Monday, June 17, 2013

it takes a village

My husband, daughter, and I went to visit with my parents last month as a belated celebration for my dad's birthday, mother's day, and an early celebration of the husband's birthday. It was a great visit and it reminded me of the truth behind the old adage, that it takes a village to raise a child. I am so lucky that my parents are an active and vital part of that village.

My mom has been Gwen's babysitter since she was born, and it makes me feel so at ease to know that she's in such safe, loving hands. Her Papa is one of her favorite people ever.

But your village doesn't have to be blood. We are also so lucky to have amazing neighbors, who treat us like their own kids/grandkids. Gwen is so fond of Mr. Joe and Ms. Sue, and its amazingly freeing to know that they are there in a pinch.

Our best friends, too, are there as loving, gently adults in her life. Its a blessing to have so many people that truly love Gwen, and who treat her with respect and care.

Who's in your village?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The One About the Playground

I've seen a lot of chatter about playgrounds in my newsfeed lately. Remember the iPhone Mom and the frenzy of posts that followed from both critics and supporters? Now it seems every time I open up Facebook there is yet another article or blog about parents, kids, and outdoor play.

The logic I typically see goes something like this: Kids need free play without parental interference. They need to be able to navigate their own social circles, test their own physical abilities, and interact with peers and adults without mom-helicopter or dad-helicopter hovering around. Sounds good, in theory, doesn't it?

Except when it doesn't. Keep reading long enough and you'll find just as much "evidence" to support the other side.

We watch them too closely. No, we don't watch them carefully enough. Parents should leave their kids alone at the playground. For goodness sakes; aren't you watching your kids at the playground? Children need time to be with others their own age to learn social skills. Why are you sitting on the sidelines instead of teaching your kids social skills? Don't help or praise your kids on the jungle gym. Heavens, can't you see your kid needs some assistance and encouragement on the jungle gym?

So, what's a concerned parent to do? Sit back and watch? Or stay close and supervise? Leave them alone? Or play alongside?

I'll let you in on a little secret. I have the answer to your playground and park dilemma. Shhh . . . lean in closer.

Know. Your. Child.

Yep. It's that easy. Really.

Some kids thrive on the independence. They can't wait to ditch their parents at the park entrance and run off to find new friends. They might check in every once in a while just to see what you're doing or to ask for water, but for the most part they are in their own world. Bring your Kindle, open a good book, and relax. They'll find you when they need you.

Others might need mom or dad to stay with them until they feel more comfortable navigating the scene, especially at a new or unfamiliar place. After they've had a chance to warm up and/or talk to a few other kids, they will happily go in search of adventure while you fade into the background. Stay close, but step back when the opportunity presents itself. 

Younger ones probably need more guidance simply because of safety concerns. I know some folks like to say that children will only test their natural limits, and won't do more than they are capable of, and they need to learn to trust themselves, blah blah blah. I'm convinced none of those people have ever actually had a toddler. Toddlers are fearless and will do crazy things without half a thought.

Sometimes they just want to play with you, and that's okay. They might be intimidated if surrounded by a lot of older kids. Perhaps it's your first visit and it's a bigger playground than what they are used to. Don't let this worry you. One day your timid three-year-old will be your six-year-old social butterfly. Your toddler will be pointing you the bench saying "mama sit here" before you blink. Go with it, and follow their lead. 

And you know what? These hypothetical scenes are all correct. There is no "incorrect" way to take your kids to the park. Don't assume that because someone is not approaching it the way you would they are doing it wrong. 

If you're an on-the-sidelines parent, don't assume the dad standing close by his five-year-old daughter is helicoptering because you'd be more hands-off by that age. If you are one to be right in the midst of your children's play, don't assume the mom checking her e-mail is uncaring or ignoring them. Give them the benefit of the doubt that they are doing what they feel works best for their child. Just as you'd want someone to do for you.

Then of course there's the other thousand scenarios that you know nothing about and have no right to judge. Maybe the Dad who is swinging alongside his kids just got home from deployment and hasn't seen them in a year. Maybe the mom at the slide is "fussing" over her three-year-old because he just got out of his cast this week and she's a little nervous. Perhaps the woman glazed over talking on her phone seemingly not paying attention just got the worst news of her life. 

The next time you're at the park with your kids, simply approach it in a way that works for them. And drop any judgment at the gate.

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Monday, June 3, 2013

the end of our breastfeeding journey

I'm pretty much ready to call it at this point. Gwen, my spirited 3-year old, hasn't nursed in two weeks now, so I'm going to say we're completely weaned. Looking back, it was so much easier then I thought it would be. When she turned 3, I definitely didn't think we'd be done by now, and with so little fussing, but here we are! 39 months is the last breastfeeding milestone we will reach together, and, as a Mama in the one-and-done camp, the last one I will ever reach. As with a lot of things with Gwen, she lead the way, on her time.

So here's a little round up of how Gwen self-weaned:

February 16th:
Gwen turns 3 years old. Still nursing 2x a day, once in the morning, and once before bed.

Week of March 11th to 15:
March 11th, had a long evening because of a friend for dinner. After I had to turn down Gwen's requests to play CandyLand and to watch a music video, I didn't want to turn down her request for a book. So I gave her the choice: read a book and skip milkies, or have milkies. She chose the book!

I offered again throughout the week and she chose the book! At one point she told me, "I'm a big girl Mom, and I don't need to have milkies. I can, but I don't need them."

The whole week, only nursed 2x in the morning because of walking up later due to daylight savings time. This was a little harder for her, but she did well with it.

Did nurse Friday night because of a rough evening. Lots of tears at bedtime and she needed the comfort. 

That Weekend:
Nursed both mornings, but neither evening! One of the mornings she told me that milkies didn't want to come out.

End of March:
We're completely done with evening nursing session. We only ever read!
She's also waking up later on average during the week, so only nursing about 4x a week (2 mornings during the week, 2 mornings on the weekend).

Gwen came to bed with us one morning, and we snuggled and fell asleep! Just like that!

Used that as a stepping point to talk about how big she's getting and how maybe soon she won't do any milkies anymore. She was receptive and positive about it.

Last full week of April:
Nursed only once, on Saturday, for only about a minute on each side (maybe less). Came to bed with us on Sunday and fell asleep for over an hour without nursing!

Generally she wakes up during the week after I'm already in the shower. Yay for extra sleep!

Gwen hasn't nursed in over a week, and that session had only been about a minute. Regularly comes to bed with us on the weekend without nursing.

Last week in May:
Didn't nurse all weekend, which puts us about 2+ weeks now. She told me on Tuesday, "We're not having milkies anymore Mommy. You'll have to give away all the milkie things."

39 months, and I am calling it.

How does this feel? 
Well, it happened so easily and naturally, I can't be anything but happy about it. I'm thrilled that the end of breastfeeding hasn't meant the end of bedsharing for us, as I feared it might. We still get our morning snuggles on the weekend. I had little moments of wistfulness when it was becoming apparent that our nursing journey was ending, but now I'm just happy that it happened so nicely, and proud of my growing girl!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

An Open Letter to Grandparents who Wonder Why Their Grandkids are being Raised Differently

Dear Mom and Dad,
We see it, you kow. The exasperated look you get when we ask you to do things differently with your grandchildren than you did with us. We see the pain in your eyes even as we give our reasons for why we make different choices than you did. We don't mean to hurt you. You have to know that upfront. Just because we decide to do things differently than you did, it does not mean that we are judging what you did as "wrong." We are just trying to do what we think is right based on the research we have done. We all understand that we survived and thrived with your parenting choices. We give you credit for all the love and care you took in raising us. We understand that you did the best you could with us and that you only wanted our lives to be better than the ones you had. It's because we share this same dream for our children (your grandchildren) that we are striving to do the best we can, too. Sometimes, that means making choices that you didn't make, approaching food or discipline/consequences in a way you didn't, and making different medical or bottlefeeding/breastfeeding choices than you did. None of these differences are even about you; they are more about us. In fact, it is because you did such a good job of teaching us to be ourselves that we are making different parenting choices.

(I'm going to say this like I'm an authority which is laughable because I've only been parenting for almost four years now, but . . . ) The relationships between parents and children, probably more than any other relationships, except maybe romantic relationships/partnerships, are all varied and unique. No two are completely alike and so much of them are based on who you are and who you want to be and who the child is and who s/he wants to be that it would be impossible for us to be exactly like you even if we tried! In short, you parent as you are. Just like you know us and can read our facial expressions like a book (and we can read you!), we can read our children and our children read us. As much as they are "like" us; they are not "us" and they have different needs that we are trying our best to address. You taught us to trust our instincts and to know how to build strong relationships with those we love and we are just using those skills! Our individual choices in how to build those relationships may be different from the choices you made, but we are just transferring, transforming, and building upon the lessons you taught us.

You also did an amazing job teaching us not only to recognize who we are, but also who we want to be. I know that my parenting choices are just as much about who I am as who I want to be. I don't like who I am and what it does to my relationship with my child to be yelling, screaming, and losing my temper all the time. That's why we try so hard to talk through what we are feeling. We each have a dream of being a person who can remain calm in nearly any circumstance and who doesn't lose our tempers even in the face of our children losing theirs. Maybe that means that we overwhelm our children with too many words and choices too early, maybe that means that we don't always make the right choices ourselves, and maybe that means that we sometimes exasperate both our children and you, but it also means that we are learning and practicing. Just as you supported our dreams of being a ballerina/firefighter/detective/actor/superhero/writer/zoo-keeper/rock star/professional athelete, we need you to support our dream of the parent we want to be. It's important to us, way more important than any choice of career could be, because we see how much our relationships with you matter to us and have always mattered to us.

I'm going to let you in on a secret, now, that is not really a secret. We still look up to you and want to be the kind of people you can be proud of. We still crave your support. Think of the parenting phase of our lives as just one more "phase" that you are raising us through. It's another example of us going through a transition of growing and learning, but unlike many of the earlier phases, this is a phase where we need your support and your distance simultaneously. When we make mistakes, we know it and we will fix them when we know we need to. Our children are very good at letting us know when we need to readjust boundaries. (Sound familiar?) So, even if you think you see disaster coming, you have to let us disccover it on our own. Parenting our own children is a little like learning to walk was; I know you want to save us from falling, but it's only through falling that we will learn our balance and, sometimes, we just might surprise you by not falling at all. We only ask that you listen when our hearts are breaking and you try to do what you can to provide consistancy for our children. This may mean doing things that may seem unfamiliar or uncomfortable for you. Please understand that we are not trying to "push your limits or your buttons" any more than we were trying to do it when we were children ourselves. We are just trying to understand our own.

When it comes down to it, individual choices like when to administer medication, vaccinations vs. natural immunity, cloth diapering vs. paper diapering, time outs vs. time ins, what constitutes good snack foods or a healthy diet, baby wearing vs. using swings, co-sleeping vs. crib sleeping etc. are all pretty small differences that just FEEL big. At the root of every parenting choice you made and every choice we make is love: our love of ourselves, our love of our children, and our love of our parents. That love doesn't change from generation to generation. We are only trying to do the best we can just as you did the best you can. We respect that about the way you parented us. We only ask that you respect that about how we parent out kids.

With all due respect and love,
Your Weird Choice Making Kids who now Have Kids of their Own

P.S. If it helps, please know that more often than we care to admit to you, we do parent just like you, and, often, we don't mind the resemblance.