A Surprising Remedy for Tiredness: Host a Playdate

I woke up this morning already drained, and just knew it was going to be one of those tired days. I hadn’t gotten much sleep, woke up at 5:45 to feed the newborn, and felt a real dilemma once that was done over whether to lay back down for 15 more minutes or have a shower while my partner was still home and could look after the boys (I chose the latter). I was preemptively cranky about how exhausting the day ahead was going to be. I also had a playdate planned for later in the morning; a couple of friends of mine and their kids were going to come over.

I contemplated cancelling, apologizing but saying I just needed to ‘lay low’ and get through the day. I knew they would understand. But I didn’t really want to do that, because I haven’t had that many daytime adult interactions since my son was born a month ago, and frankly, I was craving some company and conversation. Continue reading

Sure, the ‘MEternity’ Leave Idea Seems Idiotic… But I Can’t Really Blame its Author

Meghann Foye has been getting a lot of attention for her NY Post piece about wanting her own ‘maternity’ leave without having any kids… called a “MEternity leave.” Granted, this is probably just a publicity grab for her new book, which I have no opinion on as I haven’t read it, but this piece alone is getting quite the reaction from parents, who are largely outraged at her insinuations that parental leave is an opportunity to obtain lifestyle flexibility, time for self-reflection, and a renewed sense of self-confidence if you’re burnt out at your workplace.

“Ha. HA. HAH!,” yelled, in unison, all parents who read this ignorant, unicorn pipe dream.

There have been some hilarious and cathartic responses written to Foye’s piece, like this one at Scary Mommy and this one over at Yackler Magazine. Both of these take Foye’s proposed ideas down with wit and acuity. Read them!

I can’t, though, in all honesty, attack Foye myself. Because deep down, I know I was not devoid of similar thoughts about maternity leave… BEFORE I had kids. And I know I’m not the only one who had wildly inaccurate, ridiculous, idiotic notions about what maternity leave would afford me as a new parent: Continue reading

When I was Disappointed by My Child’s “Gender”

With my first pregnancy, I really wanted the sex to be a surprise – after all, it’s the one major surprise in life you know is going to be wonderful either way, right? I got a thrill imagining all the possibilities of who my little unborn person could be, without gendered boundaries. I was thrilled when my son was born – I saw him on the bed below me and immediately squealed, “Oh my god, he’s here!” I tried to pick him up so fast the midwives had to stop me so I wouldn’t yank the cord.

My second pregnancy was an entirely different story. As you may know from a few of my other posts, I’m a feminist. I believe strongly in deconstructing the patriarchal values that disadvantage people who aren’t heterosexual, cisgender males in our society. So perhaps it won’t surprise to say I always hoped I’d have a daughter. I envisioned a young woman who I could raise to be a strong bulwark against the bullshit of the patriarchy, someone who would resist gender stereotypes and prove “the man” wrong with her intelligence and independence. My husband hoped for the same. We only plan on having two kids, so suddenly the sex of this little person had more at stake, and we decided to find out at the 20-week ultrasound. We’d heard enough stories of people who’d been disappointed with a baby’s sex, so finding out in advance seemed like the safer option.

When the ultrasound technician pronounced the fetus male, Continue reading

Gratitude Journal #2: A Heart Full of Love

A HEART FULLOver the past few weeks, our house has been suffering from a cold that just seems to be bouncing back and forth between the members of our household. This week, our 22-month old son was the main victim. The result was an increase in toddler meltdowns and a pronounced decrease in the quality and quantity of sleep for all of us.

Needless to say, this has not been an easy time. But somehow – just at the very moments when things get tough – I’ve found reminders of all of the love and support in my life.

When I got to work bleary-eyed from a night of broken sleep, and a chat with some co-worker Moms reminded me that none of us are alone…

When I totally dropped the ball on something my sister had asked me to do weeks ago, and she reminded me to be a little kinder to myself…

When my husband and I fell into bed completely exhausted, and our kindness with each other reminded me how important he is to me…

When I just wanted to go back to bed in the middle of the night, and my son snuggled into me, reminding me how much he needs me…

In all of these moments, I’ve felt my heart bubbling with love and gratitude. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. This week, I’ve been fortunate to be able to peek through the challenges of this time, and glimpse the loveliness of my life.


The Thing I Sometimes Forget About Professional Advice

This past week, I struggled with feeding my son. He didn’t gain as much weight as they would have liked, so I was advised by the midwife who came to visit me that I needed to feed him every 2 hours.

I did so for two days, and described to another midwife who came next to re-weigh him how a 2-hours system allowed him very little sleep, since he took a long time to feed, and then didn’t have much time to sleep before I had to wake him up again and try to force him to eat once more. (Before I started forcing a feed every two hours, he was sleeping four-hour stretches each night, so I’ll admit, it also just felt in violation of every instinct to wake a sleeping baby in the middle of the night when I’d been handed such good fortune!) She said I could feed every 3 hours instead, and maybe allow a 4-hour stretch once per night.

Two days later, this seemed to be just as bad a situation as every 2 hours, and I called the midwife paging service, hoping for some additional advice since I felt stressed out. It felt like our day was just an endless cycle of me forcing him awake, trying to force him to eat even though my breasts didn’t feel full yet, him sleepily not eating a whole lot, him being more awake in between attempts to latch him but then mostly just falling back asleep on the boob every time we returned to it. Then we’d start the whole cycle again after about 40 minutes of sleep. I had no idea what my kid’s natural rhythm was so I wasn’t even sure where to start on getting us into something that felt better.

Midwife #3 listened, then had a completely different response: “Stop waking him up,” she said. She explained why, based on everything I’d told her about our experience and my son’s health thus far, it would be okay to try for a few days going with his schedule, letting him decide when he would eat. If that worked and he still gained weight at the next re-weigh, then we had our answer. If he didn’t gain as much as they’d like, then we’d address it then, and that would be fine, too, since the next visit was only two days away.

If Plan A doesn't work

When seeking expert advice, I’ve always personally felt going to a professional seemed the safest bet – after all, the profession would have equal training across its population and a set of ‘best practices,’ wouldn’t it? The thing I seem to forget sometimes is that professionals are, in fact, a group of individuals like any other group – which means each individual brings their own experiences, preferences, and beliefs to the table in the context of their professional training.

Oddly, I seem to continually forget this each time I seek professional advice, despite the fact that with everyone ranging from physiotherapists, doctors, midwives, teachers, and mortgage brokers, I’ve had personal experiences where one professional will confidently tell me is what needs to happen, only to have the next professional tell me to forget everything I’ve heard about x, because is what needs to happen. Yet when I first hear x, I obediently latch onto the instructions and follow them as closely as I can. Then when I hear y, I get stressed about why I’ve been doing x so far instead.

But this isn’t a flaw in the professionals, or a suggestion that they don’t know what they’re talking about, or an implication that some are right and some are wrong. It’s a reflection that when seeking advice, I really have to take everyone’s with a grain of salt – even from a professional – and allow that one person’s advice is based on a specific combination of training, case experience, personal values and individual conclusions they’ve reached as a result of all those things combined.

I also have to remember that any piece of advice isn’t guaranteed to work, even if it comes from a professional, because my kid (and me) are also individuals bringing other factors into the equation. It would be more comforting to have consistent advice from all professionals in the same field, to not have such things as ‘second opinions.’ But if the problems we brought to professionals were that simple, we wouldn’t need professionals at all – there would just be one standard instruction book for Renovate Your Kitchen or DIY Therapy or Raise Your Child and one size would fit all.

Remi sleeping

Turns out the third time was a charm for me and my kiddo. Following the final midwife’s advice did the trick – and after a day and a half of longer sleeps, my wee one started gravitating to 3 hours between feeds all on his own. I guess he just needed to reset and catch up on some of the sleep he hadn’t been getting first.

And, luckily, he still usually gives me one 4-hour stretch between nighttime feeds (phew!).

Overcoming “Be Careful”-itis

Roald Dahl quoteThis past week, I was listening to a recent episode of One Bad Mother. The conversation was about struggling with reflexively saying ‘no’ to your kids – even when you don’t really have a problem with what they want to do.

My son is young enough that I’m not yet struggling with being a ‘no’ machine, but I do find myself reflexively saying something else. My personal catch phrase? “Be careful”.

I cannot seem to stop myself from saying “be careful”. “Be careful with the cat”. “Be careful climbing on the couch”. “Be careful on the stairs”. “Be careful”. “Be careful”. “Be careful”. All. Day. Long.

Obviously, some of this is justified. My son is not yet two. We still have a baby gate for our larger staircase. He starts to lose his balance and run into things when he’s tired. He is definitely not at stage where he doesn’t need any reminders to be careful.

At the same time, my son is already a fairly cautious child, as toddlers go. He is not particularly anxious. He gets a kick out of being a little bit scared, like when his dad jumps out at him from behind a corner. But he is thoughtful and deliberate, and you can see him thinking through how to tackle a new feat before he actually tries to tackle it. When he was a baby, he routinely practiced new motor skills in the safety of his crib before he would dare to try them anywhere else.

I, on the other hand, was an overly cautious child. My mom had to convince me to let go of her hand in the grocery store when she needed both of her hands to lift something (or to stop my sister from running off). I was scared of climbing and hated hanging upside down. And while I would not consider myself an anxious adult, I do still fall into the camp of: “I’m cold, so you need to put on a sweater”.

It’s definitely not my favourite part of myself. Even as a kid, I wished that I could find a way to just let go a bit. Now as a parent, when I hear myself say “be careful” for the seven-hundredth time that day, I can’t help but wonder if my worrying tendencies are at risk of stifling my son’s independence.

I feel like Marlin in the movie, “Finding Nemo”, the parent whose over-cautiousness is holding back both his child and their relationship. He tells his friend Dory, “I promised I’d never let anything happen to him”. Dory responds, “Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise. You can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.”

Not much fun, and not a great way to learn, either. Roald Dahl once said “The more risks you allow a child to take, the better they learn to take care of themselves”. This makes a lot of sense to me. After all, who among us doesn’t credit our biggest risks and/or failures with our best learning experiences? Either we rise to the challenge and boost our self-esteem in the process, or we find out what doesn’t work and try to do better next time.

And this is really what I’m talking about when I’m thinking about ways to get over my “be careful”-itis. I’m not going to avoid saying “be careful” when my son could really hurt himself or when he can’t reasonably be expected to understand the potential consequences of his actions. But I do want to try to avoid reflexively saying “be careful” in circumstances that he can navigate on his own.

Maybe it’s ok for him to learn that if he’s not paying attention to what he’s doing, and a board book lands on his foot, he probably won’t like it. And he’ll learn to take better care of himself the next time he’s at his bookshelf. I mean, how else does a little bird learn to fly than to start by falling? It’s not like mama bird kicks them out of the nest right from day one. She watches and waits until they’re ready. After that, there’s really no other way to do it.

Even typing this makes me feel a bit guilty and gets the worry machine going in my head, so I know it’s probably something I need to work on. In the meantime, I’m just going to try to channel my inner Dory and just keep swimming.

Baby Bird Try To Fly

Book Review: My 2 Favourite Parenting Books

If you read my previous post, you’ll know I have a problem with parenting books, at least the ones that present like self-help ‘manuals,’ implying that our kids are one-size-fits-all, that there is some ‘magic’ that will get your child to [insert your particular parenting struggle here], and ultimately, just making you feel bad about yourself when the ‘magic’ doesn’t work.  But as promised, I said I would write my next post about two books I have actually found very insightful and helpful in my transition to parenthood so far, instead of just ranting. Here goes.

The Books

bringing-up-bebe coverI’ve mentioned book #1 a few times on this blog already: Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman. An American journalist raising young children in Paris, Druckerman notices that “French children sleep through the night at two or three months old. They eat braised leeks. Their parents sip coffee while the kids play by themselves.” Naturally, she wonders what the French are doing differently from American parents, for whom these things are definitely not the norm, and sets herself the quest of figuring it out. I found her book engaging, funny, and fascinating from the first time I read it as a newly pregnant lady, and I find something new every time I re-read it.


9781118124949_cover.inddBook #2 is Drop the Worry Ball by Alex Russell, which delves into the muck of the contemporary North American family situation that so starkly contrasts to the French reality I read about in Bebe: sleeping troubles with much older kids, rampant picky eating, parents who can’t seem to enjoy any adult time if their kids are awake… He addresses the reality that trials like these are not only culturally accepted as inescapable facts of being parents, but worse, topped with a self-sacrificial badge of honour for accepting and slogging through them. I saw Russell speak at a conference this year, and was struck by his candour, his clarity, and the refreshing good sense he brought to the topic. I knew immediately I wanted to get his book out from the library, and am I ever glad I did!


Now, as I wrote in my last post, what I like about these books is their broader, less instructional approach to parenting. In Bebe, Druckerman doesn’t find as many easily-replicable ‘tips’ among the French experts as she hopes. When she tries to simplistically implement a phrase or action that she sees French parents use with easy success, it often doesn’t work. As she tackles each aspect of parenting, she discovers that the French don’t just do things differently, they have a whole different philosophy around parents, children, and families. In Worry Ball, even though it has a ‘how to’ subtitle, and even though Russell is a practicing psychologist who describes many case studies with tangible examples, there aren’t many instructions. He insists the “professionalization of parenting” via “parenting guides” has led to the “steady erosion of parental confidence,” and so deliberately keeps the tips to a minimum, instead hoping to help readers rethink the parenting role in a more holistic sense for themselves.

books to broader views of parenting

So Why Talk About These Books Together?

While I didn’t expect this when I started reading Worry Ball, I actually find these to be great companion books, for a couple of reasons. After all, they address the same core issues that seem to plague North American parenting these days:

  • family lives revolving entirely around children’s desires and “happiness”
  • parental couples who have little time to focus on themselves, or each other
  • troubling levels of entitlement, disrespect, and non-resilience among children
  • parents who feel they have zero control over behaviour or tantrums
  • immense cultural pressure to do parenting “right”
  • heavy feelings of guilt/responsibility for your child’s behaviour

The list could go on, but you get the idea.

What I love about reading these books together is that they tackle the same issues from different angles, giving me a more complete picture, and often, more reassurance.

Angle #1: Relatability

Druckerman brings the vantage point of a mother, an everywoman who struggles not only with her ordinary parenting interactions, but also with not understanding how we/she got here in the first place. (Why is there so much pressure, such guilt? Why is it so difficult to convince her kids that she is in charge? And why is it so hard to break out of these patterns?) She explores the work of parenting experts, but is often frustrated, as I was at first, too, with the fact that French experts, and even everyday French parents, seem to wax poetic about how to think about sleep or understand a child, when all we’re looking for is an answer to, “So what do I DO when my kid is acting up/refusing to eat/waking at night?!?!”

This is where Russell’s book comes in handy. Coming at the same issues as a long-practicing psychologist, he’s been helping parents grapple with these troubles for a long time. As such, he’s seen enough examples to sift out some answers to those “how did we get here?” and “why is it so hard to break out?” questions. He includes not only cultural/historical explanations parent-child relationships, but also many stories that highlight these theories in a more concrete way. He is also a parent, but as he mainly seems to hold an expert role in this book, it can feel easy to dismiss his ideas: “Sure, it sounds easy coming from him, but he’s an expert – that would never work with my kid.”

So Russell’s book helps to flesh out some of the “but how does that apply in my real life?” questions that Druckerman’s book might leave a little bit fuzzy, while Druckerman’s eventual successes give hope that even non-expert, regular parents can figure this stuff out.

Angle #2: Geography

Druckerman, though American, is living in France. This physical removal allows her to get outside the feeling of being ‘fated’ to follow the cultural norms and pressures so problematic to North American parenting. It’s because she’s outside this frame that I can suspend my disbelief that such transformation is possible and the reality she describes actually exists: a place where parents don’t do night wakings as a matter of course with three-year-olds, a place where kids can bake whole cakes for themselves on Saturday mornings but not freak out when they can’t eat them until 4pm. Unfortunately, this also means her successes can be easier to write off as plausible/possible only in the magical otherworld of Paris.

Russell, on the other hand, isn’t writing from the outside: he hasn’t escaped! He’s (as are his case study families) parenting deep ‘in the trenches’ of the problems at hand, yet they are able to make some positive change for themselves. He doesn’t shy away, though, from being honest with you that getting out of the traps that seem so common, or even inevitable, will be very difficult. He says doing so requires going against the flow, knowingly subjecting yourself to judgments from parents and others who don’t share your views. He validates the (perfectly reasonable) fears you might have about going against the grain as he encourages you to do it anyway.

So Russell gives us a ‘what is’ view of the trials we face as parents and admits that it’s going to be painful to get out of, while Druckerman gives us more of a ‘what could be’ big-picture view, based on what she’s seeing firsthand in France. From reading them together, I get both the realistic validation of the struggle ahead, but also the optimistic hope that a better way exists, not just for one or two people, but that it’s even possible on a more communal level.

Angle #3: Who Is This Really About?

The last helpful way that I see these books as great complements is in their focus within the family unit. Because when we start to talk about these issues, particularly under the shadow of the self-sacrificial-parenting-badge-of-honour, it can get hard to sort out why you really want to make a change. Creeping doubt questions can start to trickle into your brain: do you really think your child will benefit from sleeping later, or are you just a selfish adult who wants to sleep in? 

Druckerman seems to focus more on the benefits to parents of moving away from the North American model (or, at least, from my biased North American mind, it seems that way). While she does say it’s good for children’s development to learn that they are not “the center of the universe” and that they “can’t always have their way,” there seems to be an old-school, old-world harshness to these sentiments. We’re living in the age of “attachment” parenting, coming off the heels of the “I’m special” generation, so some values that the French seem to take for granted – that adult time is sacred, that interruptions from children are unacceptable, etc. – seem unpalatable here, and certainly not something you could claim this side of the sea without great scrutiny/judgment. Deep down, they feel so refreshing and reasonable… but you just can’t help the feeling that it’s somehow selfish to actually admit it.

Russell’s ideas focus more on the benefits to children when championing these same lessons. He goes further and insists these lessons are not only beneficial, but necessary for kids’ development. He shows convincingly how we’re actually doing our kids a huge disservice by not making a shift away from our current cultural parenting expectations and by allowing ourselves to be sucked into contemporary parenting traps.

So Druckerman appeals to and validates any underlying (seemingly selfish) reasons I might have for not wanting to succumb to obligation/entitlement/attachment parenting, while Russell rationalizes these feelings and provides confident justification for my resistance efforts.

What About You, Dear Reader?

These are just my top picks for broadening my parenting perspective… what are yours? Leave them in the comments, because we here at Raise A Mother would love to check them out!

My Problem with Parenting Books

My husband and I were saying over dinner last night that it would be interesting if people organized their bookshelves by the year each book was added to their collection. (Alphabetization-addicts, like Shannon here at Raise a Mother, don’t panic – I’m not actually doing it!) But it would be a neat way to see the progression of your reading habits – how topics, authors, or genres of interest have shifted over time. If we did this, our newest section would be dominated by Parenting Books.

Parenting Books Collection

My bookshelf happens to be ordered so all Parenting Books are in the same section as it is.

I’ve acquired some of these books as gifts, others as hand-me-downs, and a few I’ve bought. The main issue I have with parenting books as a category is that too often a parenting book reads as a ‘manual,’ and this is, frankly, bullshit.

One book on this shelf (I won’t name names), started out great – it was reassuring and soothing to me as an anxious parent who wasn’t getting any sleep, as it explained that all babies can smoothly be taught to sleep through the night, if only you take the correct steps. Hah hah! Hah! I can scoff in retrospect. Desperate as I was, though, I devoutly followed the instructions laid out for me so clearly and reassuringly by the serene-looking writer on the book’s cover. At first, it seemed like it might work, but within a few weeks, my son’s sleep and mine had both deteriorated significantly. We were worse off than we had been at square one. We gave up on the expert advice of the author, and upon returning to our previous situation, it suddenly didn’t seem so bad (so maybe this was a ‘win’ after all?).

Now of course, this book was a bestseller because its advice had clearly worked for many people – the person who gave it to me even swore by it from personal experience! But for some reason it didn’t work for my kid, and when I stop to think about it, it makes sense that it didn’t. Because the author doesn’t know my kid. How could I expect that she knows exactly what will make him fall asleep and stay asleep all night long?!

Our children aren’t products. They’re not manufactured. They’re not one-size-fits-all. If they were, wouldn’t somebody have already written the perfect manual for raising a “Child,” and wouldn’t we all just be given a copy from our doctor or midwife upon birth and sent on our merry way?

The problem is, manuals, tutorials, and clearly defined steps are the way of our world today. Need to know how to change the bulb in your car headlight? Speed read? Poach an egg? Do a complicated braid? Pose a selfie? There are video tutorials and listicles with step-by-step instructions on how to do all of these things, and everything in between. This can be great: you can save money on mechanic service, whip through required reading, make delicious breakfasts, satisfy a kid’s Frozen obsession, and avoid ever again publicly sharing a photo of the insides of your nostrils, all without too much risk, because probably, if you follow the instructions, these sorts of outcomes are fairly reliable (Pinterest fails aside, which are, incidentally, a delightful waste of Internet time).

Unfortunately, we’ve become so wired to expect the ability to just follow-the-instructions and get reliable outcomes, that this trend has spread to things that by nature just aren’t that reliable. So the web is also full of listicles and how-to-steps on things like personal relationships, finding self-worth, being happy, and yes, raising children. Wikihow, for example, whose tagline is “How to do anything” (really?) has a whole relationship section:

Wikihow relationships

I seriously question that a single article is going to be able to reliably “restore my faith in humanity” if it’s truly been lost. Life’s just not that easy.

Our kids are individual people, and working with them on complicated things like anxiety, adapting to change, or managing their emotions (which, quite possibly, are at the heart of some struggles like not being able to sleep through the night), is likely going to be a process of trial-and-error, just like it is working on these things with adults.  Assuming that a simple checklist of steps is going to ‘fix’ or ‘solve’ such complexities, or reduce the need for us to actually struggle through teaching a tiny separate person how to be in the world, just seems silly in this light.

So what books do I think are useful?

Well, some of the tangible advice ones are, sure. For example, I found great, clear ‘instructions’ and tips that fortunately worked out well for me and my kid in books like Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Richard Ferber, or Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. But I firmly believe now that these just happened to work for our particular context, our family, and our child, and I wouldn’t presume to tell another parent, “Oh, you definitely have to try this because it’s magic!” Sadly, I’ve heard too many parents express just this sentiment in real life and seen even more parents do so in the online blogging world. There is no one-size-fits-all magic – don’t believe it for a second, as glorious and reassuring as it sounds. If a particular tip or book works for you, embrace it and cherish it – just remember that this is a happy coincidence, and maybe let yourself feel a bit smug that you found your match, you lucky duck!

The books I’ve found the most useful, it turns out, are the broader ones. The ones that don’t claim to have any specific “answers” for the difficulties I’m facing, but instead encourage me to rethink my whole perspective on parenting, to allow myself to look beyond the scope of the particular irritation of the moment, to consider my kid and my relationship with him not as a collection of ‘symptoms’ to be addressed but in a more holistic way, for the long-term.

Yes, this requires more time to get through. It requires more time to sit and let the ideas sink in. It requires me to do the connect-the-dots work of figuring out how the bigger ideas presented fit into my life and my parenting ideas. It certainly doesn’t allow me to do a quick reference and fix a crisis in the moment. But it also has been, at least for me, a hell of a lot more effective to actually making change that feels better in my house, my family, and my life.

Now I know you might be thinking, really, Lindsay, that’s the end? Thanks for nothing helpful today... so hopefully I can make that better. This is sort of a two-part blog, because my next post is going to describe the two books I have personally found most useful, and how I have found them to be great companion books for one another. So in case you’re looking for some interesting reads on parenting, but like me, you’re disillusioned with the ‘manual’ approach, stay tuned! I promise to give you more.


Re-Thinking “Counting to Three”

As you may remember from an earlier post on living in the moment while on mat leave, I love Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bebe (I told you it might come up again!). In her comparison of French- and American-style parenting, she mentions the old “count to three” tactic that I bet most of us are familiar with. She writes that a particular French caregiver she observes “counts to three” to get a child to cooperate, but describes a difference in the tone and attitude of this counting from what I was expecting: less a warning and more an allowance of time for the child to get on board with the program and make a sage (calm and reasonable) decision.

I remember using the “count to three” method on my brother, younger by thirteen years. When I said “I’m going to count,” or when I heard either of my parents say this phrase, there was a definitive warning tone, an escalation of the resistance and conflict between us, an implied threat of pulling out the ‘big guns.’ In essence, this phrase meant, “you are going to do what I have asked whether you like it or not, so you can either save face by doing it before I get to three or you can endure the humiliation of having me enforce it upon you.” It’s the parenting equivalent of checkmate.

Now I don’t think that either I or my parents did anything unusual or extreme in counting to three before enforcing the reality of whatever we had asked my brother to do (likely multiple times) before resorting to counting. Most parents I can remember growing up “counted,” and I bet most of us can remember somebody counting to get us in line at some point or other. It seems to be a very effective strategy overall.  My in-laws told me all they had to do was tell my husband, “I’m going to count…” for him to comply. They didn’t even have to get as far as “one.” The fear of “three” can be almighty.

But reading about this anecdote in Druckerman’s book made me think about a different counting memory, too:

Back in our early years of dating, when we were doing the Toronto-Montreal long-distance thing, my partner and I would do our own version of counting. Whenever we knew we had to do stop doing something  we wanted to do (usually snuggling under the covers in one of our freezing student apartments) in order to do something we didn’t want to (usually brave the Canadian winter so one of us could get back on a train home), we would count. We would count to ten, or twenty, taking turns saying alternating numbers. We were slow about it, breathing calmly and speaking softly. It was just a way to savour the last seconds  of doing what we wanted, of a nice moment, an experience, before resigning ourselves to the harsh, intrusive world of reality where we had to leave each other. And it really did help to make that transition easier.

So between this memory and Druckerman’s observation of the French caregiver, I’ve been trying to use counting in this light the past week with my toddler. And so far, it seems to work (though as with all new attempts at parenting strategies, I feel a need to cross my fingers as I write that!). When my twenty-month-old resists a necessary task, this is my script, said at his level, in a quiet, gentle tone that implies I have confidence he will understand the reason behind what we’re doing:

“Arlo, it’s time to cooperate now. So Mommy’s going to count to three, and then you need to [insert required action here]. One… two… three. Okay, [insert directive here].” Then I let him have this prepared chance to do it on his own.

So far, it’s worked to get him to lay back for a diaper change and stay still instead of wrestling. It’s worked to get him to let me clean his face after supper without a fuss (which normally is a drama). It’s even worked to get him to calmly place a toy in my friend’s bag that belonged to her son, and not, to Arlo’s despair, to him. I was most shocked at this last one!

When he complies, I’ve been acknowledging his cooperation with a  “Thank you,” or “You did it,” and offering him a high five, which he loves. When he still resists, I repeat gently that it’s time to do it, and talk him through the action as quickly and calmly as possible. Even in these instances, once the unpleasant is over (as happened with taking a shirt off yesterday), he hasn’t stayed mad about it or thrown a post-action tantrum the way he used to when my tone had been more forceful and demanding.

These interactions feel good on my part because I get to express empathy with my kid, instead of frustration or the sense that I’m ‘at the end of my rope.’ I’m hoping he somehow feels validation in his resistance, that he feels I ‘get’ why he doesn’t want to comply, and that I understand how much it sucks to not get your way. Because I do. We all do. And even though my job is to sometimes enforce the harsh intrusiveness of reality against whatever he might desire in a particular moment, it seems to be much less of an ordeal for both of us when I turn a moment of resistance into a moment where we’re on the same team, even if I can’t give in to his whim.

So I’m going to keep trying to “count” on this strategy with my little guy, and we’ll see how it goes. As I said, it seems to be working so far, but if parenthood has taught me anything, it’s that things can shift unpredictably and instantly, so I’ll keep you posted!


Tiredness, TV, and Tantrums

One of the best-loved things in our house (at least by one member of the family) is Thomas the Tank Engine. We have two identical toy Thomases who ride on the classic wooden track. We have a big toy Thomas that our little guy fell in love with at the local consignment shop when Daddy was buying him waterproof mittens. Thomas comes up frequently in family conversations. Thomas often sits on the dinner table to watch our son eat, perches on the counter at bathtime, comes upstairs to read stories before bed, and gets a kiss goodnight once the stories are finished. Happy dancing ensues if we play his 30-second instrumental theme on repeat on Apple Music. If we had a stuffed Thomas, I think Arlo’s faithful elephant (“Elly”) would be quickly discarded as a sleeping companion.

Unfortunately, we’ve also made Arlo aware that there is a TV program of Thomas, which has resulted in our first ongoing struggle with tantrums. We’ve generally tried, since our wee one was born, to limit screen time to a bare minimum (ie. when he was sick, getting his nails cut, or at someone else’s house), and this has been fairly easy to do at home, since we don’t have cable (we’re Netflix people), and our only tv is in the basement, which isn’t baby-proofed and therefore we don’t spend much time with him down there at all.

But, as Mindy Wood of observes, TV is sometimes entirely too accessible and helpful an option for childcare. As she explains, “We all know that screen time in excess can be harmful to infants and toddlers, […] so why are so many young children still watching too much TV? Well, because parents are tired! [and] it’s totally understandable to want a few moments of peace every day.”

I’m seeing lately how this is especially resonant if you’re a mom eight months into a second pregnancy… and not really able to do much mobility-wise with your toddler… or if you’re a dad and your partner is experiencing the aforementioned, so you’ve been assigned more of a single-parent role lately… and your kid is having trouble sleeping but at least when he wakes up at 5am on a work day, if you put on Thomas, you can lay down with your pillow on the couch and a blanket and pretend to still get more sleep until 6:30…

…And I’m sure many parents out there have completely different but just as valid and understandable circumstances that also, bit by bit, bring them to allow a little more screen time. It’s so easy to justify, too:

“It’s not like we’re letting him watch things with commercials.”

“It’s just a little bit here and there.”

“We’re going to let him watch TV eventually anyway, so it’s not so bad to introduce it slowly now.”

“It’s so snuggly.”

“It’s so PEACEFUL when just this short program is on!”

Even though Arlo didn’t watch every day, or even close to it, I knew things were headed out of a realm of control I felt comfortable with when one unusual afternoon, his grandma dropped him off  with me after caring for him for the day and he cried because he wanted to go straight downstairs to watch “Thomas” on the “Fee-Vee” (TV), and I told him that wasn’t an option.

A few mornings later, when Arlo decided 4:50am was an appropriate time to wake up, his Dad tried to get him to go back to sleep but eventually resorted to the Very Useful Engine (oh, so useful indeed!), as that would be less stressful pre-6am for everyone within earshot. Unfortunately, this backfired when it was finally time to get ready for the day, and Arlo threw an absolute fit about Thomas being turned off – a fit complete with wailing, leg-kicking, and ultimate despair that lasted through changing his diaper, choosing clothes, putting on his shoes, and finally getting out the door. We parents both managed, somehow, to keep our cool during this fit, and I heard myself saying, repeatedly, “Well, Arlo, if you can’t handle it when Thomas gets turned off, then next time we won’t be able to turn him on at all.”

Right now, my biggest issue with screen time for a toddler isn’t the recommendations from experts that kids under two shouldn’t have screen time at all, or that too much video-watching inhibits communication and social skills, or that it decreases attention spans or reduces kids’ abilities to explore and discover through active play. It’s that it turns my kid into a whining, wailing, tantrum-having toddler in a way that nothing else really seems to do. He simply doesn’t seem mature enough to handle screen time.

The tough part, is, of course, that in moments that are already difficult, or leaning toward a possible tantrum, screen time is a pretty surefire way to derail that train – at least for the moment. Other options for distracting, re-directing, or otherwise dealing with undesirable behaviour all seem to require a lot more energy, which sometimes, you just don’t feel you have as a parent. (Wood actually has some helpful, tangible ideas in her piece on raising a low-media child without going insane, but they do require efforts in pre-organization and maintenance that switching on a video just doesn’t.)

I’d like to get rid of Thomas (the video version) altogether as a coping mechanism for the trickier moments of parenting, but it seems unrealistic to do so. Do we really have the willpower, even in moments where we feel depleted already, to avoid that easy fix? What if we just do it even less often – is it really so bad if it hardly ever happens? Shouldn’t we really just cut ourselves some slack in this particular period surrounding the arrival of a second child into our family? We’ll have plenty of time to figure it out later, right?

I don’t have any answers today, so I’m more looking to my fellow parents for your thoughts. What are your theories on screen time with toddlers/young children? How do you use TV, or determine when your kids can watch it, and how much?

Looking forward to hearing from you!


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