Thursday, July 21, 2005

You Can't do Everything!

As I work with families, I am amazed at the variety of ways there are to be a family. Through the years I have seen just about every type, shape and figure a family can come in. I've seen them rich, poor, big and small, happy and sad, living easy lives and hard ones too. I am not one to make judgement on a family, I know that we all do what works for us. However, if there were one piece of advice I'd dispense, knowing for sure that it's the right thing for everyone, it would be this:

You can't do everything, so prioritize family time.

I'm pretty sure you've thought that too. I know that time with your family is something no one else can give you. I know that time with your kids is irreplaceable, even a lazy day at home. I know from experience that it's not the big vacations you'll look fondly back at, but the sweet, every day rhythm of life. We get caught up in the doing of things, the going, seeing, getting and buying. The accomplishing, the competing, the winning.

I know that when the children are no longer in your hands, you'll think back and remember the tucking into bed, the millionth time reading the same book, the singing, the laughing, the games. These are the things that will last.

One of my very favorite memories was one summer day when I was working as a nanny. The children (there were 4: 2 year old twin boys and their 8 and 11 year old big sisters) were restless and ancy. The house needed chores to be done, there was a mountain of laundry, we needed to go to costco and the regular grocery store, and none of us wanted to do it! So, in the best interest of all our happiness, we created together a wonderful day. We hit the grocery store getting the necessities, then rushed home, and worked together to put the groceries away. Since it was a very hot day (yes, it gets hot in Seattle!) we decided to create a "virtual beach" in the front yard.

We pulled every single toy we had that related to beaches, water, and sand, and piled them in the front yard. We filled the plastic pool, got the sprinkler set up, and everyone in their suits and lathered up with sunscreen. We brought out cool drinks and snacks, books to read, and had the most luxurious wonderful day I can remember.

I know that that day sits in my memory, because we chose to prioritize life. Not the doing, accomplishing and competing; but the fun, the love, the creativity that life with children is.

I hope tomorrow you'll try the same, and experience the joy of a lazy day with children, knowing that the floor can be swept later, the laundry will wait, and that life won't.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Why is my 3 month old crying inconsolably?

This is a question recently posed to me by one of my clients. Her baby is happy and fine during the day, and in the evening hours before bed cries for 1-2 hours until finally going to sleep for the night. She told me that recently there was a long discussion board topic on this at a site she visits. Apparently there are alot of tearful 3 month olds out there! So I did some research this weekend, and perused my memory to remember previous 3 month olds I've worked with that did the same thing.

The thing that stands out in my mind is that these babies are really just fine, and the crying isn't colicky crying. So why are they crying?

Turning 3 months old is alot different than when they were 2 months old - alot different. They're much more aware, more physically able and active. One theory is that they are overstimulated by the end of the day, and the crying is releasing stress. Tears that are from stress have a different chemical makeup than other tears! They really are releasing the stress horomones. "Having a good cry" really is a good thing!

If your baby is crying and crying, and you've done everything that usually works to soothe:
1)All her physical needs are met; she's not hungry, wet, gassy, there aren't any small threads wrapped around her tiny fingers or toes, etc.
2)It doesn't seem to be a painful cry, which you might associate with illness or colick
Then I would allow that she is indeed okay, and letting off steam!

What can you do?

-Make sure to spend lots of good contact time with baby during the day. Take a nap together, have skin to skin contact, or wear baby in a sling or other carrier while doing chores or errands.

-Try not to do too much during the day. Keep outings short and sweet, if possible. I know that with older children in the home this can be impossible. If baby is in day care, make sure that she's getting enough touch time, and isn't spending her day in a crib. That would make anyone tearful!

-Make sure day naps go well, get some sleep coaching if they're not. Babies who sleep well during the day usually sleep well at night.

-Explore your diet to see if there might be something you're eating that may be aggravating your baby's system.

-Maintain your cool. This crying is not about you, your parenting, or something you've done wrong. Baby needs to cry to feel better and be relaxed enough to sleep. Soon, he'll learn easier on the stress horomones ways to soothe himself - sucking on his fist, listening to your sweet mama voice, or watching lights and colors. Get support if you need it! Ask friends who've offered to help if they would come hang out with you during these tearful hours. Ask if the can hold the baby, or get yourself out of the house. It's okay to take a walk with a crying baby in the neighborhood.

This is temporary. It's a phase. It will stop. These are great words to repeat to yourself. When baby finally does sleep, make sure to take a long sweet drink of their peaceful face so you'll remember this sweetness the best.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Attachment Parenting and other styles

I met with a wonderful couple the other day, who are going to be new parents in just days. They had a very common concern, one that all who want to be great parents have. What is the best way to parent our new baby? "Should we do like my mom said?" asked Angie. "Or should we follow the book our friend gave us?" asked John. They were clear on a few things they definately didn't want to do, like allow the baby to cry to sleep (Ferberizing) which I was very glad to hear.

Aside... When you ignore your baby's cries you are telling baby that you aren't going to help him. He in turn will eventually fall asleep, but with shock and trauma. He'll also learn not to cry for you, or in desperation for attention and the help he needs, cry even more, and throughout the day, not just at sleep times.

Angie and John though, were still confused. One book told them to pick up the baby whenever she cried, and another told them to let them cry in increasing increments until she slept. Angie's mom told her that holding the baby all the time would spoil her. John's mom said the opposite. Indeed, what to do?!

I spoke with them at length about their wishes, dreams and desires; for what will make them feel good about their parenting, how they wish they'd been treated as a baby and child, and the importance of helping your child learn the skills they'll need for a lifetime. In the end, the conclusion was made. They'll do what's right in the moment. Following their intuition, doing what is best, not what's easy. They're going to create their own family culture, their own traditions.

What brave, wonderful parents they will be.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Defining your family as unique: Family traditions and holidays

Happy 4th of July! Growing up, I loved holidays, and still do. To me, every holiday has its own traditions and events that just have to occur or it just doesn’t feel right. My Mom did a great job of incorporating fun and meaningful traditions into our holidays that made them feel special, without extravagant costs or time commitments. My favorites:

4th of July requires fireworks! We never did our own consistently, but living on Queen Anne Hill in Seattle, we had a wonderful view of the free shows in Puget Sound. We’d often invite friends and family for a shared meal (kabobs made by everyone and then bbq’d were so much fun!), and then visiting, and then would walk to see the fireworks. It was always a fun night, even when it rained!

Halloween in our home meant home-made costumes, with creative accessories and make-up. We’d use our own pillowcases for candy (holds a ton!). Mom would generally give out raisins to the trick or treaters, which I found sadly healthy, but it was tradition. We’d trick or treat walking from door to door with friends in the neighborhood, and have a great time! To this day I believe that while you’re trick or treating, you should eat all the candy you want, then have two pieces a day until it’s gone. Great candy boundaries!

Thanksgiving always meant family. Through the years, we’ve adopted new aunts and uncles, and others, and that has made our family what it is. I believe that you may be born into a family, but it’s up to you to add to it! To this day, I’m taking on new sisters, nieces and nephews, and aunts, to make my own family just right. Celebrating the wealth of food we enjoy, the great cooking of everyone who lends a hand, and seeing everyone’s favorite dish on the table is a yearly joy to look forward to.

Christmas has two parts in our family: Christmas Eve is for a fun friends and family potluck and gift exchange. I love giving gifts and enjoy looking for them throughout the year. It reduces the stress right before the holidays if most of your gifts were bought throughout the year! Christmas Morning is for the nuclear family, stockings, gifts for the family pets to open, breakfast with popovers required! Then gifts that get opened in turn, from youngest to oldest. These days, this takes until the afternoon! Then, a Christmas afternoon walk and a dinner of leftovers from the Christmas Eve gathering makes for a wonderful and sweet, quiet Christmas.

Easter is for brunch, egg hunting and Easter baskets! Even as adults, we still enjoy our Easter gifts and chocolates! We’ve started a new tradition for the new generation of hiding plastic eggs filled with stickers, small toys and jelly beans. Re-using the plastic eggs from year to year and filling them with mostly non-edibles works great for our family values.

Whatever you do with your family at the holidays, make sure it fits for you and your family. Don’t be afraid to try something new, or consider asking your family to do something differently. If you’re just starting your family, what a great blank slate you have! Enjoy creating your own family traditions!