Category: Babies

The {Bedtime} Struggle Is Real

bedtime-struggle

I’ve mentioned many times that my family is a co-sleeping one. We love sharing our bed with our precious son, and couldn’t imagine sleeping in a separate room from him. Those snuggles, special memories, and the closeness and security we all feel being together are priceless. There are moments we’ve been able to enjoy that would never have happened if we weren’t co-sleepers, like hearing Cody’s first laugh, in his sleep in the middle of the night when he was two months old. Being pat gently on the face and greeted, “hi mama,” first thing in the morning is another thing I treasure.

Plus, when you’re breastfeeding on-demand with a high-need baby, co-sleeping is really the only way to go. Rolling over to nurse and falling back asleep is so much better than trudging down the hall, nursing in a chair, re-settling the baby in the crib, and then dragging yourself back to bed. Co-sleeping has allowed me to be an active nighttime parent without sacrificing sleep any more than necessary. And even though my sleep has been interrupted every night for more than the past two years, it has still been adequate and I have never felt sleep-deprived. It may not be for everyone, but co-sleeping is definitely for us!

Yet one thing I have sometimes felt misled about when it comes to co-sleeping is the idea that doing so will lessen bedtime battles and bedtime anxiety. The idea is that since your child knows you will be with them throughout the night, they don’t fight bedtime as much as other kids who are dreading the long period of separation. Yet for us, bedtime has been an increasingly challenging routine.

It started with Cody occasionally having a hard time falling asleep, or seeming “wired” at bedtime. Then it became a common situation to spend up to an hour trying to put him to sleep. As attachment parents, we don’t believe in sleep training, and we have always helped Cody go to sleep by nursing, rocking, and snuggling in bed. But we came to a point where none of that was working. We’d already been using white noise, blackout curtains, and a consistent bedtime routine. We started eliminating any screen time within a couple of hours of bedtime. We tried putting him to bed earlier, or later, or at a more consistent time. Nothing seemed to help! Finally, we tried giving him a very small dose of melatonin on nights when he was taking over 30 minutes to fall asleep. When that became almost every night for about two weeks, we finally decided that something had to change. We were not comfortable relying on drugs to get him to sleep!

I did some research, weeded through the sleep-training sales pitches, and finally came across an article written by a fellow attachment parent and co-sleeper, describing exactly my problem. The solution was simple, but kind of sucked: making your bedtime the same as your child’s. At first I was resistant. Cory and I have really enjoyed our hour or two of alone time to relax together at night. We also often used some of that time to catch up on chores. Losing it was not an appealing idea. Yet as I read this article, I realized the truth of the matter, which was that many nights we weren’t getting that time anymore anyway. At this point, we were spending an hour or more putting Cody to bed, and then pushing our bedtime out further and further just to have 45 minutes or less of time to ourselves. It was inefficient, stressful, and pointless.

We knew that we had two realistic choices. We could sleep train our toddler, going against our instincts as parents and undermining the strong attachment and sense of security we have built with Cody since his birth. Or, we could make another sacrifice on this parenting journey, and start going to sleep with him to put an end to his bedtime anxiety.

Attachment parenting is many things, but easy and convenient are not the words I would use. And you know what? That’s okay. Parenting shouldn’t be easy or convenient. Parenting should be about sacrifice. It’s about giving everything you have and are to raise your children to be the best they can be. It’s not always fun, and it’s not always comfortable. But boy, is it worth it. That love… it’s like nothing else.

So we followed the way of love, and gave up our alone time to help Cody have a better bedtime. It has been so much easier already. The bonus is that even though we don’t have that alone time, we do get more sleep, which I desperately need now that I’m pregnant. Plus, Cory can get up earlier in the morning and have time to himself for working on his personal projects, which works out really well considering the morning is his most productive time of day. I still get my alone time every day during his nap, which has been really good for a long time! I think it’s interesting that he has no issues going down for naps (except on the days when he randomly decides to skip it), but bedtime has been so difficult. This kid likes to keep things interesting!

Anyway, Cory and I still have time alone on the weekends during Cody’s naps, and we allow ourselves TV time in the evening even with Cody around. He’s going to be a very “cultured” child, you could say. 😉 There may be a time when we decide that “adult” TV isn’t appropriate for him, but for now, we’re okay with him being exposed to the stuff we watch. We tend to be fairly protective over what images and words and themes go into our minds anyway. But that’s a topic for another post.

As far as bedtime goes, it has been stress-free since we made the change. He still doesn’t go to sleep very quickly yet, but at least now we’re using that time to fall asleep ourselves, rather than laying awake and waiting for him to fall asleep. And I can say one thing for sure; I have been enjoying the extra sleep for myself.

We’re Expecting!

pregnancy-announcement

Happy New Year, readers!

I hope you and your family have an excellent year full of joy, growth, and life at its fullest.

This year is going to be an exciting one for my family, because we’re expecting our second baby in August!

At just six weeks pregnant, it’s amazing to know that our little baby already has a heart that’s beating and the beginnings of arms, legs, and facial features. How unbelievable is the miracle of life? God’s creative power never ceases to amaze me. We can’t wait to welcome our second babe into the world. <3

What I’m Into in December

december-char

December has been a month of great joy and sadness for my family. I love the holiday season, and enjoy spending special times with my extended family. We are happy to have a low-stress Christmas planned this year, with only one short trip to Orange County and the rest of our time spent locally. We also decided to go super simple on gifts this year; we bought a few toys for Cody, a few gifts for ourselves as a family, and we are giving all of our loved ones homemade cookies and eggnog. It’s going to be a long week of baking, but there was no stress about financing our gifting this year, so it’s worth it! We also have an artificial tree, and we decided not to buy any extra decorations this year. Those things have helped us to enjoy Christmas without worrying about money, which is how it should be anyway. We’re able to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, celebrating the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ!

We are also excited about our decision to try for another baby, which we were originally planning to postpone until April. Starting in January, I will be back in training as a Christian Life Coach, in the same program I started just before becoming pregnant with Cody. I left the program because I felt too sick and tired from being pregnant and I felt that it was time to focus on the next chapter in my life, parenthood. But now, I feel ready and excited to jump back in, and figure out how to balance parenting and working as a work-at-home mom. I also will be in training to become a Hypnobabies Instructor in April, a dream I have had since using Hypnobabies with Cody’s birth. Because of these career goals, I felt that postponing another pregnancy until after my trainings were finished was best. But after a lot of soul-searching, Cory and I have decided that there is rarely a perfect time to have a baby. But we are ready for baby #2, and we don’t want to wait! That decision has brought us a lot of joy this month, and we’re eager to see our family grow.

Yet this month has also included a lot of stress and sadness over our guinea pig, Charlotte. She had been sick for two months and was deteriorating rapidly over the past few weeks. After losing about a third of her body weight and not responding to three different rounds of antibiotics, along with antihistamines and hand-feeding, we knew that she was not going to recover. We chose to end her suffering and let her go peacefully to sleep. It was heartbreaking, and still is. Some people might think it’s silly to be so upset over a guinea pig, but these creatures have so much personality! She loved to be pet gently and have her back scratched, and would purr and chirp to us. She would wheek for veggies every night, and popcorn around her cage when she was excited about fresh bedding or hay. We adopted her as a 6 week old baby, and she only lived to be 11 months old. We did everything we could to help her get well, but it wasn’t enough, and that hurts my heart.

Because we saw it coming, we decided to adopt a third guinea pig to keep Charlotte’s bonded partner, Penelope, company. Guinea pigs can go through a depression that can be dangerous for their health when they are grieving the loss of a partner. Our new pig, Amelia, will hopefully help Penny have an easier adjustment period. Now that Charlotte is gone, we plan to adopt another pig because we like having a herd of three. It’s been helping me cope with Charlotte’s loss to enjoy baby Amelia, and look for another girl to add to our home. We will always miss Charlotte, but I have peace now knowing that she’s not suffering anymore, and that Penelope and Amelia will continue to live a happy life with us.

December has also brought a golden period for our puppy Lila, who had troublesome behavioral problems for many months since we adopted her back in April. Finally, at 10 months old, she has become a generally well-behaved member of our pack. It’s taken a lot of stress off of us to see that she is doing so well now.

Of course, that stress was replaced by Cody, who has really come into his terrible twos over the past couple of weeks. His tantrums, whining, sensitivity, uncooperativeness, and occasional aggression have been challenging us on a whole new level. We are learning as we go when it comes to parenting and discipline, as this is definitely testing my knowledge and ideals in these areas. As with many (if not all) parents, and especially moms, I am learning firsthand what it means to feel “mommy guilt.” I have to remind myself frequently that I’m not messing everything up or somehow ruining my child, that in fact I am doing a really good job. It’s hard to feel that way sometimes when you have a toddler who acts like a total brat–but then again, all toddlers are this way! It’s a stage of development that they all go through, and it’s not my job to control him or make him act how I want him to. It’s my job to control myself and act with integrity and respect and kindness and love, no matter what my child does. That’s one of the most important lessons I have learned so far as a parent!

Lastly, I had to let go of a short-lived dream I had to make a career out of blogging. After over a month of working hard to gain subscribers, I made absolutely no progress, and decided to go back to blogging for fun. It was disappointing, but I also feel a weight off now that I’ve let it go. I want writing to be free and fun, instead of feeling like I have to jump through hoops to run a blog business.

So that’s it! That’s my month. Here’s what I’m into right now:

What I’m Watching:

Colony – A sci-fi drama about a family struggling to live in an authoritarian state in LA, after an invasion by what I suspect are aliens. There’s a lot of mystery and a dark, thought-provoking plotline. It has one season currently available on Netflix.

Fuller House – A family sitcom created as a continuation of the 90’s show, Full House. It’s light, cute, kid-friendly comedy. It’s a Netflix original, with two seasons currently available.

Designated Survivor – A political thriller about a terrorist attack that wipes out the entire US government and leaves the presidency to the designated survivor, a member of the previous president’s cabinet. The new president, Kirkman, struggles to navigate the political waters without compromising his morals, and must sort through conspiracy theories about the origin of the attack. Episodes are released weekly on Hulu.

This Is Us – A family drama about adult triplets with various struggles, and their family of origin. I love the time jumps, plot twists, and compelling drama. This show addresses some very thought-provoking issues and can be very moving. The pilot is the best pilot episode I have ever seen, hands down. Episodes are released weekly on Hulu.

 

What I’m Reading:

Lady Midnight (The Dark Artifices) by Cassandra Clare

This is a book I have wanted to read for a long time, in the same universe as the Mortal Instruments series and the lesser known Infernal Devices series. This is book one of the Dark Artifices series, which will be a trilogy. I love Clare’s books and I’m excited to jump into this one. I just got it from Amazon, but have not yet had time to start reading.

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin

I read this book as part of my Hypnobabies Instructor education, and it was very enlightening and reignited my passion for childbirth. It’s an amazing book and I would highly recommend it to anybody in the birth world, as well as anyone who is planning to have babies in the near future.

 

What I’m Cooking: (recipes coming soon!)

Chicken Dumpling Stew – oh my yum! I can’t wait to post this recipe. It’s such a good comfort food.

Mashed Potatoes – a holiday staple. My recipe involves bacon grease. Enough said.

Butter Chicken – a very tasty way to cook chicken breasts. And it’s easy!

Brown Sugar Meatloaf – although meatloaf has a bad reputation for some people, the recipe I use is seriously delectable. If I could marry this meatloaf, I probably would. 😛

Terrible Terrible Tantrums

tantrums

Ah, the dreaded tantrum. We’ve all seen one. Many of us have judged a few parents for their inability to control their toddler’s public fits. Many of us have been those parents, unable to stop the embarrassing displays of unrestrained fury from our youngest family members. It’s as if your toddler having a public meltdown is a glaring sign of failure as a parent. But why?

I have learned through my studies in child development and now my actual experience that tantrums are a very normal part of development. Contrary to popular belief, tantrums are not “bad behavior.” Having an emotional meltdown is not misbehavior—it’s part of being human. Are tantrums unpleasant, embarrassing, and unwanted? Why yes. But again—they aren’t misbehavior.

The reality is that toddlers have a lot of big emotions that they don’t know how to handle. If we, as adults, can’t always handle our emotions maturely, then it really isn’t reasonable to expect toddlers to do so. It would be much better for everyone if we all realized that tantrums are normal, and not a reflection of bad parenting. But when a toddler is crying on the floor, kicking and screaming, what should a parent (or caregiver) do?

Some people lecture or scold the child. “Get off the floor right now! You stop that, or you’ll have a time-out.” Or, even better, “Stop crying!” Sometimes, these scoldings are even accompanied by spankings, or other punitive measures. I always find myself wondering, why? They aren’t hurting anybody (if they are, they can be restrained with compassion). They’re just expressing their emotions the only way they know how. And when did it become acceptable to respond to another person’s tears and pain by yelling at them to stop crying, or worse, by hitting them? Apparently, only with toddlers.

Other parents, desperate to end the drama, concede to the demands of their little tyrant. This isn’t really a good long-range plan either. It teaches kids that they can get what they want by screaming, crying, and making a scene. That’s no good either!

What I’ve found to be a respectful, yet effective middle ground is considering the reason behind the tantrum, and responding accordingly without compromising your dignity, or the child’s. When a toddler is throwing a fit because of separation anxiety, I offer comfort. I may gently rub their back, hold them, or offer comforting words. I also respect their right to reject any physical comfort. I offer my presence, and my patience while they express their pain and, hopefully, eventually, calm down.

If a toddler is throwing a tantrum over not getting their way, I may offer my empathy, ignore it, or try using distraction. Remember, even adults feel upset when they don’t get their way! If a toddler is throwing a tantrum for an unknown reason (as mine often does), I offer comfort, and if rejected, I ignore it or, again, try using distraction. When I simply don’t have the energy to deal with it calmly, I ignore it.

I recognize that there may be reasons I don’t know about for the emotional outburst—teething pain, boredom, frustration, and so on. As such, I try to never react to a tantrum with anger or an attempt to control it. The only time I would step in to exert control would be to prevent a child from injuring himself or others, which can be accomplished with a hug-hold (holding the child around the torso and over the arms from behind).

The key, for me, to being peaceful in the face of tantrums is realizing that I cannot control the actions of the child, whether it’s my child or somebody else’s who I’m caring for. I can only control my own actions, and my reactions. I can only guide the child’s choices to the extent they will allow me to, and enforce necessary limits within my power. Stopping a toddler from having a tantrum is not necessary, or always possible. Reacting to it calmly and reasonably is both.

The Fear of the Cry

Being around a crying baby is stressful. As a parent, being around your own crying baby is, at least to me, extra stressful. The noise is designed to be attention-grabbing—simultaneously grating and pity-inducing. It’s just annoying enough for us to be motivated to act, yet sad enough that we’re inspired to be gentle and loving as we take care of whatever the crying baby needs. Crying is a well-designed behavior for babies to be able to express themselves to their caregivers, so that we know when to feed them, change them, play with them, hold them, and help them go to sleep.

Crying may have been designed primarily to allow babies to express their needs, but sometimes, especially as a baby grows older, crying can be about expressing other things as well. Older babies and pre-verbal toddlers often cry to express emotions such as frustration, anger, and of course sadness. Even young babies cry for no obvious reason at times. Sometimes babies cry even when their physical and emotional needs have all been met, and no attempts to comfort them will help. Sometimes toddlers just seem to feel cranky, and there is nothing that can be done to change their mood. In times like these, the crying can feel like an unanswerable problem that you are being demanded to solve.

Cody is an excellent example of this. He cries and whines a lot, and often there is nothing I can do to make it stop. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea why he’s even crying (and I suspect neither does he), and all I can do is sit with him in my lap while he works through it.

I’ve realized lately that I have a subconscious “fear” of Cody crying. Or, more accurately, I feel that I always have to “fix it” when he cries. Being his mom is extra-stressful because he’s not an easy, content baby. I am constantly on alert as to what might upset him next. I try to keep him happy but I often fail, simply because of his personality. The resulting stress, frustration, and exhaustion is what I imagine it would feel like to work at a job where your boss is constantly criticizing you, day in and day out.

Of course, Cody is not my boss, even though it can feel like it sometimes. As the parent, I am the boss, and I’m confident in that role. Yet part of being a parent means putting your child’s needs above your own. Attachment parenting in particular values nurturing, understanding, and compassionate treatment of one’s children. As an attachment parent, I strive to build a relationship with my son of mutual respect, trust, and love. Because Cory and I don’t simply do whatever we want with no regard to what our child wants, it does demand more from us as parents. I see Cody’s feelings as valid, and I won’t deny him comfort or closeness, which are emotional needs. I don’t expect him to act like an adult, or to be convenient for me—his only job right now is to learn and grow. These are important principles to me, as a parent.

The problem is when I assume that because of these values, it is my job to fix it any time Cody cries. Yes, his feelings are valid and yes, it is my job to meet his needs, including emotional ones. But that doesn’t mean that my goal should be to keep him from crying. In fact, allowing him to express himself, sometimes through crying, is one way that I can support his emotional needs.

When Cody becomes frustrated with something, I can try to help him figure out the problem or suggest a different activity. When he’s angry or sad because of a limit that we enforce, I can offer empathy and perhaps a distraction. When he’s whining, I can ignore it so that he learns to express himself in a more effective, respectful, and less annoying way. And when he’s crying simply because he feels sad (and he’s not hungry, thirsty, tired, bored, in need of a diaper change, or having pain or discomfort) then I can hold him and give him comfort until he feels better. It’s okay for him to cry. It’s my job to be there for him in those times, not to fix it, but just to love him.

One last thing I want to emphasize is that crying is not a misbehavior. It makes me so sad and frustrated when I see parents or caregivers chastising a child for crying. (It’s even worse when children are scolded or told to “be good and stop crying” when they are crying as a result of separation anxiety. Separation from parents can be very frightening and upsetting for young children. They aren’t being bad for feeling sad!) Often children have no other way to express their feelings because they haven’t developed the ability to use their words effectively yet. And even when they have, crying is still a normal way of expressing emotion. Children are people, too, and they have every right to feel whatever they feel, whether that’s sadness or anger or frustration or confusion or anything else. It’s not our place to judge whether their feelings are justified—that helps nobody. Instead, the focus should be on accepting and responding appropriately to feelings at any age. Emotion is not something to fear, be ashamed of, fix, or avoid. It’s a part of who we are, as humans, and we can all do better in learning to express and respond to feelings.

I’m getting better every day at not fearing the cry. But I don’t want to get to the point where I habitually ignore it either. Instead, I try to respond by taking action when appropriate, and realize that sometimes there’s nothing to do but just be there to listen, and that’s okay too.

Stevie the TV is My Friend

First of all, if you know where “Stevie the TV” comes from, then you just might be as much of a Friends fan as I am. And if you are, then you may also understand my love for TV in general. But if not, then just know this—I really, really like TV. I love the stories and the characters and the overall entertainment value that comes from television (I also love reading and watching movies, for the same reasons).

At the same time, before Cody was born, I had some very clear ideas in mind about what I wanted for my kids as far as media exposure goes. I’ve never liked the idea of the two-year-old-playing-games-on-the-ipad phenomenon. I don’t think it’s good for older children and teenagers to spend hours upon hours each day playing video games or messing around on the computer. And even though I love TV myself, I don’t really believe that it can be healthy for children to spend hours a day watching it. Cory and I both want to make sure that our kids are active participants in the real world—not screen-obsessed like most kids seem to be these days.

That’s still an important goal to me, but since Cody was born, I’ve had to find a middle ground between what I originally planned and what actually works for my day-to-day life. Originally, I’d planned to have a strict rule about “no screens” until our kids were two years old. But once Cody turned about two months old, he started to sleep less and spend more time being awake and alert, yet he wasn’t content to lay on his back and play by himself for any reasonable amount of time. I started to spend most of my time sitting or standing around holding him, and frankly, I quickly became extremely bored. Finally, one day, I turned on the TV in a desperate attempt to entertain myself. Ever since then, Cody has been receiving a top-notch education at Friends University, where he’s minoring in psychology through the Pretty Little Liars program and enjoying the state-of-the-art music program, The Voice, in his spare time. Recently, he’s also shown interest in the How I Met Your Mother course of study. This kid is going to be a TV expert before we know it!

In all seriousness, though, I have struggled with our decisions in this area. The experts all seem to agree that TV should be avoided for children under age two. Even though Cody seems to be developing perfectly and hitting all of his milestones, I still worry that somehow we’re doing irreparable damage to his little brain by letting him watch TV with us. It’s one of those things that I see many parents doing, yet doctors and articles and baby books still warn me not to do. And since I tend to question everything I’m told, I decided to look a little deeper into the reasons behind these warnings. Is TV really so bad for kids?

I discovered that basically, TV is considered to be bad for young children because it takes time away from activities that are very important to their development. Playing, interacting socially, and exploring the world are all vital activities that babies and young children should be spending most of their awake-time doing. Children’s language development can be particularly affected by having insufficient verbal interaction with people around them—reading and talking to your baby is really important! It’s also been “proven” that so-called educational TV programs designed for children have no positive benefits to their development. So basically, sitting your child in front of the TV to watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse doesn’t actually count as positive development time.

Still, I have to wonder if TV is really all that harmful for children who also spend a lot of time each day getting the stimulation they need. I can’t help but feel that children’s shows could be a very useful tool to keep little ones entertained for short periods of time, allowing parents to get a few vital things done around the house (always within viewing distance of the child, of course). And in my case, TV helps me keep my sanity when I’m losing my mind with boredom, and gives me a mental break when I really need it. Most of the time, Cody is happy to just be held while I stand and sway, watching an episode of one of my favorite shows. In fact, sometimes when he’s upset no matter what I try to do with him, holding him while I watch TV is the only thing that works.

The reality is that Cody spends a lot of time each day playing and discovering his world. We read to him every day and talk to him constantly. Each day he spends time playing independently while we do chores, and we spend time sitting on the floor and playing with him. We go on walks and errands, exposing him to sights and sounds out in the world. But even with all of that, there is still so much time in the day, and we do spend some of it watching TV with him. But you know what? I think that’s okay.

In a perfect world, I would have endless patience and Cody would play happily with his toys and listen while I read books to him all day long, and we would follow a carefully regimented yet flexible schedule of developmental activities. But this is not a perfect world, and the truth is that often, I just need a little Friends in my day. For the time being, Cody allows me to enjoy this small pleasure, and until he no longer cooperates with me on this, I plan to continue enjoying it. It’s still important to me to make sure that Cody has plenty of stimulating activities in his day, and TV is something that we save for after all of the other activities, or for short breaks in between them. Plus, when we watch it with him, we see it for what it is—entertainment for us, distracting and appeasing for Cody, but not educational or helpful for his development. But personally, I think it’s okay to have some time like that in our day. Not every moment has to be a learning opportunity.

On Judging

As a parent, I pretty much think that the way I choose to do things is the best way. I think most parents probably feel that way, otherwise they would change what they’re doing. After all, all good parents want what’s best for their kids. We try to make decisions based on what we think will help our children grow up with the best possible outcomes.

When it comes to parenting, it’s easy to be judgmental. I know what I believe are good parenting practices, and I also know what I think are bad parenting practices. Yet the truth is, no parent is perfect and different things work for different families. Just because something works well for me doesn’t mean it’s the only way. So why is it that as a mother, I feel the right to judge other parents for their decisions?

Today, I was at a women’s group at church when another mom gave me some advice, and I caught myself being judgmental. She suggested that I try a sleep training method to help my son sleep well on his own, with a more predictable schedule than what he follows now. I’ve also noticed that while several other mothers and I prefer to keep our babies with us during these gatherings, she chooses to utilize the childcare that is available. For a few moments, I started to categorize us into two different groups in my mind. I was in the attachment parenting group, because I respect my son’s natural schedule and I prefer to keep him with me as much as possible; she was in the conventional parenting group, because she wants her children to be as convenient for her as possible. On some level, I began to think that I probably love my son more than she loves her children. Of course, that’s an absurd (and offensive) conclusion to draw from my small observations! But still, that’s where my mind went.

For the rest of the day, I thought about how judgy I was in that moment, and how judgmental many parents (myself included) tend to be about all sorts of parenting issues. Right now, the big debate is focuses on vaccinations. There are parents who choose to fully vaccinate their children, parents who follow a limited schedule, and parents who choose not to vaccinate at all. It seems that no matter what your decision, you will be judged harshly by somebody who holds an opposing opinion. And that’s just one of many, many parenting issues that people have become very opinionated about.

Parents much choose what they feel is best for their child, their family, and themselves in every area imaginable. Whether to exclusively breastfeed, bottlefeed breastmilk, supplement with formula, or exclusively formula feed; when and how to wean; whether to co-sleep, put baby in a crib to sleep, use sleep training, or nurse to sleep; whether to use mechanical mothers (swings, bouncers, etc.), and how much to hold baby; whether to respond to cries, or let baby cry it out; whether to spank, or use positive discipline; whether to limit separation as much as possible, or condition baby to accept separation; whether to allow young children to use screens, or to raise a low-media toddler. These are some of the many choices we must make as parents, and it seems that whatever we choose, we will end up judging others who choose differently (whether consciously or not).

I think we need to stop it.

The truth is, there are very few absolutes when it comes to parenting. Experience, logic, scientific research, emotions, and even spiritual guidance can only get us so far, because in the end, most issues can be convincingly supported on both sides. Vaccinations can be dangerous, but so can not vaccinating. Breastfeeding has many benefits, but formula feeding and other feeding choices have benefits too, and in some cases, are the only option. Co-sleeping is vehemently warned against by some doctors and parents, but enthusiastically supported by others. In reality, there are no perfect answers to these issues; there are just the answers that we choose. And except for cases of genuine abuse or neglect, most choices that a parent can make are not wrong or right, they’re just choices. Why is it so hard for us to accept that?

For me, at least, it’s very hard. I treat other parents kindly and don’t criticize their choices to their faces, but at the same time, I can’t help but cringe inwardly at some of the things I see. For example, I feel very strongly about a baby’s need to be responded to quickly, competently, and lovingly when they cry. When another parent talks about letting their baby cry it out, I can’t help but feel that they’re making the wrong choice. Physical punishment is another area in which I feel strongly—I hate the idea of a parent striking their child as a form a discipline. To me, it’s just not acceptable. Personally, I base my parenting philosophy mainly on what I’ve studied of child development, and these issues have been well-studied. This only serves to make my opinion even stronger, and I find it difficult to believe that doing things a different way can be the best thing for any child. But what I need to remember is that research is not infallible; scientists once believed that the Earth was flat, after all! Just because child development experts generally agree on these things right now doesn’t mean that the opinion won’t change in the future. In the end, I have to make my own parenting decisions and other parents have to do the same. The answers are not always (or usually) as clear-cut as the popular opinion of the day makes it seem.

So all of that to say, I am going to strive to not judge other parents for their choices just because they’re different than mine. Parents who do things differently than Cory and I are not less intelligent or less competent as parents, and they don’t love their children any less, and vice versa. (And on that note, new parents like us can make the best parenting choices for their families, just like any other parents. There aren’t amateur parents and professional parents—there are just parents, doing the best that they can).

Whether you feed your child an organic, vegan, gluten-free diet or whether you let your child eat fast food today, let go of the judgment. Whether you oppose vaccinations or fully support them, let go of the judgment. Whether you spank your kids and use time-outs or whether you use hugs and words of affirmation, let go of the judgment. If you don’t have children yet but plan to one day, let go of the judgment about what you think you’ll “never do as a parent.” If you don’t have children and you never plan to, let go of the judgment about what people who are parents are doing wrong—it’s a hard job, and most of us are doing our best.

Let’s all let go of the judgment and learn to treat our differences with respect and understanding, in parenting and otherwise.

🙂

To Wear or Not to Wear (the Baby)

This is a quick review of five different baby carriers that I’ve owned, plus my thoughts on the art of babywearing. (The carriers are: Moby Wrap, Baby K’Tan, Nuroo Pocket, Ergobaby, Maya Wrap ring sling, and FreeHand mei tai carrier.)

Before I had Cody, I learned about the benefits of babywearing and I decided that I would be a frequent babywearer. For those of you who don’t know, babywearing is pretty much what it sounds like—wearing your baby, or in other words, carrying him or her in a carrier that attaches to your body. It’s a convenient way to keep your baby close and happy while still having one or two hands free to do other things, or so they say.

I bought myself three baby carriers that I thought I’d like: a Moby Wrap, a Baby K’Tan, and a Nuroo Pocket. After only a few weeks with Cody, I realized that none of them were going to work for me.

I bought the Moby Wrap for $45 from Buy Buy Baby. It’s a very long length of stretchy soft fabric that you wrap and tie around yourself in special ways to hold the baby. It’s versatile, comfy, and secure. Unfortunately, it’s extremely long, as in probably three times my height if I had to estimate. That makes it a bit challenging to wrangle, especially when you’re out of the house. I honestly didn’t even try to wear Cody in the Moby Wrap because it was just so difficult to deal with and I wanted to find something easier. I tied it on myself a few times without him in it and it was simply too big. I had to wrap the fabric around myself several times to keep it from dragging on the floor. Another reason I didn’t like the Moby Wrap is that because it’s such a large piece of fabric that you wrap around yourself, it’s quite toasty in there when all is said and done. Since Cody is a very warm little baby, I figured it would be way too hot and uncomfortable to wear him in it.

I bought the Baby K’Tan for $50 from Target. It’s a unique type of carrier made up of two loops of fabric connected by another very small loop. It’s worn sort of like a backpack on the front, with the baby nestled into the pouch created by the fabric. It seemed like it would be a comfortable and secure-feeling option, plus there’s no tying or wrapping involved so I figured it would be easy to use. Unfortunately, I found it incredibly awkward and uncomfortable. Getting the baby into the thing was challenging in itself, and then it was near impossible for me to get him into a comfortable and safe position. I think that the main problem is that it’s not adjustable really at all, so it can’t be opened to put the baby in and then tightened around him. It’s very important in babywearing that the baby is snugly attached to you, not sagging or dangling loosely. That was not possible in the Baby K’Tan.

I bought the Nuroo Pocket for $60 at Babies R Us. It’s a shirt with a pocket in it that holds the baby, and it’s designed especially for newborns. Like the Baby K’Tan, I found the Nuroo Pocket to be awkward and uncomfortable, for the same reasons. It isn’t adjustable, so Cody ended up sinking down into the pocket and that wasn’t comfortable or safe. Even using the support belt that came with it to try to hold him up, it simply didn’t work well.

After those three failures, I started to doubt that babywearing was going to be something I enjoyed. Before giving up though, I decided to do some research and try to find a carrier that worked for me.

I should also mention that at my baby shower, Cory and I received an Ergobaby carrier as a gift, and Cory has been using it to wear Cody since the beginning. The Ergobaby is a structured carrier that can be worn like a backpack in front or back. It has buckles and adjustable straps. I’ve never found it to be that comfortable or easy to use, but it works extremely well for Cory. It’s secure, fairly easy on the back even with extended use, and Cory can get Cody strapped on with it in under a minute. The Ergobaby can be purchased at most baby stores as well as at Target, for around $115.

Finding a carrier that I enjoyed using was a struggle, though. After researching, I came up with two options that looked promising: a ring sling and a mei tai carrier.

A ring sling is a piece of fabric that is threaded through two rings to form a loop. It is worn over one shoulder, and the baby sits in the pouch that is formed. I bought a Maya Wrap ring sling on Amazon for $75. So far, I have had mild success at using it. Some of the benefits to a ring sling are that it is quite versatile, and you can wear a baby in it in many different positions including facing out or on the hip, whereas most carriers I’ve seen are mainly used for tummy-to-tummy carries and back carries. It’s also relatively quick to put on. There is no tying or wrapping involved, just pulling the tail of the fabric to tighten it around the baby. That being said, I haven’t found it to be that comfortable and it can be awkward and frustrating to try to put it on. Another disadvantage I have found is that ring slings are designed to free up only one hand, as one hand should always be kept on the baby. They simply aren’t as secure as other carriers, and I can tell that when I’m wearing it.

A mei tai is a type of carrier that crosses between a structured backpack-type carrier and a wrap. It’s basically a rectangle of fabric with ties on all four corners. The bottom ties go around the waist and the top ties go over the shoulders and back around. I bought a FreeHand Baby Carrier for $35 on Amazon. This is by far my favorite carrier, and it’s ironic that it was also the cheapest. I like it because it’s extremely adjustable and also easy to adjust. It takes a minute to tie it on, and it can be a tiny bit tricky, but it’s so worth it for the security and comfortableness. I can easily get it on by myself, even in the car or out and about. Once it’s on, it feels snug and secure and it balances the weight evenly over my back and shoulders. I can wear Cody in it with his legs out, which he prefers, and once he’s bigger I can use it to wear him on my back. I like that this carrier actually frees up both of my hands.

In the end, I’m happy to say that I found a carrier that works for me. I’m hoping that the ring sling will get more use as Cody gets older and we become more comfortable with it. For now, the mei tai works really well, as does the Ergobaby for Cory.

Even with my mei tai carrier, though, I have not found babywearing to be as easy or comfortable as I’d hoped. Yes, I have my hands free and my arms don’t ache from carrying him for a long time, but I still have a baby strapped to my chest. I can’t do anything that requires use of the space immediately in front of me, which includes eating, sitting close to a table, using the computer, and many types of cleaning (try doing the dishes without standing close to the sink, or doing the laundry without leaning over the machine!). Cody also tends to get fussy if I try to sit down while wearing him—he’d apparently rather be sitting in my lap. And it’s not safe to cook while wearing a baby. So, even though I do appreciate the break for my arms and it tends to be soothing for Cody, babywearing really isn’t a magical solution to let me get things done.

That being said, babywearing is great for outings, walks, and soothing a fussy baby. It’s wonderful when your baby wants to be held but your arms are tired. I would still consider a baby carrier a must-have baby item, and I am very glad to have mine. No, babywearing isn’t what I thought it would be and it isn’t something I do on a daily basis, let alone for hours each day as I had envisioned. But it still has its benefits and I enjoy it when I can.

Supernatural Childbirth

We’re officially in our third trimester of pregnancy now, and it’s amazing to finally be here. Every time I see my reflection in the mirror, I’m thrilled to see my big baby belly—being pregnant is something I’ve imagined and hoped for over a long period time, and it’s surreal to actually be that person now. I used to smile whenever I noticed a pregnant lady walking by me, and now I’ve started to notice that I’m on the other end of the equation—strangers are now noticing my belly and I’ve caught a few knowing smiles out in public. It’s such a special time in my life, and I’m really enjoying the process of bringing new life into the world.

Cody’s birth is getting closer and closer, and soon we’ll be full-fledged parents. As usual, we’re having a lot of fun planning, discussing, researching, and preparing for every aspect of this new adventure we can think of. We’re both so eager to start our new careers as a mom and dad to our precious son. Before we can start though, we have to make it through one heck of an interview process—childbirth!

Before we were married, I went through a phase of thinking that I would never want to have children. At first, this was mostly due to fears about the birth process, and how horrible and scary and painful it would be. I didn’t want to have to face that, so I thought that instead we would just have to adopt. Later, I found another reason to never have children at all, even through adoption. There’s a saying that becoming a parent is like choosing to have your heart walk around outside of your body. It’s incredibly risky! You love this other person so much that it’s beyond words, and the idea of them ever getting hurt or making a bad decision is terrifying to you. You have everything invested in your children, and yet very little control over what happens to them. That idea scared the living daylights out of me, and so I thought that I would never want to put myself into such a vulnerable position.

Later, of course, I changed my mind back because I just knew that I was meant to be a mother. It’s a calling on my life that I can’t deny, no matter what pain or risks I have to face. It was only after that discovery that I was able to be taught some very important truths from God. I learned both of them after experiencing the loss of our first baby, Sam, only six weeks into our pregnancy. I was in a place of anger, utter heartbreak, loss of trust, and loss of hope for the future. Other people’s words of comfort often felt like a slap in the face to me. They told me that I should hold on to God, as if I wanted to hold on to a God who decided to take my baby from the world before he or she even had a chance to live. They told me to keep trusting him because it was all in his plan—as if I could trust a God who planned something like that to happen. Most of all, I despised it when people told me that I could try again. The thought of trying again, of putting myself at risk for heartbreak again, was a terrible thought. I felt that it wasn’t worth the risk, and that Cory and I should not try again, not ever.

It was from this place of darkness that God showed us the light. Through the guidance of some godly people in our lives, he showed us the simple truth that he is good. We learned that our miscarriage was not God’s doing or his plan for us, but an attack from the enemy. We also learned that God is bigger and stronger than our enemy, and that we have the choice to fight with him on our side. When we fight with the spiritual weapons that he gave us, we will experience victory!

The lessons that God taught us through that painful experience are lessons that we desperately needed for our future as parents. If we’d become parents without learning about God’s protection and strength, and about spiritual warfare and our role in it, we wouldn’t have been able to handle the fear of “what might happen.” We would have lived in fear of our children being hurt or worse, and that fear would have given the enemy a foothold in our lives. Instead, we now know and firmly believe that God has his hand over our family. I don’t have to worry about what might happen to Cody because I know that God’s got him. He’s in good hands. In fact, he’s in the best possible hands!

We also learned a mind-blowing (yes, mind-blowing!) truth about childbirth that completely obliterated any worries I once had about the process of bringing a baby into the world. We were given a book called Supernatural Childbirth by our pastor at the time, and through it we learned about the power of confession, or speaking God’s word over our lives, and about the promises and freedom that are available through Jesus. I’d never before been exposed to the idea that we can have victory over every area of pain in our lives through the victory of Jesus on the cross. What I learned by reading this book and the Bible verses within is that I don’t have to experience an agonizing, life-threatening, or traumatizing birth. I can bring Cody into the world in comfort, peace, and safety. And I will!

Supernatural childbirth is using God’s word (the promises he makes in the Bible) to overcome challenges related to childbearing. The Bible supports every woman’s ability to conceive, gestate without sickness, pain, or fear, and give birth in safety and without pain (or drugs)—all within the plan of God and the power of Jesus. As with any area of life, God will back up his promises, to the level of your faith. He will meet you where your faith is! I had trouble believing that I could have a healthy pregnancy without nausea, morning sickness, and fatigue in the first trimester. I chose to listen to what people around me said—that if I felt sick, it meant the baby was healthy! If I didn’t feel sick, well… you can guess what that inferred. And so, I felt sick and icky for the entire first trimester. I did believe firmly that Cody and I would be healthy, however, and so it was. That was the level of my faith, met by the goodness of God. As I approach the end of my pregnancy now, I’m believing for more. I’m believing for a supernatural, pain-free birth, and I trust God’s promise to meet me where my faith is.

Now, I want to address two common “arguments” against this concept of supernatural childbirth. The first is that the Bible says in Genesis that women will suffer in childbirth. This is true—the verse is Genesis 3:16 and it says “To the woman, he said ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” This is part of several verses in this section that represent what is known as “the curse,” or the consequences of humankind’s fall from God’s plan. Humans chose to disobey God, and as a result, lost the benefits of the paradise they’d been living in and forever altered their relationship with God. From that point on, humans had to work hard to obey a very strict and detailed set of laws in order to stay in right standing with God (and even then, it wasn’t quite enough to be accepted by God without a hefty dose of his grace). God didn’t intend for it to stay that way forever, though. Throughout the Old Testament, hints of a coming savior abound. In the New Testament, that savior finally appeared—Jesus Christ, the son of God, sent to earth to teach us and save the lost. He came, lived as an example, healed and performed miracles, and finally, died an undeserved death on the cross and rose again. He did this for our salvation, so that we could return to the relationship God originally intended for us to have with him. Jesus paid the price for us to be redeemed. Galatians 3:13 says that “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’” Isaiah 53:4-5 says “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Because of Jesus, anyone who believes in him is no longer under the curse. I am not fallen, but redeemed, through the grace of God! Therefore, my childbearing experience is not the experience of a cursed woman, but the experience of a woman living in God’s abundance and delivered from pain and suffering through the love of Jesus.

The second common argument against supernatural childbirth is something along the lines of “everybody knows that childbirth is painful.” Almost any woman who has given birth will testify to the horrible pain that she experienced in labor and birth. I’d even venture to say that most Christian women are in that group. So why would I be any different than the rest of the world, let alone than so many of my sisters in Christ, who are also redeemed? The difference lies within my mind and my faith. As I said before, God will meet you where your faith is. In Matthew 9:29, Jesus healed a group of blind men by saying “According to your faith let it be done to you.” A person can be redeemed through Christ, and yet not believe that they have healing, abundance, or the ability to have children and have them in joy and comfort. According to their faith, it will be done to them. The conclusion of Supernatural Childbirth says this: “People often fight for the right to suffer… The Word says you can do things God’s way. You can do things other ways as well. You can be sick, and God will still love you. You can be poor, and God will still love you. You can be barren, and God will still love you. You can live in pain, and God will still love you. But God says there is a better way. Jesus has paid for salvation, healing, prosperity, deliverance and blessing.” It is up to each individual to decide in their mind and heart whether to believe God for what he has promised. Romans 12:2 says “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” I can choose to conform to the ways of the world, and give birth in the way that the world says I will; or, I can choose to renew my mind according to God’s Word, and transform my birth into a peaceful, joyful, and comfortable experience, which I believe is God’s perfect will for me. I do not believe that God wants me to experience pain (what loving parent would want their child to experience pain?), and I want to see his good, pleasing and perfect will in every area of my life. That’s why I believe in supernatural childbirth, and why I have no fear when it comes to my pregnancy or birth. God is good, and he has everything under control!  

And so to childbirth, I say bring it on. 🙂

It’s Minimalism, Baby!

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book about minimalism and how it can be applied to having a baby. A minimalist lifestyle is essentially one that focuses less on stuff. Minimalists tend to focus less on what things they want and more on enjoying and using what they have. It helps save money, creates a lifestyle that requires less money, and thus allows people to live more freely. Spending time with family and friends and enjoying experiences together are emphasized over acquiring and spending money on material possessions.

When it comes to having a baby, the world tells us that we need a lot of stuff. It is absolutely essential that we have mountains of adorable baby clothes, fancy swings and bassinets, special pillows and seats and wearable blankets, the perfect stroller and baby carrier… the list goes on! Not to mention a perfectly coordinated nursery with matching furniture, bedding sets, and beautiful decorations. And those are just the essentials, they tell us. If we want to be really prepared, then we also need all of the newest, latest, and greatest gear and gadgets that promise to add convenience to our baby care routines. Planning to have a baby? Well then you’d better get ready to spend a small fortune on all of the stuff that you’ll surely need. That’s what the world tells us, at least.

Well, minimalists see things differently. The book I read gave this list of items that are actual essentials when it comes to bringing a new baby home: 12 newborn onesies or sleepers, 1 newborn hat, 6 receiving blankets, 2 bottles (if not breastfeeding), diapers, and a car seat (if you have a car). Personally, I would alter this list by removing the newborn hat, because babies really don’t need them once they leave the hospital or birthing center. I would also note that if you are not breastfeeding then you also need formula, and baby wipes should be added to the list as well. Finally, I would add some onesies or sleepers in sizes other than newborn, since some babies are too big for newborn sized clothes and nearly all babies will quickly grow out of them. But the point is, this list is pretty shocking when you compare it to the list of “necessities” that you’d find anywhere else. When it comes right down to it, most of what we consider necessities are actually just conveniences at best, and a waste of resources and space at worst.

Babies have several basic needs, of course, but meeting those needs really doesn’t require all of the complicated gear we think it does. They eat, they sleep, they cry, they poop and pee. A parent’s job is to take care of these needs and provide the essential ingredient of love. For a family who breastfeeds, co-sleeps, baby-wears, and uses cloth diapers and wipes, or even natural infant hygiene, the list of stuff that is necessary to accomplish this job is quite small. A safe place to sleep can be provided with some adjustments to the bed you already have, or if desired, a side-car sleeping arrangement can be created. Swings, bouncers, and other infant-soothing devices can often be replaced by a sling worn by mom or dad, since babies frequently find a parent’s embrace to be the most soothing place of all. Cloth diapers and wipes can be reused, eliminating the need to purchase seemingly unending supplies of disposables. Natural infant hygiene is even more frugal, since no diapers or wipes are required at all! Though this method will undoubtedly lead to many messes, in the end it results in a baby who doesn’t need diapers and later, a child who never needs to go through potty training. (I’ll write a post about what natural infant hygiene is later, but the point is that technically speaking, diapers and wipes aren’t even necessary). For a family that does all of what I just described, all that’s left to buy is clothing, a sling, and possibly a car seat. If this family also follows the minimalist approach to clothing, then they will only need plain white onesies, about 12 in each size. That adds up to only about $150 in clothes for the first year, or even less if they buy clothes at thrift stores. Add another $50 for a well-made sling, and $100 for a car seat, and the total cost for gear in a baby’s first year could be only $300. Compare that to the thousands (or tens of thousands) that most new parents spend on a baby in the first year, and the savings is incredible.

Now, what I just described is probably the most minimalistic approach possible, at least that I can think of. And while that may be an optimal approach for some parents, Cory and I simply aren’t that frugal. Sorry, we just aren’t. We believe in spending our money wisely and saving on things that we buy anyway, but we also enjoy our material blessings. Nice stuff is nice to have, and I don’t think that’s wrong. That being said, there is a balance to be found, and for us, the balance is somewhere between complete minimalism and complete excess.

Reading this book on minimalism inspired me to cut some unnecessary items out of our baby budget. Cory and I spent some time re-thinking our needs and wants for life with a baby. In the end, we were able to trim over $1,000 from our baby budget, and we’ve used some of that to make changes to our home that we feel will make it more fit for our envisioned family lifestyle. One of the major things that we cut from the budget was a nursery. We’d already been planning to co-sleep, so the room that we’d designated as Cody’s future nursery was going to get very little use. We decided to turn the room into a TV room and guest room, which has opened up our living room to be more welcoming and family-oriented. There is now plenty of space for kids to play and for people to relax and converse when we have guests over. An added benefit is that the television is no longer the centerpiece of our home. Child development experts recommend that children under age 2 not watch TV at all, and this arrangement will make it much easier to follow through with our no-TV policy. Finally, we used some of that extra money to spoil ourselves with new bedding and other refreshing changes to our bedroom. Since that is where Cory, Cody, and I will all be sleeping, we wanted that room to be a relaxing and pleasant space. In essence, we cut some things from the baby budget that would have brought our family very little benefit, and replaced them with a few purchases that have improved our home for everyone while still saving money.

Our recent baby gear re-evaluation also gave us the benefit of shrinking the list of what we still need to buy. As of right now, Cory and I are glad to know that we have most what we need for the baby. We could easily spend just a hundred bucks or so to buy the clothes that we need and then we’d be good to go. It’s refreshing to see it that way, after being told for so long that affording a baby is impossible! This new outlook is due mostly to changing the way we see what we need versus what we want.

That’s not to say that there aren’t still plenty of things that we want for the baby. A fancy swing would be nice, we’d certainly enjoy a comfy glider to rock Cody to sleep in, and an ergo carrier has definitely caught my eye. Some ridiculously cute baby outfits would not be the worst thing to have either! But hey, that’s what a baby registry is for, right? Cory and I enjoyed filling ours with fun things that it would be nice to have. And honestly, knowing that any gifts we receive at our baby shower or otherwise are purely for our delight and enjoyment makes it all that much sweeter. We don’t need them, they’re simply blessings to be thankful for and to add to the fun of having a baby.

Taking a minimalist view of preparing for baby has given us peace. We know that years down the road, Cody won’t remember or care that he didn’t have a nursery or that awesome new baby gadget. He’ll just remember that he was loved and cared for. He most likely won’t even think to ask for his own room until he’s past age 3 or 4, he’ll just be happy to go to bed every night safe and sound next to the parents who love him. And when we look back at his baby years, I don’t think we’ll be regretting that we didn’t spend as much money on baby stuff as we could have; instead, we’ll look back and treasure the memories of holding, snuggling, feeding, and playing with our little baby, whether or not he was wearing designer jeans and clutching a trendy giraffe teething toy.

Stuff comes and goes, but love will last forever; that’s what kids need the most. Minimalism in all of its levels is just one way to remind ourselves about what really matters. Not stuff, but love.

 

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”

1 Corinthians 13:13 (NLT)