Category Archives: What is wrong with people?

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: wintertime dressing, feeding solids, delaying development on purpose

Melanie (whose twins are 9 months old) writes:

"Issue 1:  I don’t know how to dress these babies!  First there was the overheating = SIDS issue, but since they are past the main risk period, I’m not so concerned.  I get very caught up in believing Hayden (who runs hot) should be dressed lighter than Zoey (who runs cold).  So the house is at about 60 degrees+ drafts and most days I’ve got them in long-sleeve onesies and sleepers.  Is this enough? If not, please lay out what you would dress them in.  Very specifically, so my brain won’t try to overthink it.

Issue 2: Feeding.  We started solids at 6 mos.  They are each nursing about 7 times a day.  We’ve been doing "dinner" for 3 months, and last week I began with "lunch" & watered-down juice.  (BTW, 2-3 oz of watery juice during the late afternoon grumpiness is very helpful!) So they are getting about 3 ice cubes of food twice a day.  Is that enough?  I suspect they should be slightly nursing less at this age, but I confess I view that as moving towards he days when they’re all grown up so I’m not eager to push it.  But I am wondering if they’re getting enough food.  They don’t seem willing to eat much more at a sitting– might I need to add another meal, even if it means letting them grow up??

Mini-Issue:  Another mom at playgroup has attempted to slow her child’s progression to mobility by sitting them up and handing them toys instead of encouraging them to roll on their tummies and reach for toys.  She figures dealing with a mobile child is easier if said child has a little more language comprehension.  And it’s not as if you could stop them —  my kids often practice rocking & crawling during naps.  So what think you on the idea of attempting to delay crawling by a couple weeks?  Is the common drive for early mobility good parenting or just the beginnings of  ‘must-be-able-to-compete-in-modern-world’ overacheiver-ism?"

OK, I was really thinking this email through and deciding how to answer issues number 1 and 2, and then I got to the mini-issue. At first I laughed a loopy "What-is-wrong-with-people?" kind of laugh that made my husband say "What’s so funny, Cacklepuss?".

But then I thought, "Why the hell not?" I mean, people bound girls’ feet for years to prevent them from developing normally, and in some cultures kids were given opium so they wouldn’t get into trouble while their parents were out plowing the fields. And they all turned out fine*. So why not hand them things so they won’t reach for them in hopes of trying to delay their development?

Because it’s both futile and a little nutty, is why. Even kids in seriously deprived situations learn to crawl, so why would you actually try to prevent it? I completely understand the mom’s point that an older baby has better judgement, but they’re babies. How much more judgement are they really going to have in a month or two anyway?  Frankly, I think she should be putting all this energy into babyproofing her house, because time waits for no mom, and they’re going to be crawling soon whether she likes it or not. In the meantime, what’s she going to do when they start learning to walk? The mind boggles.

FWIW, I think there’s so much ridiculousness going on in the Parenting Industry right now with thousands of products to make our babies smarter and more advanced. I don’t think they work. And, even if they do, who cares? We need our 8-month-olds to have one extra IQ point or walk two days early? Sounds like too much time on our hands, and too much pressure on our kids. Personally, I choose media products based on how funny they are, and whether the kid will watch them for half an hour so I can put in some laundry and catch a shower. (And if he happened to learn the alphabet or his numbers from them before he was 2, well, that couldn’t be helped.)

Now, to Issue 1: You’re talking about dressing them for bed, right? Shhh–don’t tell anyone, but I actually put a blanket on my baby. You might feel better with a light blanket on them at the beginning of the night (over the onesie and sleeper you’ve got them in already). Then if they feel hot in the night you can always take it off them. In a few months they’ll be able to kick it off themselves if they don’t like it.

Anyway, the rule to tell if they’re warm enough is to feel the back of the neck. If it’s warm, they’re fine. (People always think it’s the hands or the feet, but plenty of kids have hands and feet that always run a little cold, so that’s no great indicator.)

Issue 2: At this age, eating is still for fun, and they’re getting most of their nutrition from nursing or formula. If they like eating, try adding another meal, since volume isn’t what you’re really concerned with at this age. Practice and exposure are. So maybe try giving them some kind of finger foods to see how they do. Cheerios, Veggie Booty, cut pieces of ripe banana or avocado, smushed beans, etc. Of course they’ll be fine if you don’t give them another meal, but if you’re willing to let them grow up just a teensy bit 🙂 they’ll find the self-feeding fun. Just whatever you do, don’t let them watch Baby Einstein while they eat, or they’ll be ready to move out of the house next week.

*Please note I’m being sarcastic. This is my least favorite excuse for why people should persist in parenting decisions that have been shown to be less than optimal. "We never had carseats, and we turned out fine." Yes. You sure did.

Brief Nap

Ah, the bittersweet irony of having Sleep Week on Ask Moxie right now.

El Pequeño just got two more teeth, and his gums are swollen and sore, and he’s been sleeping really poorly, and yelping constantly in his sleep, and wanting to nurse nonstop.

El Chico has woken up at 4 or 5 every night this week, for various reasons, ranging from "hearing a funny voice" to being "afraid to go to the bathroom in the dark."

Oh, and did I mention that the cat is nuts and has been receiving messages from the mothership that compel her to yowl in my ear at all hours?

So I’ll get the next few sleep questions up over the course of Friday and Saturday, and then move on to the questions that don’t make me feel like a tired, cranky hypocrite.

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.