Update on “Leaving 16-month-old overnight”

Anon from "Leaving 16-month-old overnight" wrote me back to update us all on how the visit and possible overnight went:

"I figured I would see how everything went when we got to the IL's house and maybe let the overnight happen on the last night of the visit but I felt anxious and conflicted about the whole thing.  The IL's really wanted it; sorry that wasn't clear!

Well, we got there and she had just woke up.  She was a little sleepy and cautious.  My IL's had just been saying they wanted to scoop her up, but they were patient.  They waited the hour it took her to loosen up – speaking kindly but keeping their distance until she approached them.  My husband's fear that they would be strangers was completely unrealized. She loved them as much as they loved her.  It was great.

As for the overnight, well…  The uncle's house lost power before we got there due to bad storms.  It was much too hot and humid to stay there so we crammed in at the IL's (who still had power).  All that stress for nothing!  They were happy we were there and we ALL were there for overnights.  It worked great.

I think the most interesting perspective came from the comments.  My husband and I both come from families that have all extended family within about an hour.  He is the lone person to move away of many many cousins/aunts/uncles.  I think both of us felt that 5 visits was kind of a failure because they saw her so much less than what was typical in our families.  I felt a lot better after reading the comments.

Lastly, I will take my kid over a feral monkey any day.  She slept there the same way she sleeps here.  At 8:30, she sticks her thumb in her mouth.  We grab her blanket, change her, she gives one terrible cry when we put her in the crib, but by the time you close her door she is out and stays that way for a minimum of 12 hours.  I thought it might be different in a new place, but no!  (In re-reading this last paragraph, I hope it came off as good-humored as I intended it -refuting the monkey comment- and not like bragging.  As a kid, I had terrible colic and my husband was a nocturnal mischief- maker; we constantly marvel at our super sleeper.)

Thanks for the comments and your thoughtful reply.  I really appreciate it!"

So it all ended up to be about as easy as it could have been, and we got a great discussion out of it. Yay, us!

An insight into helicopter parents

The other day a friend was talking about how her son was doing something on the playground that scared her, and how she really had to reign in her helicopter tendencies not to stop him from doing it.

I said that we all had those fears, but what separated us from the actual helicopter parents is that we have impulse control and the helicopter parents don't. The helicopter parents give in to their impulses for immediate gratification to control the situation, while the rest of us know that kids need to experience things like failure and gravity so they can develop into competent people, so we control the impulse to control the situation.

It just came to me in the moment, but the more I think about it the more sense it makes to me. It's hard not to control everything all the time. And it's hard not to want our kids to be happy all the time. But those of us who see the long game know it's not about being happy as much as it is about perseverance and knowing your limits.

Thoughts?

Q&A: Nanny overstepping bounds?

Anonymous writes:

"I have a question about attachment to child care helpers. My son is nearly two. He has always been cared for at home by a helper. We live in Singapore where part time help is not a viable option and so most people have a full time live-in helper, as do we. In our case, our helper does child care when my husband and I are at work (we both work full time) and when we come home around 6, we take our son out or play with him until his bedtime at 10 when we put him to bed. We spend the weekends with our son and without our helper.

Of late, our son seems to have emotionally distanced himself from me in particular but has become much more attached to our helper. One factor is that I am four months pregnant, so there were times during the first trimester when I was very tired after returning home and would rest for an hour or two while my husband took care of our son. However, our son now goes to our helper when he is upset for comforting and while we are happy that he can enjoy her company so much, it is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. When my husband is traveling and it's just the three of us (me, our helper, and my son), he now often wants to play with her after work and cries if she leaves the room and he is left with me. Our helper has been with us for less than two months and I can't figure out if this attachment is inevitable given the differential in time spent with us vs. her or whether it is something that we should more actively try to reverse.

Our helper is a lovely person and very fond of our son. At the same time, she does physically take him away from me when he is upset (and he is happy to go to her) and occasionally puts me down in his presence, feeling the need to explain to me his thought process and saying things to him like "see, Mama doesn't know what to do." If she is around when I am feeding my son, she spontaneously reassures him that she will come and feed him and he then expresses a desire for that, even though I want to feed him when I am at home. Once she volunteers that she will come and feed him, he then begins to insist on that. When my husband travels, since I've been pregnant, I sometimes ask our helper to accompany us on outings and she insists on carrying our son when he should be walking and even when I press her to hand him to me, she resists (offering the explanation that she wants to help and avoid my expending too much energy). If she goes somewhere else while we are all out, she asks him to come with her. I often ask if he'd like to come with me and he usually elects to go with her. She has now sensed that I am unhappy with this situation and encourages him to include me, which frankly, feels very weird seeing as I'm already interacting with him at the time. But it doesn't help that he also seems to prefer to be with her so I don't want to drag him away against his will.

Over time, I have felt a very strange dynamic emerging between the two of us where I feel our roles have begun to overlap and even alternate. I find myself doing more of the support work, such as bottle washing etc. which is absolutely fine and something I regard as my responsibility, but I've also become the dreaded mother who insists he finish his dinner, brush his teeth etc. while she mainly plays with him and is a source of entertainment. I became a bit wary of her expectations when she told me with much pride that in her previous family, the child preferred her to the child's own mother and only wanted our helper when upset, needed to be fed and not her own mother and in the end, she felt the child regarded her as her true mother. I am not sure where to start with beginning to tackle all of this. There isn't really the option of having an involved discussion as our helper is Indonesian and has limited English. She also does not do any of this with my husband and never intervenes in his time with our son or takes him away from my husband or denigrates him in front of our son so we both find it strange that we have such different experiences with her.

Will this time pass or are there things I can do to reverse this trend? Am I being petty and should I just be happy that my son is happy? I don't really have the option of spending more physical time with him as my job is fairly demanding in terms of hours but I'm wondering what I can do to avoid a situation where she becomes the 'mother' and my son and I become more emotionally distant. "

OK, there's a whole lot to say about why this is all happening as your son turns two (separation anxiety!), but here's my takeaway from all of this: Your helper is deliberately denigrating you to your child. This is never ever ever acceptable. Fire her.

Yes, there were warning signs when she told you that her last charge preferred her to his mother. (Why would that be a good thing??) And the fact that she told you that with pride means that she really thinks that that's a good thing, not a bad thing. Even if she wasn't actively telling your son that you are incompetent, there's a fundamental mismatch in values there, so the only solution is to let her go to find a family who enjoys being put down to their children.

And then shake it off and move on. Anyone who's hired a babysitter (fulltime or part-time) knows it's largely a crapshoot. I've had the privilege of hiring the two best nannies ever, B and R, but I also hired some clunkers, including the one who showed up late and then wouldn't return my calls so I had no idea where my children were for hours. (Long-time readers may remember that, but I don't have the stomach to search for that post to link it.) And I hired a gem of a woman that wasn't a stellar fit for us but has turned out to be perfect for a friend's family for the past four years. This one bad helper doesn't mean the next one won't be amazing and will help facilitate your relationship with your son and the new baby instead of undermining it.

Is it going to upset your son to have this helper leave? Yes. Will it be far more damaging to him and the family in the long-term to have someone there who destroys his relationship with his mother? Yes, yes, yes. It's going to be a rough few weeks. I'm sorry about that.

In general terms, two can be a tough age for kids because of a very fierce round of separation anxiety that's part of their new knowledge that they are separate individuals from you. If you think about the very fierce "I do it!" stage of 16-20 months (although most of them can't even say "I do it!" so it's even more frustrating for everyone) plus all the food back-and-forth because that's about the only thing they can control, they spend all that time asserting their independence. So then when it finaly hits, they get really scared that they *are* a little bit independent, and separation anxiety hits, and they pull way back in on whoever they spend the most time with, regardless of how much they love the other people in their lives. This is the age at which some kids suddenly start screaming when in the presence of a previously adored uncle, or hate going to daycare after loving it for months, etc. This is precisely the stage for which the phrase "It's just a phase" was invented. It's a normal part of development and doesn't mean anything about how much they love you.

So it's totally normal that your son is going through this stage. And if your helper was someone who understood her role in his life I'd say just wait it out and in a month or two he'll be back to delightful. But she's actively trying to make him love her and undermine you as his mother. So that makes this stage abnormal and even worse for everyone.

I hope you find a good replacement who is able to give your son the care he needs while supporting your whole family and facilitating your relationships with each other.

Readers? I know I have some former and current nannies–do you have any thoughts on the appropriateness of this? Has anyone been in a similar situation in which a caregiver was undermining you to your child? What did you do?

 

Q&A: Kids lagging severely behind with milestones

Amy writes:

"Your post in response to the mom of the 7 month old was very helpful, as were the responses. But I'm wondering if you've heard from or could put out a call for responses from parents of kids who lagged considerably behind the "normal" milestone timeframes, and how they dealt with it/ how their kids turned out?

My daughter is 15 months. Even in utero, she only did little flutter kicks and never the crazy rib-pounding that other moms reported. She is a very calm, good-natured baby. She has never been very active–she has started rolling over in earnest only in the past month. She does not crawl.  She is good in the static positions of sitting and standing holding on to things, if you put her there–but the dynamic movements are slow to come. She also has no word-like sounds but does complex babbling and seems to have some receptive language: she will turn the page of a board book when I ask her to. She is cheery, looks healthy, makes great eye contact, is very interactive. So, no red flags for serious disorders that anyone can see. Medical evaluations have turned up nothing so far except slightly low muscle tone. We have a physiotherapist coming every couple of weeks to give us new things to work on– but progress is slow.

She is not one of those large babies reluctant to move; she has actually dropped down to the 5th percentile and only recently tripled her birthweight of 6 lbs 5 oz. She does have a squint which I think is astigmatism, and I'm waiting for our appointment to get it evaluated. I think that's about all the pertinent info!

So I would dearly love to hear from parents of late bloomers–I can't be the only one out here, can I?"

Not the only one that I know of, for sure. There were two kids who sounded similar to your daughter's profile in my original playgroup, and one just seemed to be more laid-back at the beginning but was caught up and indistinguishable by 3 years, and the other ended up having some physical therapy for low muscle tone for a few years.

I know that's only an n of 2, so I'm hoping readers will chime in. Nothing about what you've written sounds any alarms for me that there are things going on that you're not catching. You've had her evaluated, are doing PT, are watching out for astigmatism, and is very interactive and has great receptive language. She may never be an Olympic athlete, but it sounds like you're aware of that, too.

Readers? Any data points for Amy or other things for her to think about, or stories of similar kids?

Q&A: Leaving 16-month-old overnight

Anon writes:

"When is the first time you (and your readers) left your kid overnight?  My daughter is 16 months old and we have never been apart a night.  My husband had a 30 day work thing, a few day work thing, and 3 or 4 amateur sporting events that have separated them overnight.  My daughter is a great sleeper So I don't really worry about her waking in the night. (I wrote earlier about her maybe sleeping too much.) She cheerfully weaned herself at 11 months so that isnt a factor.

We are going to visit my ILs this weekend.  They live an 8 hour drive from us.  We are staying at a local uncle's house while he is on vacation (house sitting and getting a place to ourselves with plenty of bedrooms, IL's only have 1 spare room so other visits have been a little cozy but doable).  Uncle is a 15 min drive from IL's. DH is putting pressure on me to let DD have her first Overnight at myIL's. I am up with a migraine at 4:10 am at the thought.

He wants them to experience a DD's "first." He says this over and over.

A little more background:  DD is only child, only grandchild for both my parents and his.  My parents see DD a few days a week when I work and probably at least one social visit that is not babysitting for them.  They adore her and my mom and I talk every single day.  My husband used to live 2 hrs from his fam and moved here (8 hrs from his fam) to be with me 7 years ago.  My ILs ( retired) have been here 3 times to see DD.  DD HATED the car until she was 6 months old (could scream more than 3 hours in the car – we never tried longer than that) and flying is not financially feasible for us.  This will be our 3rd visit to ILs since she was born. DH has occasionally  expressed sadness/anger/grief over the fact that my fam gets to see her multiple times a week and his has only seen her 5 times (for five day visits at a time).

Don't  think I am a monster preventing a relationship with my IL's and DD, though.  I call my MIL once a week and give her details on what DD is doing (MIL is tech savvy but never ever initiates contact.  She always either answers the phone or promptly returns my call).  I make sure DH skypes weekly with IL while I work.  I text pics at least 3x week.  I mail packets of photos for mothers day, fathers day, etc. I send flowers on birthdays and cards on holidays.  I ask about their church friends and family events when I call.  ILs always seem to welcome contact and are happy to hear from us, but never initiate contact with me or with DH.  (he jokes that he'd never hear from them if he didn't call).  ILs always seem happy when we visit and always stay a long weekend when they visit.  We rotate thanksgiving and christmas yearly between the families.

Between our infrequent visits and her being my only baby, I feel nervous about leaving her.  Last time they saw her, she was barely crawling and standing shakily.  Now she is running.  They have a two story house with no gates on either staircase.  I have a daughter with no sense of life-preserving fear.  She is fast and they are older.  But do I give my husband this gift?  This first for the IL's? I know it would mean a lot to him and to them. I feel conflicted."

This is a tricky situation, but it's not really a zero-sum game: You could decide not to leave your daughter overnight with people she doesn't know when you aren't comfortable with it, while still letting your in-laws be the first to have her on an overnight.

I can absolutely understand your husband's point of view on this. It is one of the great sadnesses of my life that my parents can't be in my kids' lives several times a week, especially since I know they'd love to be. If we lived in the same area my mom would see my kids all the time and my dad (who's not retired yet) would see them at least once a week. It makes me so sad that they don't get to have each other while the kids are growing up. So I'm oh-so-sympathetic to your husband's feelings.

But.

Your daughter doesn't know his parents, even though they know her extremely well. If you think about it, how old was she when she last saw them? Will she remember them? They, on the other hand, know her intimately because of all the photos and skype time and stories and reports on her that you give them. But she doesn't know them.

16 months can be a weird time anyway for some toddlers, so she could be extremely upset about being left overnight with people she doesn't know. And people (especially older people) who are not around a careening daredevil toddler really have no idea how exhausting it can be and how closely they have to supervise her every single second (especially if their house isn't toddler-proofed).

What if you leave her and she starts crying horribly because she's scared and misses you, and they can't console her, and they feel like she's rejecting them?

I think I'm telling you everything you already know, and what your heart is telling you, which is that it doesn't sound like the best idea to leave her alone overnight with your in-laws.

But.

That doesn't mean that they can't be the first to have her overnight. You can make a plan with your husband and with them to have her have her first overnight at some point in the future when she's more aware of who they are and, more importantly, when she's better able to talk and communicate. And when her physical judgment is better, too. So much development happens in the second year, so a 16-month-old is nothing like a 21-month-old is nothing like a 27-month-old. Once she's older and more able to talk, an overnight will be fun for everyone. (Honestly, an overnight with a 16-month-old sounds about one step up from having blood drawn to me. The wake-ups, the random screaming because you don't understand what they're saying, the never sitting still…)

And now that she's better in the car, you can make more visits, so they will get to see her more frequently and your husband might be a little more at peace with the relationship. (Or he might not, as I'm not. That's ok, too.)

But setting everyone up for failure by leaving her alone with them overnight at this age isn't going to fix the heartache your husband feels, and it might ruin everyone's weekend. So come up with some super-polite excuse about why you can't (18-month molars coming in are a likely story) and then plan another visit for when she's older.

Readers? Am I on or am I full of it? When did you leave your child overnight for the first time, and with whom? Who would you rather spend the night with–a 16-month-old or a feral monkey?

A favor

Joe D's widow's car was broken into last night. The only thing they stole was her laptop, with all her photos of him. Could you pray or vibe or offer up or whatever you do that the photos come back to her? She has some but not all in other formats, and she doesn't care about the laptop.

Thanks.

Q&A: 12-month-old not sleeping through the night

J writes:

"Hi!  My 12 month old son doesn't sleep through the night, which seems to ludicrous to other people. I dread it when anyone asks me how he is doing in this area, because then I get an incredulous stare. It seems like everyone else I meet with children his age have no problems…they put their babies happily to bed each night and sleep blissfully till morning. And there's always an undertone of "you must be overlooking something obvious" or a notion that we made a stupid parenting decision somewhere in his infancy that doomed us to this fate.

I don't know in retrospect what I would have done differently.  I felt that CIO was wrong and went against my instincts as a parent…so I ended up getting up a million times a night to coax my son back to bed before my husband suggested co-sleeping for my sanity.  That was great for awhile.  But now we've evolved to…THIS.  Which is no consistency at all.  Some nights, I am able to get him down in the crib with little difficulty, and he'll sleep for a few hours before waking up, at which point I move him to bed with me.  Other nights, it's a fight to go to sleep…then a fight to stay asleep, meaning frequent waking, restlessness, thrashing, tugging my hair, etc.  Nursing him is the only thing I can do to consistently calm him, but that doesn't even always get him back to sleep.  Now it seems that night terrors have begun…he is crying and inconsolable, though his eyes are open, and pushes me away..then it just stops suddenly and he's ok.  The take home message is that restlessness and frequent waking are the norm now.  In the past week, he's also increased his nursing…we're averaging 4 times a night.  I'm slowly weaning during the day, but I have no clue how I can wean at night being that it's currently my "crutch" to get back to sleep.

My pediatrician told me at his well check today that my reports are not uncommon, but he thinks the only solution would be to stomach crying it out, or stop breastfeeding.  Do you have any good solutions?  Is this crap normal?  I keep telling myself that he won't be breastfeeding forever, sleeping in my bed until he goes to college, and that I think kids sleep how they sleep regardless of what we do or don't do…but it's hard to keep that resolve when I get those incredulous stares.  It makes me feel like I'm a shitty parent, and I should have done something differently along the way.  Or that I'm lazy because I'm using nursing as a crutch…but I work full time and am alone many evenings since my husband works shift work.  There's just many a night I say "screw it" in frustration and don't even have the energy to fight getting him in a crib, since he's gonna end up in the bed anyway. 

Any thoughts?"

My thought is: Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

And also: Those people you know, they're a bunch of liars.

And your pediatrician hasn't had any special training in baby sleep–they don't cover it in medical school, so he's working from the same info you are.

Everyone who had/has a baby who doesn't sleep through the night at 12 months, please comment. You can count me as two. My children who both sleep just fine now didn't sleep through the night at 12 months, either of them.

The only thing at all that strikes me as remotely out of the norm is the thrashing and fighting. Does this ring a bell with anyone? I don't know if it's personality, or something that could be tweaked. So if anyone else had a fight-y baby, speak up.

But the idea that all babies except yours are sleeping all the way through the night at twelve months is just ludicrous. You didn't cause it, and who knows what would have happened if you'd made different decisions. You do what you think is right. But don't let other people pretend all 12-month-olds universally sleep. (Especially since there's another sleep regression coming up at 13 months.)

Readers?

Monday musings

That makes it sound so dramatic, when what this really is is just a miscellaneous post:

1) Yesterday my ex-husband called from where he'd taken the kids for Father's Day and said, "You need to read this article in the NY Times about how divorced moms are no longer cool. " You can imagine my reaction to that. So I wrote a response to the article, and it's up on the co-parenting blog.

2) I…don't…know…if I can…make it…through…the last week…of school… Why is NYC public in school so blasted long every year? Anyone else still suffering through it, too?

3) The company I work for is running a Summer Challenge for kids in grades 3-8 to stop summer slide by playing our math and literacy video games for a chance to win prizes. (Parents know that the playing is the point to practice skills, but kids think the competition is the point.) It's free to play, free to win, all free.

Go to http://www.DimensionU.com and sign your child up (or have them do it) as a student. During the sign-up process they'll need to put in your email, and you'll get an email asking to give permission for them to play. Click through the link in that email to give them permission to play, then download the game to your computer, and then every time they log in to the game and play they're practicing grade-level appropriate skills and earning points for a chance to win prizes. Play ends August 7.

3a) If your child is age 4 through grade 2, check out Dreambox Learning, which makes delightful, very smartly-designed math video games for kids too young to play a multiplayer game like ours.

4) Who's got a link to summer reading lists or online summer reading clubs for me? (If you put the "http://" part in the link it'll hyperlink in the comments.)

 

Primal Scream Friday

Primal Scream Friday. Here are the usual rules:

1. Post what's bugging you, big or small. No misery poker.

2. Offer sympathy to someone else if you have it in you. (And if you know anything that could help them in their situation, share!)

3. If you need to be anonymous, put a fake URL in the "URL" field. (www.fake.com is always a good one.)

I'll start:

  • This city is making me angry, brittle, and panicky.
  • I can't talk about anything else that's stressing me out because it all goes back to the negotiations LOD and I are having about a big life change. (We're writing about the gruesome negotiation process on the co-parenting blog.)
  • I'm a tension increaser, so I can't even cry to make myself feel better.

Now you.