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Monthly Archives: September 2010

Moms Need a Timeout: 3 Tips and 3 Reasons

Envision your ideal Mamacation; then go do the next best thing...

“Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

“Don’t worry about chores, sleep whenever possible.”

“Schedule regular date nights with your spouse.”

These are all words of wisdom that I was offered upon becoming a new mother. I’ve even repeated these tidbits to other new moms. But here’s the question: how do you really take a break if you’re a new parent?

1.) Ask for Help

NEVER turn down an offer of help and be VERY specific about what kind of help you would like. If a friend or family member asks if you need help, don’t reply with, “Sure, some help would be great.” Instead, say, “Would you mind bringing over dinner one night this week?”

Or, maybe you could call a friend and ask for them to watch your child while you take a nap, see a movie or grab some exercise. It doesn’t matter so much what you are doing on your time off as long as the activity is restorative to you.

2.) Schedule “Me” Time

Experienced moms will tell you to schedule a break for yourself. It can be as short as a few minutes or an afternoon or evening all to yourself (or hopefully, with your spouse.) You must put it on the calendar and really prepare for it. Leave lots of instructions. Whether your babysitter needs the advice or not, you will be more at ease knowing you’ve provided lots of information.

3.) Examine Your Reluctance

Many stay-at-home moms become workaholics. We take our new job very seriously and assume that our role is irreplaceable. Well, it’s true that you are the most important person in your new baby’s life right now. But letting go of the reigns for a few hours to improve yourself is important for the whole family. If you have been reluctant to get help from family or a professional so that you can have a break, are you being honest with yourself about the reason?

Guilt. Finances. Fear. Those are three top reasons moms give for doing all the childcare work themselves. “I quit my job and gave up my salary to do this, so it’s my responsibility.” Even hourly workers are typically allowed sick or personal days on the job. There is no shame in taking personal time as a mom.

Breastfeeding is another excuse. I nursed all three of my children. The first for 15 months; then 14 months (she was a biter); and the baby was still going strong until she was 17 months old. With a little planning, you can still take time off despite being the sole provider of baby’s nutritional needs. I didn’t enjoy pumping, and my babies were allergic to formula, but it was a small amount of effort to get a break.

Why are Breaks so Important?

If you’re starting to understand how to take your break, but still reluctant to try, let’s look at the reasons why you should put in the effort.

1.) Reduces your risk of caregiver burnout and depression.

A recent study tracked nearly 87,000 families in the United Kingdom between 1993 and 2007, and found the highest risk for depression occurred in the first year after a child’s birth.

“After the first year of parenting, a mother’s risk for depression dropped by half, while experienced fathers faced only about a quarter of the depression risk compared with new fathers.” (Source: The New York Times)

What’s important in the results of this study is that both mothers and fathers experience in increased rate of depression during that first year. Most studies focus only on mothers and postpartum depression, but fathers are at risk, too.

Many studies have been conducted on family caregivers. Caregivers are defined as anyone providing assistance to someone else who is, in some degree, incapacitated. Caregiver stress and burnout are well-documented and startling.

40% to 70% of family caregivers have clinically significant symptoms of depression with approximately a quarter to half of these caregivers meet the diagnostic criteria for major depression. (Source: Zarit, S. (2006). Assessment of Family Caregivers: A Research Perspective)

Family caregivers experiencing extreme stress have been shown to age prematurely. This level of stress can take as much as 10 years off a family caregiver’s life. (Source: Elissa S. Epel, Dept of Psychiatry, Univ of Calif, SF, et al, From the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dec 7, 2004, Vol 101, No. 49.)

2.) Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, Really.

Research conducted by Julia Vormbrock, Ph.D., and others, shows that children grow more fond of their caregivers when they’re separated from them – at least for a few days. After two weeks of separation, however, most children become “detached,” reports Vormbrock. Many attachment parenting experts believe that the detachment phase begins closer to three days in children less than three years of age. So, while an extended trip away from your children may not result in a positive outcome in your relationships with them, a few hours or an evening away is certainly not harmful.

Getting some time away from your child can indeed give you a fresh perspective, especially if you’re caring for a high-needs or special-needs baby. You can be better able to reattach after a restorative break.

What about during the separation anxiety phase? Usually around 18 months, give or take a few months, your baby will go through separation anxiety when the primary caregiver is not around. If you are right in the thick of separation anxiety, keep your breaks to a minimum, or find a way to take a break during naps or at night when your child is sleeping. Forcing your child to cope with your absence during this phase can often make them more upset and insecure. I promise that with healthy bonds and lots of patience, this period will pass rather quickly.

3.) Encourages Children to Bond with Other Caregivers

Your child will also be able to reattach to you when you return. Even if your first few tries at getting away have resulted in leaving a wailing child in another person’s arms, it’s important to remember that your child really does forget about you shortly after you leave. Not in a permanent or debilitating way, they just focus their attention on someone or something else.

Without you there, they begin to take notice of this new caregiver in front of them and will have the opportunity to form a healthy attachment with them. This is especially important if the back-up caregiver is your spouse or a grandparent who has not previously been given access to one-on-one care.

MOM DARE: If you’re the primary caregiver of one or more children, take a break. Schedule a date night with your spouse or girlfriends. Make sure you are doing this at least once a month. Your connections to your husband, close family members and your friends are vitally important to you. While having children definitely limits the amount of time you have to spend on these relationships, the importance of them does not diminish. Think of it as a mini Mamacation; and make the most of any time you can carve out for yourself.

Grace and Peace (or Peace and Quiet)

To subscribe to my weekly message and to take on other Mom Dares, enter your e-mail on the right under subscriptions, or you can visit at www.babylovecarebook.com

 

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4 Tips to Strengthen Relationships with Your Children

(Today’s post is written by the very talented and insightful Lori Lowe. You may have seen her blog Marriage Gems recently on Freshly Pressed where it was featured for three days and recorded over 40,000 page views in four days. Here’s a glimpse of why her posts are so popular.)

As a marriage researcher and writer, I frequently come across studies that offer tips on benefiting marriages. I often find the same tips can also help improve my relationship with my kids. Here are four tips that can help you improve your relationship with grown-ups or little ones in your home.

1.) Use the 5-to-1 Ratio

Dr. John Gottman says marriages that survive have five positive interactions for each negative one. Words of praise, gratitude, love, kindness, affection or a sincere compliment fall under the positive interaction category, while a complaint or argument fall under the negative side. The single negative interaction is important, because couples are able to work out problems or frustrations and communicate honestly during those times.

It’s interesting to relate this advice to children. Obviously, we are not at risk for breaking up with our kids. However, it’s not always easy to maintain a positive relationship with them as they grow up –including the toddler and teen years! I sometimes find myself having far too many negative interactions (“Hurry up, you’re late for school!” or “Why are you dilly dallying on your homework?” or “I don’t think you did your personal best on this work.”) I sometimes need to remind myself to offer positive words and encouragement.

On frustrating days, I try to offer myself and my children some grace, and then take time to reconnect with them while doing something they enjoy, such as playing a game, or talking about something fun they did at school. One of my kids’ favorite activities is eating. (They’re skinny kids, but they eat like horses.) So, connecting around the dinner table is great timing for them. They are so appreciative of the cooking and the food—even if it’s broccoli with garlic salt or spaghetti—and they love to share a story while they are relaxed and full.

Bedtime offers another time to balance the 5 to 1 ratio, with snuggles, reading and chats about the next day’s activities. While boosting the positive words, be careful about offering empty praise (“Good job!”). Instead praise specific actions, such as, “I like the way you invited the new girl to play with you on the playground,” or “You made a real effort on the soccer field today.”

2.) Increase Touch

Other relationship research shows frequent touching in romantic couples helps improve their bonds. In fact, increased touching (high fives or butt slaps) even increased bonds between athletes and improved their team performance.  It should go without saying that kids need lots of positive touch.

When you’re having a difficult conversation with a child (or a husband), it’s particularly important to touch them in a gentle way. Think hugs in the morning and after school, cuddles during the day, massages and gentle stroking for babies and toddlers, butterfly kisses or special hugs at night. Don’t give up on touching teens affectionately; they need the pats on the shoulder and the hugs just as much as younger kids.

3.) Celebrate Good News

A third study I’ll share has to do with supporting your loved ones, particularly when they have GOOD news. It seems a little backwards, but it’s crucial to improving relationships. Studies show couples are supportive during tough times, but often apathetic when good news happens. Since there are more good times than bad (for most people, thankfully), our loved ones may see us as not understanding who they are and what they value when we don’t encourage and praise them when things go well.

Having a cheerful response to both our spouses and our kids, and celebrating with them when something small or big goes well can tremendously boost your relationship. Good news for your kids might include success during potty training, making the team they tried out for, doing well on a paper or test they worked hard on, or getting a date with someone special. Try to stay in tune with what is important to them.

4.) Put Your Marriage First

I believe the above studies offer insight that is useful to maintain and improve positive relationships with our children, but more important advice is found in the book To Raise Healthy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. Read my summary and review. Putting our marriage first not only benefits your marriage, it benefits your children in ways we didn’t understand in the past. Giving too much attention to kids, it turns out, only does them harm, by not giving them the opportunity to develop and problem-solve. Of course, it can also hurt the marriage, thereby jeopardizing the sense of security our children enjoy.

For hundreds of research-based marriage tips, visit www.LifeGems4Marriage.com. Lori Lowe is marriage columnist and blogger from Indianapolis. For 15 years, Lori has been happily married to her husband, a pilot who keeps her grounded. They live in Indianapolis with their two children, a crazy cat and two aquatic frogs.

 

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Mom, Could You Pencil Me in for a Nap?

"Seriously. Don't feed me again, I'm tired."

One of the most debated and misunderstood tools of parenting has got to be the implementation of a routine. Personally, I think there is some major confusion going on about what a routine is and why it is used. After more than eight years of attachment parenting, I’ve come to realize that routine and schedule are not dirty words, they are simply a reality.

A Routine is Not a Schedule; A Schedule is Not a Routine

While these words often get used interchangeably, they are definitely not the same. Let’s say, for example, you wake baby up at 7 a.m. every day, eat breakfast at 7:15 and are out the door by 8 a.m. This is a schedule.

On the other hand, if baby wakes up (usually at 7 a.m.), gets a diaper change, nurses for about 20 minutes, followed by playtime, then one more diaper check and it’s time to leave the house. This is a routine. It may be bound by some time restrictions, but it’s a consistent set of activities that take place each day in the same order. Your baby knows that as soon as diaper is changed, eating will begin, then playtime.

When you are not bound by a schedule (from work, older siblings or your own daily agenda), a routine can be very flexible. You could let baby sleep in if teething or illness prevented a good night’s sleep, but you would stick with the consistent order of activities. If your baby normally stays awake for 3 hours before needing a nap, you would simply count 3 hours from the time baby woke up to readjust the nap.

Or perhaps you will need to be somewhere outside the home during a time when your baby is usually napping. Clearly adjustments need to be made. My youngest daughter’s natural rhythm involved an afternoon nap at 1 p.m. Unfortunately, this is when her older sister needed to be picked up from school. (The car ride was only a few minutes, not long enough for an actual nap.) I had to tweak her natural routine a bit to meet her needs while still meeting the needs of our family. So, in this regard, our routines are driven by the schedules of all five people in our family.

Why does it matter? Science knows.

Ah, that’s the real question. Whether parents want to believe it or not, routines make happier babies. They cry less because they know what to expect. They don’t need to cry out in hunger or tiredness, because those needs are met before they become urgent. Personally, I fell into a routine almost by accident and, oh, how I wish I had saved myself the eight months of exhaustion and simply set up some consistent routines from the start. (You can read more about that at Confessions of a Disorganized Mom.)

But, there’s research to back up the importance of a routine as well. In June, 2010, a sleep study involving 8,000 children (the largest of it’s kind) revealed the following:

  • Children in households with bedtime rules and children who get adequate sleep score higher on a range of developmental assessments;
  • Results indicate that among sleep habits, having a regular bedtime was the most consistent predictor of positive developmental outcomes at 4 years of age. Scores for receptive and expressive language, phonological awareness, literacy and early math abilities were higher in children whose parents reported having rules about what time their child goes to bed. Having an earlier bedtime also was predictive of higher scores for most developmental measures.

“Getting parents to set bedtime routines can be an important way to make a significant impact on childrens’ emergent literacy and language skills,” said lead author Erika Gaylor, Ph.D., early childhood policy researcher for SRI International, an independent, nonprofit research institute in Menlo Park, Calif. (SOURCE: American Academy of Sleep Medicine, news release, June 7, 2010, read full text here.)

Behavioral Impact of Routines

Literacy and language skills are one thing, but behavioral improvements can drastically impact a household. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL is now a part of Vanderbilt University, one of the leaders in autism research) published a reference manual for early childhood teachers titled “Helping Children Understand Routines and Classroom Schedules”. Here’s an excerpt:

Studies have documented that schedules and routines influence children’s emotional, cognitive, and social development. For example, predictable and consistent schedules in preschool classrooms help children feel secure and comfortable.

Also, schedules and routines help children understand the expectations of the environment and reduce the frequency of behavior problems, such as tantrums and acts of aggression. Activity schedules that give children choices, balanced and planned activities (small vs. large groups, quiet times vs. active times, teacher directed vs. child directed, indoor vs. outdoor), and individualized activities result in a high rate of child engagement. (Read more here.)

Let me repeat that last sentence about the importance of activity schedules that give children choices. Many parents resist routines because they fear it will become too rigid or create a child who is unable to be flexible when necessary. What happens, however, is just the opposite. Children become more adept at making choices based upon what is available to them; as opposed to demanding something that they simply expect will be available.

A Routine is not a Label, It’s an Action

Our children are at our mercy. We set the tone and the pace of their days. As a parent, I strive to create a flexible, fun and nurturing environment for my three daughters that respects the unique needs of each child, and I help many new parents do the same.

I also advise new parents that for the first four months your routine is this:
Fall in love with your baby, eat healthy foods, get more sleep.

MOM DARE: The key to setting up a positive routine is to resist the notion that “one-size-fits-all”, and develop a strategy that respects the individual needs of each member of your family (including yourself). If you don’t have a consistent routine for your young child, this is the week to try it. Write everything down to see what works best. Then repeat. If you need help based on the age of your baby, write a comment or question here. I’ve got sample routines that I can post.

Grace and Peace.

To subscribe to my weekly message and to take on other Mom Dares, enter your e-mail on the right under subscriptions, or you can visit at www.babylovecarebook.com

 

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Taking a Crash Course in LISTENING

Learning that less can be more.

A series of strange events over the last few weeks found me electronically and then physically unable to communicate. I remarked to a friend that God was doing a good job of keeping me mute.

For three weeks, my broken keyboard was unable to generate the letters I, K and a whole host of numbers. Without the letter I, my notes were craftily rewritten to eliminate this letter. It was a valuable lesson in how frequently my messages talk about ME.

Yes, this is a personal blog, primarily about motherhood, but also about traits we all have in common. My writing has always been in the first person to make it understood that the observations are my own and not to be construed as mandates, judgments or even instructions.

But maybe I’m doing it all wrong?

Just as I was trying to sort out the pervasiveness of I and me in my writing, I was stricken with laryngitis. For the past 5 days, I have been unable to talk beyond a raspy croak. My kids find it amusing. I’m not a very chatty girl, but having my voice taken away has forced me to listen, nod and respond only when asked a direct question.

These unique and frustrating circumstances reinforced two powerful lessons:

  1. Remaining silent has the power to draw out more information from those around you. This is a basic rule of interviewing and negotiating, but using it as a parent has been extremely rewarding.
  2. Speaking with grace also means talking without using yourself as the example. Trying to write even one paragraph without relating back to oneself is an interesting exercise. It takes some discipline. And even more difficult is having a conversation without referring to yourself.

As I was stewing about this post, and exactly how to word it, the Wayne Dyer calendar message on my desk communicated more eloquently than I have been able to:

“Remember that at every single moment of your life, you have the choice to either be a host to God or a hostage to your ego.”


MOM DARE: Can you eliminate the “I” from your conversations and become a better listener? How many times do you respond to a conversation by telling a story about your own experience even though you were not directly asked about it? This is a struggle and a powerful lesson for me. I am now a mindful listener when my husband or child or anyone around me is talking. I think first before I speak. Instead of using “I” in the response, I think of how to use “you”.

Grace and Peace.

To subscribe to my weekly message and to take on other Mom Dares, enter your e-mail on the right under subscriptions, or you can visit at www.babylovecarebook.com

 
3 Comments

Posted by on September 10, 2010 in Weekly Bits of Baby Love

 

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Motherhood Meltdown: Find your Mantra

Finding my happy place: “In my mind I’m goin’ to Carolina…”

It seems everything in my life has experienced a mechanical breakdown over the last few weeks. I wrote last week about our poison berry scare involving our precocious 2-year-old daughter. (Yes, she’s still fine.) Before this incident, we endured the breakdown of our car, my shiny new refrigerator, my computer keyboard, an aging garbage disposal, the front door (seriously) and my foot. Let’s just say that feeding a family of five for four weeks with a broken refrigerator was an interesting experience.

With each new trial, I’ve found myself struggling to rise above the circumstances.

How do you remain in a state of grace when everything seems to be broken?

My blog mission and personal goal is to weather the storms of life, motherhood and marriage with grace. This is a lifelong pursuit, and not an easy task especially when you want to cry, yell at someone (like, perhaps, the  customer service folks from Lowe’s extended warranty program) or crawl back under the covers.

Thankfully, I have an arsenal of affirmative mantras. When I began my journey into meditation, I was intrigued by the Buddhist and Hindu methods of practice, but not so in love with the Sanskrit mantras. I have nothing against the standard Om or even Om Shanti Shanti Shanti (which means peace and is a mantra I use often). But, really, I spend my days with three small children and when I meditate, I prefer to use words that are familiar and powerful to me.

My amazing pastor, Dr. Kent Millard, suggests I use “Be Still, And Know.” That’s an easy one to do when your blood pressure rises and you feel like having a mommy meltdown. Breathe in … be still. Breathe out … and know. I’ve also found an amazing online resource, Wildmind, for more information about the finer points of practicing meditation, including the meanings to all the Sanskrit mantras.

What I’ve learned in the process of meditating is that grace is something available to us always. We carry it within us. Unfortunately, the trials of life close off our connection to grace and we must mindfully open our connection to experience it again. When we experience God’s grace within, we can move forward gracefully in our interactions with everyone around us. Grace is waiting on the doorstep. Now, if I could just get that front door open.

MOM DARE: You know, I was so rattled last week that the last thing I needed was another challenge. So this week, we’ll work on two. 1) Find your personal mantra and 2) share it here. Perhaps you already have one. It can be anything; a bible verse, words to your favorite song, something your mother once said to you, or of course you can delve into traditional Sanskrit mantras. But find those words that – when spoken mindfully – release the pressures of life and let grace and peace flow freely again.

Grace and peace. Grace and peace. Grace and peace.

To subscribe to my Weekly Bit of Baby Love and to take on other Mom Dares, enter your e-mail on the right under subscriptions, or you can visit at www.babylovecarebook.com

 

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