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Category Archives: The Baby Years

Summer Poison Safety Smarts for Parents

Photo © photostock

Sunscreen, hand sanitizer, insect spray; all are common items in mothers’ bags in the summer. But what would you do if your curious 2-year-old consumed one of these products?

I was contacted recently by Eliza Gladstone, Director of the national Poison Control Program. She found my post from last summer detailing our own poison scare with our then two-year-old daughter and asked if I would spread the word about the Poison Control Program’s newly updated web site:  http://poisonhelp.hrsa.gov/

According to Eliza, “Children under age five make up more than half of all poison exposures, with common household hazards ranging from medications to cleaning supplies.”

Your first step in poison safety is to program the National Hotline into your phone. 1-800-222-1222. This number connects to your local poison control center and is indispensable in an emergency.

Next, review some safey smarts outlined by the Poison Control Program. Here are just a few helpful hints for keeping children safe in the summer months:

  • Never underestimate the power of an insect bite or sting. Insect stings may cause serious problems and even death for those with allergies. Go to a hospital right away if you develop hives after a sting, or have dizziness, breathing trouble or swelling around the eyes and mouth.
  • Be sure to check the label on insect repellent. Select a product that is safe for the age of the user. Follow the directions for application on the label.
  • Watch for signs of food poisoning including fever, headache, diarrhea, stomach pains, nausea and vomiting.
  • Do not leave products containing alcohol (especially HAND SANITIZER) where children can reach them. Alcohol can be dangerous to children, leading to respiratory depression, coma or even death. Signs that a child may have consumed alcohol include sleepiness.

You can find these and other tips on the Poison Control Program web site. If you have any other safety tips for parents, please share them here. Have any of you ever called the Poison Hotline?

 

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Another Attachment: Let Others Bond with Your Children

As we spend time with various family and friends over spring break, I thought I would share an old post about loosening up your strings a little. As I watch my three little ones run to greet their father, grandparents and friends, it’s a nice reminder that these relationships started when they were babies. Enjoy.

Giving Dad some room to make mistakes and take on the mundane chores of childcare really strengthened their bond.

During my first few months caring for our very fussy first-born daughter, my exhaustion had reached its peak. My husband urged me to use the breast pump that sat unopened on the counter. He was able to take the first late night feeding on weekends, allowing me to get four to five hours of uninterrupted sleep — something I desperately needed. Just as important, my husband was able to bond with our daughter in a new way. After a long week at work, he savored these late night feedings alone with his baby girl.

What is Attachment Parenting?

I’m a contributing blogger for Attachment Parenting International’s blog; API Speaks: The Voice for Gentle Parents Everywhere. They advocate eight principles of parenting that promote healthy connections with your children, helping them to become confident, compassionate adults. Read the summary of the eight principles to get the general idea.

The principle I choose to write about most often is “Strive for Balance.” One of the easiest ways to achieve balance as a mother is to let others lighten your burden so you can take a break. If you are constantly worried that no one else is capable of caring for your child (even your spouse), or you are afraid to ask for help, your child has no opportunity to form an attachment to anyone else.

Are you allowing others to bond with your child?

Mothers and fathers (and grandparents) have very different ways of holding, playing and interacting with their babies. Research shows that babies recognize and thrive on these differences. Do you constantly correct others on the proper way to hold, feed or comfort your baby or do you let them develop their own technique? It’s great to let others know what your child prefers, but hovering and immediately taking over once a baby cries is not really the best answer.

If you’re caring for an infant or young toddler, this is the week to work on loosening your strings a little. You won’t be giving up the connection that you have with your child, but allowing someone you love to form a stronger bond. Whether it’s your spouse, a grandparent or a trusted friend; let them spend time with your child without you swooping in for the rescue.

Give yourself some time off and let your child understand that there is a whole village of loved ones to whom they can turn. You will see over time how relaxed and joyful a child can be when they form loving connections with the people around you. (And trust me, you will feel the same relaxation and joy knowing that your community of support is loved by your child.)

Grace and Peace.

 

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Shocking Realization: I Married Pa Ingalls

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be married to your childhood celebrity crush? If you’re as old as I am, you may have fantasized about Bon Jovi, Rick Springfield or even Patrick Swayze. But who embodied the ideal husband or perfect family for you?

I grew up in the Seventies in the Midwest, a time before cable television. My youthful obsession was the prime-time series Little House on the Prairie. I read all the books and I was seriously smitten with Michael Landon. I did not realize until recently just how much I must have admired him.

Our three little girls have just discovered the wonder of this show, and anxiously await Friday movie nights so we can watch a few more episodes. While watching the first season again in adulthood, I came to the awesome realization that I had fulfilled my childhood fantasy life. Not only do my three girls look remarkably like Mary, Laura and Carrie, but my husband and I eerily resemble Charles and Caroline Ingalls.

Often in parenthood, we put all our time and energy into our children with very little thought left over for how we got these children in the first place. My “baby Carrie” turned three years old this month, so I guess I’ve had a little more time to devote to my partner, who as it turns out, is the manifestation of Pa. He is loving but firm with the girls, an extremely hard worker, amazing at remodeling and woodworking, plays folk tunes on his guitar and is a fun-loving, affectionate spouse. He is also kind enough to read my blog posts, so I imagine he is completely embarrassed right now.

But, let me be clear about my role as Ma. I still love my (unnaturally) pretty shade of blonde hair and brightly painted toenails. I do not make clothing for myself or my children, with the minor exception of a few Halloween costumes. What I do relate to is her resilience, views on motherhood, devotion to God and family, tireless work ethic and her ability to withstand the misguided arrogance of Mrs. Oleson with dignity and grace.

I wrote last week about how lack of sleep during the baby years can negatively impact your marriage. And recently, my friend and marriage researcher, Lori Lowe, wrote a fascinating post called The Formula for Unhappiness is U = I – R about how our earliest memories about relationships play into our current state of happiness or unhappiness in our marriage.

The amount of unhappiness equals images minus reality. This can be measured for relationships, careers and even how we feel about parenting. If we created an image in our minds during childhood that has not become a reality in adulthood, our happiness decreases.

I have to say that I did not consciously create this life that so closely matches my ideal family image from my youth. My husband admitted that the Ingalls were such a huge part of his childhood that he also unknowingly carried this image into adulthood. We both manifested a life that conjures up happiness for us. We have even joked about wanting to live “off the grid”, the modern equivalent of living on the prairie.

Our realization has been joyful and even divine. We are so grateful for all the stages of our lives, even the less happy struggles when we were not living as we truly desired.

So, what images did you create in your mind during childhood? If you are currently unhappy in your partnership, can you attribute it to lack of sleep (see link above) or a large gap between your images and your reality?

Has motherhood turned out the way you imagined or are you simply recreating your own reality from childhood for better or worse? And most importantly, do you have a plan to lessen the gap between your ideal images and your current reality?

Grace and Peace.

 

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Fussy Babies Lead to Marital Dissatisfaction

While most first-time parents are prepared to some extent for the sleepless nights with a new baby, I’m guessing that the ensuing relationship discord comes as a huge surprise. Research published last year by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine reveals that marital dissatisfaction in first-time parents is directly related to daily sleep duration. In other words, less sleep equals less marital satisfaction.

Having survived our two very fussy babies and one easy one, I can certainly attest to the relationship strain that occurred during those years. My girls all had digestive problems and two had a severe dairy protein intolerance. I could not consume any dairy food while nursing them and they were also sensitive to soy proteins. One of the unfortunate side effects of an upset stomach was the inability to sleep for long stretches.

My husband and I had been married for five years before embarking upon our parenting journey. Yet, that first year left our tensions raw and exposed. Three children and nine years later, we can laugh about our first years and the drastic changes in our married life.

But not all marriages make it through the transition to parenthood. In another study of marital satisfaction, 45 percent of men and 58 percent of women reported a decline in marital satisfaction during the first year of parenting.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine offers these tips to help new parents get a good night’s sleep:
  • Breastfeed your infant. This will help prevent sleep-disrupting problems such as ear infections and diarrhea.
  • Reserve the bed for your own sleep.  Put your baby to sleep in a nearby bassinet, cradle or crib.
  • Try your best to keep your baby on a consistent schedule. Both you and your baby will be able to sleep better.
  • Take naps when your baby is asleep.
  • Make caring for the baby a team effort. Create an “on-duty” and “off-duty” schedule to share tasks with your spouse or other caregiver. This will give both of you opportunities to rest.
  • Recruit family members or friends to help care for the baby when he or she is awake. Use these breaks to get some sleep.
  • Ask family and friends to help with meals and household chores. This will give you more opportunities to nap.

In addition to these tips, I would add a few of my own from our years in the trenches:

  • Make a new date night ritual with your spouse. Carry out a favorite meal, eat in your home wearing your pajamas and snuggle up in bed for the sole purpose of sleeping. Allow each other to take long naps on the weekends, without judgment or resentment.
  • Become friends with your breast pump. I hated to pump, but after enduring our first baby who would not take a bottle, I quickly changed my ways for the next two. Because of our dairy and soy problems, formula was not an option. But pumping in the morning allowed me to express enough milk for a full bottle. This allowed my husband to give a full feeding at night so I could go to bed earlier.
  • Talk about how you are feeling. For moms who give up a career outside the home or cut back on freelance hours, you are dealing with the loss of your old identity. Your spouse may be dealing with new challenges, but mostly his life is still about getting up and going to work. New moms often lose friends and business associates (I was promptly released from a long-term client immediately after giving birth.) It’s important to work through these changes together to avoid feelings of resentment. If you’re not sure about how to discuss these feelings without arguing, seek out a trained pro-marriage counselor.

Most importantly, keep your experience in perspective. The baby year is literally just one year in what should be a long and supportive partnership. But during that one year, make sleep your top priority. Lack of sleep not only kills a marriage; it can also kill a job, a friendship and cause a multitude of health problems. So, seriously, shut off the computer and get your sleep!

Grace and peace.

 

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Five Ways to Ask For (and Receive) Help

This week has brought to the forefront my need for assistance. I rely heavily upon my husband for so many things that when he is absent my world gets turned upside down. I’ve been in a partnership (a wonderfully enriching and fulfilling partnership) for so long that I feel lost when faced with a crisis alone.

I’ve also noticed in the past 16 years how my independence has declined drastically. I used to be fearless and completely self-sufficient. So, while I’ve struggled to get back some of my fearless nature, I also relish being secure enough to ask for help. Hopefully, you will learn the value of dependence now that you are a parent.

I wrote a little about the importance of giving and receiving recently in the post about 29 Gifts. It brought up the bigger issue for me of being truly receptive to the gifts of others. Learning to ask for help is a difficult lesson for many people, myself included. If you’re in the first few months or years of motherhood, asking and receiving will become essential.

During your first few weeks as a new mom, you may get offers of help from many different sources. It’s tempting to politely say no simply because it’s easier than coming up with a task for them. Get into the habit of saying “YES” to offers of help, because the offers may stop just when you need them most. (And let me tell you, they stop all together once you’re the mother of three or more children!)

Five specific things you can ask for:

  1. Invite someone to visit for an hour or two. During this time you can shower, take a long nap or just spend a little time in the sunshine by yourself. Or, you can relish the company of another adult.
  2. Request help with some household chores. Maybe you would like for someone to vacuum your house or do a load of laundry. Just ask. I promise that someone loves you enough to do this small act of kindness for you. When I was enormously pregnant with our third child, I sheepishly asked my mother-in-law to mop our filthy floors in the house we had just purchased. She was happy to do it. All she wanted to know was what I needed help with.
  3. Ask for a meal. Don’t beat around the bush, either. Vague statements like “I wish someone would cook for me” may come off the wrong way. But if someone close to you asks what they can do for you, ask for a meal. Some of our friends have brought over gourmet dinners they made themselves, while others picked up our favorite carryout foods.
  4. Ask for advice. Oh, I know. Becoming a mother makes you a target for unsolicited advice. But, when you have a moment alone or on the phone with a more experienced mom, ask her about something you’re struggling with. You just may be surprised to learn a new technique or be comforted in knowing that they struggled, too. When my firstborn was a few weeks old and refused to nap in her bed or anywhere else but my shoulder, my mom commented that it was easier when we were babies because my brother, sister and I all slept on our stomachs. That idea is so taboo now that it never occurred to me. I ended up propping my daughter on her side and she suddenly started napping on her own.
  5. Ask for prayers. A few years ago, I would have rolled my eyes at this. Now, I have a deeper understanding of the power of prayer. Whatever your world view may be, there is strength in numbers, and the more prayers offered up for you, the better. I am Christian, and my good friend is Jewish. We often exchange prayers for each other or celebrate the Sabbath together. For us, we find peace and comfort in honoring our similarities.

As I write this, my two-year-old has spiked another fever and is complaining of her first earache. She is sleeping on my lap while I balance the keyboard precariously on one knee. My husband is stuck in an airport for the third straight day and the roads are an icy mess, making the possibility of school a long shot again tomorrow.

But, my neighbors graciously offered to bring us lunch and the older girls are doing a pretty good job of cleaning up the toys. So, while I’m always open to advice and comments from my readers, I would probably benefit more from a few prayers today. Please?

Grace and peace.

 
 

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Drowning in Motherhood: Three Survival Skills

A family member used this phrase last week to describe her life with a newborn and a toddler. I remember so many days just a few years ago of my own fierce determination mixed with immeasurable joy and overwhelming exhaustion that left me drowning in motherhood.

As a former lifeguard and 8-1/2 year veteran of motherhood, I compiled my top three survival skills to share with new moms who may find themselves in over their heads.

Survival Skill #1: Relax and Submit to Your New Reality

I recently researched an indoor swimming facility for my three young girls to escape this long, dreary winter. I learned that the swim instructors teach a “rollover” technique to children as young as four months. When a submerged child rolls onto her back instead of kicking and fighting for the surface, the air in her lungs creates enough buoyancy to bring her head above water.

Motherhood is like that, too. When we learn to relax and give in a little, the stress and struggle of mothering eases up. Maybe the house is a mess or you’ve served canned soup and grilled cheese for the third time this week. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of mothering. Sit back, put your feet up and catch your breath.

Survival Skill #2: Find Your Life Preserver

Getting your head above water is only the first step, now you need some help staying afloat. When you first become a mom, it’s common and so easy to become isolated from your former world. Your past relationships and lifestyle may not fit any longer; and that’s okay. But motherhood is a lot more difficult if you put yourself in solitary confinement.

You’ve got to reach out to find new connections that will help you through this part of your journey. Consider joining a play group, striking up a conversation with other moms at the park, or enrolling your little ones in a cooperative preschool or Mother’s Time Out program. You will learn so much about parenting and child development, and hopefully, you will start lasting friendships based on the commonality of motherhood.

If you are parenting with a spouse or partner, tether yourself together during this time. Losing your connection to the person you love most is not only possible, it’s common during the first year of parenting. It’s true that your relationship will never be the same, but with a lot of work and communication, you will build yourselves an unsinkable lifeboat.

Survival Secret #3: Count Your Blessings

How many times have you exclaimed, “Thank God!” after pulling through a harrowing experience? It may sound cliché, but learning to appreciate what you have each day will give you the strength to endure whatever comes your way. I give this advice frequently, but only because I’m given so many reminders of why it is important.

Last week, I received the staggering news that a friend’s 12-year-old daughter had died suddenly after a mild illness. It is a tragedy like this that causes you to shift your priorities. In my case, it reminded me of the first few weeks after my second baby was born. I was struggling to care for a 2-year-old and a newborn. And then came a phone call that changed my life forever. A teenage family member was hospitalized in the intensive care unit because of kidney failure.

From that moment on, I cherished the dark, quiet hours at night when I fed and rocked my baby girl. I was still tired, but no longer frustrated or overwhelmed. I understood then, and now, that I am blessed and make sure my children know every day how much they are loved. After many surgeries and weeks in the hospital, my family member survived. The lessons I learned from her struggle remains.

My second daughter is now six years old. Last weekend, she crawled into my bed in the wee hours of the night. She was feverish and wanted to sleep with me. My desire to make her feel better overcame any worry over catching her illness, so I snuggled close to her and listened while she drifted off to sleep. I took a deep breath and whispered a prayer of gratitude. And when – two hours later – my two-year-old daughter padded in wordlessly and climbed into bed on the other side of me, I repeated the ritual.

Grace and Peace.

 

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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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