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Category Archives: On Staying at Home

If Mama’s Not Happy, Nobody’s Happy: Proven

photo by Michal Marcol

What I’ve learned in 9 years of mothering is that you can’t learn how to take care of your children until you’ve learned to take care of yourself. I’m often categorized as a baby blogger, baby merchant or other kind of “baby person.” In reality, my blog and the Baby Love Carebook are mother-focused products.

A recent study confirms the correlation between depressed mothers and depressed children. The results are startling, considering that nearly 400,000 babies are born to depressed mothers each year in the United States.

Nearly half of the children with depressed mothers will develop depression.

And did you know that the average age of the onset of depression is 34; peak childbearing years? All these facts and study references were published recently in the Wall Street Journal. I encourage you to read the full article by Martha Beck.

And an interesting side note: the most severe consequence of depression happens during the first year of a child’s life because they will not form the necessary attachment to Mom.

The bottom line is that children fare better when Mom gets help as early as possible. So the good news is that this is not a hereditary condition as most people assume; it is environmental. It can be corrected and prevented by teaching your children how to regulate their own emotions.

My retail slogan is Journal. Organizer. Encouragement for Moms. My goal from the very conception of my business was to help new mothers navigate the more difficult day-to-day struggles of caring for a fussy baby. In fact, my About page spells out my mission:

As the mother of three small children, my goal is to help other new parents feel empowered and to instill in them the confidence to care for their babies in a loving, positive way that respects the uniqueness of all children.

If you or a new mom in your life is struggling or seems depressed, the first step is to recognize the problem and to realize it’s not at all uncommon. In fact, lack of sleep is the leading cause of post-partum depression and can be corrected easily and without drugs.

The second step during the baby years is to establish a consistent routine and really pay attention to baby’s cues. When a new mom feels more in control and not at the mercy of her baby, she is better able to experience joy and fight off the feelings of seclusion and depression.

The most common keywords that lead to this blog are “sample routine for xx month baby”. New moms are searching for the magic formula to get through their days and nights. Here’s the real secret: it’s different for everyone.

And from May 25-29, 2011, discovering this magic formula will be even easier. Sign up for Totsy today or tomorrow to view our half price sale of the Baby Love Carebook. This offer is limited to these five days and we have a limited supply of books so I encourage you to make your purchase early. You can opt out of the Totsy emails at any time.

Grace and peace.

 

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Battle Hymn of the Chicken Mama

According to the Chinese zodiac, I was born in the year of the rooster, but I prefer to think of myself as a chicken. I couldn’t help musing recently at how I would measure up in the much talked-about book about Chinese parenting, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua. I have not read the book, and while she writes with style and wit, I have no desire to read it. If you have not heard all the hoopla, I encourage you to read the response from her daughter, who admits that her mother is not quite as ferocious as the book implies.

As a mother raising three daughters in the United States, I have no problem being a chicken. Persons born in a rooster year are characterized as sharp, practical and tenacious. We are also hard-working, eccentric, a bit show-offish, loyal, charming and we really hate any viewpoint that disagrees with our own. Hence, many roosters own our own businesses or pursue careers in art or entertainment or you know, blogging. We like to be noticed, and probably care about our hair just a tad too much. I am totally a chicken.

But a Chicken Mama has a different code of ethics and expectations. Much like a Tiger Mother, we are very proud of our flock, and do not care to hear anything (at all) negative about them. However, when my daughter brings home anything less than an “A”, we assume rightly that she has a slight learning disability, was placed on the wrong side of the classroom, or simply failed to properly learn the material because of faulty teaching.

And, also like the Tiger Mother, this Chicken Mama does not allow TV (on week nights), we do not subscribe to cable television nor do we own video games. Personally, I am not a fan of play dates, but I do give in on a case-by-case basis. (Mostly to moms who are artsy or eccentric like me.)

As for musical prodigies, I have a much different stance. I spent about 5 minutes researching the Suzuki method when my firstborn was in preschool, and nearly fell off my nest when I realized how much of my own time would be spent teaching the piano or violin. Forget about it. Our piano teacher’s primary qualification is that she has a car and comes to our house. My eight-year-old is musically gifted, that’s for sure, but hates to practice. I set a timer when necessary, and we get about 30 good minutes of practice each night.

Will she ever play Carnegie Hall? I really don’t care, but if it’s important to her she will make it happen on her own and not by my constant pecking. I will completely support and encourage her, but I won’t be the one who pushes her in the direction of my own dreams.

As for defiance or unruly behavior at home, I also take a much different approach. As a Tiger Mother, Amy Chua once (or more often) called her daughter “garbage” when the girl acted disrespectfully. I’m not into shaming or name-calling to get my children to obey. I do not see the value in this. My children are expected to act respectfully and are often complimented on their good behavior. I have many strategies that make this happen; most importantly my children feel loved, respected and confident. We model respect in our actions, as opposed to the ranting, screaming, hair-pulling tactics given by Ms. Chua.

As for our typical home environment; Western Chickens are very proud of our nests. Our homes are fun, organized and filled with laughter. Chores are required, meals are always taken around the dinner table and homework must be completed the moment the kids step off the bus. When my three little chicks get out of line or have trouble controlling their behavior, I resort to a much different sort of Battle Hymn. We crank up Keith Urban and dance it out. Nothing lifts a mood like a guitar-heavy country lick, especially when the artist looks so fine. Give it a try, it will raise your spirits, or at least your heart rate.

I suppose I could crush them into submission by calling them names; but this German/Irish/Native American so-called Western Chicken Mama would much rather teach my little birds to fly.

Grace, Peace and a bit of humor.

(And thanks again to Totsy. Last week’s sale of the Baby Love Carebook was ridiculously successful!)

 

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Smart Moms Put it in Writing

For a better getaway, leave way more information than you think any babysitter could possibly need.

I finally took my own advice. Following three years without a break, I took some time off. Three glorious days involving my husband, a hot-stone massage and adults-only dinners. I slept late, meditated, devoured a book (Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson… a MUST read) and basically found my center again.

Leading up to this event was anything but relaxing. I tossed and turned thinking of all the logistics involved in leaving three children for three days. I filled out medical consent forms for each child, wrote out instructions for each day of my absence, and updated my Baby Love Carebook to detail daily routines for our youngest daughter.

My husband teased me about all the work, rhetorically asking, “You do know your mom has done this before, right?”

Of course I know my capable replacement has babysat before (and raised three children of her own.) If I didn’t feel confident, the trip would never have been a possibility. The fact remains, details will make or break a babysitting assignment. The more information you leave behind, the fewer questions your replacement will have.

When my mom showed up the evening before our departure, I laid out all the paperwork. She heaved a big sigh of relief upon seeing the signed medical consent forms. She read through the three pages of instructions and remarked that I had answered all her questions. She jotted down a few notes of her own then went off to spend time with her granddaughters.

Despite tornado warnings and my mother getting sick on the first evening, we had no major catastrophes. There was only one event that prompted a phone call and a little intervention from grandpa to fix a broken CD player. The girls behaved wonderfully and really enjoyed the extra time spent with their grandma.

My husband and I were able to see each other as people again, not just parents. This was a business retreat with other managers from his company, so I was able to spend time with his coworkers and spouses. It helped give me a deeper perspective on how he spends his time away from home. My husband was also able to see me engaged in conversations with his peers. After eight years of parenting, and 13 years of marriage, this type of interaction has become rare and precious for us. I’m so very grateful we had the chance to reconnect in this way.

On the last morning of our stay, I perused the lavish hotel shops in search of a small token of appreciation for my mom. As the cashier was wrapping up a beautiful silk and velvet scarf and an adorable set of angel magnets, I noticed some note pads. I get my list-making passion from my mother, and know how much she likes a decorative place to write things down. I selected one to put on top of the other gifts, so that this sentiment would be visible upon opening the box: “Smart Women Put it in Writing.”  True. So true.

Mom Dare: Put it in writing. Whatever “it” is for you. Write down your daily routines; you just might discover a pattern or inconsistency you had not realized was there. Complete a medical consent form because you just never know when you might need it. (I got mine from our pediatrician.) Write down your meals, especially if you suspect your child has a food intolerance or if you are struggling to take off a few pounds. Write a love letter to your spouse. Let him know how much he means to you, even though your daily grind may not give you the time you once had.

What are your other suggestions of things to record in writing? How did it help you to write it down?

 

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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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How Stay-at-Home Moms are Compensated

Bonus check: our family portrait 2010.

This weekend I was paid a compliment by a close friend and family member. She thanked me for all I had taught her about mothering and expressed joy in spending time with me and my girls. I was humbled by her kind words, and admitted that I’ve never really considered myself all that great at being a mom. But I do try hard, and I strive to be better today than I was yesterday. While appreciating her sentiments, I thought about the term “paid a compliment.” It made me smile because stay-at-home moms must take what we can get in terms of payment.

What are some of your favorite rewards of mothering? I came up with my list (in no particular order) of non-monetary forms of payment:

  1. Wildflower/weed bouquets,
  2. Drawings (especially traced hands turned into birds or trees),
  3. Whispered conversations at bedtime,
  4. Make-believe playtime involving mama doll and baby dolls,
  5. Impromptu serenades by a budding rock/country/classical songstress,
  6. The soft touch of a child’s hand,
  7. A sleeping child in my arms, no matter how young or old they are,
  8. Kind words of appreciation from a spouse or another parent.

I’m reminded that I chose this path for a reason. I willingly gave up my lucrative career (hey, I’m a designer, so lucrative is a subjective word) to raise our children. I knew that the education I received from this job would surpass all other degrees achieved, but possibly unappreciated by future employers. I do sometimes envy moms in other countries who are paid to stay at home. Not so much for the money they receive, but for the validation. Perhaps that’s why we use the term “paid a compliment.” For so many of us, kind words of encouragement are the compensation for the work that we do.

MOM DARE: I’ve issued a similar dare in the past, but it’s worth repeating. This week, offer your words of kindness, encouragement, support or gratitude to the mothers around you. Give them an example of what you notice that impresses you. As moms, it’s so easy to get caught up in the exhaustion and the meltdowns and the never-ending chores. We tend to lose focus of all that is right and dwell only on what’s wrong. Make an effort to be more supportive of mothers around you and watch your own support system grow in the process. We really are in this together, and surely it’s time we all got a raise.

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.

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A Fate Worse Than MOM?

What kind of life has replaced your baby bump?

You’ve made it through your cute little baby bump phase, and nine months when all eyes were upon you. You were the center of attention and able to shop for amazingly hip maternity and baby gear (very little of which you currently use). Now, when you do venture out in public, people flock to the child in your arms and you silently will them all to just step back. No one seems to care what you are wearing, how you are feeling or when you last slept for more than four hours. Even your spouse has evolved from dutiful, ultra-concerned husband to barely tolerable man with whom you share a child. It seemed to happen overnight… you became a MOM.

But wait, there’s more. You gave up your career to do this full time, you say? LOL. Now you can’t hold a conversation with your FNBs (friends no babies) to save your life, because their eyes glaze over when you fret over a lost blankie and a little wrinkle appears across their noses when you need to breastfeed. You want your old life back, crappy career and all. And, you even begin to fantasize about being single again. You’re certain your husband will never relate to you (or help out) and you are oh so jealous that he goes to work each day. Could there be a fate worse than this?

Well, yes. Of course there could be, and if you continue down this thought pattern there certainly will be. Because here’s the thing no one ever told you before you jumped on the mommy bandwagon:  Some of it sucks, all of it is hard work and the first year can be one of the most dreadful you can imagine. You are no longer yourself. It’s best to realize this, embrace it and redefine your existence right now. Today. Be better at what you are doing. Don’t try to escape your child, your husband or even your messy, toy-strewn family room. Don’t glamorize the office job that you once dreaded more often than you enjoyed, or the boss that made sure you worked through every holiday cycle. Your career will begin again (if you are lucky enough to have a choice in the matter) and you will re-enter the workforce a wiser, more organized, and more patient person.

You have been given a gift, my friend. Yes, the child you care for is the ultimate gift that is elusive to so many. Have you ever known someone who is unable to conceive or has spent years on an adoption waiting list? Your whining is like salt in their wounds. And, as a bonus gift, you have been given an opportunity to rediscover yourself and your partner. All these years, your life’s journey has just been a hike to base camp. Now is your time to ascend and attempt to summit. Do you want to summit alone, or do you want someone to pull you, push you and sometimes carry you to the top?

So, listen. All tough love aside. If you are feeling this way or have ever felt this way, know that you are not alone. This is not unique to your life or your marriage. I have heard your complaints, I have read your blogs and I know what you are going through. You can have it all (eventually.) Your spouse will become your hero again (probably not in the next week.) You will stop defining your worth in terms of your paycheck (after you stop shopping at Nordstrom and even if you continue in the workforce.)

MOM DARE: Your first step toward balance is to lead with gratitude every day. I am grateful for my home, for my parents, for my trees and gardens. I am awed by my husband (especially since he figured out how to balance his own roles), my friends and my beautiful, healthy children. I have abundant food, the ability to worship as I please, a safe city in which to live. We have two cars, gas money and plenty of clothes. We have clean, running water and electricity. We have doctors, hospitals, and police. Do I need to continue? This is the beginning of finding your center.

So, like Michael Keaton ceremoniously burned his flannel shirt in “Mr. Mom” (yes, I’m that old), you need to give your old life a proper goodbye and toast your maiden voyage on the MOM ship. Your journey will not be easy, but it will certainly be full of adventure and an education beyond anything you could receive from the Ivy Leagues. And, someday, when your life is a little easier, you will help pull another new mom through to fairer seas.

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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Weekly Bit of Baby Love: Shifting your paradigm

Hat, sunglasses. Useful for masking your third day without a shower.

Nothing rocks your world quite like becoming a parent. Many of us had not yet mastered the art of taking care of ourselves when we became responsible for another little being. With the coming of new responsibilities is the “going” of our old way of doing things. Some pieces of our old lives are hard to give up, despite the joy that a new baby brings.

What do you find yourself struggling to get back? I remember feeling so defeated as a first-time parent simply because I could not drag my sleep-deprived self out of bed early enough to take a shower before my baby awakened. I work at night and truly need every minute of morning sleep I can get. I finally realized that the days of greeting the world freshly showered, fashionably dressed and with a current hairstyle were temporarily on hold. I always hated showering at night, but found it was the only way to make this new life work. And, after awhile, I came to enjoy scrubbing off a days worth of baby spit-up or the various messes created by a toddler. I shifted my paradigm (or at least my shower time) and it made a world of difference.

MOM DARE: This is the week to make a change in your life to incorporate at least one thing you find yourself complaining about or longing for. What is it: exercise, a date with your spouse, the mountain of laundry that children mysteriously create? Shift the pattern you’ve gotten yourself into and make the necessary change to fit in (or remove) the source of stress. Your solution does not need to be permanent, but may help you realize that adaptability will become one of your greatest strengths as a parent. As my mother always recites, “This too shall pass.” So shift your current expectations, and make this week work for you in a whole new way.

To subscribe to my Weekly Bit of Baby Love and see if you’re ready to take on other Mom Dares, enter your email on the right under subscriptions, or sign up online at www.babylovecarebook.com/weeklybit.html

 

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