Hands Off Parenting

When my son, now 5 1/2, was one year old, he wasn’t pointing or waving. The pediatrician was a little concerned. Developmentally speaking, most children are doing both by a year, and the absence of those skills can be an early sign of autism.

I wasn’t worried though. My child had met or exceeded all his other milestones, was walking well and had no problems communicating. After our appointment, I went home and stewed for a bit because I felt she was being overly cautious and a little alarmist. And when she called a few days later with the results of his lead test, I brought up her concerns.

He wasn’t waving because it wasn’t something he saw very often, since I was a stay home mom and my husband left for work before he woke for the day. Once we made an effort to wave to him and each other, he picked it up easily. And he wasn’t pointing because he didn’t really need to. Anything he needed or wanted was either within reach, or I anticipated his needs, feeding him before he got hungry enough to ask, getting toys before he reached for them.

I was right, his development was fine, but there’s another point illustrated here, and that is that a parent can sometimes be too conscientious.
Continue reading “Hands Off Parenting”

5 Ways To Care For Yourself Postpartum

As soon as the blue line appears on a pregnancy test, many women go to great lengths to keep the fetus growing in our wombs healthy. We may stop drinking diet soda, or stop eating sushi. Some of us quit smoking. We sleep in a position that provides the best blood supply to the placenta, we go to the doctor or midwife frequently for check ups, we ask our husbands to scoop the litter box for the duration.

We also spend time making sure that our babies stay healthy after the birth. We interview pediatricians. We read about breastfeeding, kangaroo care, circumcision, vaccines and babywearing. We childproof the house and make sure all our gear meets current safety standards. We ask visitors to wash their hands.

After birthing a baby though, how many mothers pay as close attention to their own health as they did during pregnancy? How many of us quickly slide back into our bad habits of staying up too late, exercising too little, or drinking way too much coffee? How many of us put our physical health at the bottom of the priority list?

To be fair, it’s not always easy to be healthy. If you had a difficult delivery, convenience can trump healthfulness. When you’re sleep deprived, it’s hard to make the best choices. When you have other children to care for and a To-Do list a mile long, or if you’re juggling responsibilities at work with duties at home, it’s way too easy to let yourself slide to the bottom of the pile.

The problem is, it’s so important to take care of yourself after you have a baby, so you can heal, so you can be the healthiest mom you can be.

Here are 5 ideas to consider if you’re expecting, to make it easier to take care of yourself after your baby is born.

    1. Take up yoga–Yoga is great because it can be done at so many levels. A beginner can benefit just as much as a guru who has been practicing for years. Most poses can be modified to your skill level, and because yoga is low impact, it’s a great way to ease a postpartum body back into exercise while sparing your joints and stretched out abs. You can tailor your practice to your needs and in the privacy of your own home if you’re shy. Check out Yoga Journal for poses, tons of info, and podcasts, and join Yoga Today for access to a free weekly class.
    2. Freeze your dinners–Before my second child was born, I spent several days in the kitchen, cooking meals that could be frozen, such as Greek Spinach Pie, Lasagna Roll Ups, chili, soups and more. Having the freezer packed with wholesome, homemade food not only meant I was eating well after delivery, but it also made cooking dinner a lot easier. Simply thaw the meal and heat it up. This was one of the biggest things that saved my sanity because my husband went back to work after a week, and my baby took a long time to figure out the difference between night and day. At home alone with a newborn and a 2 year old, and up most of the night with the baby, I was absolutely exhausted. Knowing that we had something to eat for dinner was a huge weight off my mind.
    3. Order your groceries online–Most of the large chains of grocers offer this service. There are pros and cons to it (you can be very specific about your produce, and your personal shopper collects your order and bags it, but you can’t usually use coupons and fuel and delivery charges may apply), but if you’re busy trying to establish breastfeeding, or limited physically because of a c-section, having your groceries delivered can be a huge help. Plus, you can shop online at 2AM in your jammies if you want! Personally, I also found that it helped me eat healthier because I stayed out of the junk aisles.
    4. Fit exercise into everyday activities–Who has the time or energy to spend an hour on the elliptical when you have a new baby at home? Rather than writing off exercise altogether, try splitting it into smaller doses. Studies have shown that ten minutes of exercise three times a day is just as effective as thirty minutes at once. Do toe raises while folding laundry, push ups during commercials, or spend a few minutes stretching before bed. It adds up.
    5. Identify your stress causers and then streamline to avoid them–Sleep when the baby sleeps is a great piece of advice, but it’s not always practical. Figure out what you’re okay with letting slide, and what absolutely needs to be done, then find a way to make it happen. For me, I’m pretty particular about the cleanliness of my house. Letting the laundry pile up or not vacuuming for weeks was just not an option because of the stress it would cause me. So before my baby was born, I spent a couple of days deep cleaning each room, so the house was nice and clean when we came home from the hospital. Afterward, I tried to stick to a rough cleaning schedule so all the usual chores were split up throughout the week. Changing the cat box on Sunday, bathroom on Monday, dusting on Tuesday, etc. My house stayed looking relatively neat, and I could rest easy knowing I didn’t have a huge mess to deal with when I did get a chance to take a nap.

      What about you? What advice do you have to stay healthy while recovering from childbirth and caring for a new baby?

      Tell The Truth

      On the evening the Opening Ceremonies for the Vancouver Winter Olympic games were to start, I bathed my kids early and got them into their pajamas, then all four of us settled on the couch with blankets and popcorn to watch the show.

      I knew that an athlete from Georgia had been killed earlier in the day and I expected there to be a mention of the tragedy at some point in the broadcast, but I was not expecting the topic to be at the beginning of the coverage. Nor was I expecting NBC to show footage of the crash. Bob Costas did say that the images might be disturbing to some, but 5 seconds later, the crash was shown, and my 5 year old and 3 year old were right there on the couch, front and center.

      My daughter was pretty oblivious, but when I glanced at my son, he looked stunned. He asked what happened, he asked about the fate of the athlete.
      Continue reading “Tell The Truth”

      Non-TV Ways To Connect With Your Kids

      In early February, back to back blizzards dumped nearly four feet of snow on my city, a place in the country that averages maybe 18 inches of snow per winter. That much snow is especially challenging when you live in the city and there is no place to put it all and “snow removal” is more of a case of “pushing snow around where it will be least in the way of traffic and pedestrians.”

      Long story short, the storms meant school was cancelled and local government was closed, and at the height of the second blizzard, unauthorized drivers could be ticketed or arrested for being out on the roads. Moms everywhere struggled to keep cooped up children occupied and unwhiny without turning on the TV and letting them have at it. Continue reading “Non-TV Ways To Connect With Your Kids”

      One Body

      P2010182When I was 11 or 12, my mom took me shopping for a new bathing suit. When she suggested a style that was popular at that time, a one-piece tank suit with a large circle cut out on the stomach area, I told her, “I’m too fat too wear one of those.” I have no idea why this particular memory sticks in my head, but I also remember how upset my mom was with what I said. I didn’t understand her distress then, but I certainly understand it now.

      Everywhere I look, it seems like there are drastic cases of kids and unhealthy lifestyles. On one side, there are 400 pound teenagers having gastric bypass surgery to save their lives, and on the other side there are skeletal celebrities on TV and 17 Magazine proclaiming, “Get A Smaller Butt By The First Day Of School.”

      Although my children are only 5 and 3, I feel like the seeds of discontent with one’s physical self (and by extension, one’s inner self) start to grow early, and I don’t ever intend to stand in the middle of Macy’s and listen to my daughter tell me she’s too fat for a bathing suit.

      To drive home the message of how important it is to take care of yourself, I started using a phrase borrowed from my mother-in-law. I once heard her tell my 5 year old that we only get one body in our lives, so you have to take care of it to make it last. In our household, “One Body” has become our catch phrase for everything from eating healthfully to making sure we get enough sleep.

      Still, I worry that my children will fall victim to advertising, peer pressure and airbrushed images. It’s my opinion that poor self image will sabotage efforts in everything from grades to relationships, so I’m much more interested in fostering healthy self esteem in my children than I am in teaching my 5 year old how to read.

      Some of the things we do to encourage healthy habits are:

      • We eat dinner as a family almost every night. According to a study at Columbia University, teens who eat dinner with their families six to seven times a week are almost 50 percent more likely to remain substance-free than teens who eat dinner with their families twice a week or less. Teens who eat dinner often with their families are more likely to have better grades, lower stress levels and healthier diets.
      • When possible, the kids help me prepare dinner, and even if all they did was press the buttons on the microwave, they are more likely to try a food if they “cooked” it.
      • I frequently take both kids grocery shopping with me, and while we shop, we talk about good foods and how they help keep you healthy. I usually let my 5 year old pick out one or two items to try at home, and it’s interesting to see what he chooses. For example, one day he wanted to buy “junk food” and picked out a box of Fruity Cheerios. Another day he opted for pears and broccoli.
      • We try to avoid the words “fat,” “skinny,” and “diet” in our conversations.
      • I try to silence my inner critic and make sure I never say negative things about myself in front of my kids.
      • We stay active. We try to include physical activities when we do things as a family, such as hiking or ice skating. Weather permitting, I get my kids outside to ride bikes or just wander around the neighborhood frequently. We walk instead of driving places when possible.
      • I include my kids in my workouts. We do yoga before bedtime. I’m also training for a half marathon later this year, and when I do my outdoor runs, I take my son along on his bike to keep me motivated.
      • We try to focus not on what we can’t do, but what we can. I might not be able to fit into my jeans from high school, but I can lift 175 pounds on the leg press at the gym. My son can’t dribble a basketball, but he can ride for miles on his bike.
      • I have been very open with my kids about my diet soda habit and the fact that I’m not happy with it, it’s not a good choice, and that I’m struggling to quit it. I think it’s important for kids to see that adults also struggle with temptation, and the value in trying to do better.
      • We practice the 80-20 rule.  If 80% of what my kids eat and do are healthy choices, I don’t worry about the other 20%, be it watching TV or the hot dogs they eat when grandma comes over.

      I think the One Body mantra has been good for me too. We joined a gym last year and while my main goal at that time was to lose a little weight, my whole outlook has changed. I did lose about 9 pounds in the 10 months we’ve been members, but the other changes are much more drastic. I’m sleeping better, feeling better and have more energy. My body looks healthy and strong. And in the kitchen, instead of paying attention to fat grams and calories, my food choices are much more influenced by how that food will make me feel, if it’s a food that will help build up my One Body.

      I have years to go before my kids are teenagers, but hopefully the steps we are taking now will teach them to make good choices and take care of their precious bodies.

      How about you? What methods do you use to teach your kids about being healthy and what have you found most helpful? Those of you with teenagers, do you feel there is strong pressure for kids to be thin?

      The Power Of Choice

      Imagine a day in which you had no say in what you did. Someone else decided when you got out of bed, what clothes you would wear, and what you ate for breakfast. Someone else dictated when you played, what you played with, and for how long. Someone else chose where you went that day, when you had your meals, and when you slept. Someone else instructed you on how to behave, what things you could and could not touch, and what you watched on TV.

      P1210167Now imagine how you’d feel at the end of such a day. After being bossed around and having all your decisions made for you, wouldn’t you want to flex your muscles and have a say?

      At my children’s preschool, we talk a lot about how important it is to allow children to make choices. It’s important for many reasons. First of all, a child can’t learn how to make decisions on their own if they’ve never been allowed to do it before. Secondly, presenting children with choices and encouraging them to weigh their options is a powerful tool when it comes to self discipline, self esteem, and restraint, all of which are valuable lessons when it comes to such issues as drugs, alcohol and sex. In other words, letting your toddler choose her own clothes can help equip her to make the right choices when peer pressure kicks in years later.
      Continue reading “The Power Of Choice”

      Yoga For Gentle Sleep

      Some children are natural sleepers. They require little to no bedtime routine, go to sleep easily and sleep all night. They have no comfort objects and sleep just as well away from home. Some of the parents of natural sleepers are the first to object to co-sleeping and easily point fingers when it comes to a child that doesn’t sleep well. According to some, if a child has sleep problems, those problems must have been created by co-sleeping or some other action on the part of the parent. In other words, the parent did something wrong.

      I have two children. My three-year-old is a natural sleeper. My five-year-old is not. I spent plenty of time when he was younger reading books about child sleep, trying various methods, and even more time pulling my hair out over why he didn’t sleep well. Several years and another child later, I can see that it’s simply the way he is wired. We’ve parented both kids in exactly the same way. Our daughter sleeps well and always has. Our son does not. It’s just the way it is. Continue reading “Yoga For Gentle Sleep”

      Fully Present

      Most parents are skilled at the art of multi-tasking. The busyness and pace of life with kids demands that you learn how to do more than one thing at a time. You have to be one step ahead, you have to be prepared, you have to learn to anticipate where your day is going to go next. In my life, multi-tasking meant breastfeeding the baby while also making a sandwich for my toddler (hurrah, Maya Wrap Sling!) or folding laundry while supervising bathtime. My list of things to do is always a mile long, and the only way it gets done is to make phone calls for preschool using a Audio Direct reviewed wireless headset while also doing the dishes and helping my kids with an art project at the same time.

      After so many years of perfecting my multi-tasking skills, I find that I no longer find it easy to do one thing at a time. Even when I don’t have to be doing two things at once, I do it anyway. I clip coupons while I watch TV, I make lists in my head while I life weights at the gym, I file paperwork when I chat on the phone with my mom. Sometimes doing one thing at a time seems like a dreadfully inefficient way to do things.

      This sort of lifestyle works for me…except when it comes to time with my kids. Sometimes when I’m playing or interacting with my kids, my mind is three items ahead on my to do list. And after my son lamented one day a couple of weeks ago, “Mom, you’re not listening to me,” I realized he was right. I was listening to him…sort of. I heard what he said and I responded, but I wasn’t giving him my full attention. I wasn’t fully present and he knew it. I thought about how annoying it is to realize that someone isn’t really listening to you, and I want better for my children.

      At this time of year, with so many things that need to be done, gifts purchased, cards mailed, cookies baked, I find myself struggling to remain fully present even more than usual. So my son’s comment was a wake up call for me.

      The weekend before Christmas, we received a direct hit from a winter storm that dumped 20 inches of snow on our city. We had nowhere to go, the house was clean, and nothing to do but enjoy the enforced weekend at home. The snow was cleared by Monday, but we spent Saturday and Sunday taking turns shoveling, and just enjoying the time at home. And with no projects looming, nothing on my list that required immediate attention, I found myself consulting my day planner infrequently. For two days, I spent time with my family without thinking about what I needed to do next, what needed to be accomplished before the day was over. It was a refreshing break.

      Of course, come Monday, life went back to its usual hectic pace, but I look at it with a different perspective. For me, one of the best gifts I can give to myself and to my children is to be fully present. To pay closer attention, to enjoy the time together, to focus on one thing at a time, instead of the endless list and the next project in the queue.

      It will be there when I get back.

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