Category Archives: Advice

Innovation in morning routines: It’s the little things

I was thinking a lot over the summer about how I could make the morning routine easier during the school year. Those of you who have been reading forever know that I lost at least four levels of complexity in the move from NYC to Michigan: my kids walk across the street instead of all of us taking the subway together for 45 minutes, I am working from home instead of going to an office so no more commute for me (45 minutes plus another 25 minute leg on days I took the kids to school, 65 minutes when it was just me), because of no subway ride we can leave for school 50 minutes later, that means 45 more minutes of sleep for me.

But still, by the end of the school year last year I was feeling pushed by all the stuff I had to do to get the kids out the door. I am tempermentally unsuited to do everything the night before, and have accepted this about myself. But I did shift duties around in time and reassign responsibility, and it's going so well this year.

Here's what we're doing:

1. Final homework check and signing off on assignments we do at night, so everything's packed except lunches. I appraise the lunch and breakfast and clothes situation.

2. The boys are responsible for getting themselves dressed and making their own breakfasts. Once they're dressed and have eaten, they may play video games, and this carrot means I only have to remind them once and they both hop to it. (They're 10.5 and 7.5.)

3. I pack lunches.

4. We sit around chatting about the upcoming day and week for fifteen minutes before they have to leave the house. Super-chill, and they go off happier, and I'm more ready to sit down and work as soon as they leave.

The whole lynchpin of this system is that the kids are making their own breakfast (toast or oatmeal and fruit), and they come out of their rooms dressed.

I feel like a supergenius. What innovations have you made this year that are making things go more smoothly? What thigns are you struggling with that we could help you troubleshoot?

Shunned because of being a single mom

I got an email from a mom who is feeling isolated at her kids' preschool because since she announced that she was getting a divorce, the other moms have shunned her. She thinks they think she is going to try to "steal" one of their husbands.

Which is interesting, because I recently had a conversation with a single mom I know who has felt excluded by the partnered moms at her school, and doesn't know if it's because they think she might be after their partners or if they just don't like the idea of a single mom.

This makes me tired.

I mean, I guess there must be some women out there who would be interested in people who are already in relationships, but the single-mom-on-the-prowl stereotype is as inaccurate and played as the single-black-mom-who'll-never-get-married stereotype or the divorced-white-suburban-mom-who-doesn't-do-anything-but-live-on-her-ex's-money or any other stereotype about women that allows people to dismiss us and not take us seriously as women and mothers.

Being a single parent–whether it's through divorce or choice or things just not working out–is tiring and stressful and difficult sometimes. As is being a parent in a relationship. Parenting is hard, and getting through life is hard, and believing the worst about people without even bothering to know them only makes it harder.

I wish I had some advice for these moms about dealing with the exclusion. It's happened to me, too. I don't know what to say, though, except that your real friends will stick by you. And anyone who excludes you is doing you a favor. (I really sound like someone's mom, don't I?)

I wish we had some kind of international Reaching Out To Another Parent Day, in which we all made an effort to get to know someone whose demographics were not like our own.

Can't we all just get along?

 

What time do your kids go to bed and wake up?

Now that everyone's been back in school for awhile, let's share some data points.

What time does your child go to bed?

What time does your child wake up? (If your child wakes up in the middle of the night, include that, too.)

Does your child still nap?

How old is your child?

What time do you need to leave the house in the morning?

Anything else of note? (Where your child sleeps, any special routine you must follow or sleep all falls apart, etc.)

 

I'll start:

My children are 10.5 and almost 7.5. Both go to bed on school nights at 9:30.

The older one wakes up around 7:15 (but has never needed as much sleep as other people at any given age, and was a classic tension increaser who was either awake or asleep, no "drowsy but awake" for him). No naps. Sleeps in his own bed at my house. If he wakes up in the middle of the night I have no idea.

The younger one wakes up around 8. No naps. Always wakes up in my bed at my house, and his dad reports that he likes to sleep under his bed at his dad's house. I have no idea if he wakes up in the middle of the night, except for one night last week when he woke up crying about being "so hungry" so I told him to go get some cereal and in the morning I found a box of Cheerios in the bathroom.

They leave the house at 8:42 am.

 

Now you.

The new infant sleep study article

I usually don't like saying "I told you so." But this time, well, I told you so.

You know how the tagline of this site is "You are the best parent for your child"? Well, you are. And now it's been proven by a research study.

(OK, "proven.")

The article "Five-Year Follow-up of Harms and Benefits of Behavioral Infant Sleep Intervention: Randomized Trial " published September 10, 2012 by the journal Pediatrics details the methodology and findings of an Australian study conducted in 2003-2005 called the Infant Sleep Study, along with the methodology and findings of a follow-up with the participants in the Infant Sleep Study conducted in 2009 and called the Kids Sleep Study.

The initial study was designed to discover if there was any harm to infants above the age of 6 months whose parents used "interventions" (meaning various so-called "sleep training" methods, some involving crying), and the follow-up was designed to see if there was any harm to these methods after five years. What they found was that the babies in the group of parents who had used interventions had better sleep (as rated by the parents) and the mothers were less likely to be depressed than those in the control group during the initial Infant Sleep Study, and that there were no noticable differences in the two groups five years later during the Kids Sleep Study.

A lot of the headlines around the study are misleading at best, so I read the article and looked at how the Australian researchers did the initial study. Here it is, in non-scientific language:

First, parents were asked the question "Over the last 2 weeks, has your baby’s sleep generally been a problem for you?" abouth their 7-month-olds. Those who said "yes" were eligible to become part of the study. Note that there was no objective measure of "good sleep" vs. "bad sleep." Instead, they went by how the parents felt about the way their child was sleeping. That's important, because as we've seen here over the years, it's more about how you feel about how your child is sleeping than about any objective measure. If you're happy with where your child is sleeping and how attentive you have to be in the night, it's all good. (And you wouldn't have been able to participate in this study.)

Then, the researchers separated the participants into the "interventions" group and the control group, with the participants having no choice over which group they were in, but they were told which group they were in once they were assigned.

Next, the participants in the control groups came to their regular well-child visits and could ask the nurse about sleep, but weren't specifically told about any interventions they could use.

Meanwhile, the participants in the "interventions" group were told about a variety of sleep interventions, including controlled crying (aka "the Ferber method") and what the study calls "adult fading" or "camping out," which sounds to me like the old "I'll lie on the floor next to your crib until you fall asleep" that many of us know and still have the rug marks on our faces to show for it. Here's the kicker: Participants in this group were allowed to choose how many and which interventions they wanted to use.

Yes.

To recap: Parents said that things weren't working the way they were currently going, so were given a whole bunch of techniques, and told they should choose the ones they thought would work best and try those with their child. Who else thinks this sounds an awful lot like what's been happening here in the comments section of this site for the past almost-7 years? Because I do.

Essentially what this study did (which is not the same as what the study proved, which I'll get to in a minute) is provide support to parents to try techniques they may not have known about or understood or felt they were able to try before with their kids. I am not one bit shocked that the parents reported fewer sleep problems and greater maternal emotional health compared to the parents in the control group, who didn't get the same support.

The control group participants were not prevented from trying any method/intervention to get their children to sleep. They just weren't taught/informed about any interventions by anyone involved in the study. The difference in the two groups was that one got information and support, while the other didn't.

It is important to note that (contrary to all the headlines about this study) the study did NOT show that "CIO is good" or that every baby needs to be trained to sleep or anything like that. What it showed was that parents who chose controlled crying or other interventions for their own specific babies felt better about how their babies were sleeping after doing those interventions and felt better about themselves. In other words, controlled crying doesn't do harm to babies and parents when the parents think it will work and try it.

I think this study says way more about how beneficial support for trusting your instincts about what your specific child needs is than it does about any specific sleep intervention.

The new findings of this study (based on follow-ups with the original babies and families when the children were 6 years old) are that by the time the kids in the study were 6 years old, there were no differences in the kids and families in the control group and the intervention group in terms of stress level, sleep, child-parent closeness, and other measures of wellbeing of the family. In other words, how or where or what you do about your child sleeping when they're a baby has little correlation with your lives when your child is 6. Don't get too cocky or depressed when you're in the baby years, in other words.

So: Carry on with what you're doing if it's working for you. If it's not working, try something different. (It might help to figure out if crying helps your child release tension or if it increases tension.) Surround yourself with people who are going to support you, and protect yourself from the people who are giving you crap and telling you you're doing it wrong.

You ARE* the best parent for your child.

 

* Scientifically proven!

Older sibling and baby sharing room in a small space

For the record, I think the reasons so many mothers put up pictures of their kids as their Facebook profile pictures are that 1) we have way more photos of our kids than of ourselves, and 2) we think we're fat and don't want people from high school to see that. I don't think it's any big social statement or grand conspiracy of sacrifice and sublimation.

Gennaro writes:

"I'm wondering how others have managed the logistics of having an older
child and a new baby in a house / space designed for a single kid? We
have a 2nd baby on the way and a 5-year-old boy and live in a 2-bedroom
bungalow. I'm guessing we'll have the baby sleep in our room for the
first while, and then transition s/he to share the other bedroom when
the time is right. I'm interested in strategies and experiences – what
worked, what didn't work, how your first child handled sharing their
room, etc."

I think this will probably be fine because your older child is 5 already. Once the baby is in the same room with your older son they won't have the same bedtime anyway, so you can put the younger one down first and then deal with the older one. Plus, the older one can understand that sometimes little kids wake up at night, and just go back to sleep.

It's my suspicion that this will go pretty smoothly, because the age difference is great enough that your older son won't want to be the baby anymore and won't be jealous, and will understand that babies need to be taken care of and helped to fall asleep, etc.

The suggestions I'd offer about putting them in the same room are based on having kids closer together in age (making sure the older one feels like a big kid, etc.). Who's got experience with siblings sharing a room with a 5+ year age gap they can share?

 

Q&A: Mom’s hand is the human lovey

And now back to an old-fashioned sleep question. This one is a classic. Priyanka writes:

"I am a mother of a 10.5 months old girl. She is a good baby and doesn't
trouble me much. She's been STTN [Ed. note: sleeping through the night] in her crib since she was 2 months old
and I have never faced much sleep deprivation. I had to do mild CIO when
she was around 4 months old to transition her naps from swing to crib
and to teach her to sleep by herself mostly for naps. Her naps and night
sleep has been going perfectly well until I had to take this vacation.
She knew how to put herself back to sleep if she woke up in the middle
of the night.

When she was around 7.5 months old I went to
India to spend sometime with my parents. Over there I had to make her
sleep on bed. So I had to stay with her in the bed until she is asleep
(both for naps and at night) so that she doesn't fall. She would sleep
fine and sleep through the night but she got in a habit of holding/
caressing/ pinching my hand while she tried to put herself to sleep. I
was unaware of the fact that it's becoming a habit because of which I am
suffering after coming back.

I was in India for about 2.5 months. After coming back, here she sleeps
in her crib but she is obsessed about my hand. Initially I gave her my
hand and she would fall asleep within seconds. But when she wakes up in
the middle of the night she needs my hand again. She now wakes up
multiple times in the night and after a while she just ends up in our
bed because I am tired of putting her to sleep by giving her my hand.

I tried to do CIO but it's just not working this time. Even after a
month she just wants my hand or my husband's. I tried giving her stuffed
toys, blanket, etc. but she just takes it and throws it out of the
crib. Whenever I leave her to cry she just keeps standing in the crib
holding the rail and keeps on crying without sitting down even for a
second. So now I am abandoning the idea of CIO. But I do not have any
more ideas. Do you? Any thoughts, suggestions, advice? Please help.
Thanks!"

Gah! I think this happens to a lot of people, with a parent's hand, or mole (I hear a lot of mole stories). Remember the one we had a few years ago with the mom's hair?

In an ideal world you could fill a surgical glove with dishwashing soap so it felt like a hand, and leave that in her crib. But I think that would get messy in real life, plus she probably wouldn't be fooled.

My first suggestion, and I know I say this every single time, but it's surprising how much it seems to help, is to talk to her during daytime hours about what should be happening at night. If you tell her and help her rehearse the plan in her head then she'll have a better idea of what to do in the nighttime. I know she can't talk yet, but almost-1-year-olds have a ton of receptive language. If you keep telling her that when she wakes up she can go back to sleep by lying down and closing her eyes, etc. then she will be better able to actually do that in the middle of the night.

My second suggestion is to understand that this period (from the 9-month sleep regression through the 13-month sleep regression) can be one whole long period of crappy sleep and general disease and willfullness for some kids. The absolute nadir of my parenting experience was when my older one was 10-11 months. I just felt like I couldn't do anything right, and he was sleeping like crap, and I couldn't understand how I was getting it so wrong when I'd been doing it for almost a year at that point! He and his sleep and rhythm and everything just seemed really opaque at that point, almost like I was starting over with a different kid and nothing I'd done before was working.

And then it just seemed to kind of slowly click back into place over the course of a few weeks. I've heard this from many people, that some children seem to just go through a few months of chaos right around this age. It's extremely frustrating. And makes you feel like you're out of ideas. But just knowing that this is something that happens with some kids can help, I think, because you know it's not just you, and you can try to ride the wave a bit and not be so concerned that you're not steering at the moment.

And now I'm out of suggestions, because my other suggestion would have been to try to substitute in some other lovey for your hand. But you've done that, and it just makes her angry. (Good news: She knows quality and won't accept cheap imitations. Good life skill.) So I'm going to see if the readers have anything. And otherwise I'll hope that talking to her about it will help her calm down and get herself back to sleep when she wakes up. And that the next few weeks go by quickly until she ages out of this chaos and back into sleeping again.

Readers? Did anyone successfully wean their kids off a human lovey without trauma to anyone involved? Tell us what you did.

More on Free but not cheap

[It's been eleven years. Every year I think I won't feel the grief and sadness, and every year I do. Ambulances still startle me, bagpipes still make me weep. I am so thankful for the beautiful new tower in the gaping hole, and still so sad for everyone and everything we lost.]

Wow, what an amazing response to my "Free but not cheap" piece on the relationship vs. the jobs! Thank you so much for your kind, sweet, moving comments, on this site and everywhere else. Here are two more big insights I had in the process of talking about the piece:

1. In the comments, epeepunk (who is a father, and married to longtime frequent commenter hedra) said:

"I've
been trying to figure out why the recent discussions about motherhood
and having it all were bugging me. One was the omission of the concept
that dads could fill any of the roles that are traditionally mom's. But
the other was that it seems that women (in broad general terms) develop
the relationship through the jobs. And there is resentment at dads who
are developing the relationship without doing the 'work'.

And this is another reason (I do have them listed out) that I love
hedra. Because we've always been very clear about how we're sharing the
*jobs*. And that leaves us free to develop the relationships on our
terms and in our ways."

YES. "It seems that women (in broad general terms) develop
the relationship through the jobs. And there is resentment at dads who
are developing the relationship without doing the 'work'." YES. I never begrudged my kids' dad his relationship with the kids, even though I was doing the vast majority of the jobs involved with them, except when I resented him for it. Which I did, a lot. And a lot of that was because I didn't like doing those jobs, and envied that he got to have all of the relationship and nowhere near as many of the jobs I had.

We resolved that problem by getting a divorce (I'm not really joking–I don't think there was any way to resolve that or most of our other problems and still stay together, given the fact that our relationship was largely a facade) and that equalized the jobs more (50/50 custody) and also completely separated the relationships.(And our kids got older. See #2 below.)

I can't recommend divorce for everyone. I can recommend epeepunk and hedra's very explicit decisionmaking and delineating jobs. I can recommend any deliberate and conscious method of making everyone happy with their own jobs ratio.

2. When you have very little (toddler and under) children, sometimes the only tangible evidence of the relationship can be the job. Think about back before your child started smiling: There was no positive feedback whatsoever for any of the jobs you were doing. The only way you knew you were someone's mother was because of the jobs. And even after the smiling starts, there's still not a lot of relationship there that you can actually touch. Think about the number of times you thought things like "He only loves me for my milk" or you made special food for your 20-month-old and when your kid rejected it you felt personallly hurt, like it was *you* your kid was rejecting.

I think that is the number two reason (number one being sleep deprivation and other stress) that women with little little kids are so much more adamant and defensive but simultaneously confused and unhappy about what jobs they spend their days doing. If you're doing all the kid jobs, it's easy to feel like that's evidence that you have a great relationship. But IT IS HARD, so you have to tell yourself there's some big payoff that women who go do other jobs during the day don't have. And women who go do non-kid jobs during the day can worry that that means they don't/won't have the relationships with their children that the women who do kid jobs all day do. So they have to come up with some way of consoling themselves about that. And it all gets defensive and posturing and angry and the next thing you know we're all on the cover of Time magazine.

It's a big cluster. And that makes the jobs seem even more high stakes. Who can win, ever?

Parents of older kids (6 or 7 and up, I'd say) can see much more clearly that the jobs are only sometimes connected to the relationship, depending on the relationship and the jobs. Who cares who does the laundry or supervises homework or packs lunch? (If you have older kids, can you think of a job that you feel is important for you to do because it has some relationship resonance with you, but that your kids may or may not care about because for them it's just a job? For me it's making birthday cakes. I would feel like I was letting my kids down by not making them the cake they wanted, but my kids don't care who made the cake.)

Have you ever seen people interviewed and they say something like, "My mom worked four jobs to support us but I always knew I was the most important thing to her"? Kids get it. But they can't always verbalize every aspect of it while it's happening, so we end up with a lot of feeling like we should be doing something we're not doing, and there's a lot of job misallotment and misallocation.

I'd argue that that's life. And that if we're focused on the relationship we have a lot of space and time and conversation to get it right. Any one job isn't going to make or break things. Any thousand jobs isn't going to make or break things by the time your kid is an adult.

 

Second round of thinking about this: What's hitting you about your relationship with your own parents? Your relationship with your own kids? Your relationship with jobs?

 

Placenta previa

Kelly writes:

"I just found out that my 28 year old cousin has placenta previa. She is
about 5 months along, and she has a 2.5 year old. I was wondering if you
could ask the community if anyone has experienced this, what happened
to them, and any advice they may have? She's very concerned (not only
because of the medical risks) but also about the possible bed rest
requirement. Her husband works 60-70 hour weeks, they don't have much in
the way of friends/family in the immediate vicinity of where they live,
AND she has a 2.5 year old who has a lot of energy and some health
problems. OY. Any help/advice/commiseration for her would be greatly
appreciated."

I have no experience with placenta previa but know some of our readers do, and I'm hoping a bunch of people jump in to talk about how they dealt with it and how it all turned out.

I also have no experience with bedrest, but know tons and tons of readers do, and know they'll give advice.

I do have experience with not having help and being isolated, and it sucks. I'm hoping that they can build a support network they can count on. Is she part of any mothers' groups? Do they go to a church or temple?Do they hang out at any playgrounds regularly?

Even if she doesn't have to go on bedrest and the delivery is easy she'll still need friends to help her through having a toddler and a baby. It's tough work, especially since her husband works long hours. Can they afford any paid help to give her a break?

Readers, what have you got for Kelly's cousin? And how can Kelly help them?

Q&A: When you hate your friend’s child

Eileen writes:

"How do you handle it when you INTENSELY dislike the child of a close
friend? The person I'm referring to has three children, and two of them
are delightful. The third is a whining, oversensitive, horrid little
tantrum-throwing brat of a child who is so awful I…I mean, the person
I'm talking about…can't even stand to see a photo of him. It's
seriously affecting our ability to do things together as families (all
the rest of the family members get along great.)"

[EDITED: The conversation in the comments and another conversation I've had about this made it obvious to me that I should have framed the
poster's question more with what I knew about the situation. The
question is asking what to do when it is clear that the way your friend
interacts with her child is reinforcing bad behavior and that the friend
is not even trying to enforce boundaries or standards with that child.
It's NOT saying that the friend doesn't have a perfectly-behaved child,
or that the parents are trying but there are challenges. Also, a
separate but related question is why the parents have different
behavioral standards for one sibling and not the others, so they enforce
boundaries with two of their children but reward bad behavior in the
other. It's NOT about giving each kid what they need based on
temperament and other issues, but about letting one kid be mean to
others while the others are expected to interact nicely, etc.]

Writing this post has been like pulling teeth. And I finally figured out that I was struggling so much with it because it's hard to admit that some kids are just brats. And they're brats because we trained them to act poorly. But wow, who wants to talk about that? So this post isn't flowing the way some of them do. Grind through reading it like I ground through writing it:

Children are just people on the way to being adults. Plenty of adults are jerks we don't want to be around, and all of those people start somewhere. But it's hard to watch kids–who start out with no bad habits–growing up as people we really can't stand to be around.

It's especially hard when one of our friends is the parent of the poorly-behaved child.

Let's be clear that we're not talking about kids who are still learning social skills and who have a mismatch, or kids who are really little and are still learning. We're talking about kids who act like jerks, with adults and other kids, and display behaviors that are a direct result of how they're parented.

I wonder how many of us have this problem and are afraid to admit it, or to say anything about it to anyone else. I know that there's one child of one of my friends that I would not miss if I didn't have to see him or her again, and it bothers me, because I don't know what to do about it, or if I should or could do anything about it.

How do you say to a friend, "You know, if you give her ice cream every time she whines she's going to keep whining."? You can't, really. Or, "We can't have you over because your child alienates everyone and you never set limits."

I wonder how people can be good teaching parents–who really communicate functional behavior patterns–to some of their kids, while letting another kid get away with bad behavior. Or even promoting and fostering that behavior by the ways they act and react to that child.

And here's the sad secret wondering: Is my friend really the person I thought they were if they're raising a jerk?

I don't know. It makes me feel small. (And it makes me wonder if anyone's thinking the same thing about me and my kids…)

I wish I knew of a way to fix it. The only way to deal, I think, is to keep doing what you do anyway: Reinforce appropriate standards of behavior to you and your family. Protect your own children. Use natural consequences, both happy and unhappy. Be an example for your friend.

Does anyone have this same problem? What do you do about it?

 

Q&A: Nakedness in front of the group

S writes:

"I walked into daycare during snack time. All the children were sitting
at tables and it was pretty quiet. The teacher promptly updated me on
how good my daughter was was then said “come on, let's change your pants before
you go". Then instead of lifting my 25lb 2yo onto the changing table the
teacher squatted down on a stool and pulled my kids pants down with her
butt facing all those kids eating. My daughter just looked at me kind of
funny. I redirected the situation by asking her if she wanted to try
the potty before putting the diaper back on. She shook her head yes and
I took her into the bathroom and then finish, leaving the teacher to
take care of the other children. I was very surprised at the act and
plan on discussing with the manager of the daycare but am I being too
harsh?? When do children develop modesty?? I remember being this young,
not a whole lot but the stuff that was emotional to me."

Most kids seem to develop modesty later than 2 years old, but I don't think that that means that it's ok to just pulll down a kid's pants in front of the whole class. It's completely possible that your daugher was embarrassed or just felt like something was wrong. And, even if she didn't, this is sending the message that her body is fine for display.

I think of this the same way I think of forcing kids to kiss people: It might not be uncomfortable for the kid at any one instance, but you're' sending the kid the message that their body is subject to what other people want. That they don't have the right to control who sees or touches them, or who they're forced to touch. Even if you don't mean it, you're telling your child that their own personal boundaries are not worth enforcing.

So, yes, please say something to the teacher. Who I hope just wasn't thinking, but should be more sensitive about what we're teaching kids about their bodies. And good for you for standing up for your girl and her body and her right to her body.

When did your kids start to notice modesty about their bodies?