August is Parenting Truths Month: You can do it

August is always a really cranky month on the internet, so I thought this year I'd just post one truth about parenting every day for the whole month. I'm choosing random things that I know are true (12 years into this gig).

You can do it

Yes, this should maybe be the finale of the month, but it's really the most important of all the true things about parenting. You can do it. Even when things get really tough. Even when you're so exhausted and wish you hadn't had your kids, or wish you could just hand them to someone else to be responsible for for a few days, or want to run away completely. Even when you're doing really well and are the parent you want to be and are worried that things are going to fall apart any minute. Even when you think you're going to break.

You can do it.

And you will do it. You'll keep waking up, and showing up, and being there for your kids. Even when you're not making all the right choices and being as focused and shiny as you want to be. Even when you think everything you touch turns to utter shit. Even when you're singing a lullaby with your mouth but your brain is somewhere else, back when you were still the old you. 

You will do it.

When your baby is six months, and three years, and nine years, and sixteen years. You will do it as the challenges change and become more high-stakes. You will do it as your children start to leave you while they still need you. You will do it forever, because you are you, and you are love.

When should a kid go to preschool?

K writes,

"I wanted to ask you - or perhaps your readers, about their opinion on preschool and preschool timing/age. My son is turning two at the end of July. I quit my FT job to freelance and be home with him - which with all of its ups and downs, is finally beginning to feel normal and perhaps even (gasp) lovely. Of course there are days when I want to call my old boss back and beg for forgiveness, but more often than not I feel like our current situation is working. 

I live in a neighborhood where parenting can feel very competitive. At the moment, it seems like everyone I meet with kids my sons age is sending theirs to preschool. When applications were due, last winter, I did not apply. For one thing, I felt like my son would still be a bit young for 'school', for another, the cost in my neighborhood is a little crazy (part time, at the lowest I have found, is around $7500) and on top of it all, I had quit my job to be home with my son, not indefinitely, but for right now I don't foresee going back to FT work anytime in the near-future.

I felt confident about my choice, but now that school time is almost here and my son's friends are running around with backpacks and their moms are going on about the amazing Montessori educations their children will receive, I started panicking that I had made the wrong choice for my son - a social, funny and strong-willed little guy. I called around and found only one option with one spot still available that is remotely affordable, except that they don't offer half-days, only three full days per week (9-2). I have to make a decisions soon, but I can't for the life of me figure out if I am doing this for my son, for myself and having a little break, or because of what I am hearing from other parents and feeling like I am not giving my son an opportunity to socialize and learn in a way he wouldn't at home (because I selfishly want to be with him). I should note that we have a babysitter a few hours a week while I work, and attend several music and movement classes every week. My son has friends he sees at a playgroup weekly, but they will all be attending different preschools in the Fall.

If you have a moment and have gone through this much too-lengthy email, I would love to hear your prospective on a good age for toddlers to attend preschool and if full days aren't too much (or perhaps are even better?) for young toddlers.

Thanks so much!"

Personally, I think that this is one of those questions that you can't choose a wrong answer to. If you send him now (assuming you can afford it), you'll be happy you sent him now, and he'll love it. (Also, 9-2 as "full day" is hilarious, no? Once again, what are FT WOH parents supposed to do?) If you don't send him now, you'll put together some classes for fun and trips to the library and other stuff to do that organizes your week and it'll be fine, too.

Back when I was making this decision it was about money, and my kids went when they were 3, not 2. And it was fine, and they both loved preschool and we're still friends with their teachers and the other families they went to school with. If they'd gone a year earlier we'd still be friends with those people.

I do think there are kids who are very shy who take months to warm up to a group setting, but who knows if that's easier at 2 than at 3? And there are children who are strong introverts who find it enervating to have to deal with so much stimulus from other people, so if you have a strong introvert kid I'd consider waiting. But for kids who aren't strong introverts, preschool is largely cultural, in that parents send them when all the other parents send them, and it's fine. The idea that we should only make decisions about our kids "for them" and not for us is a little ridiculous, since we're the ones caring for them, so our needs (and wants) ought to be prioritized, too.

Readers? Did you send your kids to preschool? When did you send your kids to preschool, and would you have done it differently?

Helping friend through stillbirth

An anonymous writer emailed me that she and her friend had children at the same time. Then it took both of them a lot of time and heartbreak through secondary infertility. The writer had a baby last year. The friend was finally pregnant again, but lost the baby in the middle of the third trimester.

The friend is in a different city right now, and the anonymous writer is feeling so sad and powerless to help. And worried that the friend will be hurt by the presence of her baby. Anonymous says:

" I yearn to do something for her, to help her in I some way.  My thoughts are consumed with sadness for her, for her baby, for the babies I lost too.  Advice on how I can help?  How do we help someone grieve?  Can we?  I've experienced two miscarriages and they were devastating so I cannot imagine what she is going through right now.  Do you have experience in this?  Or your readers?"

I think the best thing to do is to text and call and send cards of love. But I don't know of anything else specific that will help, since they're not in the same place and she can't just go sit there with her while she cries.

Has anyone been through late pregnancy loss or stillbirth? What would have helped you?

Reasonable radius to move after a divorce?

Thanks for your bids on the Outrunning the Cloud auction! We raised a lot more than we did last year!

Right after the auction closed, I went to my college reunion. It was fantastic, and I had a ton of conversations about motherhood, careers, staying ourselves, and how our lives and friendships change. That's inspired me to start a summer email series on friendships and how what we need changes as we age and as we parent. If you get emails from me already, you'll get these. If you're not on the list yet, sign up over on the right.

Then I got a nasty head cold, and have been doing nothing except coughing and doing Flash Consults.

But here's an email asking for advice that's kind of specific to the NYC-area, so if you know, please contribute advice:

"I'm drafting our divorce agreement and want to hear about people who have divorced and share custody of their child(ren), and about how they manage the question of where to live? We have a 60/40 split (me/my son's dad), but do not have a good relationship. My son is a toddler (3.5 years) and I'm trying to think long-term. 

I'm particularly interested in NYC stories/situations. Some radius clauses can be as high as 50 miles, but that won't work here. Five miles can mean several worlds away in this city, and would have implications for school commuting and the like. 

I'm looking for something that permits flexibility but is also relatively easy on everyone. I love where I live and want to keep living here for as long as I can, but NY is so changeable and the rents only ever go up. 

Please let me know what you know. Trying to come up with a workable solution. Need some suggestions as soon as you can bring them! "

I think a lot of this depends on how you see the custody going. The more frequent switches you have, the more important it is to live closer together. If you eventually go to a week-on/week-off schedule, then distance matters less (although if one house is farther away from the child's school, that's a burden on that parent).

I might also make the constraint be time instead of distance. Something that's a straight shot on the subway can take half the time to get to that something technically the same distance away but with no straight route does. So maybe deciding what's a reasonable travel time is the constraint that you want to set, instead of flat distance.

You also have to consider whether it's important for the two of you to be in the same boro or not. You can get from Manhattan to Brooklyn or Queens faster than you can get uptown or downtown, but some people don't like being across water. Same with Hoboken or Jersey City.

Once you have some constraints, you might also want to set some kind of method for deciding if one of you wants to move out of the agreed-upon radius--either triggering visits to a mediator, or opening up reevaluation of custody balance, or something like that, so that you have the opportunity to negotiate terms of a move instead of automatically having it prohibited. (It might be ok for one parent to move out of the zone if that parent took on the burden for transportation for switches, for example, or something like that.)

Anyone else?

Flash bidding!

Last week I mentioned that I'm solving any problem in around 24 hours for $250 through my Flash Consulting program. This has been so much fun for me, to take problems people send me--about their businesses and personal lives and blending the two--and pull them apart to give people a clear path.

So I'm super excited to be offering a Flash Consultation as part of Virginia Champoux's "Outrunning the Cloud" online auction to raise money for cancer research at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal. (Not associated with Komen in any way.)

Virginia is a breast cancer survivor who started raising money to help other women with cancer before she even started treatment, and has continued raising money during her chemo and radiation treatments. I am so excited to be part of her auction (which is in its second year), and so glad to be her friend.

You can read all the details of how Flash Consulting works and what clients say about the experience at flashcons.com. Then go bid on the auction item here. After you bid for that item, look at all the other listings and bid for everything else. The auction opened today (May 25) and ends this Thursday (May 29). We're hoping to double last year's auction total of $7,900. So please spread it around!

Maintaining boundaries with family members in your house

Anon writes:

"Hi! I am a first time mom of a crazy 2 year old boy. Next week we are expecting family to stay with us to celebrate my son's birthday and I am worried about how to enforce house rules with 2 people in particular: my brother in law and his son.

We have rules about not eating or drinking outside of the kitchen (except maybe dry cereal once in awhile) and we like it if visitors can abide by these rules as well. Before we had our son, we had a ridiculous number of people (mostly men) claiming that this was a "stupid rule" since once we had kids, we couldn't have nice things. We have one white armchair in our living room and it has survived 2 years so far, except for the time brother in law fed his then 2 year old son oreos while we were otherwise preoccupied. His son is now 4 years old and is a typical 4 year old, listens well, etc. Just wondering if it would be acceptable to circumvent his father on giving out instructions (don't jump on couch, please, we eat over here, etc.)

I should add I am also having a really hard time making brother in law understand how upset it makes me when he directly does the opposite of my requests with my son. He once gave him sprite when he wasn't even a year old yet after I had told him not to. Help!"

Oh, ugh. This just sounds really icky for you.

I don't understand how a person could just blatantly ignore the rules of the house they're staying at. It's unbelievably rude and ignorant.

Yes, you do get to enforce the rules in your house by telling anyone in your house (even/especially kids) what they can do and can't do. This isn't a public playground. This is your house. You don't need to be mean about it (as I'm sure you weren't going to be) but just stating "no jumping" or "no eating outside the kitchen" or whatever the rule is is totally acceptable and expected.

(I think most parents assume that the house rules will be at least slightly different when they go someplace else and are waiting for the hosts to tell the kids what's acceptable there and what isn't. I know I always expect people to tell my kids what's ok and what's not, when we're someplace else.)

So yes, tell your brother-in-law's son.

Now, your brother-in-law and his attitude (who tells someone something is a "stupid rule" in their own house??) should not be your problem. Is he your partner's brother? Or your sibling's partner? Whichever it is, the person who's either related to him or partnered with him needs to be the one to keep him in line. So your partner or sibling needs to step up and make sure this man understands that if he wants to be allowed in your house he needs to respect you and your rules. If he's not prepared to do that, then the visits should take place at neutral territory so he can't play his control game anymore.

Has anyone else had to deal with a family member who blatantly disregarded your rules or standards? How did it play out?

Turning a toddler's carseat because she's hurting siblings

Celeste writes:

"I'm thinking about turning my toddler's carseat from rear-facing to front-facing before she's grown out of the rear-facing position because she's kicking and scratching my two older kids. I have three kids sitting in the back seat, an older one on either side of a toddler, age 20 months. The toddler hates the car. The older ones are kind and patient with their little sister, fetching her toys and singing and talking to her in the car. The 20-month-old kicks and screams and pulls and scratches at anything within reach, including her siblings. She's getting bigger and her reach is getting wider and strength is increasing. She's hurting the older ones. I'd like to turn her seat front-facing, but she could actually stay rear-facing, the safest position, for at least another 6 months. I specifically got a seat that would face rear for her for a long period. I feel horrible risking her safety for the comfort of the older two, but she really is hurting them. What should I do?"

Duct tape. Duct tape your toddler's arms and legs down when she's in the car seat. (Joking.)

Seriously, though, you're legally allowed to turn her forward-facing, so it's really just a matter of your feelings of risking her safety if you turn her. The big issue is the kicking and scratching and hurting your older children. But there's no guarantee that she'll stop doing that if you turn her to face forward anyway. 

And it seems like you really don't want to turn her because of the safety issues. If you weren't concerned about it, you'd just have flipped her and not given a second thought to it. So it's clear that this is a concern for you.

To honor that and to get to the real point (and because flipping her might not even fix anything), I'd suggest exploring other ways to stop her from hurting her siblings. 20-month-olds have little impulse control and aren't easily reasoned with, so it's going to be more about creating a barrier to keep her from reaching her siblings. Keeping her strapped in as tightly as possible so she can't leverage herself out of the seat will help. You could also put a blanket over the entire carseat once she's strapped in and tuck the ends tightly so she's almost swaddled and can't move.

If you can't figure out how to create a physical barrier for the next few months until she grows out of this, you may have to try turning her around. Don't be disappointed if that doesn't work, though, and she just scratches and kicks from that angle.

Has anyone else had a problem like this and found a good way to keep your toddler's arms and legs in their own space?

Dragging through the end of the school year

I started doing flash consulting (I solve your problem for $250 in around 24 hours) on a whim last week and it's taken off, so I made it official: Flash Consulting. If you have a work or personal or business or parenting problem, send it in and I'll solve it for you in a day. Read the testimonials from the people I worked with last week.

We're in that end-of-year phase in which school seems unbearable.

If it was just the daily worksheets, maybe. But all the extra stuff. The testing and the projects and the appreciation weeks/months and the field days and the field trips and the school carnivals and fairs and pep rallies and assemblies and wacky hat days and everything else. (And extra days tacked on for people who had a lot of snow days.)

I have no cure.

I just wanted to acknowledge the feeling of fatigue and lack of interest in the entire process. Are you there, too? 

This cracked me up: "Parents At The Beginning Of The School Year Vs. The End"

Especially #2 and #4. And #7. And #11.

Five more weeks here. How about you?

Vent here safely for Mother's Day

Vent here safely and anonymously (if you like) for Mother's Day. Miss your mother, hate your mother, love being a mother, hate being a mother, don't get enough time with your kids, wish you could have time to yourself, don't want to share the day with your MIL, anything else.

Same rules as always: No vent too big or small. Everyone's pain is valid and doesn't diminish anyone else's. No Misery Poker. If you have any extra energy to give support to another commenter, please do.

Vent anonymously if you want to by putting in fake info.

Be gentle with yourself.

We must, indeed, all suck together, or assuredly we shall all suck separately

I posted this on another site originally on July 7, 2010, four years ago, but reader Jessica reminded me of it so I thought I'd repost.

It's been a long time since I really, really thought about breastfeeding.

I breastfed both of my kids, for longer than the US norm is, and I'm glad that I could. It was one (well, two) of the most simultaneously fulfilling and irritating experiences I can imagine.

But I don't think about it much anymore, because my kids are long past that stage. I'm too worried about getting into Kindergarten and balancing work trips with my custody schedule for the kids and mindfucking the emotional fallout for my kids of my getting divorced and researching karate classes and helping them navigate elementary school friendships.

The only time how I fed my babies comes up in my life (when I'm not answering a question on Ask Moxie about it) anymore is when I'm sitting around talking and drinking with other moms. At some point the conversation will turn to how *big* the kids are now and how we can't believe it. And then we'll tell baby stories. Sometimes they include stories of how we fed our kids, especially if the story is horrifying, like answering the door with the flaps of a nursing bra down, or having a mother-in-law mix up a whole days' worth of pricey formula and leave it out of the fridge to go bad, not knowing. But it's just part of The Lore of Motherhood, and we commiserate and roll our eyes at each other, the way our mothers still do with their friends.

So it shocks me again, the way it did when I was pregnant and complete strangers would ask me if I planned to nurse, that people are still so tied up in knots about nursing a baby. It is a completely normal function of the female body, and no one should bat an eye at a woman doing it. But, at the same time, sometimes it doesn't work out for a gazillion reasons that are not my business and in those cases thank God, THANK GOD for formula.

But here's the thing: Once you're done nursing or formula feeding, it's not in your life every day anymore. How it worked or didn't for you is history. It probably still has some emotional resonance, but it's not consuming you like it did. Which means that the people for whom nursing or not nursing is important and vital and heartbreaking are the very people who have the least time, energy, and bandwidth to advocate for themselves. So those of us with kids old enough to make their own sandwiches are the ones who really need to be taking up this fight.

The fight I'm talking about is normalizing feeding babies. By the breast or by the bottle. Creating a society in which the culture supports women feeding their babies in any location babies are allowed to be, without shame or fear of reproach. Where women are not asked to justify their feeding methods or told to cover themselves up. Where we're honest about breastmilk being the best food for babies, and where we don't use duplicitous methods to sell formula. Where women get accurate information about breastfeeding and formula feeding and are allowed to make the choice (if they have one) that's best for their families and then supported, no matter what that decision is. Where we as a culture talk routinely about breastfeeding issues without shaming women, those who breastfeed and those who don't. Where we actually have legislation that allows women to spend enough time to establish breastfeeding and then guarantees that they can pump in the workplace to maintain breastfeeding for as long as they want to.

What if we all became lactivists, advocating for more legal protections and support structures for breastfeeding? And what if, at the same time, we became advocates for mothers who feed formula? What if we all started showing a little more cleavage, because breasts are multi-purpose?

I have a dream in which a woman nursing her baby and a woman feeding her baby formula and a woman who just likes to show off her knockers in low-cut tops can all sit in the same booth at the same restaurant and compliment each others' shoes while they eat. And the old-school, Flo-like server will walk up and ask them how everything is and tell them how cute the babies are with no subtext. And the old guys at the next booth won't even pay attention to any of it. That is my dream.

Won't you help me make it a reality? If we all join together, we can make things better for every mother of a babe in arms.

1. When you see a mother with a baby, say, "Wow--your baby looks so healthy and happy! You must be doing a great job!"

2. If you're a breastfeeding mom, and you have a choice about where to feed, sit down next to a mom feeding a baby from a bottle, and start a conversation about something not related to feeding.

3. Don't hide your breasts when you feed your kid, whether you're nursing or using a bottle. Be as discreet as you personally want to be, but don't cover up just because someone told you you should.

4. If you're out in public and you see a woman feeding a baby, give her a smile. And a piece of chocolate, if you have one.

5. Defend and protect. If you see a feeding mom being harassed in any way, step in the way you would if you saw big kids picking on little kids at the playground.

6. Talk about feeding babies with your kids, so they grow up knowing that babies need to be fed and that you fed your children and they'll feed their own kids. The circle of life.

If those of us who have more emotional bandwidth to think about the long-term effects on us of how society treated us while we fed our kids can be very specific in fighting back, this insane fuck-you to moms who feed their babies will finally end.

Then all we'll have is the fight for legislation protecting nursing, allowing for decent maternity leave, and protecting pumping time in the workplace.

 

New stuff

1. New MoxieTopic up: New Parent Survival Guide, with information about the emotional process you go through, what to prioritize, how to keep yourself healthy, how to work together with a partner in the first few months, and what will happen in each chunk of time in the first twelve weeks and how to approach each of those chunks.


3. Kindergarten support group starts this Thursday, so get in now if you already know you want to be in. (Registration will be open over the summer in case people realize they want the support when it gets closer to go time, but this first part of the support group gets a lot of your own process out of the way and helps you become aware of and process your own fears and baggage about going to K so you can separate that out from what your child is experiencing.)

4. Summer Reading Challenge has been changed to a group instead of a page on FB so people can actually see other peoples' pledges and book reports. Free, and people are making pledges now for how many books they'll read between May 15 and September 15. Join here.



5. Writing Through Your Divorce starts next Monday. And are you reading the WTYD Blog? We have some striking, beautifully-written pieces up.

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.