Q&A: To work full-time or not?

Mmmm. Candy.

Natalie writes:

"I have an offer for a job that I’ve been working at as a part-time
consultant. We need the money, but I don’t really want to put my kids
(ages 6 and 2 into full-time daycare/afterschool care). I know moms
everywhere do it, but I’m so torn. I like working part-time, but I’m
afraid of giving up this job offer. I can probably find other part-time
work, but it won’t pay as well. Any thoughts on this contemporary mom
kids v. work crisis?"

This is a tough one. It seems like there are two things you have to
consider: your kids, and your career adn finances. Let’s start with your career and finances.

If this is a job
that you enjoy and that furthers your career, then you really need to
consider it. If it’s just about the money, you might want to start
thinking creatively about a different way to make that money or make up for not making that money. Money is obviously important (especially when it’s
time to buy food or pay the rent or buy winter boots for your kids),
but you can’t discount the effect working full-time is going to have on
you and your family. Enjoying your job can compensate for some of that added stress and time crunch. But if the only thing you’re getting out of your job
is money, it’s going to be tougher on you emotionally, and that’s
going to trickle down to the whole family.

I think the exception to that would be if you were so strapped
for cash that you had to take the job to survive, or if it was
something you didn’t enjoy but was setting you up for the rest of your
career. In that case I think you just have to bite the bullet and take
the job for as long as you need to to get into a better position.

Your kids alter the whole equation. How will they do with you gone? I think that really depends on their personalities, and, to a certain extent, their ages. Obviously it will be easier for the child who’s in school most of the day anyway to adjust to your being gone than it will be for the little one who’s used to your being there. But you also need to think about their personalities and how much physical time they need to spend with you.

I know that in those surveys done seemingly every week about "working" vs. "not working" moms, the working-full-time mothers, working-part-time mothers, and at-home mothers say that they think working part-time would be the best situation. Having been all three within the last two years, I’d have to agree. I like my job and my coworkers, but working full-time has added a ton of stress to my life, and I know it’s not that great emotionally for my younger son (because of his personality). If we didn’t have the babysitter we have (who’s kind of like an older goofy cousin to him) I think it could be really difficult.

But you do what you have to do. If you need the money or really enjoy the job, you’ll take the job. Your kids will be fine in the long run. So will you.

Any other ideas about how to weigh the decision?

Q&A: Must I answer every “Why?” my toddler asks?

Paige writes:

"I have a son who will be 3 at the end of November (and a daughter whowill be one a few days later, if it matters), and we have, in the last
two weeks, entered the "Why?" phase. I could elaborate with examples,
but he’s screaming from his time out spot on the bottom step, and I
can’t think straight.

Anyway, my question:

Must I answer every "why?" with a straight-faced, truthful answer. And if not, what do I say?

For example: "Sam, please don’t push the garbage can across the floor."


Pause. My impulse, I admit, is to tell him because I said so and be
done with it. But I hated that answer, so I told him it would scratch
the floor.


Pause. Think. "Because metal is harder than wood." Thankfully, he didn’t ask why to that.

This uses more energy than I have after about 10 a.m."

Then she goes on to make some explanations for why she’s a little "edgy" and that makes her not want to not answer questions just because she’s not in the mood.

Ha. Of course she’s a little edgy, with a three-year-old and a one-year-old. No explanation necessary, for sure. And I’m not sure if there’s any stage that beats the "why?" stage for pure annoyance, in that stick-a-pencil-through-your-eye kind of way. It would be worth it if they were actually learning things from all those bogus questions, but that’s not really what’s happening at this stage.

I think there are definitely questions that should be answered. "Why is the sky blue?" or "Why do we recycle?" or "Where did Pop-Pop go when he died?" fall into that camp for me. But I also think there are times that three-year-olds ask "why?" repeatedly just to annoy you, or as kind of a verbal tick. It’s not actually helping them to answer all of these whys seriously, and it’s sure as hell not helping the adults to have to answer each one seriously. (Think about how many more fun things you could be doing with the time you spend answering or fuming about those extraneous whys*.)

For the annoying whys, it may be best to adopt a stance that puts yourself in the position of being rubber instead of glue, so you have a few answers that bounce the question off you and back to the kid. You could use the tried-and-true answers: "Because I’m the mother." "Because I said so." "To make you ask questions."

Or you could try to simultaneously discourage the child from asking why because it makes it more challenging for them and also turn it into a learning experience by asking them "Why do you think?" in a serious manner and wait for a reply.

Or you could go surreal on them and see if they’re really paying attention by answering with something nonsensical: "Because monkeys have purple tails."

Or you could just ship the three-year-old off to his grandmother’s house and let her deal with it for six months.

Any other thoughts?

* Wouldn’t The Extraneous Whys be a good name for a retro synth-pop band?

Q&A: winterizing an infant

Robin writes:

"I am a huge fan of your site and am wondering if you or your
readers can help me figure out what exactly I need for my 5 month old for the
winter months. We live in Chicago
and walk/train almost everywhere but on Tuesdays/Thursdays we drive in the car
to my son’s daycare. He was born in May so I haven’t really had to
think about ways to keep him warm but now I am starting to wonder how to dress
an infant for the winter. I know you live in NYC – did you use some kind of
bunting, or a snowsuit with legs, or a coat, or something else? Do baby mittens
work? Should I buy a large size so it lasts through the whole winter (which in Chicago sometimes ends in
late April) I don’t know where to start! I’m hoping that you &
your readers can help steer me in the right direction."

Please share data points, everyone. At the beginning of your comment, please put whether you’re primarily a car-user or public transportation-user, and what age group you’re giving advice on (baby, toddler, preschooler, big kid).

I’ll start:

Public transportation (NYC)

Baby:  Three choices: 1) Lightweight bunting for the baby inside a sling/Ergo/etc. inside your coat.  2)  Heavyweight bunting that can switch  from stroller to sling/Ergo/etc. outside your coat. 3) Baby bag for stroller with lightweight bunting inside that.  With child #1 I did option 2, and with child #2 I did options 1 and 3. I definitely think the baby bag for the stroller is worth the money, and that with the lightweight bunting makes a great flexible combo. FWIW, I got my amazing lightweight fleece bunting from Lands End for under $10 on Ebay, so it’s worth a look. Buy everything for the size they’ll be in the spring. Take photos of the baby swimming in the huge bunting in the fall, and then another one of the kid almost popping out of it in the spring. (The buntings all have those things that fold over the hands to act as mittens.)

Toddler: Baby bag for stroller with heavy winter coat on top. At this age they’ll want their arms out of the bag, but you’ll still want their legs to be warm. If it snows where you are and kids will play in the snow, then add bib snowpants and boots.

Preschool+: Winter coat plus bib snowpants plus boots. Clips to keep mittens attached or else they’ll disappear before you turn around.

I love these posts where we all share what works in our vastly different situations.

Book Review: Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy?

Book review of Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Louise Bates Ames, PhD and Frances L. Ilg, MD.

I love all the books by Ames and Ilg, researchers who worked at the Gesell Institute of Human Development and wrote the series of books in the ’70s. (They’ve got one for each year up through age 9, and then one for ages 10-14.) This one is probably my favorite, though, because I think lots of us believe that we’re mostly out of the woods by the time our kids turn three–we’ve survived the newborn stage, the 18-month-old stage, and the Terrible Twos, so what else could be so tough? But then 3 1/2 comes along and smacks us down, and it can be bewildering and awfully demoralizing. And it’s hard not to think that it’s something that we’ve done that’s caused our kids to act like such intuitive little treasures one month and such unbearable beasts the next.

So while all the books are excellent, I’d say this is the one most of us will probably need to read just to keep our morale up for the adventure of parenting a three-year-old.

While I love this book, I also have to laugh at some of the assumptions it contains (it was written in the 70s, after all): All homes contain a married mother and father, the father works outside the home, the mother doesn’t work outside the home, and they have financial and emotional resources aplenty. Um, right. But if you can put those assumptions aside and read for the wealth of information about children this age, you’ll find lots to help you ease your mind.

Ames and Ilg observed that for kids this age, things seemed to run on a 6-month cycle of equilibrium and disequilibrium. So for awhile children would be fluent and cheerful, coordinated, learning new things all the time, and happy little kids doing things smoothly. Then they’d go through a period of being physically clumsy, stuttering, being in foul moods, and just having things go wrong a lot of the time. According to them, this is normal, so knowing that will help you wait out the periods of disequilibrium, and not get freaked out by things that are developmentally appropriate but seem like regressions (like stuttering).

The book talks about socialization with other children, emotional leaps, routines, "how the child sees the world," and all kinds of other interesting topics. When I read this book for the first time, my older son was in the disequilibrium phase of being three, and I was so relieved to read that some of the things I thought were peculiar to him (like suddenly not wanting to go outside to play) were actually common. It was nice to be able to read about little details of the day, like getting dressed.

The suggestions for how to deal with some of the problems are hilarious, partly because they’re a little anachronistic, but also because they’re just unflinching and deadpan. My favorite quote from the book comes from the section talking about how a three-year-old can be completely adversarial with the mother, because the mother is the one the child is most emotionally engaged with:

"Recognizing this fact, you will if at all possible enlist the services of a good baby-sitter for as much of the time as possible…This advice may seem like the all-time cop-out. It remains our best advice."

How could I not love this book? Instead of telling you you’re doing everything the wrong way, it just flat out says that you can’t change the child’s reactions at a given stage, so instead just try to work around them. Or pay someone else to deal with your child for the six months of disequilibrium. (I guess my idea of Toddler Boarding School isn’t that original.) It makes me laugh, but also really made me feel better about things when I was in the thick of that stage.

This book isn’t going to be any kind of panacea for the problems you’re having with your three-year-old. But it will give you benchmarks to see that your kid is actually normal, and that is such an enormous help, one that’s actually better than giving specific techniques (which may or may not work on your particular kid anyway).

I don’t tell people they need to buy books all that often, but this one I think is really handy to own, so you can read it through every few weeks to get a reality check. It’s not expensive at $12 new, but it looks like there are tons of used copies available cheaply, so you could pretty much rent it for a year by buying it and then reselling it once your child turns four.

I know others of you out there have read this book. What did you think? Could you get past the anachronisms, or did they distract you too much?


Q&A: mediating between a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old

Kristen writes:

"I am having a
sibling problem. I have read your posts on the topic, read Siblings Without
and Between Parent and Child and still can’t seem to find a solutions.

I have 2 daughters, 3 yo and 6 months. The 3
year old has some jealously especially when I have to nurse the baby and
lie down with her to get her to sleep. It is a tantrum every time the baby needs
a nap no matter what measures I take to avoid it. It usually ends with her lying
in the hall outside my room crying that she doesn’t want to be left
alone. Eventually she will go into her room to play. No go nursing the baby
to sleep in a communal room, she’s too distracted.

The other problem is that the 3 year old likes to
wrestle with the baby. She thinks it is hugs and kisses but it’s really pulling
and grabbing. The 6 month old is really active, crawling and pulling to standing
but not exactly steady on her feet, I don’t feel that pulling and grabbing
(sometimes picking her up) is a safe interaction. Right now I have to
separate her from the baby and repeat that this is not a safe way to play, I
usually get an "ok, ok, alright’ and then she is back at it, until eventually
she is in her room and we are all crying.

I am at my wits end trying to deal with these
issues. (It would really help if I could get a good night’s sleep, but that’s a
whole other battle) I do my best to give my oldest some special time when the
baby is asleep. I am so mixed up and hugely afraid that I am causing problems
instead of solving them."

This evening I’m going to put up a weekend review of the classic book Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy by Ames and Ilg. I think if Kristen gets a chance to read this book she’ll see that this sounds like a 3-year-old problem, and not a sibling problem necessarily.

The dirty little secret that most parents of kids 3 years apart (like, oh, say, me) won’t tell you is that 3-year-olds can be amazing little creatures, but at a certain point they become cranky little jerks. And it’s kind of a crapshoot where in the cycle you’ll end up when you have your baby. So you could have a newborn and a sweet loving 3-year-old angel, but then later a 6-month-old and a 3 1/2-year-old cranky jerk. Or you could have a newborn and a cranky jerk, and then 6 months later a 6-month-old and an angel.

In other words, this isn’t your fault. And there’s not really much you can do to make the older one suddenly become loving and not jealous. Because she is jealous, and that’s appropriate, if not particularly adaptive. But she’s also just at a tough age.

I can tell you what I did, with some success. No guarantees that my ideas will work, so I’m hoping we’ll get great comments with other ideas.

For the nursing down for naps problem, use the TV. We had a Bob the Builder DVD that my older son was only allowed to watch while I was nursing the younger one down for naps. Because it was limited to that time, he’d get really excited to see it, so he actually started looking for ward to my leaving the room to get the other one to sleep so he could watch that DVD. Bonus: I never had to see the first part of the DVD because I was in the other room nursing. So if your child loves some video you can’t stand, this could be the nursing-your-sister-to-sleep video (hello, Wiggles).

For the too-rough play, all I could do was just try to be on top of it as much as I could. It was excruciating to have to be there all the time (and I got nothing done), but there were a few months when that was all that worked. There were brief periods in which I could give the older one a job and he’d do it or help me do it, and that would distract him, but for the most part it was just constant vigilance.

From having read Siblings Without Rivalry I knew not to set up any situations in which I was getting angry or telling him he was bad for interacting with his brother (even when that interaction was covertly malicious). So I’d just praise him for the good interactions, and then kind of play dumb about the intent behind the bad ones and try to distract him the way you would a young toddler.

It sucked, but it got us through those evil months.

I’ll have my review of the book up for this weekend, and it’s a book I highly recommend. Three years is both the best of times and the worst of times, and the Ames and Ilg book really lays it all out and lets you know that you’re not crazy for thinking your child is both Jekyll and Hyde, and it’s also not anything you did to make them that way. So I think reading that book will help you get a little breathing room emotionally.

Can anyone else offer practical suggestions for dealing with the immediate problems?

Q&A: four-year-old twins waking in the middle of the night

Cathy writes:

"we have 4yr old twin girls (they sleep in the same room)
within the past couple months one of them wakes up between 1:30am – 4:30 am
just to "play" with her toys
she throws a temper tantrum every time we tell her to go back to sleep
because it’s not time to wake up yet
we have even told her that it’s time to wake up when the sun comes up
but that doesn’t work
we’re all tired and frustrated…HELP!!!"

Just awful. I don’t have twins, but I have two kids who share a bedroom, and it just makes you want to yank your brain out through your ear when one of them wakes the other one up, especially on purpose.

I don’t know if there’s any way to stop your daughter (I read the question as it being one of the girls waking up consistently, not the two of them taking turns waking) from waking up, and am guessing that it’s a phase she’s going through. My suspicion is that if you stopped caring about it she’d get bored and go back to sleep, and after a few nights of this would stop waking up.

So that means the question is how you can stop her from waking her sister. If you could stop her from waking her sister, then it really wouldn’t matter if she woke up to play with her toys, because the other three of your could stay asleep. (And if the other three of you stayed asleep she might give up and go to sleep herself from boredom.)

I think there has to be another room involved in this somehow. Either you could separate them for sleep, or make the waking sister go into another room silently to play with the toys. I wouldn’t want to have to deal with switching the beds and sleep, so I’d choose to make a rule about going into another room to play. But that’s obviously me, and you might want to go the other way. I think if you did make her go into another room (assuming you feel it’s safe to do this–my older son could have been trusted not to get into any trouble in the middle of the night, but not all kids could be, and I predict his brother won’t be at that age) you’d find her asleep on the floor in the morning.

If this is making your stomach turn because you just can’t see separating them or letting her be alone in a room awake in the middle of the night, we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board. As you all have figured out, I tend to look for the thing that seems the most direct, but there are often tricks that I’m just not seeing. So does anyone have any suggestions for Cathy? And if you can come up with a way to get a four-year-old to obey we’ll all send you chocolate and beer.

Save Women’s Lives and Hearts

"A beautiful young mother of two has been missing in Rhode Island now for more than a month.

Her name is Katie Corcoran and she is suffering from
postpartum psychosis.  She was supposed to be released from the
hospital to her family, but on September 5th, in some kind of mix-up,
she was sent off in a taxi instead.  Her husband, small children,
family and friends haven’t seen or heard from her since."

This is a quote from the blog Postpartum Progress, a blog by Katherine Stone that collects information and support for women suffering from postpartum mood disorders. Katherine, along with BlogHer and Postpartum Support International are asking bloggers to spread the word today about the MOTHERS Act:

What is the MOTHERS Act?  The Moms Opportunity to
Access Help, Education, Research and Support for Postpartum Depression
Act, or MOTHERS Act (S. 3529),
will ensure that new mothers and their families are educated about
postpartum depression, screened for symptoms and provided with
essential services.  In addition, it will increase research into the
causes, diagnoses and treatments for postpartum depression.  The bill
is sponsored by Senators Menendez and Durbin.

This is important. Really important. AS many as 800,000 American women every year get PPD or another postpartum mood disorder, and only 15% of them will be assessed or treated. That’s tragic, and we shouldn’t fall through the cracks.

I’m going to ask you to do three things:

1. If you’re an American or live in the US, call your senators’ office today to ask them to support the MOTHERS Act (S. 3529). Find your senators’ contact info by going to www.senate.gov and using the drop-down box in the top right corner to find your state.

2. Start talking about PPD. If you experienced it, share your experience. When you see other new moms out and about, ask how they are, and really look at them when they answer. You might be a vital part of the safety net we should have in place.

3. I’ve posted a PDF of "14 Tips to Prevent Postpartum Depression" over there on the left-hand side of this page. Please download it and print it out, and give it to the pregnant women and new moms you know. (If you want more than five copies or to reprint it, please email me about rights.) It’s better to prevent PPD than to try to battle it, so let’s make sure women know there are things they can do to lessen their likelihood of getting serious PPD.

Response to my cloth diapering posts

Remember my cloth diapering posts from way back when? I recently got this email from Laura:

"First, I just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog, "Ask Moxie."  I am a mother of 3 kids, ages 6, 3, and 1, work part-time outside the home, and find your non-judgemental, common-sense parenting philosophy so refreshing.  It’s a terrific resource, keep up the great work!

With that preface, I just wanted to comment that your entries (featured prominently on your sidebar) on diapering didn’t sit well with me.  While you try to separate parenting choices from environmental choices in your opening paragraph, I don’t think they are that divisible.  Making responsible environmental choices is part and parcel of what many people consider to be "good" mothering.  Preserving the earth for our children, fostering environmental stewardship in the next generation, etc.  And, generally, I feel like the tone of these entries is not in keeping with the "good-for-you" feel of the rest of your blog.

Aside from that general impression, I want to comment specifically on your hierarchy of environmental impact of diapering choices.  I work in the environmental field as a biologist and environmental educator, consider myself an environmentalist, and researched this issue extensively before my oldest child was born.  The issue is far from clear-cut, and certainly cannot be sorted into the kind of linear hierarchy you present.  I encourage you to take a look at the book "The Consumers Guide to Effective Environmental Choices" by Michael Brower and Warren Leon, published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  It addresses cloth vs disposable diapering and how it is a non-issue in the whole scheme of things.  Now, you may feel completely free to disagree with their findings, but the point is that there is honest disagreement in the scientific community on this issue and it’s oversimplified, even misrepresented on your blog.

Because the diapering issue is emotionally charged, and far from environmentally clear-cut, I would like to see your diapering entries edited to focus more on the wealth of information you have on how to do cloth diapering.  And to emphasize that diapering is just one more parenting choice that you make based on what feels right to you, for whatever reason.  If the environmental piece is truly a separate issue, as you assert, then why bring it in at all?  In my opinion, it is just a detriment to what would otherwise be a terrific entry on how to cloth diaper.

Thanks again for all the time you put in to this terrific parenting resource.  I hope it brings you as much pleasure as it does your myriad readers!"

Interesting thoughts.

I’d like to address the environmental choices being part of good parenting comment, and give some background on why I wrote the cloth diapering posts in the first place.

When I started cloth diapering my first son I quickly discovered that online it made me a saint. I was one of the good, chosen mothers who cared more about her child and about the environment than those evil, oblivious disposable-diapering mothers did.  Those mothers were to be pitied or scorned for their bad choices.

I really didn’t  buy into that. For one thing, I diapered because it was cheaper and it was just as easy for me to wash a load of diapers as to schlep out and buy more. So how did being cheap and lazy make me better than someone who assiduously researched whether to use Pampers or Huggies or Seventh Generation?

And there was plenty of scorn from the disposable-diapering crowd online, who apparently thought all cloth diapering mothers were tree-hugging freaks who did everything the hard way because it made us feel good.

So my cloth diapering posts were meant primarily to introduce the different ways of cloth diapering to people who were curious about it, but also to dispel the myth that cloth diapering automatically makes you a better parent. There are so many reasons people use cloth diapers, and so many reasons people use disposable diapers (the entry costs to start using cloth diapers are way more than some excellent parents can manage, for example) that it makes no sense to me to make judgments about other people’s parenting on the basis of choices about diapering.

I think that’s why I wrote those first few paragraphs, including the one about the hierarchy of diapering choices, in such a brisk, flippant way. I didn’t want people to start any one-upping or misery poker in the comments sections. Obviously this was before I knew everyone well enough to know you all were as committed to having a safe space to muse and analyze without having to be defensive and posturing.

So I guess my questions is this: Should I rewrite that post? Did you take it to mean that that was the absolute, essential hierarchy of good for the environment? What about someone who found this site through one of the cloth diapering posts? Also, let me know if I need to drop an even broader hint.

Off the tracks, slightly

I was traveling on business last week for four days. While I was gone I saw the new XO laptop computer*, and wow is it cute! I love it. Didn’t get to see it in action, but there’s time for that.

When I got back, I was thrust headfirst into a frenzy of Halloween excitement from the boys. We had to put decorations up, and I spent a few hours making a purple monster costume for my younger son. Note to all potential monster mothers: The fur sheds. All over. Everything. And is impossible to vacuum up. You’ll have to double-roll the hems, and zig-zag all the seams.

Also, I’m officially The Woman I Never Wanted To Be, because I bought Christmas wrapping paper on October 20. Yeesh.

So I’m ahead of myself on wrapping activities, but behind on posting here. I had a good one in my head for today, but purple fuzz won the battle. Better posts this week.

What’s on your mind?

* If I told you where or how I saw it, that would give away what my job is.

Reader call: “normal” first few periods post-partum

For some reason the questions are coming in clusters. I’ve gotten a couple about the first period back post-partum, and what’s normal. The specific questions asked were:

When’s normal for your period to return?

What’s the period going to be like post-partum (length and flow)?

Will the length of your cycle be different?

Is pain when trying to use tampons normal?

Everyone, please put your data points about these questions and anything else you want to say. Obviously you should feel free to comment anonymously. Since I don’t want to post the details of my menstrual cycle online publicly (imagine), I’m going to comment anonymously in the middle of the pack, too.