Category Archives: Family

Q&A: Taking a baby to see fireworks? (aka fitting your baby into your life)

Lisa writes:

"As a new mom I find myself now thinking hard about all kinds of thingsthat were once no-brainers, like whether or not to go see the fireworks
on the Fourth of July. I have gone out to see fireworks as long as I
can remember and enjoy them, but now I have a son who just turned 8
months I'm concerned going to the show and keeping him out late at such
a loud and stimulating event might be a form of "sleep suicide" for
everyone (and that is only considering the late bedtime…we have no
idea how he'll react to fireworks). In our area, the fireworks don't
start until 10pm, and usually last about 30 minutes. I would definitely
give him a really late nap if we did decide to brave it. But the closer
we get, the more I'm having second thoughts about attempting this. So
do I listen to my gut, or do I practice "you never know until you try"?
And what do families do when they have a range of kids…like an older
child and an infant? Do they have to split up the family so one parent
stays home with the infant or toddler and the other takes the older
kids, or just take everyone and bear any consequences? Does it only
matter how much I value seeing those firework shows? Maybe I'm thinking
about this way too much, but if you'd like to throw this out there for
everyone to discuss I'd be really interested in any experience or words
of wisdom in making this kind of decision."

Well, number 1: Always go with your gut.

And, number 2: Yes, you are overthinking this particular issue, but it seems to me that this is just a stand-in for the greater question of "How do you fit your baby in to the life you've loved without sacrificing too much of yourself or too much of your baby's wellbeing?"

Balance is really hard to achieve. We touched on it a few weeks ago when talking about weaning, but it's an ongoing process. There are some things that are clearly good for everyone: eating vegetables, sleeping, dancing around in the living room to your favorite album from high school. But there are so many other situations in which you have to make decisions, whether big or small, about whose needs are prioritized.

There's no way anyone else can make that decision for you. You have to come up with your own process for making these decisions. In some families, everyone does it or no one does it. In other families they split up so kids get alone time with parents and to do special things only they enjoy. Some families have kids in bed at 7 pm no matter what, while others let their kids stay up hanging out with the adults talking long into the night. Privacy, communication, schoolwork–the list of things that are going to need negotiation goes on and on.

It might be worth your time to talk with your partner and see if you can come up with some guiding principles. Is it more important to you to keep his sleep normal now? Is it more important to celebrate the holiday the way you always do (bearing in mind that you should come home if the sounds freak him out)? Do you want to make a blanket policy decision, or play it by ear every year as he gets older? There are so many variables, so if you can isolate a few things that are more important to you than the others, that will help you make your decision.

How do you all approach making decisions like this? And what are you doing for the holiday weekend (in the US)? And did Canadians get the last few days off, too?

Q&A: grandmother with compromised immune system

This post seems to be gone, even though I wrote and autoposted it to go up yesterday, I thought. And now I can't even find the original question. So here's a paraphrase of the question, and a reconstruction of my original answer:

"My mother has cancer that's spread to her liver, and is undergoing an extremely aggressive chemo protocol that will go on for basically the rest of her life. Because of this, her immune system is compromised and she's in danger of getting sick and dying of things that the rest of us shake off easily.

How do we deal with this? My three-year-old loves his grandma, and doesn't understand why he can't see Nonnie anymore. And she misses him. Is there anything we can do, or are they never going to be able to see each other again? That would break my heart, as well as both of theirs."

Oh, this is breaking *my* heart. I'm so sorry about your mother.

I don't know if there is any way your son can see his grandmother. There must be a patient coordinator or social worker who can investigate this for you, to find out if there are ways your son can see your mom without endangering her life.

In the meantime, you can use a lot of the ways people have suggested for grandparents to keep in touch with grandchildren when they're living far away. There are many suggestions here, and most of them consist of talking by phone or videophone or Skype (free!), video or audiorecording your mom reading books to your son so you can play the files for him, and recording your son talking to her so she can see/hear him.

Has anyone been in this situation? I'm guessing some of us may have been unable to see someone for a short period of time, but this is a permanent situation for them, it sounds like. Any ideas how to help them cope?


It's Christmas Eve and that can be a complicated time for families. Especially when you have young children to deal with. So if you need to vent, or ask for help, or want to offer support or funny stories, please post here. (People not having problems, please check in to help people with issues.) I'll be back with a regular topic on December 26.

I'll start with an *extremely* minor quibble: My mom is determined that we're all going to go to the carols service at her church, which kicks off with a bell choir concert. I hate bell choirs (apologies to any readers involved in bell choirs, but they're nails on a chalkboard to me) and really can't do that. Nor can my brother or future SIL. So now we have to figure out how to negotiate that.

Your turn.

Q&A: grandparents moving abroad

Kate writes:

"In one week, my in-laws are moving abroad. This is not a temporarymove; they bought a house there and have shipped their worldly
possessions across the ocean. They are moving to a country that we
visit regularly, though not terribly frequently, and to which we have
many connections–familial and otherwise. We are actually seriously
contemplating following them, but we don't know when, anywhere from six
months to six years, say.

I am happy for them, although I haven't come to grips with the
fact that I am losing free babysitting. My husband is pretty devastated
(but out of the purview of this arena).

My 4.5 year old daughter, who to this point has had this set of
grandparents living 5 miles away, is starting to realize that the hour
is nigh for their move. She's heartbroken. We went to a big send-off
for them today, and while she was fine at the party, beforehand she was
SO upset about them moving. She knows where they are going, that they
will be in the same country as her cousins, that we will try to visit
them soon. But she realizes that we won't have the casual drop-in
relationship that she has now.

They will have a U.S. VOIP number, so we will of course let her
call whenever she wants, time zones permitting. Unfortunately, they're
not terribly tech savvy, so I think it would be like pulling teeth to
get them to use Skype or some sort of internet video system. But maybe
they'll change their tune.

In the meantime, is there something we can do to make this easier
for her? (My 2.5 year old son also claims he's sad and is going to miss
them, but I am not sure how much is him and how much is feeding off of
her. He is also close to them, but doesn't quite have the long view
that she does.) We just don't know what to say.

P.S. We are also, for a variety of reasons, driving them to the airport next weekend."

Oh, this sounds so tough.

I wish I had some answers, but my parents have always lived too far away from us, so I don't have anything to ease the pain of the separation. My kids miss my parents, but it's not a new situation, so I don't know how to help the transition.

It seems like it's the transition that's the problem, as she's upset about it now. Kids adapt, and in a few months she'll be used to not having them around, but it's the sadness of the separation that's the problem right now.

Do any of you have any experience with loved-ones moving away when a child is old enough to know that the separation is going to be hard? Is there a way to ease this? Or is it just something that is going to hurt a lot, and the parents just have to be there to help pick up the pieces?

Q&A: What’s in a name?

Today's question is from a reader who wishes to remain anonymous. This one made me laugh, but only because it would piss me off to be on the receiving end of it:

"What do you say to family members who just aren't that dumb, but are acting like idiots?

In our family, we have four last names: MyLastName, Husband'sLastName, StepDaughter'sLastName and just to make things fun, we gave the last two kids in the family a hyphenated last name that is both ridiculously long and difficult for strangers to pronounce, MyLastName-Husband'sLastName.  Apparently we hate the kids.

Naturally, my in laws deliberately ignore everybody's actual last names and address everyone as Husband'sLastName, which is particularly confusing for StepDaughter, who will pick up invitations and cards and say "But…that's not my name."  She's old enough to know the difference.  For the record, her last name is neither long nor difficult to spell, nor has it changed recently.

I'm considering sending everyone a card with the correct names on it so they can keep it by the phone or something and stop with the "Oh, really?  I had no idea" crap.  Other ideas?  It's easy to say "Oh, gosh, it just doesn't matter," but eventually it does, as evidenced by my stepdaughter's reaction to her mangled name.

Second problem: One of the youngest babies has a very long name.  It's a beautiful name, and we love it, but it's also four syllables long and kind of overly formal for a teeny weeny little baby who still poops in her underpants.  Because of this, we have assigned her a teeny weeny little nickname.  It's a little old fashioned, but other than that, perfectly acceptable and very common.  We're not calling her Fifi Trixibell or Kal El, is what I'm saying.

I assume you won't be shocked when I tell you that the inlaws now refuse to use this nickname and insist on calling Not-Fifi by her full unweildy name?  This is not surprising, right?  And I know.  "She's a baby, who cares?  Why give her the name if you don't want people to use it?"  Well, because Not-Fifi knows her nickname.  She loves the sound of it, responds to it, and giggles when people say it over and over.  Not-Fifi does not know her full name.  It has as much meaning to her as Asparagus or Albuquerque, so I have to say, it kind of annoys me when my inlaws try to get her attention by using (to her) a nonsensical word.  They're starting to act like they think she's slow, since she 'doesn't respond to her name', despite our repeated suggestions to use her nickname if they want her to give a crap.

Third…I am just tired of this.  Calling people by their correct names is just not difficult.  It's Basic Respect 101.  A few of my inlaws have names that I don't care for or have unusual spellings, but I use their chosen names and spell the darned things correctly.  How big of a stick is it going to take to get them to return the courtesy?

Oh!  Bonus!  I just found out that in all the years I've been in this family (if my tenure with this family was a child, it would be in high school by now), they have never bothered to actually, uh, LEARN my last name, as in they still can't SPELL it.  Because my last name is half of the new kids' last names, this means that by extension, they don't really know the new grandkids' last names, either.

I think my head just exploded.  Sorry about the mess.

I know the standard patter of "Oh, it's no big deal, you can't change people, just ignore it," bla bla bla, but this is just full on ridiculous, and I think I'm about two years past ignoring this crap. What I need to know now is how to approach them, and if there is a place on the human skull that, if thwacked briskly, will knock the sense back INTO someone?

I'd rather be anonymous for this, so you can sign me:
Rumplestiltskin May Need Bail Money"

Here's the part in which I make this all about me: I am so glad I revealed my first name to you guys, because you'll understand when I say I really do know what it's like to have your name constantly messed up. My last name is a big hot ethnic mess that is completely phonetic in the language it's from but makes no sense to Americans or anyone else, really. And I didn't change my name when I got married.

So I had a different last name than my husband when I was married, and my kids have their dad's last name, so I have a different last name than they do. Now we're a four lastname household: mine, the kids', and the the cats' (Alex Rodriguez and Princess Blossom Pepperdoodle Von Yum Yum).

Plus, the whole "How do you pronounce Magda anyway?" issue. (After a long discussion with a linguist friend I finally figured out that I'm not sure Australians have the vowel sound that I use when I pronounce my name! If I could figure out how to record and upload a sound file I'd put it up so you could hear me say it.)

I've always chalked people screwing up my name up to their not really being aware of name issues. Just like I never really thought about what it was like to rely on wheels to get around the city until I had a stroller with me all the time, if your name has nothing particularly daunting about it you may just not be aware that other people's do. (I get called "Monica" ALL THE TIME because it's a normal name people hear when I say my name.)

So now back to Rumplestiltskin's problem: I think it's possible that the relatives, first of all, just don't get it. If they have a more common naming situation, they may just have problems processing the more complicated situation. And it doesn't mean that people who get your name wrong are deliberately trying to hurt you (for the first year or two, anyway.)

Add a little overlay of resentment for any number of reasons (I got a ton from older women in my family for not changing my last name, and I'm guessing there could be all sorts of things going on in Rumplestiltskin's family with a stepdaughter and twins and hyphenation and all kinds of stuff that seems to bug other people for no reason). And maybe some anger that they can't control things like they'd want to. And you have a recipe for naming hijinx and passive-aggressive games and heads exploding on all sides.

Basically, I think this is one of those situations you just have to breathe through. It's disrespectful and crazy-making, but it's also just a symptom of bigger issues of power and intimacy within the family. So if you're going to go head-on about this, you need to be prepared to deal with the rest of the iceberg that's under the surface. And it's probably not worth it, unless you're losing sleep about it. (The exception is that I think you do need to go to bat for your stepdaughter because it's clear that it is starting to bug *her*. If you can put it in those terms–"but it's for the children!"–it may click with the relatives.)

Also, it's not going to hurt or confuse your daughter to be called something else by extended family. Kids grow up with different nicknames on different sides of the family all the time, and they just figure out "oh, that's what Grandma calls me even though my name is X." When she's 30 you can have a conversation in which you confess that it made you crazy when they called her that, but she probably won't care, or will just chalk it up to "the older generation."

I hate to sound all Pollyanna-ish about things, but this is a chance for you to be generous with people who may or may not deserve your generosity, and a chance to model for your kids that they know who they are even when other people can't process it. Take a few deep breaths, relax, and smile, even while you're muttering curses on the inside.


Naming stories?

Divorce and the holidays

A friend sent me this excellent article by Alan Ravitz at the NYU Child Study Center about making decisions during the holidays for divorced or divorcing couples. It goes along with the suggestions you all made months ago about considering what's best for the kids, and doing those things even when it makes you uncomfortable.

These were the things that jumped out at me:

"We know that kids do best when raised in an environment in which theirphysiological needs are consistently, predictably, and lovingly met.
But in order for them to develop the capacity to initiate and sustain
healthy interpersonal relationships throughout their lives, their
emotional needs must be addressed as well. For children of divorce,
this includes overt and covert permission from each parent to maintain
a loving, intimate relationship with the other."

And then this:

"Imagine what it must be like for a child to know full well that if his
mother is happy, his father must be sad—or vice versa. Is this the
model of relationships you want to convey to your children? One in
which interpersonal relationships are zero-sum games, every decision is
a conflict, and there is no such thing as compromise, only victory or

Want to talk about the things that hurt or the things that made you feel good growing up with divorced parents? Or how you do things now and how you like them?

I'll start: This was probably the easiest part of our entire settlement! We've been alternating which family gets Thanksgiving and Christmas for years, so we just stuck with the same schedule. No fuss, and no difficult negotiations (so far) and no hurt feelings, because it's just the schedule–it's nothing anyone "wins." Of course we won't know how the kids feel about it for years. But it's one of the things I feel most confident with and happy about in our whole situation.

The vise generation

I’m slowly reading through the comments, and am finding them very helpful. And I’m feeling lucky, too, because it sounds like many of your parents felt like each time with you, or each big event, was very high-stakes. I don’t. We’re each going to see them all the time. Literally, as close to every day as practical with our jobs and locations. So there’s no reason in my mind to fight or make them choose about holidays and events and stuff like that.

I grew up seeing my paternal grandfather at least twice a week, and going to his house and playing with him all day long. It wasn’t until I was much older that I found out that my grandfather had been viciously mean to my mother and they had a hard time being nice to each other. So I grew up with that example, that even if my mother didn’t want to spend time with my grandfather, she knew he was important to us and that he would never deliberately hurt us, and that he could be someone with us that he didn’t have the ability to be with her. So she let us spend as much time as we wanted to with him. And she was able to protect us from knowing the tension and pain in their relationship until we were old enough to be able to understand it without taking it on ourselves.

The whole point for me is to stop them from being steeped in dysfunction, and let them grow up seeing functional relationships. Which is a segue into hydrogeek’s comment, and what I hope we can talk about today:

“Sorta on this topic, though, it seems like the generation of people whoare responsible for their kids and increasingly, their parents, have
the short stick. I know this is nothing new, except possibly the fact
that people are living longer and longer, so there are more generations
alive at the same time. (We have 4 generations on 3 sides of the family
right now!) While this is awesome in some respects, because my kids get
to know their great-grandparents, it does cause this whole new set of
stresses. Any chance of a post about that?”

Enu and other brought this up when we were talking about adult-child relationship a few weeks ago. And I don’t have any answers. My parents are caught between elderly mothers and adult children going through major transitions. At the same time, I’m caught between my kids and my parents and our shifting relationships. If we all lived together it would be much easier to deal with the physical things (medical stuff, babysitting, etc.) but probably way more complicated emotionally. In general, I think my family has it pretty easy because we’re all able to acknowledge each others’ whole person as we deal with stuff.

But what do you have to say? What conflicts and tensions are you going through, being caught between conflicting needs? Are the problems mostly logistical or emotional? Is the transition of power and decision-making easy for your family, or a huge source of tension?

Data points, please

So things are moving along in my life. Which means I need to think about things that are going to be helpful to the kids after the divorce and splitting of the households. I’m hoping you guys can tell me things that you did if you divorced that you thought were good, or things that you wish you’d done differently. If your parents divorced, please talk about what they did that was good or bad, and what you wished had happened after the divorce that didn’t, or things you think your parents did right.

You can post whatever you want here, but just so you know, the kids are going to see each of us almost every day and we don’t have any reason to badmouth the other one (and we wouldn’t even if we did). And we don’t have the money to try to bribe the kids with toys, and neither of us have any problems saying no to things the kids ask for that aren’t possible. So all the big problems you hear about–loss of contact, sniping and bad-mouthing, and bribery and spoiling out of guilt–shouldn’t be issues. I’m looking for stuff that is smaller and wouldn’t necessarily occur to a parent. Although, of course, you’re welcome to post anything you want, especially if it gives you the chance to get it off your chest.

Oh, and sorry for two divorce-related topics in a row! Tomorrow is another day.

Q&A: toddler preference and blended families

Greeting from blazing hot San Antonio. Anon has a tough two-parter today and I hope we can help her. As painful and frustrating as this divorce process for me has been, I’ve always felt lucky that my kids’ dad is his best self with/for them. My heart really goes out to those of you with dicey father situations. I hope we can help Anon:

The talk about toddler preferences for parents really hit a nervethis week, and I wonder of some of the other single or almost-single
parents out there may be able to offer some wisdom.  I am a single
parent of an 18-month-old boy, and have been thinking about this topic
a lot lately.  My son’s dad plays with him about twice a week at my
house, but isn’t emotionally stable or organized enough to take him
anywhere alone.  We haven’t been a couple since I was three months’
pregnant, so this is all DS knows.  He LOVES his dada and is so excited
when he comes to play, and they have a great time together.  His father
doesn’t come over when he isn’t doing well, and hasn’t made an effort
to have longer or more independent visits, so DS hasn’t been exposed to
the scary temper or other issues that kept me from marrying his dad.
 As far as he knows, dada is an awesome loving wonderful presence in
his life.  Since DS was born I have worked hard to find the good in his
dad and find ways to facilitate their relationship under the
circumstances.  I know that eventually DS will become aware of some of
the problems his dad struggles with, and I can’t fully protect him from
that, but I can and do strive to keep him safe from the physically
scary stuff.  So question # 1 is, is anyone else out there in a similar
situation, and do they have any advice or thoughts about how to make
this work?  On my very best days, I can imagine that with a lot of
structure and some limits, they will have a mostly positive, joyful
relationship, and I will be somehow able to move on in my own life and
build a family around me and DS.  On my bad days, it seems impossible
to figure out how we will all get through this. 

My other, related question is about stepfathers and
how they figure into a boy toddler’s life.  I have been thinking I
would like to start dating, but I’m having trouble envisioning the role
a new man would play in my son’s life.  Another father?  An uncle?
 Does step-dad always play second fiddle when there is a bio-dad in the
picture?  My son’s father is emotionally impaired in ways that I think
will make it hard for him to have a primary care relation-giver
relationship with DS unless something drastically changes or he marries
a very stable woman who can help.  And I really feel as if DS needs
fathering his bio-dad can’t provide, but every time I try to imagine a
new boyfriend, in my mind he turns into chopped liver whenever bio-dad
shows up.  Not really a great bonding scenario for a new guy.  I am so
ready for a partner, friend and lover to share this life with, but I
keep getting stuck when I try to visualize it. Can kids really have
more than two parents?  Do they always feel like they have to choose (I
know I did)? Can step-parents be “real” parents or are they always
secondary? Is it already too late for my son to fully bond with another
parent?  If they never deeply bond, how on earth could we ever be a
real family?

Help! I want to move forward but I’m getting stuck
on this.  Can anyone out there offer me some hope for how a blended
family like this might work?

I know it doesn’t seem like it now, but you will be able to get through this. For two reasons: 1) You have to, and 2) You’re smart and resourceful and you’ll do what you need to for your son to be safe and also have as much of a relationship with his father as he can. I’m going to tell you what my mom has said to me dozens of times over the past year and a half:

“Thousands of women have done this, even when they didn’t think they could. You can do this, too, honey, and I’m so proud of you.”

I may have slightly better advice about the second half of your questions, about a hypothetical future stepdad (HFS). Kids have room in their minds and hearts and lives for all kinds of adults in all kinds of roles. Many kids grow up with two grandmothers and don’t confuse them. Some kids grow up with four or more grandmothers! Kids have room for full-time babysitters in their hearts along with moms and dads, custodial aunts and moms in jail, grandparents they never see because they live around the world, and blended families of all kinds.

As long as an adult loves your child and respects him as a person, they’ll be able to form a relationship.

HFS is going to understand that you and your son are a package, and that loving you means loving him, so you’ll be able to work it out. It may not be super-easy, but is love and forming a family ever easy? There are tons and tons of resources out there for blending families and step-parenting to help you. (I’m not there yet, but once I start dating again I’ll do some real research and report back.)

They are going to end up working out the dynamics of their own relationship, which is what you want for them to be able to have a true relationship without you as the gatekeeper, anyway.

Also, and this is merely anecdotal, I haven’t found that men (the good ones anyway) seem to shy away from a woman with a child (or two). Even long before I was even thinking about getting back out there I started getting approached by guys for whom my being a mom seemed to be part of the attraction. So don’t feel like this is going to limit the future you’re going to have.

Any advice from women who have been in either or both situation?