Letting go of what you “should” do

Editor’s note: Welcome to APtly Said’s celebration of mothers! This year’s theme for Mother’s Day is “Life Lessons” as Attachment Parenting International (API) celebrates with an inspiring series from May 7-11. We hope you enjoyed your Mother’s Day and were able to reflect on what you’ve learned through your motherhood journey.

alexis schraderThe greatest lesson I’ve learned from Attachment Parenting (AP) is to question all assumptions. I was parented fairly traditionally, and reading about AP when I was pregnant helped me let go of certain ideas about where and when a baby should sleep, how a baby should be fed, and how a child should be disciplined.

Redefining these ideas is wonderful — and familiar to most AP families. To me, though, following API’s Eight Principles of Parenting taught me to examine standard practices and ask, Does this really work best for my family?  Does my kid really need to share her sand toys with this stranger at the park? Will my preschooler starve if she doesn’t eat her dinner? Does my toddler actually need to wear pants right now? Is any of this really worth a power struggle and a tantrum, or will my child and I be just fine if I let her keep doing her thing right now?

I often hear friends who sleep-trained claim that parents who are against cry-it-out methods are simply blessed with good sleepers. If there’s follow-up to this comment, my husband and I are too busy laughing to hear it. We were blessed with a daughter who, at 2-1/2 years old, announced that she is nocturnal — and we didn’t doubt for a second that she knew exactly what she was talking about!

At 7 months, she figured out she could fight our efforts to put her to sleep and decided that sleeping from about 8 pm-midnight was sufficient. For days, she would wake around 12 am and would not go back down until 3 am. I nursed her, we walked her, we drove endlessly around the block…but nothing was putting her to sleep. Nothing worked.

Finally, we gave her what she wanted — playtime! About an hour later, she crawled in bed next to me and went to sleep. After a couple nights of this pattern, she was back to mostly sleeping through the night.

When I gave in to my child’s natural sleep pattern, we both ended up getting more sleep than we had been — and without a power struggle. For this to happen, though, I had to let go of some preconceived notions about parenting, such as that a baby needs to sleep in a crib and that babies must be pushed toward adult sleep patterns. AP explicitly told me I could question the assumption regarding baby sleep, and led me to a place where I could question another, regarding discipline — that I didn’t need to try to coerce my daughter to sleep.

Three and a half years into my parenting journey, I have certainly faced a lot of difficult moments, but I have learned to ask myself, Does this have to be hard, or do I just have to let go of something? It’s amazing how often it is the latter.

Getting through the Paris attacks with an old neighbor

On November 13, 2015 — as I pushed through the realities of daily life with two young children — I coped with a lot of emotion: fear for my sister-in-law, who was in Paris on business…relief when she let us know she was unharmed…and sadness that something so horrible could happen.

As I scrolled through Facebook the next morning, I happened upon a post of inspiring quotes from Fred Rogers.

From Snappy New Day.com

I’m a bit obsessed with Mr. Rogers. Like many of us, I watched his public children’s television show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, every day when I was young. When I became pregnant with my second child, I suffered from hyperemesis gravidarum (severe morning sickness), so I reluctantly allowed my older daughter more screentime than I would have liked while I was incapacitated. The slow pace, and gentle, educational content of Mr. Rogers’ show allayed many of my concerns about my toddler watching TV. I started researching Fred Rogers, a wonderfully loving man in all aspects of his life. I ended up buying books of his quotes and insights, and look to them frequently for inspiration. His love and acceptance of all people is an ideal I try to live up to everyday.

I opened the article.  Mr. Rogers got me through preschool, a difficult pregnancy and the challenges of daily life. He could get me through Paris.

And he did:

“When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers in this world.” ~ Fred Rogers

alexis schrader family with new babyAs a mother and API Leader, Attachment Parenting is often on my mind — but usually in a very immediate sense. I answer questions about bedsharing and breastfeeding. I use positive discipline to get through a toddler’s tantrum. Mr. Rogers reminded me of why I chose Attachment Parenting in the first place: to raise empathic children who will be the helpers of this world…because what this world really needs is more people who grew up feeling deeply what Mr. Rogers always told us:

“I like you just the way you are.”

 

(Photo of Fred Rogers from Snappy New Day.com)

Responding with sensitivity when it’s hard

bracelets-2-799181-mAs an API Leader, I frequently give parents guidance on ways to respond to their children in different situations. But the truth is, I don’t always follow my own advice. As all parents know, it’s one thing to be removed from a situation and think about solutions rationally; it’s quite another to deal with a public tantrum or a kid who won’t go to bed when you are exhausted and frustrated. That’s why it’s important to have tools at your disposal to cope with these situations before they arise.

First, it’s helpful to become aware of how often you respond in a way you’d rather not and what triggers those responses. Some parents use stacking rings or bangles on one side of the body, and move one to the other side each time they respond to their children in a way they’d rather not. A jewelry-free option would be gently snapping a rubber band on your wrist. This helps you become more conscious of how you respond to your children, and any patterns that provoke a certain response.

As for preventing an unwanted response, here are a few ideas:

  • Do some kind of physical activity, such as running around the house, jumping up and down or dancing. Exercise helps the brain process stress that might otherwise be directed toward your children. It’s also pretty funny for little kids to see Mom or Dad suddenly jumping up and down, which can diffuse a stressful situation.
  • Sing what you would like to say to your child. Singing prevents you from yelling and tends to gets kids’ attention more easily than talking, because it’s out of the ordinary. It also forces you to control your breath, which will help to calm you down.
  • Have a mantra that calms you down. You can put it on sticky notes around the house, write it on your arm or just repeat it to yourself. Bonus points, if it also makes you laugh. My personal favorite is yelling, “Serenity now!” (Try not to feel better after that. It’s impossible.)
  • Leave the room. I’ve had parents express concern about this, because it seems similar to a timeout. The difference is, a timeout is a controlled response by the parent to the child. Leaving the room is helpful when you know you can’t control your response, and it will be less damaging to your connection with your child than what you might otherwise say or do. Take deep breaths, scream into a pillow, whatever you need to do to calm down. When you come back — or before you go, if you’re able — you can explain to your child what happened: For example, “I was feeling frustrated, and I needed to take a break to calm down.” This can be a great opportunity to open a dialog with your child about negative feelings and healthy ways to deal with them.

Even with these tricks, don’t expect to be a perfect parent all the time. We all make mistakes. Just be sure to take time to reconnect with your child when you do. Try to keep your stress levels low by taking time for yourself, and do the best you can.

Babies becoming big kids

1386612_mom_and_kidEditor’s note: Attachment Parenting International (API) hopes every mom enjoyed her Mother’s Day on May 10 and every dad is looking forward to Father’s Day on June 21. This week, in honor of all mothers, API gives you a special “Inspired Mothers” celebration. We hope these posts inspire you in your parenting journey.

Last week, my husband and I went out to dinner and a movie, while my mom put our toddler to bed.  To many families, this might not be a big deal, but no one other than me had ever put her to bed before. My mom let her stay up an hour past her usual bedtime, so my husband and I drove around until my mom texted us that our daughter was asleep and we could come in.

While we drove, I cried. Was my daughter upset? (She wasn’t.) Was she asking for me? (She did, and accepted my mom’s explanation that Mommy and Daddy would be there when she woke up.)  Did she still need me?

Of course she does, she’s 2 years old. But she certainly doesn’t need me as much as she used to.

That’s the paradox of mothering young children: When they need you relentlessly, you long for a break. But when they suddenly don’t need you for something, it leaves a void.

On our way home, my husband and I talked about our daughter starting preschool next fall. We’ll have a new baby by then, and I’m sure I will be thankful for the time to focus on just one kid. But I will miss her. And it bothers me that I won’t be there to see what she’s interested in that day or to kiss her better if she falls on the playground.

When I told my friends about my mom’s success getting our daughter to sleep, they all said how wonderful it is that I now have some extra freedom. They also empathized with my mixed feelings about it.

Truly, I love watching my daughter become more and more independent as she grows. If she wasn’t playing happily by herself right now, I couldn’t be writing this post. Now that she doesn’t need me to fall asleep, I can go out and not worry about being back by 7 p.m.

Freedom is wonderful, and I find it far preferable to being needed constantly. But as our children need us less, it’s hard not to imagine the day when they won’t need us at all. This, of course, is the goal of parenting, and our children’s separation from us is healthy. But that doesn’t mean it is easy. If I’m smart, like my parents, I will fill that stage of life with travel, hobbies and time with friends.

In the meantime, I will try to value the moments my children do need me, even when it leaves me exhausted and irritated — because mothering young children is relentless, but it is also temporary. One day in the future, I will sleep until noon and fill my day with activities of my own choosing. But for now I will read a book about Elmo making a pizza, for the 25th time, knowing that one day I won’t have to.

And while I probably won’t miss Elmo’s culinary adventures, I will miss cuddling on the couch while I read about them.

Preparing for pregnancy the second time around

alexis schraderBefore my first pregnancy, I spent months exercising, eating right, going to acupuncture and taking vitamins. I felt really on top of things.

Then I got pregnant and was blindsided by terrible morning sickness. Then I had a miscarriage. Then I got pregnant again. Basically I threw up every day for a year. It was seriously not fun.

Now, I’m getting to ready to add a second child to our family, and my goals have changed. Last time, my only concern was a healthy pregnancy. Now, I also need to be a good parent to an active toddler while I’m pregnant.

While I’m worried about no longer being able to nap under my desk, I also feel like this time I have a better idea of what pregnancy is like. Here’s what I’m doing differently now that I know what to expect:

Exercise

Before my first pregnancy, I had a regular yoga practice. Now, most of my exercise comes from chasing a toddler around.

While I’m trying to prioritize working out, a daily 90-minute yoga session is not in the cards. Instead, I’m focusing on specific muscle groups.

I’m using pilates to work my core and pelvic floor, which really take a beating during pregnancy.

I’m also working my shoulder muscles. I had a lot of shoulder pain with my first baby from constantly picking her up and holding her, so much so that I ended up in physical therapy. By working my shoulders with resistance bands, I’m strengthening my muscles to prevent overtaxing them later.

Nutrition

I’m still breastfeeding my 2 year old, so I’m trying to eat healthy, nutrient-dense foods.

Before my daughter was born, I never drank coffee. Now, I need a cup in the mornings to get going. Before my first pregnancy I would have obsessed over this. Now I’m letting it go, since the amount of caffeine is well within the range considered safe and I’ll be better able to parent my daughter with the extra energy.

The importance of prenatal vitamins is common knowledge, and I started taking them long before I got pregnant. But once I was pregnant, I threw up every time I took one. This time, I researched vitamins that minimize nausea.

I also researched supplements, like milk thistle, that may minimize morning sickness.

Lifestyle

During my first pregnancy, I tried to minimize stress, which at the time was pretty easy. Now, my life has changed a lot — as a mom, I’m basically on-call all the time.

So I’m using my limited free time to multitask, doing things that will both relax me and hopefully prepare my body for an easier pregnancy. This includes chiropractic care, rolfing sessions and pilates classes to open my hips, correct my posture to help with back pain and get in better shape so I have more energy and endurance for my family.

I’m also spending more time stepping back and observing my daughter. It is such a joy to watch her play more independently as she gets older. And now she’ll be used to me lying on the couch while she plays!

Preparing for another pregnancy is definitely more complicated, because I have more than one child to consider. But knowing what pregnancy and the postpartum period are like have helped me target my efforts towards specific goals. Hopefully this will make the transition to a family of four easier for all of us.

How was your second pregnancy different from your first? Did you do anything different to prepare?

The truth about dads and Attachment Parenting

alexis schraderLike many bedsharing parents, I’ve had conversations where I let people assume my daughter sleeps in a crib.

While I love our family bed, sometimes I just don’t want to get into the details of why I’m not afraid of suffocating my child and when and where I have sex. So I smile and nod when strangers refer to a crib that does not exist.

My husband doesn’t do this. Anyone who assumes our daughter sleeps in her own room gets immediately corrected and, if they question our choice, engaged in a lively debate.

I love this about him. It’s dads like him who break down misconceptions about Attachment Parenting (AP) and gender.

One of the most common criticisms of Attachment Parenting is that it undermines women’s place in society by demanding too much of mothers, forcing them to abandon any interests and identity outside of motherhood. But women who self-identify as feminists are more likely to practice Attachment Parenting than women who identify as non-feminist. The disconnect between criticism and reality comes from critics’ own assumptions about AP families: They assume Mom is doing it all.

Enter the AP Dad.

Maybe he is feeding the baby a bottle of pumped breast milk, with love and respect of course, while mom is at work. Maybe he’s running errands with an infant cuddled up to him in a sling. Or maybe he’s snuggling up with a toddler in bed at the end of the day.

When Mom is out of the house, he’s not “babysitting” — he’s parenting.

The assumption that he’s not, hurts all of us. This misconception about Attachment Parenting leads families away from a parenting approach that may be better for their children. It places undue pressure on mothers through a societal assumption that they are doing all the parenting. And it’s disrespectful to dads who take on their fair share of parenting responsibilities.

Even those of us in families where fathers pull their own parenting weight expect other people to assume that they’re not. As an API Leader, the most common question I’m asked is, if dads are allowed at API Support Groups. Dads need parenting support, too, but the societal expectation that Mom is doing all the parenting is so strong that we hear “parenting support group” and think “mothers’ support group.”

It is within this zeitgeist that my husband is brave for being a proud bedsharing dad. When people hear a man sleeps in a family bed, there’s often an assumption that his wife made him do it, that he was against it and that he’s never going to have sex again.

They discount the possibility that a father-to-be would research parenting options, discuss them with his partner and together they would make a decision on the sleep arrangements that they feel are best for their family.

In reality, this is how almost every family I know operates. The more apparent it becomes that a couple operates as a team, the less Attachment Parenting appears to put an undue burden on mothers.

So be proud, AP Dad! You’ll be helping out AP families everywhere. Plus, you get to end your day with snuggles.

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