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March 15, 2018
It’s not looking good for my family’s gold star status chances today. One of my children is at the indoor play gym posturing for her position in line for the slide. The other is grabbing her sister’s toy out of her hands, seemingly oblivious to the shrieks of offense and horror coming from her sibling.
Cue pediatrician mom, full of understanding about what’s normal at all kid ages and stages but faced with the reality that MY kids are acting, at that moment, like complete jerks. And commence re-committing to the idea that, while perfectly-behaved kids are indeed totally overrated and totally unrealistic, it’s also my responsibility to not let them stay complete jerks their whole lives.
For me and my kids, preventing jerkdom means that, when they do act unkind or selfish, I try my best to use it as it as a learning and guiding opportunity. Somehow, though, my authoritative parenting style (firm but loving, high expectations with consistent consequences, high level of emotional responsiveness) is often met by other parents with a lot of shock and negativity depending on the crowd.
I think it’s because, as a culture and as a generation, we’re having a hard time these days figuring out where to land on the parenting style spectrum. There’s a lot of talk about letting our kids work it out themselves, about being more hands off. And, while I agree that helicopter parenting is no good, I also know we can’t just let our kids run amuck, oblivious to the needs of others. Passive parenting (super responsive and loving but hardly any rules or expectations) has its own major downfalls. Lord of the Flies didn’t turn out so well and neither will a candy shop full of tiny humans with a “me complex” left to their own devices. I’m sure your kids are perfect angels all the time but none of the other kids I’ve ever met are. Nope, the children I know need clear expectations and boundaries.
Now, can people take it too far with the whole rules and regulations thing? Can getting overly involved in every squabble hinder a kid’s ability to learn how to problem-solve on their own? Absolutely. I’m not talking about holding your kid’s hand through every single social situation they encounter. I am saying, though, that it is not only our right, it’s also our obligation to be explicit and consistent as we teach our kids values like compassion and kindness.
I’m also not saying that setting boundaries means we can’t use Positive Parenting to implement our “I Will Not Let You Become a Jerk” plan. In fact, looking at what’s behind the behavior our children exhibit (hunger, fatigue), guiding our kids to make their own good choices and giving realistic expectations beforehand when possible are all great tools for setting and enforcing boundaries. Tracy Cutchlow writes all about these positive parenting techniques in her book, Zero to Five.
As a pediatrician, I see my colleagues working tirelessly to impart balance in this area to the parents they meet. Encouraging parents to not be afraid TO PARENT. Almost needing to give permission to set a limit, set a boundary or set a consequence.
I’m not a perfect parent to my kids, by any means, and sometimes I look back on my parenting decisions with regret. It can be especially tricky to navigate when creating structure for a more sensitive, spirited son or daughter. Some kids, based on their temperament or personality, need more redirection or firm boundaries than others. But I do believe that, just like authoritarian (demanding, harsh, inflexible with no warmth or responsiveness) parenting tactics usually don’t turn out so well, passive parenting doesn’t do children any favors. Like a bridge without rails, the path of life becomes more precarious without the security that comes from structure.
I’m trying hard to not let my kids become jerks, even while I accept that sometimes they will be selfish and mean no matter how hard I (or they) try. It’s our natural instinct to be selfish. Add in their limited self-regulation skills and their high sensitivity to hunger and fatigue and, sometimes, it feels like an uphill battle to get involved and hold them accountable. It’s worth it, though. In fact, their future friends, partners, and bosses all depend on the hard work we’re putting in now.
March 5, 2018
Are you pregnant or know someone who is? For most moms-to-be, breastfeeding prep is at the top of the learning to-do list. If you’ve breastfed in the past, you know it can feel overwhelming and defeating as you’re first getting started. Most new moms wish someone had guided them through the process before they were in the thick of it. That’s why we’re offering a free webinar this week: How to Set Yourself Up for Breastfeeding Success.
I’m sharing my top tips for getting ready for this major undertaking which is totally natural but does not always come naturally!
Share with a friend, sign up yourself. Get ready to learn and prepare!
How to Set Yourself Up for Breastfeeding Success
Wednesday, March 7th
6:30 PM PST
February 22, 2018
“Well, she’s your daughter.”
I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard that before. It’s usually in reference to some sensitive, drama-queen episode my husband is watching my daughter work through with his eyes rolled so far back into his head they might very well get stuck there. It could be the household motto.
He’s right (and he doesn’t mean it disparagingly – he’s just calling it like it is). She is so much like me. We’re both sensitive, we’re a bit anxious, and we’re definitely drama queens. Sometimes I feel like she is, in fact, me on steroids – uninhibited and uncensored. And it has been true since the beginning. She used to sob when we left her with a sitter – even if only for 15 minutes. She tells my spouse and I we’re not being kind if we use a tone of voice that has a hint of irritation. She’s easily worried and easily offended.
But her struggles are also her strengths. With sensitivity and high emotions comes high levels of empathy. While she is intense and easily frustrated, she also has a huge heart. If there is no justice, she is crushed. If she senses sincere need, fear or pain in others, she is there to lend a hand.
“Maybe a hug would help,” she says to her friends or sister when they are teary or injured. “It will be ok. I’m right here.”
I’m all about trying to see the issues that challenge her as strengths (she’ll be the head of some world-saving, peace-making nonprofit when she grows up, no doubt) and psychological research strongly supports that approach. But, when she’s having her most difficult, high-emotion times, it’s harder to focus on the positives. Instead, like a lot of moms I know, I go searching for reasons why my kids are the way they are. Often, that search leads me right back to myself and to a whole new level of mommy guilt.
I find myself forgetting that my children are a mix of genes (not just mine, my husband’s too!) and environment. That there are tons of individual temperament components that influence how she deals with and reacts to the stresses that come her way. That my own tendencies are not the only influence on how my child turns out. More importantly, I lose sight of the fact that those amazing, perceptive, emotionally in-tune parts of my child’s makeup are also an extension of my genetic attributes and that the fact we share some of those characteristics puts me in a unique position to empathize with and encourage her as she works through it all.
Even if they don’t verbally express it at each visit, this grating part of mommy (or daddy) guilt is underlying the questions of so many of the parents I come in contact with at my practice. It’s especially relevant when it comes to behavior and mental health issues, but it’s also there when it comes to all sorts of other health conditions. Obviously, the attention and the effort we put into our kids makes a difference, but, even if we try our bests to better ourselves and our kids, we have to remember it’s not all about us.
If you are feeling guilty that, by just being you, you are messing up your child, take heart. I mean, don’t get me wrong. You probably are. We all are. But the strengths you bring to the table when it comes to parenting are also uniquely yours. They will positively influence that mini-me child of yours. Let go of what you can’t change about yourself, work on the things you can tweak, get your child professional help if you need to. Above all, focus way more on strengths – on the special, awesome, unique parts of your child and of you. Yes, you may be part of the “problem.” But you’re also a major part of the solution. Your kids have you as a mom for a reason – they need you and they’ll do just fine with you by their side.
Want more about taking care of yourself while you take care of your kids? Click here.
February 12, 2018
I’m covered in crumbs. Also, in milk, in about a tablespoon of applesauce and in sweat. That’s because I’ve been on an airplane wrangling my 17-month-old toddler and my four-year-old daughter for the last five hours. The four-year-old is doing just fine, actually. She’s getting a ton of screen time and I know I’ll pay the price later for the movie marathon we’ve allowed, but I’m okay with it given it’s a special circumstance. The toddler on the other hand? Well, it’s just a tough age. Too old for cuddling and napping as we zoom through the sky, too young to hold her focus for any length of time. She’s in constant motion. If this plane does not speed up and get to our destination ahead of schedule, I may collapse in an exhausted heap.
Our trip (for which I am actually completely grateful – it’s a privilege to take my kids to a new place with new adventures) made me think about the first time I ever traveled with a child. It took me back to how I overpacked, how I overstressed and how I underappreciated how simple it could actually be. There are tons of parents who ask me in my office if I have any advice for the plane or the airport with a baby. Turns out, you can optimize your travel experience by taking these easy steps:
1. Carry As Little As Possible, Check the Rest
Know how, when you go through the airport, your carry-on luggage and personal item seem to somehow get heavier and heavier the further you walk? Multiply that times ten with a baby because you now have an extra PERSON you are lugging. There are obviously some items you have to bring with you – a small stack of diapers, wipes, a change of clothes, bottles if formula-feeding. But, the less stuff you have to lug through security, through the terminal or into the overhead bins, the better. Better to check it and forget it, in my book.
2. Don’t Spend Extra Time In the Airport, Except When Boarding The Plane
A lot of new parents think they should get to the airport super early if they are traveling with a baby or child. Usually, though, that just means extra chances for meltdowns (for your baby, not you) and germs. Obviously, give yourself enough time to make your plane, but don’t plan to linger excessively. On the other hand, when it’s time to board the plane, consider your unique situation. Airlines offer family boarding early on in the boarding process, which can be tempting. If you don’t have an assigned seat or you have carry-on luggage that demands overhead bin space, take full advantage of this perk. If you haven’t brought much with you, though, consider minimizing the amount of time you have to sit “trapped” in a small space with your infant.
3. Stay Away From Sick People
This is a hard one since, notoriously, airports and airplanes tend to be germ fests. The number one way to avoid a baby getting seriously ill from air travel? Don’t take them until after they are old enough to receive their first set of vaccines and are out of the highest infection risk zone (in our practice, we don’t give the first set of vaccines until at least six weeks old and recommend waiting a few weeks after vaccination for the shots to take effect before flying. I waited until about three months until flying with my first baby). Once you’re on your way, it pays off to wash your hands well with soap and water often and to keep your baby away from direct contact with sick people.
4. Give Baby Something to Suck On
Once you depart on your flight, you’ll want to help minimize discomfort in your baby’s ears, which can build as the pressure changes with altitude shifts. Giving baby something to suck on (a pacifier, a bottle or a breast) can really help. On the way up, it’s obvious when you need to pay attention to helping your little one with this but, on the way down, it’s easy to get the timing wrong. Instead of waiting for the flight staff to tell you you’ve started your descent, be observant. When you start to feel the plane descending, get your baby going on an ear pain prevention plan by initiating some type of sucking motion (note: if they are asleep, let them sleep).
5. Forget Over-Apologizing
So you have a baby on a plane? Oh, well. Tons of other passengers have been in your situation and we’re not irritated when we hear your baby cry. Those who are will have to just suffer through. If your baby wails the entire trip, it makes sense to at least acknowledge the patience and understanding of others around you. But those little gifts some propose to assuage your neighbors preventatively? Unless you have tons of free hours you would not rather spend doing ANYTHING else, I say forget it. You paid to be on the plane just like everyone else and you’re doing way more hard to work to make the trip successful than any of your seatmates.
In the end, traveling with a baby can actually be significantly easier than you first imagined. Hey, at least it’s not traveling with a toddler. Pack light, get the timing right and feel confident – you’ll be there in no time.
For more on traveling with kids, read Your Family Vacation or Holiday Travel Success Guide
January 25, 2018
Apparently, there is a shimmering mermaid living in my house. She sings “We Are The Daughters of Triton” at the top of her lungs, she pretends to scatter shells for the merfolk in her kingdom on the pool steps while we’re on vacation – she even picked out a blue mermaid swimsuit, complete with scales and a jeweled neckline, for our trip to Hawaii.
When my daughter is not playing sea kingdom, she is almost always in full princess gear. We do have a rule that no costumes are allowed for school, music class or soccer (it’s just too distracting) but, otherwise, it’s on. To say she is usually in pink or purple or some other variation on that theme would be a huge understatement- the girl lives for girlie.
And, of course, you know how it goes- once the word gets out that there’s a girl interested in princess stuff in the house, all future gifts from every relative and friend tend to fit that theme. At least I think that’s how I ended up with 20 dress-up costumes hanging neatly in my playroom. My little royal wants to wear her crown and necklace whether we’re headed to Target or to the airport- it doesn’t really matter the destination.
The other day, at the coffee shop in a full-on Snow White outfit my eldest picked out herself, I watched the reactions of two patrons toward her. One rolled her eyes and snarked, the other grinned and gave me a knowing wink. I get the gut response of both onlookers: the desire to not let our daughters’ accomplishments stop at being saved by Prince Charming, the fact that kids have minds of their own and often have a very specific wardrobe plan from the moment they wake up, the reality that most parents learn to roll with it sooner or later.
But there is a limit. When I think about how far is too far when it comes to the whole princess thing, it really boils down to one thing: what is my child learning as she plays? My goal (the same goal I would have if my house was filled with all boys) is to support and encourage my children to fall in love with learning and to embrace imaginative play. And that means encouraging them to fall in love with learning whatever THEY are the most excited about. If they’re into superheroes, awesome. Explorers? Sweet. Math and science? Works for me. Far be it from me to make decisions for my littles as to who they will get excited about imagining themselves to be.
Let them wear pink, I say. It’s going take more than an outfit choice to determine my kids’ futures. I feel confident I’m still leading them down a path of empowerment. That’s because, while I’m easy on the wardrobe choices, I’m a stickler when it comes to these things:
1. I intentionally provide a variety of storyline exposures in book and screen time form. Our favorite books right now are Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer. I also love Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls and the series Ordinary People Change The World– kid-friendly, inspiring true stories of male and female heroes who fight against all odds (and stereotypes) to accomplish their dreams. Olivia and the Fairy Princesses is my all-time favorite, super silly book about caring more about choosing your own path than about fitting onto someone else’s.
2. I prioritize real-life interactions for my kids with women and men who are pursuing their professional passions and helping others. Chefs, photographers, lawyers, doctors, artists- I make sure my kids see that being successful means you love what you do and choose the profession that makes you satisfied- not the one that satisfies someone else’s expectations of you.
3. I try to limit the grossly stereotyped stories we do see or listen to. When we come across those books or shows, we try to talk through the gender roles that come up and we (usually in a silly way) question the assumptions those shows make. I remember listening to my husband read my eldest a bedtime story about Rapunzel last year, shifting the narrative slyly for her. “So why do you think The Prince wanted to go see Rapunzel? I think it’s cause she is SO good at Algebra- he thinks that’s really neat.” He probably knew I could hear him downstairs but, hey, I’ll take it!
4. I Make it a point to develop girl AND boy relationships for my daughters. Of course, I love my little girl’s girlfriends, but we mix it up. Diversity in gender, in ethnicity, in religion, in family make-up- the more my girls can appreciate the preferences and rituals of others, the better they can define their own as they mature. In the same vein, we talk about and demonstrate shared household and work responsibilities between my husband and I. My daughter knows I work full-time and run a website. “Mommy, how many visitors did you get this week?” She asks me all the time, then gives me a huge high-five as I tell her, “We’re killin’ it!”
It’s going to take way more than some pink gowns and a pair of fairy wings to pigeon-hole my babies. I’m focusing less on their chosen attire and more on their overall exposure and my overall messaging, knowing they’ll end up whoever they’re supposed to be – princess, pirate or both.
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