Discussion: Backing off to let your partner in

(I apologize to single parents out there for boring you two days ina row with topics that don’t apply to you. But maybe at least you can
feel some schadenfreude about not having to deal with this on top of everything else about kids?)

Many of the commenters on this post about relationships changing after becoming parents mentioned that there can very easily be an imbalance in the relationship if one parent has or stakes more claim on being The One Who Knows How to Do Things.

I’m going to generalize here, so if your story doesn’t fit this please don’t be insulted–instead tell us how you avoided the stereotypical scenario. The story usually goes like this: The "primary caretaker" (yes, it’s a dopey term, but it’s what I’m coming up with right now to mean "the parent who does the most care from the start") stakes claim either on purpose or out of a sense of duty or just because to practical and emotional knowledge about the baby. Maybe she read everything she could get her hands on during pregnancy or the paper chase. Maybe she’s just always the one keeping track of stuff for the couple. Maybe she’s just been holding the baby for 95% of the time since birth because after all that effort to grow and birth the baby she’s not letting anyone else hold him (I can relate to that!).

But for whatever reason, one parent usually ends up being the one who learns the baby faster, and combined with the fact that that parent is probably the one who’s also done more research on babies and their issues, a huge knowledge imbalance develops. I wrote a post about this in June about how raising a child is such a high-stakes proposition and how that affects us emotionally (36 comments! You should read them).

So, what do you do about this? Do you just give in and go along with it? Or do you make a conscious effort to shift the balance? I’ll tell you what I did, but then I really want to hear what you all did. If you’re the primary caretaker, did you think about it and realize what was happening? If you’re the non-primary caretaker, did you let it happen or did you try to do something about it? What would you do differently?

I knew going into having my first child that I didn’t want to be the Keeper of All Knowledge about the baby. I saw the way my parents operate with us kids, and really did not want to be stuck in the same roles my parents were. And I knew it wasn’t anything my parents had planned. In fact, they had gone to extreme lengths to have my dad in the room when I was born (not at all the norm yet in that part of the country when I was born), and they were fairly modern for their time. But my dad’s job made enough to support us so my mom didn’t go back to work, and my dad had grown up being "taken care of" (read: coddled) by his mom, so the predictable happened.

I really did not want that for my family. We did split things from the beginning. I nursed, and my husband did everything else. But as the days wore on, I could tell I was starting to feel like I was the only one who knew what to do when the baby cried, or the only right way to soothe him, etc. So I forced myself to let the baby’s father be his father and make "mistakes." It was awful for me at the beginning, and the only way for me to deal with hearing the baby cry while my husband tried all sorts of things I knew weren’t going to comfort the baby was to leave the apartment. It was physically painful for me to let my husband try to soothe our little guy when I knew I could do it in a snap, so I couldn’t be there while it happened. I spent a lot of time wandering the aisles of the grocery store while the two guys learned each other.

It was so worth it, though. After a few weeks I could leave and not give them a second thought. Of course they’d be fine together. My husband could do the bedtime routine, so I still went to my book club and other evening outings. And then when my husband was laid off for 15 months there wasn’t a huge scramble to integrate him into the family, because he’d been doing most of it all along. When our second baby was born it was much easier for both my husband and me to share him from the beginning (except for the fact that he wouldn’t take a bottle, but we learned from that, too).

I do feel like there’s an imbalance in our relationship with regards to a lot of the logistical stuff (sorting and sizing the clothes really kills me, for example), but my primary concern was that we be able to switch in and out with the kids. And we can and do. So I figure either the other stuff will be worked out in the next few years, or I’ll somehow deal with the resentment that I’m always the one buying the birthday presents.

What did/do you do? Is it working for you? Are you the primary caretaker or the caretaker who needed more experience at the beginning? What practical advice would you give a couple that was trying to work toward achieving more equality in caring for their children (knowing that sometimes there can never be time equality because of work schedules, but you can strive for competence equality)?

Q&A: new baby and stress on relationship

Jodi writes:

"I wondered if you had encountered the same experience upon the arrival
of your first child. My husband and I are very close, and were
particularly close during my pregnancy, which was a little difficult
because I was quite ill in the last months….we have been good friends
forever, and really only argue about one thing….in-laws…but that’s
another post!!!! Because of the strength that underlies our
relationship I was absolutely shocked to find our relationship in
disarray after the arrival of our now two-week-old baby. He is
extremely involved and had two weeks "paternity" leave and really does
his share of housework–but we are bickering about the stupidest things
and seem to have a disagreement, harsh exchange, or argument once a
day (granted our days have become much longer)!  I feel a
little isolated and lonely, especially sensitive, and really am grieving
for my buddy and the fun and love we had–as much as I love and
adore my new baby–did you have an experience like this and did it get
better??? "

Oh, yeah.

Yeah.

Did I meantion "yeah"?

Everyone, please comment about this. Women, men, people with opposite-sex partners, people with same-sex partners, people who are married and people who are not married to their partners, people who had been together for a long time before the arrival of the baby and people who had only been together for a short time. (To comment anonymously, put a fake address like "www.google.com" or "www.fake.com" in the URL box.)

Why do our relationships go south so quickly after the arrival of a baby?

Hormones. If you gave birth your hormones are going completely wacko, as some rush out of your body and new ones are coursing through it. There’s not much you can do about it (besides drinking a lot of water and eating a lot of leafy green vegetables), and it really does take at least 12 weeks to normalize at all.

If you didn’t give birth to your baby, you’re still having a crazy hormone rush from all the contact with your baby and the love fest. It’s wonderful, but it’s overwhelming, too, and no one pays attention to your hormonal level, because people forget that just being a parent affects your hormones (whether you’re a man or a woman) even if you didn’t give birth.

Sleep deprivation. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used to break prisoners mentally.

Physical pain. You’re probably recovering from some kind of physical pain from either exit wounds of one kind or the other from giving birth, or a long flight or some other physical trauma from adoption, or just from lugging around a wiggling mass of flesh for hours at a time or sleeping with your neck cricked constantly. Maybe you’re having nipple pain from nursing. And everyone’s adjusting to a bizarre sleep schedule and the physical wear and tear of caring for a baby (or the intense jaw pain of being headbutted repeatedly by a toddler). And this is something no one at all warned you about–how much parenthood was going to hurt physically.

Your entire life has gone into the toilet for now. Let’s just
admit it. These are the sucky days. You do nothing but give and give
and give (both of you), and the baby can’t or won’t even smile back at you yet.
How can you not be a tad shell-shocked and bewildered and terrified
about it?

Stockholm Syndrome combined with guilt. You’re so stressed, but you love the baby so much. You can’t get enough
of the sweet smell and all the coos and teeny little toes. Even the
crying at 3 a.m. is so precious. You love the baby with your entire soul, and would gladly throw yourself under a bus to save his or her life, but why can’t someone else just come take care of the baby for a few hours? And what kind of horrible parent thinks that sort of thing? Everyone else with a new baby is probably handling this so much better, and how could you have gotten so lucky as to have this baby, which you’re surely going to ruin somehow? Rinse, repeat cycle of adoration-guilt-recrimination, adoration-guilt-recrimination. The only place to turn your resentment and sadness is on your partner.

So, next question: Does it get better?

Yes, but probably not right away. From what I’ve observed, most couples seem to have a lot of trouble either right at the beginning, or around the 9- to 12-month mark. But if they can make it to 2 years, things get a lot better, whether they actively work on it together or not.

I think there’s a certain amount of, well, "denial" isn’t exactly the right word. Maybe "deliberate ignoring." There’s a certain amount of deliberate ignoring that has to go on, because there’s just no way to effectively address all the stuff going on between you and your partner while you’re in the thick of it. I mean, how are you possibly going to be able to get to the bottom of a power imbalance when the baby won’t sleep for more than 2 hours at a time at 10 days of age, or you’re both working full-time and the baby is cutting teeth? Instead, you’re going to have to use direct behavioral approaches to keep things from running off the road completely.

What I mean by that is that you need to just tell your partner directly (even if s/he previously seemed to read your mind) "I need you to wash the laundry today, and be responsible for dinner tonight. I will eat anything you put in front of me." And if something happens that is sending you over the edge, just say it: "It makes me feel like I’m about to lose my tenuous hold on reality when I ask you to do the laundry and you don’t specifically make the time to do it." If in the past (or future) you may have had the chance to discuss the underlying dynamics and some kind of structural framework for who does what, and how your partner’s mom was a SAHM and yours was a WOHM, and how you think that affected both your attitudes toward division of labor, well, no. You just don’t have the energy to go there. Write it down somewhere and save it to discuss in a couple of years.

If your baby is older than around 6 months, so you’re out of crisis mode, you probably want to do some work on anything that keeps coming up over and over again. I can’t say enough good things about the Harville Hendrix book Getting the Love You Want. There’s some theory at the beginning about why we keep having the same arguments all the time, and just reading that will help give you a little more insight into why you keep poking at each other. But the real bonus is the end of the book, which is a series of exercises designed for you to do together to uncover your main sensitive areas and how to start helping each other heal from those things instead of making them worse. It’s a very thorough, non-blaming model of therapy, but you do it alone together, at home, on your own time (we picked one set night a week, after our son was in bed). If you want someone else to help you with it, you can check out Hendrix’s website to find a weekend workshop or therapist near you.

You’re definitely in the weeds at this point, but if you can try to just keeping going and ignore the really egregious offenses, you’ll get back to being the wonderful team you were before, just with bags under your eyes and no more weekend daytime sex.

Q&A: discouraging a child from nursing in public

Sweet Coalminer writes:

"My daughter is 9 months old, and I would say she’s "spirited".  She’s
headstrong, physically strong, and strong-willed.  She’s also a sweet
and (mostly, with some a-hole thrown in occasionally) happy.  She’s not
shy.  She’s happy to approach kids on the playground.  And their
parents.  And coo and talk with strangers at the store, the bank, the
street….  She loves attention.

I was de-employed during my maternity leave.  Since then I
worked for 6 weeks and have done some contract work here and there
while staying home with my girl and exclusively breastfeeding, which
occasionally required me taking my daughter to an office to drop off a
file or a bill (we haven’t had a lot of spare $$ for babysitters).  She
has always been happy and sweet and smiley until the last week or so.
When my client addresses me, she starts tearing at my blouse and trying
to eat my boobs.  She has also started engaging in this mortifying
behavior on playdates.  Clearly, it’s time for me to leave her at home
when popping into an office, but what is this about?  She used to be so
distracted when we were out that she didn’t even think about nursing.
She wouldn’t even latch on when I’d offer her the breast unless we were
in a relatively quiet place and she was sure she wasn’t really missing
anything.  Her new desire for all breast, all the time, surprises me.
And I don’t know what to do.

One complication is that she has multiple food allergies.
She’s creeping up an a year, and neither cow’s milk, rice milk, nor soy
milk are real options for her, so I’d like to keep her on breastmilk as
long as I can.

In addition, it’s time for me to go back to
work.  I’m going to have to pump, even though I’m not a productive
pumper and I’m kind of embarassed pumping for an older infant (and
eventually toddler), and hope I get enough milk for her.

But
I want her to continue to breastfeed when I’m with her, and I want to
encourage her to continue to nurse as often as she wants (she’s pretty
small for her age).

I guess in short, I want to curb her
inappropriate behavior in public without discouraging her from
breastfeeding at a time when I’m going to start offering her the bottle
for the first time in months (haven’t started her back on the bottle
yet).  It’s fine if she needs comfort from me in strange situations.
I’m happy to give it.  But I prefer not having to constantly whip out
the girls for her everytime I’m talking to someone.  At the same time,
I want to encourage her to nurse but to also accept the bottle.

Moxie, how do I do this?"

There’s a lot going on here! So let me just take each thing as it comes to me.

First, I want to make it clear that I’m a huge proponent of nursing in public for any child who’s still nursing. A kid’s gotta eat, and the more people who nurse in public the more normal it will become and the more support society will give women to nurse. But we each have to find a balance with our child that makes us both comfortable, so if you don’t want to nurse in public, don’t feel you have to do so just for the public good. I also feel there’s a huge distinction between sitting at a restaurant or in the park and nursing your child, and being in the office talking to your client and nursing your child! So this is just about Sweet Coalminer’s situation, not nursing in public in general.

I think your daughter is nursing more now because she’s right in the middle of the separation anxiety phase. She may or may not be exhibiting other clingy symptoms, because she may be managing her need for closeness by nursing so much (nursing constantly may be what enables her to be smiley and outgoing with everyone else). This also explains why she wants to nurse when you’re talking to someone else–she wants you to herself and wants to stake her claim on you. This stage is going to pass and she won’t need you constantly all the time in a month or two.

In the meantime, you could leave her at home (with a babysitter) when you have to go in to talk to clients. Or, you could take advantage of the fact that she’s so cute, and let the people who coo at her when you walk into the office entertain her for the time it takes you to talk to your client. Of course that’s a little dicey in the middle of this separation anxiety phase, but you could always try it.

It sounds like you’re at the phase in which you want to start setting some boundaries on nursing. That happens for different people at different ages, and, in general, it’s a little easier to establish boundaries when kids are older and can understand a little better. For example, "We don’t nurse outside because it makes Mama’s nipples cold" or "We only nurse when it’s light outside" or whatever rule you’re trying to establish. A toddler can understand that, even if it doesn’t go over that well initially.

For a baby your daughter’s age, though, you’re probably going to use the same strategies you use to get her to stop doing anything else you don’t want her to do–distraction and redirection. I would definitely tell her the rule you’re trying to establish, but then if she tries to do it anyway, redirect her to something else. I’ve found that if you’re establishing a "no nursing in x situation" rule, it helps a lot to reinforce when the child will be allowed to nurse. So, for instance, you say "We don’t nurse during playgroup, but we’ll nurse in the car as soon as we leave." That way she knows she will be able to nurse in the future, just not in the immediate situation. (I don’t get the playgroup thing, though. If you can’t nurse during a playgroup, when can you nurse?) Just being consistent and firm about the rule, and then nursing as soon as the situation is over, will get her used to it.

Don’t feel bad or squirrelly or odd or even the tinest bit sheepish about pumping for a baby of any age. In your particular case, you need to keep up your supply and have enough for her to drink because of her allergies (and if your new job gives you any pushback whatsoever about pumping, you should get a note from your daughter’s pediatrician stating that it’s a health issue and that you need to pump several times a day). But even if she didn’t have allergies, she’s a baby. She needs milk. No one would dare to say anything to a smoker for taking breaks to have a butt, and smoking doesn’t help anyone. Pumping increases your productivity (by reducing "sick kid" days) and is a benefit to society in general, so it’s really to everyone’s benefit to make pumping as easy as possible for working moms.

Don’t be surprised if you’re not able to pump much at this point,
though. 9-10 months is a time when lots of women seem to have problems
pumping, even if they have plenty when their baby is actually nursing.
I mentioned it in this post,
and 5 commenters said it had happened to them, too. (If anyone knows
why this is, please let me know. I haven’t read anything about it anywhere, and have some theories, but haven’t seen discussion of this elsewhere. If anyone’s looking for a Master’s thesis topic…) So you may end up with rice milk or
oat milk or even just plain water for her to drink while you’re at
work. If she’s eating other foods while you’re gone, she’ll be full
enough, and can nurse enough whe you’re home to have all her bases
covered.

I don’t think you’ll have a problem switching from bottle to breast once you’re back at work. She’s old enough now that nursing isn’t just for food, so she’ll likely want to nurse when you’re home to reconnect with you. And she’s old enough to figure out that to get milk when you’re not there she can drink it from a different container. She may not be crazy about the bottle, but at this age it doesn’t matter–you can use a sippy or the Nuby cup or a straw cup instead. She may not want to take it from you (if you’re there she’ll probably want to nurse straight from the source), but your childcare provider will be able to get her to take a cup of milk once you’re back at work. Basically, providing the milk is your job (whether it’s pumped breastmilk or some other beverage), and getting her to drink while you’re at work it is someone else’s job.

In short, try to leave her at least in another room when yo have client meetings, and use distraction in other situations to stop her clawing at you to nurse. Figure out what the rules are, rehearse them with her, and then let her nurse in appropriate situations.

Transition times are rough, but I predict that once you’re back at work things will go more smoothly than you anticipate.

Green smoothies: An Apology

I have to make a public apology to regular commenter Elizabeth. When we were having this discussion back in May about sneaking healthy things into your family’s food, she emailed me to say that she’s started putting a little frozen spinach into fruit smoothies. She claimed that you couldn’t taste the spinach at all. I attempted to be polite, but just couldn’t imagine how you wouldn’t taste spinach in a fruit smoothie.

I was wrong. Elizabeth is right. You can put spinach (and I’m assuming other greens) into a fruit smoothie and you won’t taste them.

I’m thrilled about this discovery, because my kids are great about eating red and yellow and orange vegetables, but leafy greens are a crapshoot. El Chico will eat any kind of greens slathered in ranch dressing, but it’s mostly about the dressing, and I’d rather have him just eating the greens.

In the past week I’ve made the following smoothies that went over like gangbusters with my husband and my toddler (El Chico wasn’t willing to drink anything green, and drank some of the last one but stalled out to play with his matchbox cars):

#1
Half a bag of baby spinach
A big handful of frozen mango chunks
Half a can of coconut milk
A splash of water to get the blender started.

#2
Half a bag of baby spinach
A big handful of frozen mango chunks
Half a banana
Enough unsweetened cranberry juice (thinned with water, because unsweetened cranberry is too strong) to make it blend.

#3
Half a bag of baby spinach
A big handful of frozen raspberries
A banana
Enough water to get the blender started.

#4
Half a bag of baby spinach
1/5 to 1/4 of a pint of Stonyfield Farms After Dark Chocolate frozen yogurt (the richest chocolate frozen yogurt I’ve ever had)
A banana
Enough milk to make the blender run.

I hid spinach in a chocolate banana milkshake. Bwahahahahaha. I am drunk with power.

You can’t taste the spinach. Am I the last one to know this? What should I try next? Parsley?

Breastfeeding: PCOS, lipase problems, and your dream pumping room

Hot topics in breastfeeding:

First, over at Jo’s there’s an interesting "share-your-story" going on about breastfeeding and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). While some women with PCOS have normal milk supply and others have oversupply, many suffer from low supply (which can sometimes be linked to breast hypoplasia–the thought is that hypoplasia and PCOS are both results of endocrine regulation problems). It’s only been extremely recently that this has been noticed by lactation and medical professionals, so women with PCOS need to seek out info and educate themselves before or during pregnancy, since your doctors and lactation consultants cannot be relied upon to know this stuff yet.

The first writing about PCOS and supply is being done by IBCLC Lisa Marasco, who started putting together the pieces before most other people did. Check out the second half of Jo’s post and be sure to read all the comments to find more stellar links and data points about Metformin, low supply, pumping, galactagogues, and online support for PCOS and breastfeeding with PCOS.

Second, I got an email from Tanya recently, asking if I knew anything about why her pumped milk spoils in a matter or hours in the refrigerator, when breastmilk is supposed to be fine for several days in the fridge. This isn’t an issue of spoilage. Instead, it’s an excess of the enzyme lipase (a normal enzyme that helps to break down the fat) in the milk. I don’t know why some women have an excess of lipase (I’m one of them, although I don’t have as much as Tanya does–my milk is fine in the fridge, but tastes a little bit sour if frozen and then thawed), and I haven’t found anything yet indicating that anyone else knows why some women have it, either. The only remedy for the problem seems to be scalding the milk as soon as possible after pumping it, but before storing it.

Kellymom.com (where else?) has a nice succinct article about excess lipase and scalding milk. Does anyone else have this issue? How do you work around it?

And finally a request: Kate has the chance to recommend to the heads of her company what the company’s new lactation room should contain. She says, "I would like to take full advantage of this and really push to make it great for everyone but especially those non-professionals, without private offices, for whom pumping might be especially challenging a la the recent NYT article {Ed–the article discussed the "two-class" problem for pumping moms at work–the obstacles can be too huge to overcome for women without private offices}." Could you tell her what your dream pumping room would have? Thanks.

Q&A: teaching self-confidence

Karla writes:

"i recently ran into an old highschool alumni at the mall.  I couldn’t remember her name.  I called a good friend of mine (from highschool), and we started flipping through our old year books to see if we could remember this girl’s name.  We began talking about who we would be friends with now, had we not felt the need to be friends with the not-so-nice, rebellious, back-stabbing, cool kids.  We didn’t even have that much fun in highschool, because we spent so much of our time competing with and comparing ourselves with everyone else.  Oh, the stress!  I know that these feelings are usually
outgrown, but still….I would LOVE for my kids to not go through that pressure-ever.  I hope that they are more self-confident (and therefore simply have fun and not care about being "cool".)  I know most of our kids are younger, but I think that teaching self-confidence STARTS young.  What books can you suggest and what advice do you offer for teaching kids to love themselves starting right now?"

My older son is only 4 1/2, so I don’t have any kind of proven track record. For that I think we’d have to look to parents of older kids, and I’m hoping that some of them (Lisa V? Carosgram? NumNum? Kathy?) will add in their opinions. But it’s my suspicion that what gives people self-confidence and the courage to avoid being swayed by popular opinion is feeling understood and valued for who we are.

If we can listen, really listen, to our kids, and avoid putting our own expectations on them as much as possible (aside from normal expectations of civilized conduct) and value them for who they are, then they’ll feel that they’re fundamentally OK just as they are. That turns into self-confidence as they grow older.

I guess I kind of knew that, but my latest rereading of Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child (seriously, why isn’t every new parent given a copy of this book before leaving the hospital?) just really hit me with the idea that all any of us ever wants is to be valued for who we are. Not told we’re a "good girl" or "smart kid," but really understood and seen as unique. The book has influenced a lot of the way I (try to) interact with my boys, and even my husband. Instead of generic praise that puts my expectations on the boys ("You’re such a great kid") I try to praise their specific behavior and qualities ("I felt so happy when you drew that picture for me" or "You really know what will make your brother laugh."). I’m certainly not perfect, or even all that good, at it. But that’s why I try to reread the book at least once a year, to try to get the more useful patterns to become my first instincts.

Another book I’ve found immensely useful is Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting. It helps me focus on keeping interactions strife-free so they can be learning experiences and opportunities for my kids to learn self-control without feeling like I’m backing them into a corner. Instead of arguing with my son about putting on his pajamas, I can turn it into a silly pajama race. It’ll take the same amount of time for the task to be completed, but arguing puts both of us in a bad mood, while the race makes both of us feel silly and relaxed, and sets up the next night for stress-free pajama racing.

I’m hoping that by knowing that I appreciate them for who they are individually and what they do, and by feeling that most of our interactions are positive and that they don’t have to be afraid of me, they’ll feel confident in their own worth and ability to solve problems and make decisions. (And maybe they’ll even be able to write sentences that don’t run on.)

What do you all think? What are the central principles you’re trying to get across in your communications with your kids? How are you teaching them to be true to themselves?

Q&A: transitioning baby from sleeping in car seat

The lovely and unfortunately blogless Jo-Ann writes:

"I have a 13 month old son who sleeps great.  We part time co-sleep
and he sleeps part of the night in his crib.  The only issue is that to get him to sleep in his crib he sleeps in his infant car seat still! (He is little, only
18.5 lbs.)

Let me give you some background.  My little guy spit up tons for a
long long time, and he would not sleep lying down.  Eventually they put
him on Axid for reflux and things seemed better except for a constantly
running nose, and he was a shy and clingy baby. A few months later
around his first birthday we gave him yogurt.  He was instantly very
ill and covered with hives and throwing up. Finally we see an
allergist.  He was blood and skin tested.  He is allergic to dairy,
eggs, wheat and peanuts! I am still nursing so as soon as I gave up the
offending foods and I got the offending food out of his diet he turned
into a more social, way happier baby that never spits up.

The one issue left from that time is the car seat in the crib. I
can nurse him down and try to put him in the crib.  As soon as I do he
is up and screaming (and he is a scream till I puke type). If I put him
in the carseat he goes right out.  Soon he will be grown out of the
carseat so I want to have him transitioned by then. Also my husband
puts the kids to bed a few nights a week when I work and he is heavily
dependent on the carseat for sleep.

My almost 3 year old is starting preschool in the fall and I
figured that I would give the crib without a careseat a try for his AM
nap.  I am hesitant to try this in the afternoon nap because the 3 year
old who is still a GREAT napper is in the next room to the baby and
the baby not sleeping would disturb him, and most of the time the baby
naps with me in the afternoon.  I work a few night shifts a week and
usually need to nap with them for my sanity.

Any advise on how to get him out of that carseat would be very appreciated."

I’m so jealous that your 3-year-old still naps so well.

This could be a relatively simple problem, or it could be more tricky. It depends on what aspect of sleeping in the carseat your son is attached to. If he’s attached to the actual carseat, then you might be screwed. But if he’s just attached to the conditions the carseat creates, then all you have to do is recreate them in a way that he won’t grow out of. (You know how I feel about all this stuff–as long as he’s sleeping and you’re sleeping I wouldn’t care if he slept in the carseat until he’s 45.)

If he’s attached to the actual carseat, then I really have nothing for you, and you’re probably going to have an extremely rough 2 weeks until he adjusts. So you probably want to labor under the assumption that it’s just the conditions the carseat creates that he’s attached to. If you can mimic as many of those as possible, it might not be so painful to switch him out of the carseat at all.

My guess is that the incline is a huge part of what he’s adjusted to, so that would be the first thing I’d try to mimic. You could try a Tucker Sling (a wedge that puts the baby at an angle as he sleeps, with a sling to keep him from sliding down to the bottom and ending up in a sad crumpled little heap). Or, if you don’t want to spend the money, you could try your own crib-propping experiments. I’d try either a firm pillow, a rolled bath towel, a bolster pillow, or a big swimming noodle, depending on the angle you’re aiming for. Put whatever object you’re using underneath the mattress to prop up one side of the crib, creating an angle similar to the angle the car seat provides.

He’s probably also used to the fabric of the carseat cover, so I’d take it out of the carseat and have him sleep on it in the crib. (If you know someone crafty with a sewing machine, you could get the person to cut and resew it as the top piece of a blanket you’d put in the crib for him to sleep on. It would look kind of stupid, but no more stupid than sleeping on a car seat cover.) Stick to the same washing schedule and materials you usually use for the cover, since he’s probably really used to the way the cover smells and would be disturbed by a radical change.

The only other aspect of the carseat I can think of is the way he’s kind of nested and snuggled into it. You could try a Snugglenest or something else that would give him some walls around him. Depending on how strong and mobile he is, you could put rolled towels around him (assuming he’s big and strong enough not to be trapped by them) as walls. It may not come to that, though, as I’m betting the key aspects are going to be the angle and keeping the cover.

Both of my kids, for whatever twisted reason, have been more receptive to sleep changes at night than during the day, so if I were the one doing this project I’d start at night. But you know your boys and what will work best with them. And, you know, you could always make the first night of the Big Switch one of the nights you’re at work. Not that I’m endorsing that, of course (especially if your partner’s reading this). Good luck with the switch, and let me know how it goes.

Q&A: preparing 2-year-old for mom’s surgery

Nikki writes:

"I am going to have shoulder surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and various other issues in 2 weeks. I have a 2 year old son who is a complete momma’s boy. He loves for me to still pick him up, carry him to bed at night and etc. I am also apparently a human jungle gym. What advice would you give to help prepare my son for my surgery. I don’t want him to feel that I’m not holding him and doing all that I used to because I don’t want to anymore. Also what ways do you suggest that I might still be able to comfort him after surgery when I’m going to be pretty much couch ridden for awhile. Thanks!"

Ouch! I’m sorry about your shoulder.

I would prep him for the surgery by making a little book for him with drawings of you with him, and your shoulder, and you with your shoulder bandaged after the surgery. In the "before surgery" section you can make some drawings of stuff he does now (jumping and climbing on you, etc.) and in the "after surgery" section you can draw the stuff you’ll be able to do with him while you’re healing (read books, snuggle, watch videos, color, play with playdough, teach him how to get you bottles of water from the bottom shelf of the fridge, etc.).

You might also want to buy him a doll or bear or something that can go to the hospital with you and come back with a bandaged shoulder, so he has a "patient" to take care of. He can practice being gentle with the bear, or (and this might be even more useful for him) he might end up taking out any sad or bad feelings he has on the bear. He can bandage and un-bandage the bear, and generally just work out the process in his head with the bear.

Take the estimate the doctors give you about when you’ll be able to go back to normal activities and tie it to a seasonal change of some sort. That will help him have some external marker to wait for. For example, he’ll know that when all the leaves fall off the trees you’ll be able to throw a ball with him again. Or when it starts to snow you’ll be able to pick him up. You get the idea. (You could put it in the book if you wanted to, so you could go over it whenever you read the book together.)

I’d also make plans to have someone else available to be wild with him every day during your recovery time, if possible. If you have a relative or friend or babysitter who could come over and wrestle with him or run around outside with him then he’d still be getting in all his normal wild rumpus time but without hurting you.

Anything else I’m forgetting? I think he’s going to be more anxious before the surgery than he will be once you come home. Once he sees that you’re still the same, just not able to do everything you used to, he’ll probably be fine for the most part.

Q&A with guest expert: replace a car seat?

Dana writes:

"I was rear-ended the other
day.  It was hard enough to give me whiplash but was still slow-speed
enough to be considered low impact.  I was alone in the car (thank the
gods!) but my year-old son’s carseat was in its usual position in the
backseat. 

The carseat’s literature was
very clear on the subject of car seats and accidents when baby is in the car seat:
replace it immediately.  But it is completely silent on the subject of
empty car seats and accidents. 

The seat was properly fastened
in the middle of the rear bench seat with the lap belt, and was tethered in
place with the tether strap as per Canadian law.  The provincial
government’s website is silent on the subject of unoccupied car seats in the
event of an accident.  Our insurance provider couldn’t give me a definitive
answer, and neither could the local police department.  (The rent-a-cop at
the police station’s front desk actually made fun of me for asking the
question!)

So what do I do?  The
insurance provider thought that given it was low-impact and the seat was not
damaged that it should be OK.  But I can’t help thinking this is sort of
like if your hard hat gets hit in a workplace accident: even if
there’s no visible damage, you replace it because it’s a safety device that’s
been in an accident."

My only advice is to go back and kick the rent-a-cop in the shins for making fun of you for being concerned about your son’s safety. Jerk.

But I went right to The Car Seat Lady, Alisa Baer, to answer your actual question. Here’s what she said:

Dana,

The
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (for the U.S.) recently
changed its recommendations regarding replacing a car seat after it has
been in a crash.  The data behind these recommendations came in large
part from a Canadian study.  Please visit
NHTSA’s website
for more information.  Given the fact that you were injured in the
crash you should replace your son’s car seat (according to the NHTSA
criteria) — regardless of the fact that it was unoccupied at the time
of the crash.  Even unoccupied seats are stressed in a crash —
obviously less than an occupied seat, though.

One
other thing I would recommend — if your son’s car seat can go
rear-facing (and your son is within the weight and height parameters
for rear-facing) it would be wise to keep him rear-facing until he
reaches the weight or height limit for his seat.  Rear-facing is about
4 times safer than forward-facing – see
www.thecarseatlady.com for more info on rear-facing vs. forward-facing.

Alisa Baer, MD

Pediatric Resident

Nationally Certified Child Passenger Safety Expert

So there it is, right from the actual expert’s fingers. I hope your insurance company will be easily persuaded to replace your son’s seat by the information in the link Alisa gave to the new NHTSA position. I hope your neck is feeling better.