, either from depression or because you're caught in a bad system or both, wave your hand. Even if you can't keep your hand up until one of us comes to get you, keep waving it when you can, and someone will get there.

 

When those of us who have the resources to take care of ourselves do take care of ourselves, that gives us more ability to help find the ones who need our help. Then the helped become the helpers, and eventually we're all free.

It's a thing: Fear fantasies with babies

(I just released a New MoxieTopic: Teaching Your Child To Respect Boundaries (Theirs and Yours).)

Yesterday in the Ask Moxie private FB group I asked about common health problems we have in the year after having a baby, and one of the things that came up was those almost unstoppable fear scenarios that we have about our babies. Sharon Silver called them "fear fantasies," and I think that's exactly what they are. Women in the group were shocked to know that this was an actual thing, because they thought it had just been them having these bizarre and scary persistent thoughts and no one else had.

A fear fantasy (as I experienced them and as other have described them) is one constant, specific fear of something happening to our child that we can't will away or stop having just by force of will. (With my older child my fear fantasy was that a car would jump the curb and hit him in the stroller. With my younger child my fear fantasy was that somehow my older child would accidentally step on him and paralyze him. Others have described fear fantasies of accidentally drowning their child, that the child would be kidnapped, or other variations on harm coming to the child.)

They seem hormonally-based to me. Mine came on at a few weeks after birth with both of my kids and lasted for around six weeks. Others have fear fantasies at certain points in their menstrual cycles. Some women experience them for longer periods, and some for shorter periods.

I decided to ride mine out, because they were temporary (and the second time I knew that they would go away once my hormones evened out). If you are having them to the extent that they're inhibiting your parenting, making you even more scared, or don't stop, tell someone. There's nothing wrong with you. They're just another one of those hormonally-based mood things (like depression, anxiety, etc.) that can be treated by evening out your hormones by any of a number of methods. Having a fear is NOT having the urge to do something, so you have a little time to figure out treatment. (If you do have the urge to cause harm to your baby or yourself, this is a different illness called postpartum psychosis and it can be treated but you need to tell someone NOW so you can get treatment before anyone is hurt.)

Who has had a fear fantasy? How long did it last? Did you do anything about it or just ride it out?  If anyone's experienced fear fantasies and some other hormone-based mood disorder (like PPD, anxiety, postpartum psychosis), how did they differ?

My new necklace!

I just wanted to show you my new necklace from Kristina at VianneFere on Etsy:

Build Nourish.jpg

As part of the 2014 Amazing Year workbook we choose a word for the year. I chose one for my personal life (love) and one for my work life (build). So I got a round pendant with "build" on one side and "love" on the other. Then I got two small heart pendants, each with one of my children's initials, and then the word of the year for all of us here (nourish) on a little tag. So it's my whole focus for the year all on one necklace.

I love it!

Listening For Your Own Answers

By now you’ve probably read Glennon Melton’s excellent “Save Your Relationships: Ask The Right Questions” post. If you haven’t, she talks about how we ask people how they’re doing, but these questions are so formulaic that they don’t allow us to connect to the real person we’re asking. To really show people that you care about them, you need to ask them questions that are specific to them, that allow them to share their experience with you, and not feel like they don’t fit into the space you’ve allowed for them in your life.

As I was reading the post I kept nodding my head and thinking, “Yes!” because this is what we’ve been doing here at AskMoxie for eight years now: parenting the kids you have. Most of us are here because of our “You are the best parent for your child” philosophy, that reminds us that we need to pay attention and listen and watch and learn about who our specific little human is, from the moment we meet that child, so that we can parent that specific child they way they need to be parented.

Parenting is a really loooooooong conversation with your child. Years and years and years, if we’re lucky. And part of that means that any one episode of screwing up isn’t going to make or break the relationship. But part of that means that we also need to have this conversation--including asking specific questions--with the kid we actually have instead of the ideal child.

No one has the ideal child. But you have someone way better--your own kid. And that’s really really comforting, because it’s hard to dig deep with the ideal, because the ideal is all surface. With a real person with their own quirks and problems, you can ask all those specific questions, give specific care, have the specific arguments, and have friction over specific things. All those specifics weave you together in a way that generalizations do not, and make you stronger and closer as a family.

But part of this, also, is about being who you are, not some generic ideal. YOU are the best parent for your child. YOU. Not some automaton who follows the scripts of the parenting manuals verbatim. Not a Stepford mom who never doubts or questions or worries or digs deeper or follows her instincts. Not a shiny bright robot who does everything correctly all the time. YOU. Even when you don’t think you’re enough.

When my second son was born, I spent the first year and a half of his life thinking I was the wrong mother for him. My first son had been so easy to read, and it was almost effortless for me to give him what he needed. This second child, though, seemed angry all the time, and I couldn’t soothe him. I knew that I was supposed to be keeping him calm and happy, and I’d been able to do that with my first, but this second child just didn’t respond to all my attempts at soothing. And then the therapist I was seeing because I was getting divorced said to me, “Maybe he just wants to be angry. And maybe you might feel better if you let yourself be angry, too.” So I let us both be angry, and it was exactly what he needed. He and I were really really angry--together--until we were done being angry, and then we were really tight.

I’m sure that some of you are getting tired of hearing me say “You had everything you needed in you the whole time.” But you do. You have everything you need for your whole life, including being the best parent ever for your own unique children, inside you right now. Don’t be afraid to tap into your own feelings, negative and positive. Don’t deny yourself your own dreams and desires and preferences. Prioritize yourself and your feelings so you can really bring everything you have to your family.

You are important, bad and good and messy and neat. You are the touchstone for your child, even when you’re cranky or feeling drained. Everything about you has value. You are good and right and true, exactly as you are. Be yourself.

 

This is probably a good time to mention that starting this Friday, the free Ask Moxie email--sign up in the box in the right-hand column if you’re not already getting it--is going to draw you through the process I use when I work with private clients (and weave into most of my workshops) that helps you clarify your priorities as a person to define your core values as a parent. I LOVE this process and I hope you do, too. Sign up if you’re not already getting the email.

 

 

 

 

Gah

I left off on Monday with the call-in (which was fun) and the Boundaries MoxieTopic about to go out. Which I was working on, and then got crunched, and then got on a plane for a jam-packed three-day work trip which I'm now jetlagged from and cranky, and I'm still not done with the MoxieTopic.

The irony of having a piece on boundaries delayed because of a work trip is not lost on me.

I'm here and working, though, so it's all coming.

What's happening with you? How's round two of the polar vortex treating you?

I'll be on "The Moms with Denise and Melissa" at 11:40 am EST on Monday

I'll be on "The Moms with Denise and Melissa" on Sirius XM radio Stars 106 this morning at 11:40 EST, talking about whether single parents should go out and do stuff with their kids alone, or if they need another adult with them in case of emergency.

Later today look out for the MoxieTopic on teaching healthy boundaries to your kids. (If you're an All MoxieTopics Subscriber it'll automatically come to you.)

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

On Butting In Because You Know Best

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A few days ago, a friend of mine was attacked on Twitter just for doing her job. This friend is a former professor who runs programs to help women in academia with organization, navigating the system, university politics, and other academia-related issues. (Full disclosure: She and I have worked together in the past.) Her programs are sometimes geared toward women, but some are open to men, too.

She posted about one of her teleseminars that's open to the public, and was attacked out of the blue by someone asking if she had a "real job." It turns out that this anonymous attacker is a male academic at a well-respected private university in the South, and he became enraged enough to compose a tweet to my friend, with whom he'd never had contact, because the office of professional enrichment at his university had had the audacity to invite him to a free teleseminar about controlling facial emotions.

Men reading this may not get what facial emotions have to do with anything, but women reading this have probably had an experience with being told they didn't have the correct facial expression pasted on at the time. Whether it's some strange man commanding that you "smile, gorgeous" on the subway, or being told in a performance review at work that you're either "too happy" or "need to lighten up," many women have been told they're not living up to someone else's standards because they're not making the correct facial expression. My friend was doing a teleseminar about how to work around that. And then was attacked by someone who'd heard about her seminar and decided it offended him somehow.

I've been thinking about that, about why there are some men who feel such a strong urge to assert their own opinion that they'll demand a woman's attention to tell her that she's wrong. I have no doubt that the anonymous academic from the south had no idea that facial expressions are a thing that women deal with. But he didn't think, "Hey, I have no interest in this. Let me continue tweeting about food and go on with my life." He thought, "I don't get this. Let me insult a strange woman because I don't understand what this is about and she needs to know that I don't like it."

It feels to me simply like another form of mansplaining, in which a (usually white straight cis) man explains to a woman in great pedantic detail something she already knows, or attempts to deflect the conversation from a real issue women face to make it about him instead. In this case, though, the Twitter user didn't bother to explain to my friend why she is wrong for doing her job. Maybe we should be grateful for brevity.

It's peculiar to me, because this harassment isn't the violent, cursing, threatening harassment Amanda Hess and Amanda Marcotte have written about recently. My friend's anonymous troll and the mansplainers aren't threatening women, they're simply asserting that women are wrong and they're right. Which makes it much more slippery and much more difficult to call out. If someone threatens to kill or rape you, no one can deny that that's wrong. But not everyone sees how damaging it is being told you're wrong constantly.

Then Grantland published that gut-wrenching piece in which Caleb Hannan stalked a subject of a story he was writing and kept harassing her because she had a secret that she didn't want to disclose to him. A secret that had nothing to do with the story he was writing. But he pursued her and pursued her, apparently because he was insulted that she wasn't telling him all the information he wanted to know. He continued to stalk her (presumably his editors at Grantland knew about this) and she committed suicide because of it. (I'm not linking to the story. It deserves no clicks.)

Caleb Hannan decided that his desire to know something private about another person trumped her right not to share every detail of her life with him (and his readers). And he wrote and published a story in which he is the hero, because he doggedly pursued this person that he paints as being difficult, hostile, and immoral simply because she wouldn't open up every detail to him. It's a vivid tale of bully culture, but written by the bully himself, who celebrates his victory at the end.

My immediate reaction to these stories is to wonder why these men do this. Why do bullies, street harassers, "keyboard warriors," frustrated academics, "good Christian men," tea partiers, run-of-the-mill misogynists, and the other men who insert their opinions where they have no right to be, do this? The majority of men do not. The majority of white straight cis men do not. So why do some of them have this disorder?

I'm not sure there's an answer. I'd like to think it has something to do with the NSA. That as a culture we've just become so inured to the idea that someone else is watching and judging us, that people with nothing better to do and some life frustration think they should strap on the virtual guns and go after low-hanging victims.

But maybe it's simple entitlement. Men who have never not been asked their opinions cannot help but think that their opinions trump everything else, including other human beings' rights to privacy, to earn a living, to live.

I really wish I knew the answer. As a mother of two white straight cis boys, I really wish I knew the answer. So that I can raise my boys to be more like the majority of men who are happy to learn from other people and let them live, instead of the ones who file lawsuits because something a professor said in class hurt their feelings or the ones who harass strangers or the ones who write stories celebrating bullying someone.

 

(My Twitter handle is @AskMoxie. You can find it by clicking the Twitter icon at the top of this page. Come at me, bro.)

3.5 is a lousy age

Shannon writes:

“I know my 3.5 year-old is totally just doing what 3.5 year-olds do but I need some parenting strategies to work though this stage. 

There is a lot of him saying "No!" back to us any time he doesn't like what we are saying which eventually amps up into full-on tantrum and uncontrollable crying.  My husband is very much of the mind to withhold attention and affection when our son is behaving in an uncooperative manner and has a "lay down the law/do what I say" attitude about back talk.  But I think it just makes things worse and he is a sensitive kid, so I feel like it will undermine his feeling secure in our love. 

Our son also has horrible separation anxiety right now.  Separation anxiety has been an on and off issue for him but it is rough right now with him screaming "Mommy!  No!  Mommy don't leave me!  Help me Mommy!" this morning.  He has been at the same daycare/preschool since he was 3 months old and does fine 10 minutes after I'm gone but it is terrible leaving him in that state.  I am sure some of his struggle is that we had our second son 9 months ago and it is still a tough transition for him to have to share his parents.  Also, my husband and I have had a rough marriage year and there's been a lot of tension and depression around our house.  We've tried our best to keep it light and normal around the kids and never discuss our problems with them around but we aren't perfect and kids are intuitive, so I have no doubt that my older son has felt the stress. 

Any help you can provide on how to communicate in a way that will get through to him and how to establish respectful communication from both sides would be helpful.  Also, ways to help him feel secure and loved.  So often I've been able to get through the tough developmental things with "this too shall pass/this is just a phase" but this feels like an important point where we need to have a real strategy for setting expectations from both sides and setting a tone for our future parenting. “

 

This is an interesting twist on the “my 3.5-year-old is making me feel like a failure” questions I usually get. (And asked, with both my kids.) Nothing makes you feel as out of your depths as a behavioral stage that seems to come out of nowhere.

If you’re interested in reading what I’ve said about 3 ½-year-olds in the past and all the validating comments, check out these posts:

http://askmoxie.org/blog/2008/09/3-12-year-olds-and-the-pain-they-cause.html

http://askmoxie.org/blog/2008/09/more-thoughts-on-those-rough-times-3-12-year-olds.html

http://askmoxie.org/blog/2007/10/book-review-you.html

But now on to Shannon’s questions about communicating in a way that will get through to him and how to set the tone for future parenting. I think you can only really do half of that. Meaning, you as the parent need to work out a plan that you feel good about, but not base your evaluation of the success of that plan on how your child responds. Which I know sounds weird and is the opposite of everything else you do in parenting, which (especially up until this point) has largely been about trying things until you find one that works.

But here’s the thing about 3.5 (and 7, as we talked about on Monday)--the developmental changes going on in their heads make them truly unable to deal with normal structures and rules and consequences. They can’t really see cause and effect like they could before (and will again once they’re out of the phase) and their emotions overwhelm them. Remember that this is the stage in which a kid will throw and tantrum because you don’t let them have something, and then you give in and let them have that thing so they throw a tantrum that you let them have it. Their bodies are just so hyped up and it’s all emotion and hormones and discomfort running through their veins.

So they simply can’t process rules like they used to. Which means that the idea of being able to communicate effectively with your child at this stage doesn’t mean that you say something and they understand and comply. Or even just understand. You can be communicating as clearly as possible and they can physically hear it, but their scrambled brains won’t let them attach to it or comply with it. And then they’ll have a tantrum about it. So it’s not really “getting through to him” that’s possible at this age.

Yes, you can go 100% punitive and put the hammer down and squash them into such a small space that they “comply.” But that just means that they’re afraid of you, and that’s going to last long past this developmental phase. (And it’s not even what Shannon’s looking for. I just thought I’d mention it for the people who think they need compliance at all costs, although I doubt any of them are reading me anyway.)

The best thing to do at this stage is to put up safeguards (both physical and emotional) so that your child can’t hurt himself or you, and then stop trying to enforce the rules your child can’t process. Stay focused on keeping your home a safe place for everyone, so your child can’t hurt anyone and everyone stays as emotionally close as possible. Greet the outburst with as much kindness and sympathy as you can, while also being kind and sympathetic to yourself about having to deal with this stage.

I’d also caution against taking too much blame for the way your son is acting. You’ve had a lot going on, but many many many kids who don’t have siblings and whose parents’ marriage is in fantastic shape go through this exact same horrible stage in spades. I know that it’s really tempting to blame yourself for anything that happens with your child, because then it feels like you have control over it, but 3.5-year-olds can be awful, and even if everything had been delightful up until now you’d still be in this stage.

The way you interact with your child during this stage is not the same way you’ll interact with him once he’s out of this brain scrambling phase and is able to process rules and structures again. So don’t think of forming a strategy for parenting forever and ever. Instead, think about this as the crisis strategy that you use for 3.5, 4.75, 6.5, age 7, age 14, etc. (And then think of your normal parenting strategy as how you’ll parent again when he’s out of this phase.)

The crisis parenting strategy (mine, at least) essentially boils down to: Keep everyone together. Let the rules slide. Give a lot of hugs, even when you don’t feel like it. Keep your eye on the light at the end of the tunnel.

Remember that the lashing out and tantrums and weepiness aren’t in any way, shape, or form about you or about your parenting or relationship. It’s all about his body and his brain and what it can’t do right now. So think of this as any other period of recovery, not the future of everything. And don’t feel bad that you feel at odds with him right now--feeling at odds with the whole world is the hallmark of this age. This feels really big and really scary, but it’s also really normal.

And really awful.

Be kind to yourself.

Readers? Stories of horrible 3.5 behavior that then went back to normal loving behavior?

 

Oh, seven.

It feels like half the people in the Ask Moxie Facebook group are dealing with 7-year-olds right now, and it’s not fun.

To recap, let’s remember the theory from Ames and Ilg that most kids go through equilibrium phases right around the year mark (when they’re pleasant, fluid, fluent, and learning new skills) and then disequilibrium phases right around the half-year (when they’re unpleasant, lacking emotional resilience, clumsy, and may regress in skills and behaviors). Which explains why kids are particularly hard to deal with at 2.5 (ugh), 3.5 (OMGWTFSOS), 4.5 (although I think 4.75-5+2weeks is worse), and sometimes 5.5 (although people usually just assume that’s part of the trickiness of Kindergarten).

Then 6.5 hits some kids like a ton of bricks and they become very resistant and difficult to live with.

Then: 7. Seven is 3.5 times two. Meaning, all the lack of resilience, all the drama, all the heartrending sobs over little easily-reversed things, all the contrarianism of 3.5 is doubled for 7-year-olds. Being a seven-year-old basically feels like having bad PMS for an entire year. They can be fine, but then something sets them off and they’re filled with rage and despair at the same time. It feels like no one likes them. Getting one fewer pea on their plate at dinner is evidence of how awful their lives are.

It’s rough being 7.

Although not as rough as it is being the parent of a 7-year-old, which is like being a subject in a year-long experiment on learned helplessness that you don’t remember consenting to.

If you recall 3.5 (and if your brain loves you you might not because your brain has conveniently dumped that time period for you), it was all about trying to figure out a) what would set your kid off, b) if you were actually raising a psychopath, c) how many more days until this weird being-set-off-by-anything phase would end. 7 is a lot like that, only they have a lot more competence in daily life, so the outbursts and lack of emotional resources are a bigger contrast with regular behavior. If your child had a big 6.5 disequilibrium phase you may be back in practice with just gritting your teeth and trying to remember what’s age-appropriate, but not all kids hit 6.5 that hard, so this may be new and feel totally out of the blue.

The chief characteristic of the 3.5 brain scramble is chaos. 7 isn’t quite as much chaos as it is excess, uncontrollable emotion. But, like 3.5, your 7-year-old is experiencing real, deep problems with structure and perspective. Whatever it is that’s going on with them developmentally makes it very difficult for them to see things for what they are. Everything that happens to them has only ever happened to them. A problem they’re having has never happened to anyone else, ever. No perspective. And they’re either obsessed with rules and structure or completely flummoxed by rules and structure, because emotion is obscuring everything for them.

So focus on kindness. Both giving kindness to your child, and requiring kindness of your child. No matter how out of control your child gets, they can resist hurting you physically or emotionally. No matter how uncontrolled your child gets, you can offer a hug (even if they don’t accept it, and even if you don’t really mean it). Your child’s emotional phase belongs to them. It’s not about you. And you can offer help in managing it, but you can’t solve it, you didn’t cause it, and if they don’t accept your help that doesn’t mean either of you is doing anything wrong.

This is, for the parent, an exercise in holding on loosely. And knowing that you can give support but you can’t solve your child’s (developmentally normal) problems.

It’s not just you. It’s not just your kid. It will end. Be kind to yourself, and as kind as you can be to your child.

If you want to read more about this age, check out the Ames book Your Seven-Year-Old: Life in a Minor Key.

 

Evergreen

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Hi.

I don't know what to say. This has been a really difficult week for a lot of us.

This was supposed to be the beginning of a new year, of new things, of detoxes and new plans, of bullet journals and new projects and coming around the bend into the second half of the school year. Of peace and calm and a fresh page.

But instead we were snowed inside, alone and lonely, or with kids who were bouncing off the walls, or with someone we wish we still loved. Our normal coping skills were taxed past reasonable limits. Missed days of work, missed pay. Fights with people we need to work together with. Treacherous trips out of the house. -40 F (-40 C) in some places and 120 F (50 C) in others. Goals already off-track because we lost a whole week.  The seams of tenuous relationships coming apart, stitch by stitch.

Wishing things were different.

White-knuckling it.

Bad news.

(Cancer.)

 

For those of us who watch our steps carefully as we walk because we know the edge is always there, waiting for us to slip over, this has been a challenging week. "Challenging" is a euphemism.

 

We are still here.

We have each other. Even when we don't feel like anyone else can hear us. We are here together.

 

We are still here.