Category: Parenting

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.

Parenting with Safety and Wisdom

Way back in the beginning of 2014, before I even announced that I was pregnant, I started writing a series on the parenting vision that Cory and I have for our family. I wrote about putting God at the center, attachment parenting, and intentional living as important key areas we want to focus on as parents. Since then, I’ve been busy and distracted with making a baby, and I never got around to finishing the series! I’d like to do that now, and share the final piece of our parenting vision—teaching safety and wisdom.

Although safety and wisdom in some ways intersect with living intentionally, there are many specific “safety” areas that we plan to emphasize as parents. The fact is, we live in a dangerous world, and we want our children to be prepared to make wise choices and protect themselves, not only physically but emotionally as well. As a family, we want to be smart and safety-conscious. In order to do that, we plan to: educate our children about guns, ensure that they are proficient in self-defense, teach them about internet safety, warn them about the dangers of drugs and alcohol, maintain an open dialogue about sex, help them to develop confidence in their interpersonal skills including setting boundaries, empower them with decision-making skills and opportunities, and most importantly, teach them about the protective power of prayer.

Guns are obviously a hot topic in America right now, and pretty much always. Politics aside, I believe that a world without guns would be a safer place, but I also know that a world without guns will most likely never exist. If “bad guys” are going to have guns, which they always will, then I sure as heck want to make sure that the “good guys” have them too. Owning a gun is an important right that I support because it is the best way to defend oneself in this crazy world. As a new parent, especially, I want to make sure I always have the right to protect my child from anybody who tries to hurt him. All of that being said, guns are a powerful weapon that can do great harm in the wrong hands. Educating people, and especially children, about gun safety is a huge protective factor. Cory and I plan to make sure that our children understand the seriousness of handling a gun, and that they know what to do if they see one (get away immediately and tell a trusted adult). We also plan to make sure that, at the appropriate age, they know how to use a gun—how to unload it, how to shoot it, and how to defend themselves with it in a life-threatening situation.

Self-defense (without the use of weapons) is a skill that not many people seem to have these days, and we want to ensure that our children can kick some butt if they need to. A child who can defend him or herself against predators or bullies is a safer child. Cory and I plan to enroll our children in martial arts programs from a young age, so that they can feel confident and safe in their ability to defend themselves.

Safety goes beyond just the physical world, of course. In our technological world, there are more and more virtual dangers cropping up every day. Scams are becoming harder and harder to spot, even for tech-savvy people like me and Cory. That’s why it is more important than ever to us to teach our kids about how to be safe on the internet. Not only are there child-predators out there, but bullies from kids’ own peer group as well as financial and identity scams and viruses. Beyond that, there are many things on the internet that aren’t appropriate for any eyes, let alone a child’s, and it is important to us to teach our kids about those dangers as well. While we don’t plan to allow our children to have unmonitored time on the internet until they are most likely at least 15 years old, we want them to be prepared to handle any of the threats that they are likely to face in the virtual world.

It goes without saying that drugs and alcohol are dangerous. If our children were going to attend a public school, they’d be exposed to the “Red Ribbon Week” program, which educates children about the dangers of drugs. Of course, dedicating only one week to the topic is not a super effective way to convince children to avoid experimenting with drugs and alcohol, especially as they grow into teens and face peer pressure. In our family, we will talk openly and frequently about these issues, and most importantly, we will lead by example. Although there is nothing wrong with enjoying alcohol to a certain point, neither I nor Cory have a taste for it, and I hope that our example speaks to our children. Obviously, we don’t use illegal drugs either, and we tend to avoid any situations where other people might be using them and pressuring others. Overall, we simply believe that it’s much easier to honor God when one is completely sober and in control of his or her actions. We don’t need drugs or alcohol to enjoy ourselves! We hope that if we instill that belief in our children, they will be able to avoid the dangers that many teens face in this area.

Many parents these days seem uncomfortable or unwilling to discuss sex with their children. The “sex talk” is a one-time event in which the parent awkwardly stumbles through a speech about saving oneself for marriage or at the very least practicing safer sex. On the other end of the spectrum are the parents who pass out condoms like they’re going out of style and allow their children to do whatever they want with their bodies. Cory and I don’t want to be either of those types of parents—we want sex to be a topic that we can discuss freely with our kids, but we also are going to have rules in place to protect them. The fact is that sex, when used for the wrong reasons, can be incredibly harmful in many ways. STIs and unplanned pregnancy are two of the physical risks, but the emotional impact of sharing physical intimacy with another person is often overlooked. We believe that sex is meant to be shared between only two people for their entire lives, within a committed, loving, mutually respectful relationship. As parents, we will lead by example, maintain an open dialogue about sex, and when necessary, enforce boundaries for our children.

Setting and enforcing boundaries with others is a skill that I didn’t learn well until I was an adult. Looking back, I know that I could have avoided a lot of struggles and pain in my relationships with others if I’d developed this skill earlier in life. Cory and I want to teach our children the importance of setting healthy boundaries without feeling guilty. Again, one of the main ways we plan to do this is by example. We will set boundaries with our children as needed, and allow them to see us setting boundaries with others and with each other. Setting boundaries is simply communicating clearly where one’s limits are, and expecting others to respect them. We will encourage our kids to set their own boundaries within our family and with others.

One parenting trend that really ruffles my feathers is the tendency for parents to treat their children like fools. Many parents seem to think that their children are incapable of mature thought or making any important decisions until at least the age of 25. Children (and especially teenagers) may think that they know everything, and that is obviously not true, but that doesn’t mean that they know nothing. Believe it or not, individuals under the age of 18 are capable of making decisions, even good ones! Adults are also very capable of making not-so-good decisions. There is nothing magical about age that makes people suddenly wise enough to make good decisions. My point is that we plan to allow our children to choose things for themselves, with us providing supportive guidance. There are limits, obviously, but within the confines of our ground rules we believe that our kids should be allowed to make their own decisions. Even the decisions that turn out to be bad ones are important learning experiences. We all have those, whether we’re adults or not. Cory and I plan to empower our children with tools for thinking problems through and making decisions that honor God and bring peace to their lives.

Finally, we want to teach our children about the power of prayer, when it comes to seeking both wisdom and protection. God says in his Word that both are available through him when we ask. There is no greater source! In the end, no matter how well-prepared or educated or careful our children are, they are still at the mercy of other forces in our world. God is the one person who has control over these things, and learning to trust him completely is the key to a good life. There is a place for wisdom and doing things to the best of our ability to make our own paths straight, but ultimately faith in God is the most powerful protection of all. Not only will Cory and I pray over all of our children for safety, but we will teach them to do the same for themselves. God hears us when we call to him in faith, and we want our children to trust that with all of their hearts.

Our journey into parenthood has begun now, and we are already learning new things and adapting our strategy as needed. Our parenting vision is an outline for our ideal parenting practices, and we hope that we can follow it as much as possible. That being said, parenting is a learning experience and we are sure to change certain things along the way. Our main goals of keeping God at the center, using attachment parenting, living intentionally, and teaching safety and wisdom are all likely to stay intact, although the specifics may change a bit here and there as we go through this adventure. One of the most important things to us is that no matter what, we always think. No parenting practice should be used without consideration of its benefits and drawbacks—we want to ensure that we do things for a reason, not just because. With that in mind, we have many years of growing and learning ahead of us. So far, being a parent has its challenges for us, but I also think it’s the best job in the world. It’s a wonderful gift and a huge responsibility that already brings me so much satisfaction. My purpose in life during this season is to be the best parent that I can be, to honor God and this gift that he’s given me.

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)

Parenting with Intention

There are many decisions to make when becoming a parent. Cory and I are looking forward to that day, and thinking ahead about what kind of parents and family we want to be. Our parenting vision is something that we’ve spent a lot of time writing and refining, and in my last two posts I shared about two of the key elements in our parenting strategy. The first one is keeping God at the center, and the second one is using attachment parenting principles. In this post, I want to share about the third key element in our plan, which is choosing an intentional lifestyle.

At first, this may sound like a very vague ambition. What does it mean to choose an intentional lifestyle? The way that Cory and I understand it is something like this; we want to make choices in life that are thoughtful, wise, and purposeful, not based on what is the normal standard for the rest of the world, but instead based on what makes sense for us and our family, and what will reflect best on our God. At times, this means that we do things in ways that are unusual or possibly frowned upon by others.

Choosing to get married at 19 brought a lot of judgment and lack of support from people around us, but we did it anyway because we knew that it made sense for us and that we only had to please God, not others. (We were also lucky to have good support from some of our closest friends and family). Choosing to leave school before finishing was another choice we made that society as a whole doesn’t tend to support. Yet for us, it made sense to reconsider the use of our time and money, and we believe it has allowed God to move in more powerful ways; Cory was able to find an awesome job that supports us comfortably, thanks to God. We’re firm believers that college isn’t for everyone, and we don’t buy into the social pressure that says we can’t succeed without a degree. My point with all of this is that we like to question and think about different ways of doing things, to find what truly works for us as individuals. Sometimes, that means we take the road less traveled.

As parents, we want to have the same attitude. There are many aspects of parenting that are considered “normal” which we do not wish to emulate. I want to be clear that I am not judging anybody, or saying that a certain way of doing things is wrong. I am simply outlining some of the decisions that Cory and I have made for our own family, which we think will work best for us.

For example, many parents allow their children to use technology for entertainment, or as a way to get a break from the chaos. For our family, though, we don’t plan to allow our children to use “screens” of any kind, including the television, computer, tablets, or cell phones, until they are two years old. At that point, screen time will be limited and monitored. Instead of using technology as a primary form of entertainment, we will encourage our children to play creatively, both outdoors and indoors, and develop other hobbies and interests.

We’ve also decided to home school our children, so that we can foster a more genuine passion for learning than is typically found in children who attend public school. We want school to be about growing, gaining knowledge and understanding, and encouraging curiosity, rather than superficially memorizing information to earn a high grade. Social development is also important to us, so we plan to ensure that our children are involved in several different activities with their peers on a regular basis. The children’s program at our church provides one convenient arena for social development. We will also have our children participate in activities outside of the house such as sports, art, or music classes, and take advantage of home school groups in our area.

We believe it is important to raise children who are competent and responsible. One way we plan to do this is by teaching our kids life skills from an early age. I’ll always remember this simple rule that I learned in one of my child development classes: never do for a child something that he/she can do for him/herself. For example, when our child is able to bring his/her plate to the sink, then he/she will be asked to do so. When new skills are being learned, the tasks may not always be completed well, but the point is that the child starts learning how to do it. We will expect our kids to clean up after themselves, and contribute to the family’s well-being by helping with communal chores, as age permits. We will teach our kids how to cook, clean, manage money, communicate effectively, resolve conflict, and other important life skills. So many children grow up these days without even knowing how to do their laundry or cook a meal, and they end up struggling to live in the real world without the slightest idea of how to survive on their own. That is not what we want for our children; we want them to be competent in taking care of themselves.

Discouraging materialism is also of concern to us. Few things are more annoying, in my opinion, than children who are ungrateful and whine about stuff that they want. Kids will be kids, of course. But Cory and I believe that stuff should not be the “gods” of our lives. When collecting money and material possessions becomes our major concern in life, there is something wrong. Our objective in life should be to pursue God and the things of God, such as love, joy, peace, compassion, and wisdom. Enjoying the things that God blesses us with is a good thing! Yet this should be tempered with a thankful heart, concern for others, generosity, wisdom in how we use our money, and a focus on more eternal things. One way we hope to instill this attitude in our kids is by modeling it; we try to be thrifty and thoughtful when making purchases, and we help others with our financial blessings when possible. We also plan to limit the number of toys in our home; toys that aren’t played with should be donated, and before new toys come into the home our kids must choose some of their current toys to give away (we have some more specific rules in mind to clarify this, but I won’t bore you with them).

One final area of concern for us is health. We strive to find a balance between the over-zealous style of modern medicine and the opposite end of the spectrum, which is rejecting most or all standard medical care, often in favor of alternative medicine. Neither extreme feels comfortable for us. We believe that medical decisions should be well-informed and made carefully and prayerfully. God is our healer, and we will seek his healing power first; we also believe God gifts and empowers people to heal through medicine. We want to eliminate unnecessary interventions in our children’s healthcare, which means that for us, we will not be following the standard vaccination schedule, which we feel is excessive. Instead, we’ll follow our own well-researched, limited vaccination schedule. We also think it’s important to listen to our bodies; treating causes rather than covering up symptoms is something we try to do whenever possible. For example, headaches can often be treated with a glass of water, rest, and relaxation rather than a pill. As another example, praying for healing, using a humidifier at night, and drinking plenty of water has eliminated my allergy symptoms, and thus my need for daily allergy medicine. And of course, prevention is the best medicine of all. A healthy diet and exercise regime go a long way towards preventing illness! We will keep these concepts in mind as managers of our children’s health. Using “green” products in our home and on our bodies is also important to us for health and safety.

As you can see, choosing an intentional lifestyle covers many areas for us in our parenting vision. The overall goal here is to use careful consideration, research, discussion, wisdom, and of course prayer when we make decisions about how to live. Being intentional means that we do things the way that we do them for a reason. We want to live and parent on purpose—good parenting is not an accident.

In the next and final post about our parenting vision, I will share our thoughts on teaching safety and wisdom to our kids.

Thank you for reading, and feel free to comment below to share your thoughts!

Attachment Parenting

In my last post, I shared with you how important Cory and I feel it is to discuss and think about our future as parents. As this exciting time draws near, we’ve decided to write out a plan, or vision, for parenting. The first focus of our parenting vision is to keep God at the center by viewing our role as parents as a gift and ministry. Another aspect of raising our children that is very important to us is forming strong, trusting relationships with them and encouraging them to be compassionate and independent individuals. Attachment parenting is a philosophy that fits well with these goals, as it tends to produce children who are securely attached, independent, and compassionate.

Some of my readers may not be familiar with the term attachment parenting. According to the non-profit organization Attachment Parenting International, “The essence of Attachment Parenting is about forming and nurturing strong connections between parents and their children.” That is, of course, a simplified definition. Yet this idea of strong connections is at the core of attachment parenting. Specifically, there are 8 parenting practices that Attachment Parenting International (referred to as API from here on out) recommends. They are:

  1. Prepare for pregnancy, birth, and parenting
  2. Feed with love and respect
  3. Respond with sensitivity
  4. Use nurturing touch
  5. Ensure safe sleep, physically and emotionally
  6. Provide consistent and loving care
  7. Practice positive discipline
  8. Strive for balance in your personal and family life

Each of these principles provides a framework upon which parents are encouraged to build. API provides more details about the concepts, and tips for how they may be implemented, but it doesn’t tell parents what to do. There are a few areas in which API makes strong suggestions, such as breastfeeding and positive discipline without the use of physical punishment. For the most part, though, attachment parenting principles are flexible guidelines that focus on the goal of fostering a securely attached relationship between a child and his or her parents. There are no attachment parenting police who will enforce these principles; it’s simply a way to help parents form their parenting methods with attachment in mind.

We plan to implement these principles in our own specific ways. The first area, preparing for pregnancy, birth, and parenting, is obviously important to us; we like to think and educate ourselves about these things ahead of time! Writing our parenting vision is one way we reflect this. We’ve also done a lot of research and given consideration to our options for pregnancy care and birth. As a result, we’ve decided to prenatally care for and bring our babies into the world gently and naturally, with a midwife in a birth center. The documentary The Business of Being Born is a great resource for insight in this area (though I don’t recommend it if seeing women give birth bothers you).

The second area, feeding with love and respect, refers to a commitment to meeting your child’s nutritional needs and following his or her cues for feeding. Because of the many benefits of breastfeeding, we plan to breastfeed our babies, on demand, for at least the first year of life, and possibly for part of the second year as well. As they grow older, we will strive to balance respect for food preferences and our children’s cues as to when they are hungry and when they aren’t, with the importance of good nutrition.

The third principle, responding with sensitivity, means that we will respond to our babies’ cries and our older children’s voices. We will provide comfort and responsive care, and we won’t let our babies cry by themselves. The “cry it out” method, and sleep training in general, is not something we’ll be using. We won’t ignore our children or brush them off when they’re “annoying” to us—at least, it is our goal not to do so!

In the fourth area, using nurturing touch, we will remember to show plenty of affection through kisses, hugs, and cuddles. Babywearing, or keeping our baby in close contact with us using a sling, will also be an important part of our daily routine. We plan to use infant massage to promote bonding and relaxation.

The fifth API principle is ensuring safe sleep, physically and emotionally. Co-sleeping is one area that is most commonly associated with attachment parenting. Although the practice has become controversial, especially in the U.S., it is widely practiced around the world and it can be done safely. There are many benefits to co-sleeping, as long as the parents are willing to adapt to a new sleep arrangement. One option is to use a separate, but attached, sleeping area for the baby, such as a side-car bed or a twin mattress on the side of your bed. Cory and I plan to co-sleep, using this type of arrangement, as a way to make nighttime parenting more convenient; breastfeeding mothers tend to get more sleep when they co-sleep, since they can feed their babies without fully waking up. In our case, we have decided to co-sleep with our babies until they are ready to move to their own beds. Many attachment parenting families have a “family bed” in which children are welcome for as long as they wish. We plan to allow our children the freedom to sleep with us if they prefer, though we may start suggesting/preparing them to move to their own bedrooms around age five, if they’re still in our bed at that point. We believe co-sleeping will help our children develop a stronger connection with us and a healthy relationship with sleep, since it usually eliminates bedtime fears and battles.

Principle number six, providing consistent and loving care, means that we will spend as much time with our children as we can, while still providing balance for ourselves. We are fortunate in that I will be able to stay home with our children full-time—and that I have the desire to do so! It will be a priority for Cory to reconnect with our babies when he gets home from work every day, and to spend lots of quality time together as a family on the weekends. For the first years of their lives, we plan to keep separations from our children to a minimum. The only times we’ll both be away from them will be for short separations for things like date nights, and we will leave them with a trusted caregiver, most likely the baby’s grandparents.

The seventh area, practicing positive discipline, is one concept that I’ve learned a lot about in my studies of child development. It is very important to us that we discipline our children and teach them to be obedient, kind, and wise. Studies have shown that positive discipline, which focuses on gentle and respectful guidance, is a very effective way to help children develop into thoughtful, independent, and sincerely pro-social individuals. We will avoid the use of shaming, fear, or physical punishment to discipline our children. Some of the tools we will use instead include prevention, natural consequences, effective communication, and a lot of patience and understanding.

The eighth and final principle, keeping a balance in life, is one area that parents, especially highly devoted parents, may overlook. It seems that it can be all too easy to give everything you have to your child, not realizing that you have your own needs that must be met if you are to provide the best possible care. Cory and I want to remember to stay balanced in our lives as parents by taking care of our needs: eating well, getting exercise and sleep, using a support network of family and friends, taking time for ourselves to recharge, and spending time together as a couple. As co-sleepers, we will especially need to adapt to be more creative and spontaneous in intimacy; it’s important to us to keep the fire burning, even after we have kids! It is also particularly important for us to have time with God on a regular basis. God is our source of everything we need as a parent; we never want to cut him out of the equation because we “don’t have time.”

In order to keep this balance, we must be able to say “no” to our children at times. That doesn’t make us bad parents; it makes us parents who are balanced, and ultimately, that will benefit our children. On the other side of the coin, we will remember that parenting is an investment in our children, and when it’s so, so, so tiring and hard, we will remind ourselves that it gets easier. They will grow up and need us a lot less someday! If we want that future to be a bright one, we’re wise to invest in them in the early years.

In my next post, I’ll share the third facet of our parenting vision, which is choosing an intentional lifestyle.

What do you think about attachment parenting? If you’re a parent, have you used any of these principles? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!

 

Resources:

Attachment Parenting International – http://www.attachmentparenting.org/

The Business of Being Born – Directed by Abby Epstein and produced by Ricki Lake
Available on Netflix and Amazon Instant Video