Courtesy and Obedience

“Don’t talk to me!” my two-year-old yelled. Again. I sent him to time out, then explained why he shouldn’t be disrespectful. Inwardly, I winced; he’d heard that phrase from me, trying to set up appointments on the phone. Now, as his mother, I have the right to give him peremptory commands. He is not to reciprocate. But what am I doing when I bark orders without any kindness in my voice?

Parents are often trying to accomplish a short-term goal, a medium-term goal, and a long-term goal when they work with their children. Consider what happens when your child says “I do it myself” or some variant and starts fumbling with his car seat straps. How much do you allow him to struggle? In the medium term, after enough practice the kid will learn how to do his own straps, which saves time when you’re trying to get out the door with several small ones. In the long term, the child is gaining skills in dexterity, learning to work at something that at first is impossible, and is being taught that he needs to be responsible for keeping himself safe in a car, which is invaluable.

But these medium-term and long-term goals are opposed to the short-term goal, which is getting the kid secured in his seat so that you can get going. If we’re trying to be on time for a dentist’s appointment, I will have to override the protests of my learner and snap him in. Likewise, “Would you be so kind as to stop running into the road” is not appropriate when there’s only time for “Stop!” before the Mac truck comes along and makes medium- and long-term goals a moot point.

We train our children to obey, and to obey promptly. This eventually obviates the need for rude discourse when complete, since the parent need only say “Would you please clear the plates?” for the action to be completed. But the process is a long one, and during this process I should not forget–as I so often do–that my children look to my husband and me for behavioral cues.

Indeed, too often it is easier to brush aside a child, perhaps murmuring “Move,” than to wait and ask, “Would you please move out of the way?” Yet consistently showing the child courtesy and respect pays dividends in the medium- and long-term; children are naturally rude little people, but they’re much easier to be around when they pick up on courteous habits of speech and action.

This whole post may seem incredibly self-evident, especially to people without children. The reason that I think it may be worth writing something as obvious as “Model courtesy to your children” is that it is hard to do hour after hour, day after day, when your child is not being terribly courteous to you. My generally amiable and docile daughter has acted willful and mean lately, and it is difficult to enforce consistent, reasonable boundaries in a calm, authoritative tone when all I really want to do is scream “Knock it off! Just…just go to bed and stay there (at 4:00 in the afternoon)!” I’m not quite sure what’s going on in this particular difficulty. Is she going through a phase? Has she not been given enough attention? Is there some frustration, or is she feeling bad?

Childless me would, by the way, have said, “Who cares? Just lay down the law!” But childless me would have missed that discipline is not merely giving negative feedback when behavior is bad, but trying to encourage good behavior in the child and responding to the child’s needs. Because of that, it matters very much what is going on behind her defiance. A sick child needs care. A child who needs love and attention had better get it from her parents, or she’ll look elsewhere when older.

Dinner needs to get made. The children’s chores need to be done. But I cannot lose sight of my longterm goal of raising adults who are kind and respectful. I won’t treat my children like pwecious widdle snowflakes, because yuck. They will, however, be best equipped to deal with the vagaries of life if we can give them a decent (though flawed) model of behavior.


Abstracts Presented at the First International Baby Congress

Preliminary Exploration of Possible Cabinet

Objective: To determine whether a panel with a smooth protrusion has the same properties as similar panels next to it in Mommy’s kitchen.

Methods: After the absence of Mommy was confirmed, the protrusion was examined with hands and mouth, then pulled upon. The panel was struck in various places.

Results: The tactile properties of the panel and protrusion were the same as those of similar objects next to it. When the protrusion was pulled toward the investigator’s body, the panel proved to be fixed to the wall only on one side, allowing the other three sides to move forward. A large cavity was disclosed, which contained several plastic containers. Pushing the panel back in place caused some smashing of the investigator’s fingers.

Conclusion: Yesss! Another cabinet full of awesome things to explore. Further investigations will be needed to enumerate the contents and determine their properties


Concealment of New Skill From Non Mommy Persons

Objective: Determine maximum length of time new skills (such as crawling, standing unsupported, saying a word) can be displayed to Mommy only.

Methods: After acquisition of new skill, the investigator practiced it alone and during times when Mommy only was watching. When Mommy called other people to come and see the new skill, its performance was promptly stopped.

Results: New skills were concealed for a mean of 5.4 days (+ or – 1.3 days). Linguistic acquisitions were easier to conceal than gross motor advancements.

Conclusions: Ha, ha, Mommy looks like a liar!


Comparison of Cheerios and Floorios

Objective: Evaluate taste of oat-based circular cereal pieces when placed on a tray or plate (Cheerios) compared with cereal placed on the floor (floorios).

Methods: When presented with Cheerios on an adult-approved surface such as a plate, tray, or other container, about 1/3 of the pieces were moved to the floor. The investigator then signed “All done” and was removed to the floor while the adult began cleaning up, whereupon the investigator tested the floorios not cleaned up quickly enough. Certain floorios were secreted in out-of-the-way places for later consumption.

Results: Fresh floorios scored approximately 1.4 more points on a satisfaction scale than did Cheerios on other surfaces. There was a direct relationship between length of time the floorios were left and satisfaction, with maximum satisfaction being attained about 2 days after being dropped.

Conclusion: Floorios are way tastier than normal Cheerios, especially after sitting for awhile. This difference was significant enough that we recommend practice changes such that adults place Cheerios directly on the floor for future consumption.





The Wedding as Screening Test

I suppose this post isn’t, strictly, about parenting, but about marriage. Specifically, it is the ramblings of a happy but completely unqualified wife of 6 years who has never let her lack of expertise close her mouth. So:

A few days ago, my baby was jabbing excitedly at my husband’s and my wedding picture hanging in the hallway. My daughter likes to see my dress and hear about our wedding, and she and my son like to touch my rings and hear about how Daddy and I got married. Whenever I talk about the wedding, I’m careful always to emphasize that it was special and important not because Daddy and I got to wear fancy clothes or throw a big party, but because it was when we two came together as one before God and our community. In other words, the wedding is important because of our marriage–not the other way around.

Nevertheless, it has occurred to me that the wedding may be a good “screening test” for marital problems down the road. Before I married, people cautioned me that marriage was hard, and that I shouldn’t expect every day to be sunshine and rainbows. This was good advice, but I would amend it somewhat: Life is hard, and the stresses of life also stress marriages. This is perhaps most obvious in the increased divorce rate of parents who lose children, but financial stresses, serious illness, and even the birth of children can all lead to rocky patches or even divorce. Planning a wedding is a stressor, one in which each partner’s priorities, strengths, and weaknesses become more apparent. My own natural tendency to disorganization, alas, became fairly obvious, but my then-fiance was kind enough not to run away screaming when I forgot to contact the caterer or update our guest list.

The wedding is also a major project in which the two participants have the same overall goal (get married), but have to adjust their individual desires, expectations, and values in a mutually acceptable manner. Or, to put it more simply: How much do we want to spend? What kind of venue? How many guests? Who is marrying us, and what marriage preparation are we undergoing? How much say do relatives get in any of the decisions? Will children be invited? Will there be crab cakes? (There were. They were delicious.) The wedding is not “the bride’s day,” it is the couple’s day. Couples who have trouble coming to an agreement on wedding music may find themselves having trouble coming to an agreement on whether to buy or rent, on parenting styles, on education, and on what to do when shiftless Uncle Bob wants another loan to tide him over or Mom gets too weak to live by herself.

“Ho,” says you. “This is why we eloped/had a quiet courthouse wedding/other alternative to Big Fancy Party.” But that, too, was a decision made and carried out by you both. Whatever your wedding style and cost, you had to plan and most probably compromise. Did either person feel resentful because he or she didn’t get what he or she wanted? Such resentments are, I think, likely to crop up down the road.

This is not to say that a harmonious wedding cannot lead to a dysfunctional marriage, or vice versa. Obviously. People change. But I do think that if you are engaged and finding that your beloved displays selfish, ugly behavior under stress, you should consider yourself warned. And more helpfully, perhaps, the process allows you to look at your own failings. Do you cry when your relatives threaten to cause a scene? Will nothing but the finest $10,000 dress do, even though you are both struggling graduate students? When your intended screws something up, how do you react? Will all of this be workable when you and your beloved come together to face the world as one front?

Again, perhaps I have no business making this post. My husband and I aren’t perfect people, and we haven’t yet had to endure serious financial or health-related stressors. We’ve only been married 6 years. However, we are happy, and we are striving to create a good home, with the help of God. And my husband, at least, is the same clear, kind, diligent, intelligent, Godly man that he was when he asked me to marry him. In that respect, marriage has revealed nothing that wasn’t already apparent before we said “I do.”

Sympathy for the Devil?

Sometimes while feeding my baby, I idly search for “baby” in Google News. I usually regret it, because most stories tend to be either “Celebrity X is having/had a new baby!” or “Someone is accused of hurting or killing a baby.” One such story is of Erica Justine Houghton, who fell asleep with her baby and boyfriend, and woke up to find her baby smothered. She faces various charges, the most serious of which could put her in jail for 10 years. Apparently, her home was filthy; the news article states that “In an affidavit to support the criminal complaint, investigators said conditions within the Rosebush mobile home were “deplorable,” citing feces and bugs throughout the residence, piles of dirty clothes, food stuck on the stove, dirty dishes in the sink and a “melting watermelon” in the refrigerator.”

The commenters are, predictably, calling for Houghton’s head: “These people should not have been in charge of little humans if they couldn’t keep a clean and safe environment for them.” (Okay, that comment I can get behind.)

“Sad and disgusting. A child is dead because these people chose to live like animals”

“I know it sounds horrible, but some people should not be allowed to reproduce! And as a mother, really no one ever told you about sleeping with an infant? In reality, the remaining children need to be placed in foster care to have some sort of chance at normalcy. If she can be rehabilitated than so be it. She should not be allowed, ever, to care for any children”

I expected to find that Houghton had drunk herself into a stupor or taken drugs, but if this is the case it is not described in the affidavit. Instead, she worked a full day washing dishes, fed the baby and took him to bed about midnight, and woke up to find him not in the crook of her arm but under all of the blankets. She states that no one ever told her not to put a baby in bed with her, but the hospital records indicate that she was counseled not to do so.

I wish this child had been pulled out of the home before his death; it doesn’t sound like a fit place for a baby. But I don’t think that Houghton should be facing a long prison sentence for taking the baby to bed with her, and I don’t agree with the comments. The child is not dead because his parents “chose to live like animals”; he’s dead because they took him to bed with them. This was a poor decision, but a completely understandable one if the parents wanted to get the child to sleep by any means possible. How many of you have fallen asleep with a small baby on top of you, simply because you were so exhausted? I have, with my oldest, who just plain didn’t sleep longer than an hour and a half at night (and napped 10 or 20 minutes at a time). At 7 weeks, Houghton was still recovering from childbirth, but was back to working full time and dealing with several other children.

And as far as being told about sleeping with an infant: I am sure that the hospital did counsel safe sleep practices, but many very popular web sites present bedsharing as not inherently risky. The breastfeeding site KellyMom lists ways to safely bedshare with infants, adding that “Some authorities specifically recommend co-sleeping without bed-sharing, since they feel that not bed-sharing is the easiest way to eliminate any risks of bed-sharing.”

A baby is dead, and it is his parents’ fault. But as with parents who accidentally leave their children in hot cars, I don’t think that justice demands incarcerating a woman who was neither abusive nor drunk nor high, but who could have benefited from some additional support. Hospitals should continue to educate new parents about safe sleep, but it would also help if we had something like the UK system of Health Visitors who come to new parents’ homes the first few weeks after birth. And maybe a temporary foster placement could have helped the family get their trailer a little more liveable, as painful as such a separation might be. But none of those measures were taken, and now there’s a family of children with their mother in jail. Going forward, I can only hope that these children are cared for, and that justice in this matter is done without too much harshness.

Journey to the Center of the Grocery Store

“Good morning, we’re out of milk. Is powdered milk okay for your tea?” I ask brightly.

My husband gives me a look that suggests I’ve just offered to add powdered spiders to his tea. “Um, no thanks, I’ll just take it without milk,” he says. He takes the tea and some pancakes and starts downstairs. (The pancakes were made with the last of the yogurt thinned with some water, and the last of the eggs.) “What are we having for lunch?”

“Er, not sure,” I say. Maybe a can of tuna and some kidney beans, with pickled peppers? Don’t think that’ll stretch to two adults and three children, though.

It’s time to go grocery shopping.

Grocery shopping is not my least favorite activity; that dubious award would have to go to cleaning the floors, especially carpets that the cat has mistaken for a litter box. Nevertheless, I find it exhausting enough that I prefer to go nine or ten days between trips, which is usually possible as long as we aren’t out of eggs. I always have lots of starches and baking components in the pantry and some fruit and vegetables in my freezer, so as long as we have some proteins we can manage.

Eventually, however, it is time to get the two older kids to go potty and put on outdoors clothes, wrestle the baby into a new diaper and outerwear, check the kids’ shoes to be sure that they’re on right, get sippy cups and snacks ready, open the car door, pack the two littlest into their car seats, tighten the oldest child’s straps, drive to the store, shepherd three small children through a parking lot, wipe down a shopping cart, buckle in the two youngest, accept or reject my oldest child’s constant suggestions, compare unit prices, go to the store’s bathroom, discover that we’ve overlooked something, go back for the last item, sit in the checkout line while the baby starts to fuss, check out, transport self, children, and groceries to the car, load the trunk, unload the children, return the cart, drive home, unload the trunk, put away food, and get lunch on the table. (After which I discover that I left something vital off the list, or forgot it at the store.)

Now, described in sufficient detail, most chores sound exhausting. I could list the steps needed to fix cereal in a manner that would make it sound the equivalent of framing a two-story house. But grocery shopping with a 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and baby is tiring, and not merely because a great many small actions must be taken in order to accomplish it.

First of all, a shopping trip has to be timed reasonably well. Morning offers the best combination of rested children and good traffic, but it is also the time that I pump and that the baby likes to feed for a good long time. We’ve all got to get dressed, and we want to be back in time for a lunch that isn’t too late, or everyone’s nap schedule will be off.

Second, dealing with children is rather like trying to create a portrait by dumping paints onto a wet piece of paper. You can sort of direct the path and the volume of the paint, but there is a low degree of precision and a high potential for something to go disastrously wrong. My kids are generally well-behaved in public, and they don’t clamor for cookies or demand doughnuts when we’re out. (Such whining would be ill-received.) Nevertheless, although I take care to bolster the kids’ tempers with food, drink, and an empty bladder, there is always the possibility that up to three small critters will be sick, tired, or just plain grumpy. If the omens look unfavorable, I can try to postpone the trip (see above), but at some point the contents of my pantry cease to yield anything like balanced meals, no matter how creative I am (just pour chicken broth on it! It’s soup).

Third, the object of the trip is only my second priority. My first is, of course, keeping the kiddos safe—safe while driving, even though they’re distracting me with a really interesting mashup of “Johnny Johnny” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” involving burritos and angelic tongues, rendered at the top of their little voices; safe in the parking lot, when at least one young, mobile child must stand outside the car while I unload others; safe crossing the parking lot, and safe from the many germy surfaces inside the store.

Finally, there is courtesy to others. Other shoppers do not want to hear pitched battles between siblings, nor do they want to see little fingers poking at the produce. They would like to maneuver their shopping carts through the aisles without running into little people, and their wait in line is not improved by the wails of a baby who has just HAD IT with sitting in this stupid cart. Again, my kids are usually pretty considerate; we get lots of smiles from fellow shoppers, and very few dirty looks. But this all requires constant attention on my part—noticing what is going on, praising good behavior, correcting bad behavior, and trying to take care of my kids’ needs while collecting groceries.

Very occasionally, I will shop on a weekend or evening when my husband can stay with the children. Thus unencumbered, I feel light and free, as if I’m on a holiday. But then I’ll see a fire truck and have to curb my impulse to point it out to no one; I’ll make very soft “vroom vroom” noises under my breath as I push the cart and hope no one notices me acting like a crazy lady. I’ll wish for my helper girl to hand me a box of broth, or see a toddler chatting happily in his cart and think of my charming little man. As tiring and sometimes tiresome as grocery shopping with small children can be, it is also one more time I can share the world with my children, adding perspective to their experiences and enjoying the freshness they bring to mine. This is even better than having something other than ramen to eat.

Candy for Breakfast and Parental Authority

At some point, I might roll my eyes at a fellow parent and say, “Well, the kids got into the Halloween candy for breakfast, sigh.”

Childless me would have thought: Why? You are the parent. You control the candy. You don’t have to allow your children candy at all, let alone for breakfast!

Hey, childless me, on how many special occasions did you have candy or cake for breakfast? At least twice a year, I think? And was it not awesome and delicious and well worth the ensuing indigestion and sugar crash? Do you really think that the kids tied me up in the pantry and helped themselves to the contents of their buckets without leave? Or that I am such a pansy that I cannot bear to hear my children whine without giving into their every whim?

See, when parents get together, we don’t like to admit that we have freely and happily consented to give our children something “bad.” “Oh, the kids stayed up way too late watching a movie, and now they’re beasts.” “Yeah, that outfit is awful, completely mismatched, but Daughter really wanted to pick her own clothes.” For some reason, it makes us feel better to portray ourselves as helpless victims of our offspring rather than admitting the truth: In the full knowledge that the kids would be tired and grumpy, we treated them to a movie. It really tickled me to see what Daughter came up with, and I’m happy to see her exercising choice and independence in her clothing. I made a choice that other parents might judge unfavorably, and now I am distancing myself from it.

I think it’s important to admit our hypocrisy here, first because hypocrisy is ugly (and misleading) and second because we shouldn’t start thinking in terms of “The kid made me do X.” Too often, even false representations become true habits of thought with repetition. Well-controlled indulgences within the parental will are vastly different from situations in which the parents are actually held hostage by the child’s desire. Permitting a child to stay up late watching Winnie-the-Pooh is not the same as allowing them to watch Saw because the child whined for torture-porn. Letting a child go out in mismatched clothing is entirely different from purchasing mini-slut clothes because the child must have them. We’ve all seen the parents who weakly give into their child’s tantrums and manipulations. I can truthfully say that I’ve seen it lead to criminal behavior and a wrecked life; in other words, this is a serious problem, orders of magnitude worse than letting kids have candy for breakfast once in a while, and we should guard ourselves carefully from falling into this error.

As parents, we need to enforce the boundaries we set, and own the choices we make. This is entirely compatible with the occasional treat, but should never morph into letting our children set the rules.

Childless me is right in one respect: Should the issue of candy come up, I should not roll my eyes and complain about my kids’ dreadful post-Halloween breakfast. Instead, I should say cheerfully, “I let the kids pick two pieces of candy from their buckets to eat before breakfast. They didn’t eat much of their eggs, but I really enjoyed seeing them tear open the wrappers and chow down on sugar.” Other parents may not agree with my choice, of course–I am sure plenty will be appalled–but at least they’ll recognize that it is my choice, not my kids’.

Parenting Advice From the Experts (That’s Wrong)

Nine months after that, uh, quality time, some of you might get to take home a squashy, demanding human being who relies totally on you and has all the personality of a pet rock. Good thing there’s expert advice to steer you right! But not all recommendations are created equal, even when reputable organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics or the World Health Organization make them:

  1. Breastfeeding Has Enormous (or Possibly Trivial) Benefits, and Undiscussed Risks

Although it is claimed that breastfeeding has major, longterm benefits such as reducing obesity and improving overall health, the evidence for these benefits is pretty slight. Let’s take a look at a typical set of claims for the merits of breastfeeding:

“Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.

Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What’s more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).”

First of all, it is untrue that breastmilk provides all of the baby’s essential nutrients. Exclusively breastfed infants are typically given Vitamin D drops, because unless you want to bake your baby in the sun (hello, skin cancer) the kid is probably going to be deficient in Vitamin D. Secondly, most of these outcomes are correlations from poorly-done studies with a heck of a lot of selection bias.

“COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new study comparing siblings who were fed differently during infancy suggests that breast-feeding might be no more beneficial than bottle-feeding for 10 of 11 long-term health and well-being outcomes in children age 4 to 14.

The outlier was asthma, which was associated more with breast-feeding than with bottle-feeding.” Which is, as you might notice, kind of the opposite of what the WebMD page says.

Finally, almost nobody talks about the risks of breastfeeding. These include the possibility of jaundice (excessive bilirubin levels), hypernatremia (too much salt in the blood), dehydration, and starvation, which can lead to hospitalization or even, sadly, death:

“So far, the scientific literature shows that babies who lose greater than 7% of their birth weight are at highest risk of developing excessive jaundice and hypernatremia to levels that can cause long-term developmental disability. It has also been found that 10% of healthy, term, exclusively breastfed babies undergoing the Baby-Friendly protocol experience hypoglycemia to levels that are associated with 50% declines in the ability to pass the literacy and math proficiency test at 10 years of age, even if aggressively corrected.”

Honestly, this is one area where I think a great deal more research is needed, but in the meantime it sure seems that giving a few bottles of formula to your kid is far less harmful than starving her in the name of keeping her virgin gut “pure.”

Personally, I pumped for two kids and am breastfeeding one. It works for our family. It may not for yours. Fed is best.

  1. Pacifiers Are Not the Devil

Speaking of breastfeeding, the WHO/UNICEF do not want you to give pacifiers to your newborns, because once you stick a pacifier in your stupid baby’s mouth she’ll be too dumb to suck from your breast. The ninth of their “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” is:

“Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.”

This is a carefully considered recommendation based on high-quality research…no, wait, it’s pulled directly from the organization’s derriere. Pacifiers may cause parents plenty of grief when their kids appear determined to suck them until the kids are eligible for Social Security, but pacis are actually pretty benign. They don’t cause nipple confusion:

“Pacifier use in healthy term breastfeeding infants, started from birth or after lactation is established, did not significantly affect the prevalence or duration of exclusive and partial breastfeeding up to four months of age.”

They might reduce the risk of SIDS:

And unless you’re smearing sugar on them or using them past the age of 3, they don’t screw up palates:

  1. There Is No Reason to Wait 6 Months to Introduce Food

At some point, your beloved offspring will need more than Mommy juice or formula to meet his nutritional needs. According to the World Health Organization, that point is when your child reaches 6 months of age:

“As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.”

But where did this six-month recommendation come from? It’s hard to track down, because most research concludes that babies should start solids between 4—6 months of age, when children are developmentally ready to do so.

“The best time to start solid foods depends not only on your child’s age, but also on your child’s ability to sit up, support his or her head, and meet other developmental milestones…Introducing solid foods before your infant is four to six months of age may interfere with his or her ability to take in an adequate number of calories or nutrients, and may increase the risk of developing food allergies…Withholding solid foods after your infant is six months of age may lead to decreased growth because children may not consume adequate calories from breast milk or formula alone. In addition, delaying beyond six months may lead to resistance to trying solid foods. Withholding solid foods until after six months does not appear to prevent the development of allergies or eczema.”

  1. Cloth Diapers Are Not Necessarily Friendlier to the Environment Than Disposables

I love buying diapers online so that I don’t shamefacedly have to admit to killing the environment with my giant packs of plastic diapers that won’t decompose until the sun swallows the Earth. I hate scrubbing excrement off my kids’ clothes, so I selfishly contribute to the ever-growing pile of noisome plastic polluting our landfills and oceans. However, my guilt is not unbearable, for it’s not completely clear that cloth diapers are friendlier to the environment than are disposables.

“Research has suggested that both disposable and cloth diapers affect the environment negatively — just in different ways. For example, disposable diapers require more raw materials to manufacture. And they generate more landfill solid waste that can take an extremely long time to degrade. But cloth diapers use up large amounts of electricity and water for washing and drying. Plus, commercial diaper service delivery trucks consume fuel and create air pollution.”

Clearly, we should all be practicing elimination communication with our babies. Or we could implement a traditional Chinese solution and just stick the little poopers in a big bag of sand.

“In parts of northern China, infants were encased in sandbags, which was both diaper and baby sitter.”

  1. Crying-It-Out Will Not Harm Your Baby (If She’s At Least 6 Months Old)

At some point, every bleary-eyed parent is going to want to leave their crying brat outside for the wolves to take care of. But because babies are expensive to replace, instead they’ll drag themselves out of bed for the 80th time that night. We don’t want their stressed-out infants to grow up into idiot psychopaths, which letting them cry it out will surely do! Look at this article from The Huffington Post:

“Cry It Out: The Method That Kills Baby Brain Cells”

Yeah, no.

“CONCLUSIONS: Both graduated extinction and bedtime fading provide significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.”

I will never tell anyone what to do to make their baby sleep. Crying it out worked for my second child, and I think will do so for my third, but my first simply screamed until she threw up the few times we tried it. She seems to be pretty securely attached anyway, and if we killed off brain cells I don’t think any of them were too important.

  1. Developmental Milestones Are Overrated

“There’s one basic rule you should remember about developmental charts that will save you countless hours of worry and heartache in case your child hasn’t been studying them as closely as you have, or is feeling rebellious and has decided to follow his own developmental schedule. The fact that a child passes through a particular developmental stage is always more important than the age of that child when he or she does it. In the long run, it really doesn’t matter whether you learn to walk at ten months, twelve months or fifteen months — as long as you learn how to walk.”

Does this mean you shouldn’t ever get your child screened or tested for problems if he’s “late”? No. If the kid needs some sort of intervention to ensure that he does eventually master a skill, earlier is better. If you think Something Is Wrong, it’s better to get it checked out than to let it go. But please please please don’t stare into your month old baby’s eyes and Google “signs of autism,” like I did. (I have notes from that time: “[Daughter] doesn’t seem to be interacting with the world very much.” NO DUH, GENIUS, SHE WAS FOUR WEEKS OLD.)

  1. There is No “Best” Way to Parent

I was amazed that the hospital let clueless me go home with this incredibly fragile human being. But the truth is that babies, although they’re not easy to deal with, are pretty simple. If you feed the baby appropriate food (ie, no vodka martinis), hold her sometimes, don’t beat her up, and interact with her, she is most likely going to do well. We are an incredibly adaptable species, and thrive with all kinds of parenting.

“Although it may feel like there is only one best way to raise a child, a survey of global parenting reveals that child-rearing practices in different cultures are actually quite diverse in form, and the influence culture plays is profound.”

Translation: Relax. You don’t parent like the !Ngo of the Kalahari, or the French or Danish or Chinese or whoever is totally much better at raising their kids than Americans, apparently? Your baby is going to be FINE. Just make sure he’s fed, warm, cleaned once in a while, and loved.

Now, I have to add a caveat here: To the best of my knowledge, none of my kids have medical problems or special needs. I can’t speak to the challenges of parenting children with complex conditions or “atypical” development. But the parents I see who do have children with these extra needs display a pretty great diversity in how they choose to parent–and because they all love their children and give them what they require to thrive, their kids are doing well.

I don’t have any magic formula to ensure that my kids are going to be successful, moral, compassionate, intelligent adults, but at least I can take comfort that I’m probably not screwing them up too badly. And hey, at least my messups will provide extra income for my kids’ therapists in future years, thereby financing their kids’ support and education. It takes a village, right?

On Snarky, Ungrateful Brats (I.E. Our Beloved Children)

The other day, my four-year-old tasted some freshly-made banana ice cream and said “I guess it’s pretty good, but not as good as usual ice cream.”
I said, “Oh, yeah? What would make it better?”
“If it was made by someone who was good at making ice cream.”

Burn! I posted this exchange on Facebook, and collected a moderate number of likes and comments.

I didn’t post when she said, “Mommy, can I snuggle up with you?”


“Okay, Mommy.”

“Thank you, Mommy.”

“I’m feeling frustrated! Stop, sippy cup!”

“I’m going to get some string cheese. I’ll get my brother some, too.”

“[Brother] makes me want to bite him!”

“Mommy! Look at what I made!”

“Mommy, could I please have a drink?”

“No! I just want to watch TV!”

….And so on, and so forth. My daughter isn’t a snarky sitcom child who rolls her eyes and corrects her dumb parents. She’s often, but not always, polite, helpful, and obedient. Sometimes she’s annoyed by and deliberately cruel to her younger brother (but never to the baby), but mostly she loves and plays with him, and is distressed when he’s sad or hurt. She’s bossy and nurturing, shy and social, independent and clingy. She’s four, and a real human child; in other words, not so easily delineated in a Facebook post, or at any rate not in a Facebook post anyone would want to read. Right now she’s softly singing to herself and dressing a doll. Stop the presses!

When my daughter delivered her judgment on my ice cream, she wasn’t being mean or ungrateful. I invite my family to tell me what they think of my food, so that I can improve it. And when she said that it would be better if it were made by someone else, she was echoing me; I often say that I don’t make X items (jalapeno poppers, ice cream cones, Kit Kat bars) because those things are better when made by someone who makes them often, and who therefore is very good at making them. This context, too, is lost when sharing a funny anecdote.

Now, many of my Facebook friends know us in real life, and they can see my daughter “in the round” rather than as the cutesy caricature that is her digital imprint. But I’m always uneasy, worried that I’m creating a kind of ghost that will trail alongside my flesh-and-blood child. What will she think when she’s grown up and is reading my timeline, or my blog?

Perhaps it is merely egotistical to post quotes and anecdotes about my kids. Plenty of people think so, and they may be right. I do it because it feels good, and because I think it may make others feel good, but feelings are often a treacherous guide to what is right and wrong. But as incomplete a picture as that drawn by photographs, stories, and quotes, one that must always be misleading to some extent, it is nevertheless a small taste of the vibrancy and life I experience with my children. It helps me to remember those moments that are precious or maddening, but all too soon gone with the whirl and bustle of daily life.

And so I end this post with more quotable quotes from my daughter:

“Did Nanny and PaPa live with Adam and Eve?”

“What animal do pancakes come from?”

“I’m getting bigger and stronger every day. When I’m 1,000 years old, I’m going to be really big and so strong!”




Toddlers Are Beautiful People

Toddlers and preschoolers melt down over whether their sippy cup is the correct color. They are stubborn and test boundaries. They make you want to scream. Good luck taking small children out in public; they may earn you several dirty looks and muttered comments on your parenting. They ask a million stupid questions and bounce off the wall (the same wall that they’ve previously colored on); they dump milk on the floor, push over the baby, paint themselves, get themselves into dangerous situations constantly, and whine, whine, whine.

So goes the conventional wisdom. This description is true in the way that many stereotypes are true; many toddlers and preschoolers will act in many of the ways described above, much of the time. But it’s misleading in the way that stereotypes are misleading: It isn’t true for all young children all of the time, and it obscures their fascinating, unique personalities. Want to hear something fresh and new and hilarious? Ask a preschooler. Want to see joy, affection, helpfulness? Hang out with a toddler.

My two-year-old son has been known, in his mealtime prayers, to thank God for electrical outlets, Daddy trimming the grass, being run over by a car but not a truck (did not happen, by the way), plates, God, and TV shows. My four-year-old daughter draws colorful people who uniformly lack torsos, but almost always have expressively rendered eyebrows, making them look like jellyfish with, uh, eyebrows. They just ran downstairs to show me that they’d pilfered some of my running tops to wear; the other day they had a marvelous time throwing cut grass at each other on the driveway. I have had far too much time to contemplate the parenting models embodied in Llama Llama Red Pajama and the ethical problems in Winnie the Pooh. My daughter likes to wear several layers of clothing topped with sunglasses and a duck hat, and my son likes to wear a pretend sink as a hat atop a shirt, a play vest, and no bottoms whatsoever. Living with them is like inhabiting a Dali picture, albeit with more bodily fluids.

Maybe the above paragraph isn’t reassuring to first-time parents contemplating the bulge in their abdomen or the gummy baby smiling at them from her crib. It wouldn’t have been to me. None of the praises of toddlers and preschoolers I heard made them sound like anything better than irrational little psychopaths with a few redeeming qualities, rather like dogs that bark and bite but are really good at chasing away burglars. Does it sound dull to read the same dozen books over and over again to little people who neglect to tidy up after themselves and depend on you for everything?

It isn’t.

It is hard to describe the experiences of parenting, not least because parents are different and children are different; that may seem a shallow truism, but my children’s temperaments and my own strengths and weaknesses are not yours, and so what I say may not apply to you. Nevertheless, even if we grasp at a few principles that hold true for most parents wrangling young children, stating these principles is entirely different from the way in which they are lived out. To be a parent of toddlers or preschoolers is to live in the moment and lay foundations for the future, to chide and guide and hug and bug, to be present and to push away, to rejoice when your kids are learning and to sigh happily when you’ve got the dear ones tucked safely away and can settle down with an adult beverage.

It is not boring, though there are many boring parts.

It’s marvelous and aggravating, enervating and energizing. Just wait until you hear your kid yell “Mommy! ‘Poop’ starts with ‘P!’” Wait until you discover that your child got herself and her brother their cereal, all by herself—and then that you’ve got to vacuum cereal off the floor. Wait until your kid makes a pretty good stuffed dog out of four socks and a marker because she was bored at naptime. Wait until your son does a mostly-intelligible rendition of The Lord’s Prayer, then poops in his underwear. You’ll be off balance a great deal of the time, and then you’ll discover that being off balance makes for some good dancing.

Now that I have toddlers, people tell me with a hint of schadenfreude “Wait until they’re teenagers!” All right, I’ll expect to deal with hormones, driving, misbehavior, poor hygiene, the lures of illicit substances and sex and the rest of the stereotypes. But I won’t do it in fear, because before they are teenagers—just as before they are toddlers—my kids are people. And honestly, they’re kind of cool.


Three Cheers for Indoctrinating Our Children

You bet we’re indoctrinating our children.

My husband and I intend to brainwash them into internalizing love, respect, dedication, patience, and honesty. We will do our best to imbue them with intellectual curiosity, an appreciation for the outdoors, and enjoyment of good music. (Which means big band/Frank Sinatra for my husband, and classical music for me.) And yes, we absolutely are presenting our religious beliefs to them as true and helpful for their lives.

What kind of parents don’t indoctrinate their children? Even if you’re teaching them that religion doesn’t matter, that being kind, respectful, and moral are the most important qualities, you are transmitting your personal values system and sense of priorities. We want our children to grow up to be “good people,” however that looks to us, and so we engage in the age-old practice of teaching them how the world works and what is right and wrong.

When people rail against indoctrination, it’s often because they can’t see their own beliefs as being anything other than universal, and so cannot recognize their own biases. “Those poor children, being brought up to believe that a woman’s role is to serve her husband and raise a large brood of kids!” “Ugh, look at those babies being taught to hate someone just because of their sexual orientation.” Okay, so realize then that your beliefs about gender equality and sexual orientation are informing your reaction! I’m not saying we shouldn’t work toward normalizing beliefs that we consider to be true and good—rather the opposite, actually—but we should always be self-aware in realizing what our reactions say about our own beliefs and biases. Some things are simply wrong, and others are right, and we want to teach our kids what is right and wrong; but what we consider right and wrong is subject to lots of assumptions. Let’s recognize those assumptions and make them explicit to ourselves.

It’s also important to note that parents can massively screw up their children by using inappropriate methods of indoctrination, such as isolation, physical harm (I mean more than the classic spanking, here; whatever your thoughts on corporal punishment, there is a considerable difference between parents who give the occasional spanking and parents who break their children’s bones), sexual abuse, neglect, or emotional abuse. Amish children are taught a system of beliefs that sounds odd to the rest of us, but most people do not feel the same revulsion toward the Amish community that they feel toward sects that marry off underage girls to much older men.

Finally, in indoctrinating our children, my husband and I will always respect our limits. When our kids grow up, they’ll have their own beliefs, and we neither can nor desire to control their lives. If, as adults, our children reject Christianity and convert to Islam, we’ll pray that they return to our faith, which we believe to be the true and saving one, but we’re not going to cut off contact. (Unless they do something like join Isis.) Our children are people; they are not empty vessels to be filled with whatever we choose, and they are not us. I sure hope my kids love literature as much as I do, but if they decide they prefer soccer (ugh) instead I’ll do my best to support their interests. Of course, if the kid’s “interest” includes something like abusing drugs or bullying others, I will try to quash his tendencies in that direction.

Indoctrinating our children is considered by some to be abuse. To my mind, the opposite is true; if we don’t do our best to instill good beliefs and practices into our children, we are failing them profoundly, and failing the world into which we are releasing them.