Giving presence to the firstborn

Editor’s note: The post was originally published on Oct. 15, 2008, and it continues to serve as a reminder to parents expecting another baby:

894905_curiousFor several weeks, I’ve been thinking about ways in which I give my children presence. I’ve thought about different ways I spend time with my kids, the talks we’ve shared, the games we’ve played. Time and time again, my thoughts returned to one specific incident:

When I was pregnant with my second child, I wondered, as I think most second-time parents do, about how my first was going to react to having a sibling. Will he be jealous? Welcoming? Will he regress? Am I up to parenting two? How will I cope if he’s resentful?

My husband and I did all we could to prepare him, of course. We talked about the new baby. We read books to him about new baby siblings. I even bought him a baby doll so that he would have a new baby, too. But as he was only 2 and 3 years old during the pregnancy, I didn’t know how much of it he was fully understanding.

My son was 3 years and 4 months when his sister was born. He didn’t seem interested in holding or kissing or hugging the new baby, and I never pressured him to.

Above all else, I wanted to give him permission to not like the baby. I knew it was not in anybody’s best interest to force this new baby on to him, nor to force him to love her.

Of course, new babies take a lot of attention — holding and nursing and changing and admiring. I was always very sensitive to how my son reacted, especially when friends and relatives came bearing gifts and food and cooing over the baby.

Even though my husband was spending a lot of extra time with our son as I was caring for the new baby, I desperately wanted to spend one-on-one time with him, unimpeded by the sling. To that end, we arranged one afternoon for my husband to take the freshly nursed 1-week-old baby into the other room so that I could concentrate fully on my son.

He was so excited to get me all to himself, and I was ecstatic to be spending time with just him.

We were horsing around, being silly and laughing and giggling. A little bit into our game, he got a bit carried away and gleefully threw his shoe across the room.

He knows the rule of no throwing in the house, but to be honest, I knew that his world was turned upside-down in just a week and I didn’t want to press him on it too much. So I said, “Hey, let’s keep the shoes on the floor and find something else we can throw.”

He broke down and just started sobbing, so I pulled him onto my lap. As I rocked him, I cooed, “It’s hard having a baby here, isn’t it?”

He nodded and sobbed some more. “It’s hard to see me carrying her everywhere,” I continued.

“Yes!” he cried. “You should be carrying me around, too!”

When I recounted this exchange with a friend later, I commented that he could have pulled my heart out and stomped on it and done less damage.

However, that incident inspired me to redouble my efforts in connecting to my son, the firstborn. When my husband returned to work after his month-long paternity leave, I unfailingly committed myself to spending at least 30 minutes each day in child-led play with my son while the baby slept. We played whatever he wanted to play. I followed his rules and let him lead completely.

As the baby grew older and could be apart from me for a couple of hours, my son and I would go out to lunch, just the two of us, every other weekend.

As my daughter grew even more and could take a bit of food between nursings, my son and I could take longer dates to the playground, or to a movie, or to the Thomas the Train store in a neighboring town.

I absolutely and thoroughly enjoyed spending this special time with my son, and I often looked forward to the weekend just so I could spend that extra time with him. I have so many memories of our dates and our conversations.

The presence I gave my son during that time paid off in many ways. Most of all, he and his sister have been two-peas-in-a-pod for years. They are extremely close, play together astonishingly well and even choose to sleep together on the weekends. Since I spent so much time with my son during his sister’s baby years, I really don’t believe he’s ever felt the need to compete with his sister for my attentions, which I think helps their relationship and in turn our family.

Does Attachment Parenting pertain to me?

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on September 15, 2008, and examines how the author has adapted Attachment Parenting International’s Eight Principles of Parenting as her children grew out of the infant/toddler years.

1361797_student_1My kids are not babies. They sleep in their own rooms. They don’t breastfeed. If I wore them in a carrier, the sling would rip and my spine would snap. They have homework.

Does Attachment Parenting still pertain to me?

Sometimes it seems as though the API’s Eight Principles of Parenting are geared mainly toward babies and toddlers: have the family bed, use the sling, breastfeed, don’t spank your exploring toddler and it’s all good. But what happens when those babies grow up? Do the principles apply to my family?


Here is how I apply the API Principles into my own life.

1.)  Prepare for Parenting

Since my child-bearing years are behind me, obviously there’s no pregnancy or childbirth to prepare for! But even though my kids are older, l:

  • Continually educate myself about developmental stages. They’re older, but they’re still growing and changing and have specific developmental needs.
  • Set realistic expectations for themselves and for me. I don’t want to set my kids up for failure by expecting tasks that they are not developmentally ready to handle!
  • Research different educational options and find the one that best suits my kids and our family. I closely monitor their schooling experience and advocate for them.
  • Learn about their individual learning style, using that knowledge to help their educational experience.
  • Nurture their natural desire to learn by helping them develop their interests. I follow their lead and explore topics they find interesting. I don’t push my own interests on to them, but help them foster their own.

2.)  Feed with Love and Respect

My kids have been weaned for quite awhile. How do I continue feeding them with respect? I:

  • Provide nutritious food that’s easily accessible, and educate my kids on the importance of eating healthy foods.
  • Am their role model for healthy eating. I don’t have a rule about “grownups can eat this, but kids can’t.” What’s healthy for one is healthy for all. I hold myself to the “5 a day” veggie rule just as the kids are held to it.
  • Make sure my kids have plenty of opportunities for physical activities. They don’t have to be organized sports or formal lessons: just running around the backyard is great for them, too!
  • Make dinnertime a formal event at my house. No TV, no books, no toys. We eat at the table, and we talk.

3.)  Respond with Sensitivity 

All kids — and adults — have emotional needs! How do I respond positively to my children, when they have the words and means to tell me what’s wrong? I:

  • Nurture a close connection and respect my child’s feelings. I can understand that instances that may have happened while I was not there — in school, for example — can impact their life at home, and is no less important.
  • Ask my children about their day using specific questions: What was the hardest question on the quiz? What funny thing happened today?
  • Respect my children when they say they need time alone. I give them time to transition from their school day to home.
  • Show interest in my child’s activities and participate enthusiastically! I attend all recitals, games and meets.

4.)  Use Nurturing Touch

I think this is the one the stays the same all throughout the child’s life! I:

  • Give frequent hugs, snuggles and back rubs. My husband wrestles and tickles but only when our kids want him to. We use playfulness and games to encourage physical closeness.
  • Hold my kids on my lap, since I find them way too heavy to carry for any length of time! We also snuggle side by side!

5.) Ensure Safe Sleep, Emotionally and Physically

The kids have their own rooms. They sleep all night, as do I — which is glorious after those baby years! Is nighttime parenting still on the table? Yes it is! I:

  • Read bedtime stories to my kids and provide extra cuddles.
  • Have a specific routine for bedtime that never wavers, which helps calm them down for bed.
  • Have regular and set bedtimes during the school year. I want my kids to be well-rested, so they can learn the next day!

6.)  Provide Consistent and Loving Care

Obviously since kids are in school, I can’t be in their lives as constantly as I was before. But I can still be there consistently by:

  • Being available, which makes kids feel safe, secure and cared for.
  • Avoid the “latch-key” temptation and find appropriate supervision between the time my children arrive home from school and I am home from the workday.

7.)  Practice Positive Discipline

As children age, discipline also changes. Redirection no longer works! So, I:

  • Stay emotionally connected to my children, which creates trust and love in them for their parents, making them generally easier to discipline. Quite honestly, discipline has never been a problem in our home. Connected children are internally motivated to please their parents most of the time.
  • Use natural and logical consequences to teach children, which are more effective than punishment, and doesn’t instill fear.
  • Use active listening.
  • Do not use mockery, shaming or coercion.
  • Do not bribe or offer rewards, as I want my children to develop inner self-control.

8.)  Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

It can be so tempting to sign my kids up for music lessons, sports teams, and playdates, and to send them to every single birthday party to which they are invited. It’s hard to maintain balance with older kids! We:

  • Don’t overdo extra-curricular activities. I refuse to schedule activities during dinner, and weekend extra-curriculars are very rare. Weekends are family time for us.
  • Eat dinner together, everyday.
  • Participate in our own family traditions and discuss them with the kids.
  • Take the kids out on dates with one parent or the other. A movie or lunch out with just one kid and one parent is a lot of fun and increases bonding.
  • After the kids are in bed, my husband and I watch movies or talk. Admittedly, my husband and I don’t go out much by ourselves very often. This could probably be improved for us.

As my children have grown and changed, my parenting has grown and changed. Attachment Parenting is different for us now than it was when my first was a baby.

How has it changed for you?

Hearing “I Love You”

My nine-year-old son has never said “I love you”.

I honestly never gave it a second thought until I realized I was being told “I love you” multiple times daily by my five-year-old daughter. For the first time I began to wonder why my son never said it, neither to me nor to anybody else. And while I would never in a million years intimidate him into saying these words, the idea that he never said them made me a little sad.

I’ve said “I love you” to him every day of his life. I harbor no doubt that he does love me intensely, but he’s never said the words. It’s not that he’s emulating his father, because his dad says “I love you” quite often to me and to the kids. Why isn’t our son saying it?

My son is funny and joyful and intelligent. He’s considerate, respectful, and kind. He likes to play with the neighborhood kids. He carries his backpack on one shoulder, the way the kids do in his grade. He high-fives his friends. He air-guitars. To him, I haven’t been “Mama” or “Mommy” in years, but “Mom.”

It was this last thought that sparked the lightbulb over my head. I immediately realized that several times a day, the kid who always calls me “Mom” gives me a large, clinging hug, and simultaneously very happily sighs “Mommy”. A single hug from him lasts several minutes, and while he never says the words, that wonderfully content sigh of “Mommy” is his “I love you”!

This recognition turned my perspective around! No, my son has never said the distinct words “I love you”, but he says he loves me every single day; I just wasn’t listening to him!

I listen to him now, and I hear him say he loves me!

Photo credit: Julia Voßhenrich

Consequences or Solutions?

My latest parenting struggle concerns my son. He is nine, and is an absolute joy to be around! He is funny, intelligent, kind, and courteous. He’s the kid I can count on to do what I ask him to do, the first time I ask it. He doesn’t complain about his chores, he adores his little sister, and he does very well in school.

My son loves to read, and often reads in bed. As such, we allow him to self-regulate his bedtime. That is, he doesn’t have a specific lights out, as his sister does. He’s allowed to read in bed as long as he wants, and then be responsible to turn out his own light and go to sleep whenever he wants, provided he can get up in the morning.

This has never been a problem; the kid is always the first one awake!

However, my struggle regards the fact that he’s been falling asleep in his glasses. Continue reading “Consequences or Solutions?”

How to Beat the Dinnertime Disconnect

A few nights ago, my family went to a popular local pizza restaurant. Soon after we were seated, a family of three was seated at the booth next to us. My eight year old son said that he recognized the boy in the other family from school; they were in the same grade. The girl in that family appeared between one and two years younger than my own five-year-old daughter. The only other diner at the table was their mother.

After my family had placed our order and we were all busying ourselves with the puzzles and games on the children’s place mats and talking about our day, I would occasionally take a quick glance at the family at the next table.

I saw the kids involved in their own activities. The mother was absorbed in her Kindle, an e-book reader. There was no conversation. There was no interaction. The sister played by herself, the brother played by himself, and the mother was fully absorbed in her own activity.

Meanwhile at our table a antique one, my family was abuzz; my daughter and I were doing the crossword on her place mat, my husband was playing the dot game with our son on his place mat. We talked about their school day. We told some jokes. We talked about pizza.

When our food arrived, we all dove in. We talked between bites. Sometimes my kids talked during bites. Yeah, we gotta work on that.

When the other table’s food arrived, the mother packed up her Kindle. I was relieved to see that; I love to see other families interact!

While my family was still eating our dinner and the conversation had moved to whether or not we were going to attend the State Fair, I chanced a glance at the other table. The mother’s Kindle was still put away, but in its place was an iPhone that held her complete attention. The kids ate silently. The siblings didn’t talk amongst themselves. As the mother was absorbed in her iPhone, the mother wasn’t engaging them in conversation, either. The family was all together, yet they were all alone.

I don’t begrudge that woman’s use of the Kindle and the iPhone. In fact, I myself own both of those devices and I thoroughly enjoy them! What caught my eye was the lack of interaction. Kids can’t learn the art of conversation unless they are taught. My husband and I believe that one of our roles as parents is to set examples for our children. As such, we have strict rules: there is no reading at the table nor are phones allowed at the table. By asking questions and starting conversations, we are teaching our children how to be conversationalists; we are teaching them how to be with other people in an increasingly solitary world.

It could very well be that the family wanted to engage in conversation at home at our antique furniture livingroom, Large antique inventory of Dining Tables includes 18th, 19th, and 20th century French, English and Italian Antiques. Just didn’t know how to begin. Starting a dinner conversation is very easy! One great way to start is with a round robin. Everyone at the table must supply an answer to questions and directives such as:

  • What was the best thing that happened to you today?
  • What was the worst?
  • What was the nicest thing you did for somebody today?
  • Use three adjectives to describe your day today.
  • In 60 seconds, tell as much about your day as your can.
  • What books did you read today?

Oftentimes, questions like these can open the conversation into more diverse topics.

Dinnertime conversation is a great way for a busy family to connect after a full day, provides ample opportunities to find out what is on each other’s minds, and is a wonderful way for a family to stay connected!

What does your dinner table look and sound like?

Sarah is a mother of two school-aged kids.  She dislikes cooking, but immensely enjoys the dinner table.

photo credit: ednl

Balancing the Car

My family took our first major road trip this summer. We’ve taken smaller road trips before, but this year’s trip was to last 2 ½ weeks. My husband and I had been planning this trip for almost a year, and our whole family was looking forward to it, but first we had to buy a the oscillating tool blades pack to get some repairs to the car and get going. We also wanted to do window tinting to block some of the sun while on the road.Since we are going away for significantly longer journey than we are used to we figured we should also have some reliable professionals check and seal a head gasket since the wear and tear was apparent and we do not want the car breaking down on us while we are off-grid.

Our final destination was over 1000 miles from our home, and while it is possible to drive it in two days, we decided not to do that. The kids, 8 and 5, had never been in a car for that long before, and to be honest, we wanted to make this easy on them, which is why we decided to take the SUVm my husband really wanted to take our Clasiq car, there’s nothing better than a road trip on a classic car; we did check up the history of the car and performed a de NAP Check before buying it, so the kids wouldn’t be disappointed. however, we figured it would have been the best and most comfortable for the kids. After all, this trip was for the entire family; we all have a right to enjoy ourselves! Therefore, we decided to take three days to drive to our destination, and three days driving back. This would mean less time in the car per day, and more opportunity to see sites along the way!

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If you buy an used car and  after buying, took the car to sell car for cash los angeles before the trip was how to entertain the kids in the car. Here are the things we kept in mind and thought about as we prepared:

To DVD or not: Our vehicle does have a DVD player, but to be honest, I’m not a fan of it. Each family must make the best decision regarding this for themselves, with their needs in mind. Our family has never used ours. We strictly limit screen time at home, and I don’t want to be plugging my kids into the DVD player on a car trip, which otherwise is perfect opportunity for family togetherness!

Be aware of your child’s limits: I didn’t expect my kids to sit and converse for the entire trip. I know their limits, I know their capabilities, and I know their ages! I did not expect them to suddenly act differently or suddenly age five years in the midst of a major road trip. Similar to the dog years rule, one adult hour in the car equals four kid hours! My kids usually get along spectacularly well, but I was aware that they’re normally not strapped into a car for an entire day on a regular basis, either! In abnormal circumstances, it’s entirely possible they could act abnormally.

Plan activity bags: For the few weeks prior to the trip, I packed special travel bags for the the kids. I included Mad Libs, activity books, colored pencils, regular pencils, and drawing paper. I printed off a bunch of webpages, such as information on each state that we would be traveling through, a map of the US where they can check off the all the different license plates we see, dot-to-dots for my youngest, and mazes and puzzles for my oldest. I kept back half the the items and activities, so that I could give them new items for the trip home. I also included little snacks in their bags, renewed every day, so that they could help themselves whenever they were feeling peckish instead of whining “I’m hungry!!”

Audiobooks: The last thing I did to prepare for the trip was to stock up on audiobooks. I checked them out for free from the local library. My original plan had been to read to the kids on the journey, but then I realized that I’m going to be facing forward with my seatbelt on, and it will be difficult for the kids in the back to hear me. So I settled on audiobooks. I got a broad variety of chapter length audiobooks; some the kids are familiar with, and also some new ones. I then printed off a list of all the audiobooks available, and included a copy in each kid’s activity bag.

It’s now been six weeks since we traveled, and I’m ecstatic to report that the trip was a success! We all loved our “car days”, as we called them. We loved talking and singing together, and being with each other for over two weeks! We all loved the audiobooks, and the kids enjoyed their activities. There were no quarrels, no whining, and no impatience. We discovered lots of playgrounds along the way, and saw lots of sites that the kids would never have seen otherwise. They learned things about each state we visited. They each kept a trip journal. They waded in two of the Great Lakes!

My husband and I are already making preliminary plans for our next road trip! We love being together in the car!

What are your tips for keeping kids occupied in the car?

photo credit: thomas pix

Sarah is the mother of two delightful children, and drives way more than she ought.

Sibling Cooperation

My kids are eight years old and five years old, and for the most part, I like to stay out of the their arguments.  Personally, I think there is greater skill to be gained by learning to work out disagreements and learn to cooperate than by me stepping in to solve everything.

That being said, I don’t just leave the kids out to the wolves; my goal has been to give them the tools they need to solve disagreements on their own in a way that’s fair to both of them.  (The fantastic book Siblings Without Rivalry was a great help to me in negotiating the potential trials of parenting siblings!)

I’ll make observations, (“Wow, this is a big problem!  Brother wants to use the red marker, and Sister wants to use it too!”) I’ll listen to both sides of the story, (“Okay, I’ll listen to Sister first, and then when she’s done telling me all she wants to say about it, I’ll listen to Brother.”) and then I’ll leave them to it.  (“This is a big problem, but I’m confident the two of you can work it out in a way that’s fair to both of you.”)

To be honest, saying the bit about “…that’s fair to both of you” seems to be a reminder to my kids that they need to cooperate.

There are a few rules I follow:

1.) If one person personally owns something that the other person wants to use, the owner always gets the final answer.  (“Sister, so you want to listen to one of your brother’s cd’s, but you, Brother, says she can’t use it.  It’s your choice, Brother, because it’s yours, and if you both want to work something out, it’s between the two of you.”  In this case, it seems as long as I acknowledge and support the ownership of the item, then the owner is much more willing to share.  I never demand the kids share personally owned items.)

2.) Physically hurting each other is not allowed, and I would immediately step in and separate them. Fortunately, my kids never really had a problem with this, so it never really comes up. In fact, the last time I had to deal with this was several years ago.

3.) If a problem is so big that they need help, I help them brainstorm different ideas.  But I do not make the final choice.  This I think, teaches them more than anything else, how to solve their own problems.  Brainstorming involves asking both of them for ideas to solve the problem, and I write down every single idea that’s spoken.  Silly or ridiculous or feasible.  Then it’s up to the kids to choose the best idea and to implement it. I’ve done this so often over the years that the kids brainstorm all by themselves now, and come up with their own solutions.

An example of this is bathtime.  The kids still bathe together.  (Neither one has asked for their own bath, which would immediately be honored.)  However, both kids like to sit up front where the water’s deeper and warmer!  It got to be too much of a hassle at bathtime determining which one got to sit up front, so I told the kids that we need a better way to make the determination.

The kids talked about it, and came up with a surprisingly fair solution.  If I could print out a monthly calendar, Brother would fill in each day with alternating the first initial of their names to indicate which person got to sit up front during bath.  Then Sister would mark off each day by putting a sticker on the calendar each evening.

I was impressed.  This was a big problem, and they came up with a solution that’s fair to both of them.

They’ve been doing this for about four months, and it’s worked perfectly!  They both follow the schedule because they both came up with it.  All I have to do is print out a calendar at the beginning of each month, and they take care of the rest.

The reason this is on my mind is because they found another use for the calendar a couple of days ago.  I just recently set up an account for my daughter on my computer.  My son has had one for a few years.  The rule is they can use the computer just on weekends.  However, with two kids now wanting turns instead of just one, I began to wonder what would happen.

I left the room for about a half hour, and then came back in.  My daughter announced they they talked about that very problem and what they could do.  They’re going to use the bath calendar, and whoever’s name is on the calendar gets to use the computer first.  It works out well since the weekend days on the calendar alternate as well.

They discovered the problem themselves (“How will we decide who gets to use the computer first?”) and they talked it over and came up with a plan!  And this was all before I had even voiced anything at all about it!

The kids then told me that it was my five-year-old daughter who came up with the idea of using the bath calendar for computer time as well!

I’m so pleased that they’re solving problems entirely on their own!

What are some other ways to foster cooperation between siblings?

photo credit: Joyseph

Why Do You Breastfeed?

3054278216_ef309bba04When I was pregnant with our first baby and I announced my intention to breastfeed, my husband had no opinion of his own about it, but supported me. “Whatever you want to do is fine!”

When that baby was born several months later, he had multiple problems nursing in the beginning, and was a trial to nurse throughout. However, my husband never wavered in his support and help, and avidly listened to every new wondrous thing I learned about breastfeeding.

“Did you know it helps his eyesight?”
“He has less chance of becoming obese because he breastfed!”
“I’m reducing my risk of getting breast cancer!”

He soon became an active supporter of breastfeeding, and offered advice to his friends becoming new dads.

So early in my second pregnancy, I decided to play a joke. Continue reading “Why Do You Breastfeed?”