Category Archives: Family

Two Updates

Bobbie wrote in to let me know that she talked to her daughter’s teachers. Her daughter is one of the most prepared in the whole class, so it was no problem for her to be out. So they went to visit Bobbie’s husband with no worries. Yay!

Sheila C sent me the link to this article about an enzyme present in the blood of people who died from peanut allergies. It may be a way to tell who will have fatal reactions and who won’t ahead of time. Very cool, and why I love science. Thanks, Sheila.

Q&A: cigarette smoke around a baby

Angela (who notes that English is not her first language) writes:

"I have been reading your advice from the beginning even though I don’t have
any kids right now, but we are trying to conceive and I want to see what I’m getting myself into.

I would like to know what you think about an issue in particular, namely, cigarette smoke. To be more specific, my spouse and I don’t smoke, and we ask our friends and relatives not to smoke in our home, which is generally well accepted, except from his mom, but she won’t come visit us, so that’s not really the problem. The problem is that when we visit my parents and my spouse’s father, who live in the same town, we generally stay at my parents’. My dad smokes, but we asked to limit his smoking when we visit because we both are very sensitive to it (we used to get physically sick for about a week after we visited, until I got the courage to approach my parents about it). Now, my spouse has started telling me that, when we do have a baby, we won’t stay at my parents because the house still smells like cigarette (he still gets a bit sick because of the smell and the residual smoke).

I’m conflicted. On one hand, I agree that I don’t want to expose my baby to cigarette smoke at all. But on the other hand, I don’t see myself telling my parents that we won’t stay at their house because of the cigarette. We can stay at my spouse’s father’s house, that’s not a problem. They love us and will be very happy to see us. But we always stayed at my parents and it will hurt them. I know my spouse won’t back down on this subject, unless my dad stops smoking.

What would you do about this? Is this an issue you had to deal with?"

I do have experience with this question. My MIL and BIL smoke. My BIL is an extremely considerate smoker, one of those guys who just escapes quietly every once in awhile to go have a butt outside. My MIL smokes on her back glass-enclosed porch and thinks the smell doesn’t come into the rest of her house. I don’t think any of the actual smoke or dangerous fumes are coming into the rest of her house, but the stink certainly is (and she’s not even a heavy smoker–maybe only 3-4 a day). When I was pregnant the smell really bothered me, and my husband and I had a bunch of the same kinds of discussions you did. Ultimately what we ended up doing was still going to visit, but going into a different part of the house while she smoked on the porch, and only coming back when the smell has dissipated enough to make it reasonably pleasant again. The not-so-nice part of me wants to be passive-aggressive and make a big deal out of it when I leave the room with the kids, but ultimately I realized that my MIL is genuinely trying to be considerate. She just doesn’t smell the smell anymore.

I think you have an entirely different issue than I did, though. It sounds like your dad smokes a lot and that he smokes throughout their entire house. Because you note that English isn’t your first language, I’m guessing that you might live in a country in which smoking is much more culturally acceptable than it is here in the US, and people smoke more heavily and in more places (in many locations in the US you can’t smoke in public places at all, only inyour own living space or outdoors). So it won’t be a simple issue of just moving to a different part of the house a couple of times a day.

The other thing that’s different is that you and your husband have serious physical reactions to being around so much smoke. With that kind of genetic history, there’s a strong chance that your baby will have bad reactions to cigarette smoke, too. It just won’t be safe to have a baby for long in a house full of smoke. I think we parents need to cut grandparents some slack about feeding and other issues that seem like huge deals to us, but aren’t actually going to be harmful in the long run. But this is something different. The bottom line is that you have to protect your child, even if that means taking a stand against your parents. Especially if it’s a medical issue.

I’m always telling people that when asked how/where/when their baby is sleeping they should just lie. That’s kind of my first principle of Parenting Without Taking On Other People’s Issues, Because You’ll Have Enough Of Your Own Anyway. My second principle of PWTOOPIBYHEOYOA is: "When you have to tell someone something they won’t want to hear, blame your pediatrician." This is a perfect application of that principle. If you explain the situation to your pediatrician, s/he will most certainly forbid you to stay at your parents’ house with the baby. So even if you don’t discuss it with your baby’s doctor, you can still say your ped told you the baby can’t stay in a house in which someone smokes. Period. End of disussion. They shouldn’t be offended by that, although they will, of course, but if you make it clear that it’s not your choice, but a medical issue, then that’s it.

I wonder if your dad will make an effort to quit or cut down, or at least keep parts of the house smoke-free, once you actually have a child. Grandparents sometimes really come around and surprise us once the grandchild is actually there. So you might want to take a wait and see attitude.

Another thing I think is part of this is that non-smokers resent the smokers we love keeping up a habit while will ultimately kill them. This resentment becomes especially fierce when we have kids, because it feels like a grandparent should care enough about their grandchild to want to give up smoking and live longer. Most experts agree that smoking is one of the hardest addictions to break, so I try to remember that it’s not as simple as saying "I’ve got these great grandchildren now, so let me throw away the butts." I also think that for lots of smokers, part of their identity is wrapped up in smoking (after all, most of them refer to themselves as "smokers," not as "people who smoke"). It’s a complicated dance to do, to let them know we’d help them quit if they want to, but not to push anything on them (NB: offering to buy your MIL a course of Wellbutrin, no matter how many people you know who’ve quit successfully using it, is not going to make things particularly comfortable at Christmas dinner).

I think you’ve assessed correctly that this is going to be a tough issue for your family. But you and your husband are going to have to present a united front to protect your child. If you make a special effort to see your parents as much as possible in a location that doesn’t allow your dad to smoke, you’ll be able to give your child plenty of time with his/her grandparents without compromising the baby’s health. And if you’re lucky, your standing firm might encourage your dad to cut down or even stop smoking.

Q&A: school time vs. time with traveling father

Bobbie writes:

"I have a question about my daughter and waswondering if you could help me.

My daughter is in Kindergarten and
is doing really good. She is where she needs to be and in some cases above where
she needs to be, but due to where school is new to her she has been sick a lot and
has missed 7 days alltogether. But the point I’m trying to get to is this. 
Her dad is gone on a business trip for 2 months and her and her father are very
close and she is missing him really bad. He has been gone for 2 weeks now and she
is to the point where she cries herself to sleep at night!

In two weeks we
planned to go up there for a few days but she can’t wait.  What should I
do?  I don’t want to get into trouble for her missing so many days or them
holding her back for going to the first grade.  Emotionally she is falling
apart because she has never been away from either one of us–maybe overnight, but
not weeks or months at a time. Mentally I don’t want her to behind in
school. Can you please help me?"

Your daughter needs to see her father.

Call the school and ask for a meeting with the teacher and principal for the next day, and go in and tell them what you told me. A kid who can’t function because she misses her dad so much is not going to do very well in school anyway, and the teacher and principal will understand that.

The principal will know what the legal guidelines are for your state about how many days she can miss and still go on to first grade. If she’s been sick those days shouldn’t count against her (but it depends on state law and whether she was sick enough to get a doctor’s note). You might have to get her assignments for the days you’re going to miss and do them with her while you’re gone.

Good luck. I hope the principal can give you good news that she’s in no danger of being held back, so call as soon as you can to talk to them. Your daughter sounds sweet, and the attachment she has to your husband is heartwarming. I hope the rest of his time away from your family flies by quickly so you can all be together again.

Q&A: Too much grandma time?

Liz writes:

"I have a wonderful, child-loving Mother-in-law. She loves taking care of my 18 mo. old son and often volunteers to take him on weekends. As a parent, I’m thrilled (duh!) to have some free time with my husband or just some extra wine and sleep. The problem is how much is too much of a good thing?? I’m sure it’s a reflection of my own insecurity but I’m afraid that my son will think grandma is more fun and will want to be with her more than us. I know that time will come when he will definitely prefer gramma to his own parents simply because she’ll let him get away with more. But, it broke my heart one day to hear him say "Mama" to my MIL.

It’s not that he stays at Gramma’s every weekend all weekend but probably every other for either one night or two. I absolutely want my son to have a wonderful relationship with a Grandmother that loves him but how do I do that without feeling guilty that I’m handing him off or that he’ll prefer her to us? I guess that other side to the equation is my own parents. They live further away from us than my MIL so they obviously don’t see my son as often. I’m so worried that my MIL is going to be become the preferred grandparent and my own parents will be the outsiders. However, the geography is a valid hurdle and it’s just not possible to see them all the time.

Wait, I’m not done yet 🙂 there’s more. I also have a nephew (my sister’s son) that lives very close to my parents. My folks see him all the time and he recognizes them and loves seeing them. They seem to lavish so much attention on him and I feel like my son gets the shaft. Again, the travelling is the issue. Maybe this is all very normal and I just don’t know how to deal with the guilt and worry on all issues. How do I deal with "super grandma" on the one side and "absentees-thru-no-fault-of-their-own grandparents" on the other side? I know that if the roles were reversed and my parents were super-close prandparents getting my son on the weekend and my MIL was absent I probably wouldn’t feel so twisted-up about it…."

Release the guilt. You’re in a mostly great situation, and once you start accepting that it’s normal and healthy you’ll be able to relax and enjoy it more.

It’s wonderful for your son that he gets to spend so much time with his grandma, who sounds just thrilled to be so involved with him. It sounds like the ideal situation, really, to have someone you love and trust who can take him enough to give you and your husband a break. You’re probably better parents because you have someone to share the load. It’s so much closer to the way humans are designed biologically to parent–in groups, not just lone families marooned in their own houses trying to hold it all together by themselves.

Actually, I take it back. It’s not the ideal situation. The ideal situation would be if your parents also lived close to you so your son could spend a bunch of time with your MIL and a bunch of time with them, too. I think you’ve correctly identified that a lot of your misgivings about your son spending so much time with your MIL stems from the fact that you’re sad he can’t spend as much time with your parents, and jealous that your sister’s son gets the attention your son can’t have because of distance. I’d say that you should think about how important it is for your mental health for your son to see your parents, and what form those visits should take.

As an example, we lived in the same town as my dad’s parents and 12 hours by car away from my mom’s parents. She and my dad decided that there was no way we could see my mom’s parents often, but we could see them for long enough visits that we got to know them that way. So every summer we’d spend at least two weeks with them at their house, and we’d try to go once during the school year for at least a week, too. I’m trying to do the same thing now with my kids (we live close to my ILs but 600 miles away from my family). There are things we can’t do because we prioritize visits to my family above other things we could spend money on. I sometimes feel like a pauper (especially compared to other families we know in NYC), but my sons know my parents as well as they can at this age.

So maybe instead of focusing on what your son isn’t getting because he doesn’t get to spend every weekend with your parents, you could think in terms of trying to give him one or two long visits with them in which you go to them or they come to you. Your sister’s son is still going to be the Everyday Grandson, just as your son is the Everyday Grandson for your MIL. Speaking from experience, that’s not such a bad thing. We got spoiled by one set of grandparents, and my cousins got spoiled by my mom’s parents. It kinds of balances out, and I didn’t feel any less love from my mom’s parents. And I knew both sets pretty intimately, because I saw one set all the time at home, but I’d spend intense time with the other set (14 days in a row) at regular intervals.

I’m sorry he called your MIL "mama"! That must have been brutal. But he absolutely knows who you are and who she is. If he hadn’t called her "Mama" that day he probably would have said it about the dog–18-month-olds are testing limits all the time, including limits of language. THis, in my opinion, is probably going to be the biggest challenge you’re going to face in the next two years of having him spend so much time with your MIL, since she’ll have different rules and expectations than you do. But your son is smart, adn he’ll test you all but you’ll figure it out. And it will be so valuable to him to have a grandmother he knows so intimately in his life.

So please don’t feel bad about it. Make your plan to get him more time with your parents, and then go have a glass of wine with your husband while your MIL is sitting through another round of Dora.

 

Q&A: one parent throws off another’s schedule

Christine writes:

"This is more of a family question. 

I’ve noticed that Max has both good and bad times with the
sleeping.  Things had been improving, a lot, particularly with the
daytime napping, and then they tanked.  Then they got better, then
worse, etc., and I’ve been trying to monitor what’s going on in the
house that may explain this.  I finally figured it out – things get bad
when my husband is around more during the day –  weekends or university
holidays (thus, the sleep disaster that was late December). 

I’m Max’s primary caretaker and while I’m not rigid with a
schedule, I do things a certain way and Max and I seemed to be getting
into a groove.  Paul does things differently, and I want to respect
that as much as possible, since there’s clearly more than one way to
skin a cat.  However, some things that Paul does result in poor or no
daytime naps and I pay for that at night.  Plus we end up with a
grumbly baby, and that’s no fun. 

I don’t want to usurp Paul, and I don’t want to imply that my way
is "right" or "more right."  And I really rely on the time off from
baby-care that Paul gives me during those times for my own sanity.  Can
Max adjust?  Do I try to force Paul into doing things my way?

P.S. Paul and I typically communicate really well, but I’m sensitive on
this.  I got a lot more confidence in my ability to handle Max before
Paul did…he’s still a little wavery, and I don’t want to shake that
at all."

There should be a name for this common syndrome. How about Other Parent Disruption Factor? (Not that you moms and dads who go off to work all day are other. We know you’re equal parents who are completely capable of caring for your children just as well as those of us who are the primary caregivers do. But "other parent" is just easier to say and type than "non-primary caregiver" is and less derogatory than "secondary caregiver" is.)

I don’t know a single family that doesn’t have or hasn’t had some form of this problem. I think yours is more intense because Max is still so young and his sleep isn’t really that solid anyway. He may also just be a sensitive kid, which is wonderful except on this particular topic. But OPDF seems to be one of those common things that no one talks about before it happens.

The thing that made it vastly better for us is something I don’t really recommend: My husband got laid off from his job. So he was home all the time (he and I both did freelance work and just traded the boy back and forth) and became part of the normal routine. For the 15 months he didn’t have a full-time job he was also a primary caregiver, and that helped make the OPDF almost non-existent.

Except, of course, that my husband has different energy than I do. So the routines were the same, and El Chico doesn’t sleep any differently after a day with his dad, but there are things he does with his dad that he’d never try with me and vice versa. Sometimes my husband and I will compare notes and we’re just stunned at how differently El Chico (and now El Pequeño) act when they’re alone with him vs. alone with me.

People (or at least me) talk all the time about how babies learn very quickly what the rules are with different people. The classic example is that grandparents are notorious for letting kids have all sorts of foods that they never get to have at home, and the kids learn not even to expect those foods at home. But I think kids also sense different expectations and energies from different people and respond to those.

The upshot is that I’m not sure there’s anything that you could do about Max’s reaction to Paul, even assuming you wanted to. The problem doesn’t really seem to be that Max is different with Paul, but that it’s ending up being your problem because Max has crappy nights after being with Paul all day. The good news is that the more time Max and Paul spend alone together, the more confident Paul will get and the less Max will have his sleep affected by Fun Day With Daddy. The bad news is that this won’t happen in the next few weeks, probably.

I wonder if you and Paul could try to troubleshoot the routine to see if there’s anything Paul could tweak while he’s alone with Max. It’s not about making Paul do things your way–it’s about deciding together that it’s important for a 9-month-old to nap, so the nap must be respected. How Paul gets him down for the nap has nothing to do with you, and you won’t even care about it, as long as a decent nap happens. If there are other things that contribute to bad sleep (like Daddy-Max Dance Party or something similar that gets Max all riled up), those could switch to morning or very early afternoon so they aren’t still having an effect by bedtime.

If the nap is a given (and, yes, a 9-month-old does need a nap every day, and most of them need two naps at that age), then it’s really not your business how it happens, and Paul and Max will work that out. So I’d focus less on the ethics and emotion of forcing your way on Paul, and just make it a stated value that whoever has Max on any given day respects the naps. Then when you come home and find them doing some strange trust exercise game involving Max launching himself off the couch onto Paul’s chest, you won’t even have to care because you’ll know at least he had a nap earlier.

Q&A: criticism from family on your parenting

Melanie writes:

"Ok, any thoughts on how to deal with relatives who constantly tell
me I am doing everything wrong?  I live overseas, so each week I talk
to my parents via phone and webcam, and then spend three weeks at their
place each summer.  Since my DD Zoë was born (she is 9 months this
week!), every single phone call is filled with statements like "Of
course she is still eating in the middle of the night – you’ve
conditioned her to do that because you actually give it to her", "I
hear her fussing again – that’s because you carry her around too much",
"If you keep breast feeding, none of the rest of us will every be able
to bond with her", "Her first word will definitely be Moneth, since you
are working" (Moneth is our nanny’s name), "She’ll never crawl if you
give her everything she wants all the time", "We gave you X, Y or Z and
you turned out just fine", "Just let her cry – she has to learn X, Y or
Z sometime", "You’re spoiling her because she is your first; just wait
until #2 comes along, then you’ll be a normal parent".

Despite
the fact that my mother is a nurse and social worker, she seems to
think that everything I read about child development or milestones and
how they manifest in behavior is completely stupid – she actually makes
fun of the fact that I consult books or the internet if I am curious
about something child related.  If I hear "You read that from a book,
didn’t you?" in that condescending voice one more time I may commit
matricide.  And I’m not even expert-obsessed or anything.  We have no
sleep plan and sort of do a combination of AP and just letting her take
the lead.  I guess we subscribe to the "go with the flow" style of
parenting.

All of this has DH and I very worried
about visiting in the summer.  I can just see them trying to take over
and steamroll straight to the chocolate cake and candy.  I’d like to
work on establishing some kind of control with decisions relating to my
DD before we head back to Canada, but every time I try to discuss any
of the reasons why I do things the way I do, I am ignored, dismissed or
ridiculed.

I’ve often suspected that part of the problem is that my mother takes
personally any choices I make as a parent that are not the same as
those she made with me – like this is some kind of statement that I
think she was a bad mother.  Yikes, I guess there is a lot of baggage
here.

Any thoughts on making any of this easier?"

I think you’ve got it pegged exactly about why your mother is doing this. It sounds like she’s taking everything you do differently as an indictment of the way she raised you. Know that you are not alone, that there are many parents who are suffering through this same kind of pain (because it is extremely hurtful and it tears you down) because their parents or in-laws haven’t made any peace with how they parented way back when.

As I see it, there are three things you can do here. You can do one or two or all of them, depending on how your relationship has been and how you want things to go. Let’s talk about strategy after I run through the options.

1. Validate your mom by asking her opinion on things you don’t actually care about. This is one my mother (who was judged horribly by her MIL in the first few months) used very effectively. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, my mom would ask her MIL for advice about small things. She’d also ask for stories about my dad and my uncle. After a month or so of asking for advice, she’d start to reply to the advice with something like "Isn’t it funny? Doctors tell us to do the exact opposite nowadays!" and then she’d talk about the new information, but she’d do it in a funny and totally validating way (my mom’s slick like that). But she’d already built up my grandmother by asking for so much advice that my grandmother kind of felt like a co-conspirator instead of like my mom was judging her for doing the stuff she did (some of which was downright cruel, but my grandmother did it because her doctor told her to and she thought she was doing the best thing for my dad). It took what could have been a painful experience for both my mom and my grandmother and turned it into a way for my grandmother to heal a little from some of her disappointments as a parent, and also made a greater bond between the two women.

(Wow. That got a little maudlin. Sorry.)

At any rate, if you ask your mom’s advice on "problems" you’re having (since you live so far away you could even make up stuff and she’d never know) that gives her a chance to be the expert and validates her as a smart and worthy parent. So she will most likely back off on the other stuff.

2. Confront the issue head-on. You could say to your mother, "Mom, I’ve been wanting to talk to you about something for a long time. I’ve noticed that you are very critical of many of the decisions we’ve made about raising Zoë, and that makes me feel very sad. I feel like you don’t trust me or think I’m a good mother. I want you to know that I appreciate the way you raised me, and that even though we’re doing some things differently from the way you did them, I think you were and are an amazing mom."

3. Draw your line in the sand. Tell your mother that if she continues to criticize and second-guess every decision you make, you won’t bring Zoë to see her this summer. You’re her parents, and you have to protect her from people who try to undermine your family.

Now, the strategy. If anyone is reading this and having this problem with an in-law, not your own family, you should really only try option #1. It’s the thing that will create positive change without stress, and it isn’t your job to change the way your in-laws behave. It’s your partner’s job to confront his or her family, if there’s going to be any confrontation.

For Melanie, I definitely recommend that you try #1, just because it’s the high road and is the least stressful option. Whether you do the other two depends on how your relationship has always been with your mother. If you think your mom is normally sensible but is just letting insecurity and her sadness at not being able to see Zoë more often get the better of her, then you should probably also go with #2. Just get it out in the open so she knows you love her but that her comments are hurting you.

If you’ve always had a more little-girl relationship with your mom, doing #2 might actually help start a different dynamic between you. It will force her to see you as an adult mother, not just a little girl.

If you do #1 for a few months and do #2 and the negativity continues (or intensifies), you might have to do #3. But be sure you’re willing to follow through if they won’t stop criticizing, because once you say it you can’t back down. I sincerely hope you don’t have to miss a visit with your family, but if it means that your parents realize you’re the heads of your own little family, then you might have to make that choice.

It will also help the situation if you just stop discussing some of the things you do that you know they won’t understand. And probably at least some of those things won’t even be issues once you get to Canada to see them. You may find that when your parents see your daughter in person and how healthy and happy and brilliant and capable she is they won’t have anything negative to say about how you’re raising her. The proof’s in the pudding, after all.

Another thing to consider is that Zoë will be old enough by the time you go home to understand that there are different rules at different houses (they understand it sooo much earlier than we think they can). So even if she gets stuffed full of chocolate and cookies at your parents’ house, she’ll know that that stuff is special at her grandparents’, and not what’s going to happen at home. If it helps keep the peace during an otherwise pleasant visit, you might consider letting some of the food and "spoiling" stuff slide (assuming Zoë has no allergy or other health issues).

Now, I’m supposed to be helping you think through this, not just commiserate with you, but some of the things they say are just nuts! How do you stand it? The only thing I can say from personal experience is that if you can keep the peace while also drawing your own boundaries, Zoë will be able to have loving and rich relationships with her grandparents. And when she’s an adult she’ll realize just how difficult your parents are and she’ll thank you for working so hard to allow her to have good relationships with them.

(Oh, and if your baby’s first word is "Moneth" I’ll eat my hat. It’ll be "ball" or "cookie" or your pet’s name, just like every other kid’s first word is.)

Updated to add: If you’re dealing with a particularly wily and passive-aggressive critic, check out Menita’s technique in the comments. Pure genius.

Q&A: missing the first week of Kindergarten

Tonya writes:

"I know your sons aren’t ready for Kindergarten yet, but I trust your opinion so here goes:

My sister lives in another state and she’s getting married this year. She wants to get married on Labor Day weekend.  My sister wants my daughter to be her flower girl. Unfortunately, my daughter is starting Kindergarten this fall. School will probably start the week before Labor Day, so I’d have to take my daughter out of school at least one day if not the whole week to be at the wedding. (We would be driving to the wedding because we can’t afford to fly, and the trip is about 13 hours of driving, so 2 days of driving.) I’m not willing to do this because I think that my daughter will miss out on the friendships that occur on the first few days of school. Do you think I’m overreacting? I feel bad for making my sister choose a different date for the wedding, but I also need to be an advocate for my daughter. My daughter goes to daycare/preschool everyday because I work out of the home, so I know my daughter will not have problems adjusting to being away from me. I also don’t think she will have problems making friends at Kindergarten, I just want to make sure she has every opportunity to do that."

Thanks for the vote of confidence–I hope I can live up to your expectations.

I’m going to completely leave your daughter out of it for a minute, and suggest that your sister should not have her wedding on Labor Day to begin with. It sounds like a great idea to have a wedding on a holiday weekend, because everyone has that day off so they can take an extra day after the wedding. But in reality, you’re costing them more money because all plane tickets are super-expensive on a holiday weekend, and hotels are more expensive. Plus, you’re robbing them of a holiday weekend they could otherwise spend going somewhere else or just sleeping in and drinking beer and barbecuing in the backyard or doing whatever they like to do best. Which is most certainly not going to a wedding, no matter how much they love you and want you to have lifelong happiness. (Unless they really love the Electric Slide.) So it’s actually a favor to your guests not to have your wedding on a holiday weekend.

You know, it just occurred to me that if you could convince your sister not to have the wedding on Labor Day weekend for the above reasons, then your daughter could be completely left out of it. Which would just make it easier for everyone involved.

The actual issue of whether or not missing the first few days of school is going to hurt her socially is a tough one. It’s absolutely true that she’ll be able to make friends even if she misses a few days at the very beginning of school. However, it’s also true that missing time in the first week will put her at a disadvantage and might make her feel insecure and confused. I don’t know your daughter’s personality, either. Some kids can just hop right in and not feel self-conscious. If it had been me at that age, missing a few days at the beginning of school would have made me even shier and hesitant than I already was (with the other kids–with grown-ups I was fine). Kindergarteners can be tough.

If you think it’s going to make it awful for your daughter to miss those days, then you have to go with your gut. But honestly, I’d try to see if your sister will move the wedding date (although it’s probably a little late for that by now since it’s only 8 months away) just to make it easier for her guests. If that works, then you won’t even have to consider the issue with your daughter.

Let us know what happens.

Q&A: “spoiling” a sick baby

MFAMama asks:

"I’m a WAHM with three boys aged four, seventeen months, and ten weeks.The little one has been very ill all his life (soy and dairy protein
allergies, reflux, esophagitis, weight loss, dehydration, and then a
bout with RSV that didn’t help matters AT ALL).  He has had two
prolonged hospital stays (during which I abandoned the older two to
their father and a succession of friends and family members and stayed
by his side 24/7) and is currently dependent on an NG tube (which I had
to learn to reinsert if it comes out) for all of his feedings and
medications.  His feedings are every two and a half to three hours, and
he gets two medications a total of five times per day at timed
intervals (one twice a day half an hour before a feeding, the other
three times a day one hour before a feeding).  Using the NG tube to
feed and medicate him is complicated and, if done incorrectly,
potentially fatal (you have to learn to use a stethoscope and check the
tube’s "placement" before putting anything down it for fear of dumping
it into his lungs), and as a result I can’t leave him with anybody,
ever (my husband works outside the home and is squeamish of infants in
general, nevermind infants with NG tubes, and we can’t afford to hire a
nurse to babysit). 

The baby’s prognosis overall at this point is good,
but he is expected to need the NG tube for at least another month and
possibly several.  All issues of my personal sleep and sanity aside,
I’m worried about the effect his illness has/will have on my other two
children, and on my relationship with the people around me.  My husband
and I are on the same page (thank goodness), but already I have caught
some heat from "well-meaning" family and friends about leaving the
other two to stay with the little guy in the hospital, and have started
to hear a lot of remarks about "spoiling" and "how IS Mr.
Center-of-the-Universe today, anyway?"  While some friends and family
have amazed me with their empathy and willingness to help, it has been
implied by others that I am neglecting or sleighting my other children
by caring for the littlest one’s special needs or else creating a
monster by keeping the baby in my line of sight around the clock, but
a) if he pulls the tube partway out and I don’t see him do it and help
him he could die from that, and b) crying excessively aggravates his
condition and even if I did not tend to "spoil" babies anyway there
wouldn’t be any other option but to soothe him by any means that will
work even if it means carrying him around for six hours, give or take.

 
Can you think of any way to mitigate the damage to my older children?
The middle guy is, IMO, less oblivious than you might think; he has a
twenty-plus word vocabulary that does not include "Mommy" and asks for
Daddy when he is upset.  And the four-year-old has been misbehaving in
ways that are not like him (being mean to his brother, disobeying me
and my husband, talking back).

   Also, do you have any ideas on how to respond to the
people (ranging from strangers to dear friends and family) who make
these ignorant remarks in a way that will hopefully alienate them as
little as possible but also let them know in no uncertain terms that
the things they say are inappropriate and hurtful?"


What is wrong with people?

What the fucking hell is wrong with people?!

It sounds to me like you guys are in a truly shitty situation, and everyone (in your house) is responding in the most appropriate way possible. You are caring for your teeny tiny baby, who needs his mother more than anything else at this point. Your husband is caring for your other children. Your oldest is acting out because of the stress and fear, which is all he can do and is completely reasonable in this situation. Your middle child is turning more to daddy. Everyone is doing what they need to do to get through this crisis.

You all know I’m not a psychologist, but I firmly believe that your older two will have no lasting effects from this short period of time. In another year, they won’t remember that the baby was sick and they didn’t have full-time access to you while you were tending to the baby. If anything, they’ll remember that they hung out with dad and other people a lot then. But unless this turns into an ongoing, lifelong health problem that means the baby is always the biggest priority, this isn’t going to be any more significant or stressful than it would be if you guys were moving cross-country or doing something else that disrupts things for a matter of a few months. Thank goodness humans are so flexible and adaptive.

I cannot believe that anyone is giving you crap about caring for your baby. He needs you. He’s only 10 weeks old. Who thinks you can spoil a baby that young anyway, let alone a sick baby? You’re supposed to just toss him to the wolves? Anyone who makes an even remotely negative comments about the way you are nursing your child to health (when half of us couldn’t even hold things together for 10 minutes under your circumstances!) is being unreasonable. Inappropriate, unreasonable, and cruel.

But I can understand that you don’t want to and can’t tell people to screw off because a) you love some of them, and b) you need their help. So I’m going to suggest going on lockdown and only making contact with the bare minimum of people you need to. First, figure out who you can trust to care for the older two kids while your husband’s at work. Sit down and be completely honest with them about how you are at the breaking point, the baby needs you, and without their help for the next two months you won’t be able to make it through. If they give you any pushback about leaving the baby, ask them in all seriousness if they have any better ideas about how the baby can get the constant care he needs. Either they’ll come up with something, or they’ll shut up about it.

Second, see if you can find a nursing student or hypochondriac medical hobbyist who can learn to do the tube stuff for the little guy, and who can come spell you for 1-2 hours every day. (You may have to pay for this, but you can probably get the person for the same rate as a babysitter, not a RN.) Then make sure you spend that time with your older two so they still get a little bit of cup-filling from you, even though things will be better in a month or two.

Third, don’t talk to anyone else. Let your machine pick up the phone. Or see if your husband will field all phone calls. You’ve got enough stress and don’t need anyone else adding to it, so blow any non-essential personnel off for the time being.

Now, if it were me I’d just play the manipulation card with my close friends and family. If anyone made any negative comments about my caring for the baby I’d burst into tears and talk to them in that jerky, hiccupping voice and "confess" that I was at the breaking point because if I didn’t care for the baby he’d die and an infant needs his mother, but I was beginning to wonder if I was a bad mother and horrible person because people were always criticizing me and all I wanted to do was take care of my baby so he didn’t die. The recipient would probably be too freaked out to mention anything stupid again. Or maybe they’d feel so sorry for me that they’d volunteer to help some way. In either case, they’d stop saying stupid stuff.

But I don’t know if that’s your personality. So maybe you want to practice saying, "I’m sure you can understand that I have to be with my sick child during this serious medical crisis" and nothing else. If you don’t engage any further they should get bored and drop it. And you shouldn’t be talking to anyone but the people you really need to talk to now anyway.

I know there are parents out there who have gone through similar crises with sick children (or multiples with one in the NICU and one or more at home) and can give some support. I am furious on your behalf at the unreasonable (unreasonable!) comments and lack of support you are getting from the people who should be helping you through this. You are a great mother and your children are lucky to have you.

Q&A: Reclaiming yourself

Jen asks:

"Hi Moxie,

I have always been a fan of your advice and am so thrilled you started an advice column. I hope you can shed some light on my situation.

I gave birth to Sophie after a rather stressful and often times gloomy pregnancy that was plagued by one darn thing after another. I thought to myself that at her birth we’d reach this crescendo and all would be so great afterwards. Only, it sort of didn’t happen that way.

Sophie screamed nonstop from birth, had apnea spells, plateaued her weight gain and in her 4th week of life slept 20 minutes a day. Her 5th week was no better when we saw a single hour of sleep. She screamed, vomited copious amounts of everything and gorged herself on the breast. We were feeding ever 15 minutes. Finally, by the grace of G-d, we got into a Paed’s office and she was diagnosed with severe silent reflux. Since then we’ve battled on with a severe reaction to a drug, balancing 2 medicines daily and teaching her how to sleep and eat properly.

Now at almost 16 weeks things are starting to settle down (I never expect life to be ‘settled’) but I’ve developed PTSD amid PPD and was diagnosed with physical exhaustion and have been put on anti-anxiety meds and an antidepressant. I’m feeling ok about that (nervous about the drugs in the breastmilk) but the doctor ordered me to take some time out for me. Get a sitter a couple hours a week and go do things for me. Take an overnight holiday he said.

And with Christmas coming up all the relatives and friends want to ‘do things’ for me and give me gifts. And I just can’t let them. I guess I feel no one would know how to cope with Sophie’s meltdowns or how to soothe her, how to give her medicine, etc. I feel such anxiety over it. So I’ve declined to let anyone watch her. I’ve worked a way to have about 30 minutes to myself a day and that feels really good.

But I’m suddenly stuck wondering where I’ve gone. In those 30 minutes I’m supposed to do something I like. Only, I don’t even remember what I like and none of my old hobbies appeal. I’m too tired to go jogging or go swimming as was suggested by the doctor and I just want to hole up and hide. I already bathe with Sophie as a means of destressing so it’s not like I want another bath. I can’t even tell people what I’d like for a Christmas gift because I can’t even feel desire for anything — not even chocolate or cake!

Is this just part of the depression? Where on earth have I gone!? I know they say the AD’s don’t change you but I sort of want it to — I want some of me back!"

Thank you!

If it makes you feel at all better, I think you’re having a
completely normal reaction to an abnormal situation that’s become
normal for us. If that makes any sense. Let me explain.

I think the way we parent is absolutely nuts. We are all isolated in
our own little houses trying to stay interested and keep our heads
above water being alone with a baby for the whole day. That’s just not
normal. Humans are created to be around other humans, and not just
teeny tiny humans.

We should all be living as tribes or small villages. If we lived
with other people around us, parenting wouldn’t be as stressful or
isolating, because we’d be talking to other adults all day. And they’d
help us raise our children. Need to take a nap? One of the old ladies
or teenagers would be happy to play with your baby for an hour or two.
Feeling frustrated? One of the moms of older kids would help give you a
little perspective, and you’d look at her kids and see the light at the
end of the tunnel. Need some time alone with your husband? Your baby
can crawl around with the other babies at a neighbor’s house. In short,
you wouldn’t be in this predicament in the first place.

So that’s the abnormal part. Now, I think your reactions to this are
completely normal. I felt, and I know lots and lots of other moms who
felt, a physical and emotional pull toward our babies that was
shocking. Before I had El Chico I thought for sure I’d be happy to
leave him with a babysitter for a few hours at a time. But then once he
was here I just couldn’t imagine it. He was part of me, and when I
wasn’t with him I couldn’t even imagine what I’d do. My husband would
say, "Honey, just go out for an hour or two and do whatever you want.
We’ll be fine here without you." I had no worries whatsoever about the
two of them together, but I literally could not think of a single thing
to do by myself. I’d usually end up wandering aimlessly through the
aisles at the grocery store.

I know I’m not the only one who had this same experience (anyone
else who wants to pipe in, feel free, especially adoptive moms, because
my suspicion is that you have the same exact experience as bio moms
with the separation thing, but I don’t know as I’m not an adoptive
mom). I think it’s partly biological (the same way we become forgetful
during pregnancy), and partly emotional (because of the love and
connection we feel for our babies) and partly a result of stress (sleep
deprivation, recovering from pregnancy, wondering who the hell we are
anymore). But it’s normal.

In my experience, it started to go away once my baby started
crawling. Funny, isn’t it, that as soon as he could start to leave me I
was ready to start to leave him a little? I can’t believe it’s just a
coincidence.

So, in the meantime, what do you do to get some relief? Well,
knowing that how you feel about being away from Sophie is normal and
not something to be worried about or "cured," I’d say you should ask
for things that will get you more support and contact from people who
care about you while you’re with Sophie. Ask people to come
over and bring you lunch and stay for an hour or two. Yes, they’ll
probably hold Sophie while you go to the bathroom or toss in a load of
laundry, but the point won’t be for them to babysit her. The point will
be to create more of a community to help support you both (and your
husband, too, of course). Ask for people to give you a gift certificate
of their time to come sort through baby clothes with you, or paint some
room that needs to be painted, or go to the zoo with you, etc.

In the meantime, have you started going to any groups for moms of
new babies? I think peer support is absolutely critical for new
mothers. You can find friends at breastfeeding support groups, baby
classes, the public library, La Leche League, and hospital support
groups. These groups can also help you organize your week by giving you
something to look forward to and plan around.

Once you start feeling
like you’re not so trapped in your own head, you’ll have a little room
to breathe and you’ll start to get interested in the things you used to
be interested in. Maybe you’ll join a book club (once a month leaving
Sophie with your husband for a few hours won’t seem like anything by
then) or train for running races (with Sophie along).

I’m going to disagree with your doctor here that you should go on an
overnight by yourself. Not because I think there’s anything wrong or
unnatural about a mother going away from her baby, but because I know I
couldn’t have done it when mine were that age. I would have gone into a
full-blown panic attack because it would just have felt so wrong to me.
But I know it’s not that way forever, and won’t be for you, so don’t
feel like you have to force yourself to do something you don’t think is
right for you.

If you don’t feel like leaving her yet, don’t. But try to bring the
outside world, and the people who care about you, into your life more.
You’ll get your old self (actually it’ll be your new, improved self)
back soon enough once you start to reenter the world. (And if you need
to ask for physical things for Christmas, ask for a great jogging
stroller–so you can walk or run with Sophie–and some Lilypadz–if
she’s been nursing every 15 minutes you probably have a heck of a
supply and are probably leaking a lot at night!)