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.
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.)
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!
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?
On this Monday morning, I realize for the first time in a long while:
I am waiting.
This is rare. And it’s peaceful. I’m waiting for good things; anticipating new joys.
But, I’m not in a hurry.
Usually, my life is filled with deadlines and to-do lists. People are always waiting for me to complete jobs, make dinner or help with homework. Oh, I still have a small mountain of laundry to summit and loads of requests. But while I do these things that life requires of me this week, I can think of all the good things to come.
Today, I’m waiting on news of a new baby to be born any day in our family. I’m waiting on an amazing sales opportunity for my Baby Love Carebook and excited to see the new product photos. I’m even waiting for Michael Pollan to come to town in November and hoping I’ll meet him.
Last week, I celebrated my 41st birthday. It doesn’t seem possible, but each year is better than the last. Time seems to fly at warp speed. So, after all these years, I finally figured out the key to waiting. I’ve found the cure for impatience/boredom and how to stop the longing for something – anything – to happen. It’s your present. It’s called now.
Last night, my cousin Wade wrote me a nice note that made me laugh. He’s a talented writer and musician with a great spin on life. I always enjoy hearing from him. At the end of his message, he shared a link to this song by Keb’ Mo’. It filled my soul and I hope you’ll take a moment to listen.
Weekly Dare: Slow down. Enjoy the wait. Whether you’re looking forward to something good or dreading something bad; it will happen when it happens. Children, especially, will move through developmental phases and grow up in the blink of an eye. In the meantime, there is now. And now can be just perfect, if you allow it to be.
Grace and Peace.
To subscribe to my weekly message and to take on other Weekly Dares, enter your e-mail on the right under subscriptions, or you can visit at www.babylovecarebook.com
“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
I spent the last nine days worrying and praying for my 19-year-old niece who was hospitalized again for a problem stemming from her kidney disease. Her strength and stamina are inspiring, her tears are gut-wrenching and her journey is still an uphill climb. One realization for all of us this week is that she can never live by the same rules enjoyed by her peers. While most collegians survive on pizza and experiment with alcohol, my niece can get sick from too little sleep and too much stress. It doesn’t take much to upset the delicate balance of keeping her body healthy. She must adhere to very different rules and regulations.
I’ve based the last decade of my life around finding balance and order out of consistent routines, and modeling consistent behavior as a parent to three young children. I advise countless souls on the wonder of setting up a routine and sticking with it. I preach consistency to my husband in the way he reacts to misbehaving children and to always follow through with a promise (or threat). So what if you need special rules for special circumstances or separate rules for each child? My answer: so be it.
Parenting is not a religion; there are no mandates written in stone on whether or not you should put children to bed before 8 p.m. or after 8 p.m. The world is not black or white, and I literally have zero tolerance for any policy that involves zero tolerance. We are one tribe, but with vastly different life experiences. Our children may be from one family, but they have vastly different personalities and physical capabilities. While we set up our rules for the family about behavior, daily routines and expectations; we are careful about considering all the members of our family and adjusting our rules to fit.
MOM DARE: Well, first, give your children a huge hug and send up your thanks for their good health. You should never take that for granted. Next, relax one rule. That’s it. If you have only one child, watch to see how they react. For multiple children, see who benefits and who does not. And it can be any rule: move back bedtime, let them skip a veggie for dinner, allow them to eat in the family room or whatever works for you. Sometimes parenting (and childhood) can be a little more fun when you loosen a few of your strings.
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