Friday, November 30, 2012

Boundaries of a Mom

After Althea was born, in order to limit the number of hours she has at daycare, I decided to shift my work schedule and start my first session at 10am instead of my usual 9. The extra hour is invaluable to me, because of a little extra time with Althea. Our mornings are really a precious time. Not to mention, I really need the extra time to get ready since I have a baby to chase after while fixing my lunch, making the bed, and completing other morning tasks!

I started a new project at work called Mom Net. It is a service we are now providing to new moms in rural communities who are experiencing depression. I provide phone-based therapy and coaching as the mothers complete an internet-based support program. This is exactly in line with my professional goals, so I didn't want to pass up the opportunity to participate. There are six women therapists in the group, and I am the only mom. One of the other therapist's is 8 months pregnant...I am so glad. The logistics of my participation are proving to be a challenge because of my "mom status" and this is my first experience of looking around a room and feeling like the people around me don't really get it. I heard that sentiment expressed hundreds of times before I was a mom: "You'll understand if you ever have kids..." and I have to say I brushed it off before, because I have so much experience working with kids, and I guess I believed on some level I did get it.

I didn't get it.

When trying to find a supervision meeting time, everyone started suggesting Mondays or Tuesdays. I have had to say literally 10 times: "Actually, I don't work on Mondays and Tuesdays" while thinking to myself:  I am such a burden to this group. Do they think I'm a slacker? Should I be more flexible? I can't be more daughter comes first. They don't get it. Then I started being asked if I could make an exception for a Monday morning "just this once" as everyone in the room looks at me. What could I say? I had to ask Althea's daycare to make that exception so I could attend the meeting...with resentment in my heart.

The group members established a regular meeting time for 9-10:30am Friday mornings.  Okay, I should just 9am meeting a week is not that bad. I have survived, and it hasn't been that bad. I get up earlier and feel rushed on Fridays, but at least we have the weekend so close.

Our supervisor has had to reschedule a few times. "Can we meet at 8am on Thursday instead?" The rest of the group provides a resounding: "Yes." Ugh, 8am? That means taking Althea to daycare at 7:15. That means waking up by 5:30 at the latest. What about our time together? Althea doesn't even wake up until 7:30 some days. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Meeting scheduled for 8am on a Thursday. Sadness in my heart and knots in the pit of my stomach. Nobody here gets it. I painfully tried to explain my situation: "It is really hard for me to get to an 8am meeting." They probably just think I'm not a morning person.

We had our usual Friday routine this morning. so I could get to work for my meeting. I had to wake my still sleeping Althea up at 7:40, so we could be out the door by 8, which ended up being 8:12. Rush, rush, rush. Make efforts to give Althea lots of love and kisses. Rush, rush, rush. Feel sad driving away from daycare. Realize I left my lunch on the counter at home. Get to meeting. Supervisor shows up 5 minutes late. Says he's unprepared. Are you kidding me? Look at clock, 9:07. He says there isn't much to talk about. Meeting is over by 9:15. Now I carry a little resentment around with me for today. I will get over it. In fact, writing this helps me get over it, but I could have had an extra hour with my child. The extra hours mean everything to me.

I really enjoy the people working on this project with me. A million thoughts swirl in my heart and mind when I have to set a boundary or when I start to feel resentment about scheduling. I've never been great about setting boundaries, but when it comes to my kid I don't have a choice. I also like to be a flexible person, but the bottom line is that that isn't the priority anymore. Am I becoming a bad employee? I'm still a hard, reliable, and attentive worker. I still care about my job. I want more mommies in my work community.

Let's look in the bright side here: I have never been a great boundary-setter; at least it has rarely felt comfortable to me. I have made leaps and bounds in this realm in my life, and now I am being forced to grow even more. I am constantly setting boundaries, asking questions, doing something different than I am being told I "should" when it comes to parenting or making decisions that affect parenting. It is painful sometimes, because it makes me self-conscious. But, this is an important part of my motherhood and it means making our daughter the number one priority, so that her life can be as good as it can be...always.

Isn't it incredible how a new life can change everything in so many intensely amazing ways.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Babywearing Family

We love holding Althea in the carrier, and she loves it too. It's so cozy and comfortable for all of us. We often have her in a carrier multiple times a day, and it is a place she likes to be.

There are many benefits to babywearing for both baby and parent. For one, it gives Scott or myself hands free flexibility to get other things done while keeping our sweet one close and content. When I am home with Althea, putting her in the carrier is one of the only ways I can get anything productive done around the house. Turn some music on, put Althea in the Ergo and pick up all the clutter! We recently learned how to do a back carry, which is a wonderful second option.

We often go one walks with Althea in the carrier. It is a great way to get exercise even during nap time for baby. It is easy to nurse while wearing her. Imagine: walk with friends and socialize, get some exercise, and feed baby lunch all at once! For us it is less awkward, bulky, and more convenient than lugging a stroller everywhere if we go grocery shopping or out running errands.

Despite the convenience factor, Althea really prefers it. If she is in a strange or busy place, seeing strange faces, it is obvious that she feels safer and reassured by being close to mom or dad. Even with visitors in our home, the carrier is still a favorite spot. Althea has hit the "stranger danger" phase and shows a lot of separation anxiety right now. Babywearing helps!

At daycare, there is often a lot of commotion with other children. Althea doesn't always nap perfectly at daycare, but her best naps absolutely happen when she is in the Ergo.

The Ergo was a lifesaver in the airport! Again, no stroller to lug around, Althea was close and we had our hands free. I'm certain if we had brought along a stroller, we would have ended up carrying baby while pushing the empty stroller...

These are many of the benefits as we see them. There are also researched benefits. For example, research shows that babies who are carried cry up to 50% less often. In cultures where babies are carried almost continuously, babies cry less. Who doesn't want a baby who is happier and more content?

Carrying is good for babies' mental development. They spend more time in the "quiet alert" state, which is the ideal state for learning. Their senses are stimulated while being carried, and they witness the world from the same view point as you do (instead of the ceiling above the crib or peoples knees from the stroller).

It is good for babies' emotional development. They develop a sense of security and trust early on, and this promotes secure attachment to caregivers. Often babies who have been carried/worn a lot demonstrate healthy independence earlier in life.

Physically, wearing your baby helps her adjust to life outside of the womb. Mom's heartbeat, breath, voice, and warmth are all familiar. These things help babies develop a healthy physical rhythm.

Babywearing could not be more rewarding! We love it, baby loves it. It just makes sense for our family.

 Our sweet baby in the Moby at 12 days old. 
I wore the Moby around home all of the time when she was a newborn.
 A stroll in the park.
Still a brand new baby. In the Ergo at the Saturday Market. Scott enjoying a little lunch!
Scott ran the King Estate 5k, and Althea snuggled in the Ergo with me while we cheered.
Nursing for the first time in the Maya'd never guess it! 
Waiting for Scott to start his half marathon.
Go Daddy!...said Althea cozy from her carrier.
Socializing while babywearing.
A little Mother's Day hike! 
It is pictures like these that make me melt and wish for one more moment to snuggle my tiny newborn!
Cozy with Dad during her first camping trip.
Did I mention there is not a better sight in the world than 
my husband wearing my daughter in her carrier?
Cozy with dad again! On the coast.
A very comfortable nap at the airport on our way to Nebraska.
With Althea on my back, I was able to load the car full of boxes for Goodwill. She had fun too!
Trying out Rockin' Baby pouch sling. We are in The Babywearing Network of Eugene. Lucky for us, there is a "lending library" at our meet-ups. We are testing this lovely pouch sling for a month! Not only does it look beautiful, but it feels good too.
A woven wrap is on my wish list. We have been lucky enough to try them out at our group meetings, and this would be the perfect addition to our carrier collection. Not to mention that they come in so many beautiful colors and patterns.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Make the Holidays Our Own

The holiday season is creeping in. Thanksgiving is in 9 days. I say it every year, but this year I really really mean it: I can't believe it is time! I am already feeling a little holiday spirit though, which doesn't often happen for me, at least not so soon.  I know I am newly inspired to appreciate this time of year, because I can experience the holidays through Althea's eyes.  It was pretty special witnessing her admire the lights and tinsel on the ornamented trees at Macy's yesterday. Yes, at the mall in Macy's no less...not really my idea of the best way to find Christmas spirit. But, we did. It was as though she knew the ornaments were delicate as she reached out her little hand and lightly touched them with her eyes intently focused.

Our first holiday season as a family of three. So much anticipation of the future of our holidays together. So much tradition in the making. I can't wait to make the holidays our own.

I am excited to:
-witness Althea experiencing her first Thanksgiving foods.
-teach Althea about being thankful and humbled.
-teach Althea about the real history behind Thanksgiving and come up with creative ways to honor the holiday for all that it is, which in addition to family celebrations, includes a very sad story in Native American history.
-continue our tradition of watching Nightmare Before Christmas on Thanksgiving.
-hang Christmas lights on our house and watch Althea's eyes sparkle as she admires them.
-visit other homes to view Christmas lights with Althea.
-shop for Althea and begin our tradition of gift -buying for her: something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read.
-make handmade gifts for Althea.
-help Althea make handmade gifts for others.
-teach Althea about the importance of giving to those in need.
-visit a tree farm with Althea and pick out our first ever real tree.
-decorate the tree with Althea. To sit in a darkened room and watch the sparkling tree lights together.
-dance around the house with Althea, singing to holiday music (okay, we've already done this once or twice...)
-teach Althea about and celebrate Winter Solstice.
-wish for snow with Althea.
-watch Althea experience snow for the first time (even if we have to go to the mountains to get it!)
-teach Althea about many different cultural holidays this time of year. To choose different holiday practices we may want to explore in our own family.
-witness Althea use her little hands to open gifts.
-attempt a snowshoeing adventure with Althea in the Ergo. A New Year's Day tradition of the past.

There are so many memories waiting to be made with all of our holiday seasons to come. Last year our family of 3 was just a thought, a dream waiting to come true. This year, we will begin to experience what the holiday spirit is really, truly all about as we encounter each moment through our baby Althea.

Christmas 2011 at six months pregnant.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Unconditional Parenting

I believe it is never too early to think about what your approach to discipline will be with your children. Given that our babe is only 7 months old, clearly we aren't really using much discipline. However, if you're not thinking about discipline and discussing it with your partner, the time will sneak up! Baby is crawling around all over the place now, and probably 10-20 times a day, we have to redirect her attention away from exploring something that could be a risk to her safety. It never feels good to say "No" and I do my best to use different wordage whenever possible. Also, if my first reaction is to think/say "No," I try to stop and ask myself if what our little babe is doing is really imminently dangerous to her, or instead somewhat inconvenient for me. Some bent or torn pages in our books, sticky slobber on our coasters, and finger prints on our mirrors and windows are worth her ability to explore her brand new world and to learn millions of new things. And, getting some dog hair, grass, or a pine needle in her mouth might just be a boost to her immune system! This idea shall be my approach throughout her life. The point is, this discipline thing is starting now whether we want to admit it or not!

I am so fortunate to be a part of a Eugene-based group called Natural Mom's and Dad's of Eugene and Springfield. From my participation in this group, I have become connected with a babywearing group, the Attachment Parents of Lane County group, a childcare swap co-op, a parenting book club, a barter group for used baby items and/or really anything at all, and been a part of numerous playdates and events relevant to my life as a parent and a human (i.e. the elderberry workshop I wrote about previously). The first book we read for the book club (okay, I am still reading it...I have at least 3 books in the works at a time and I am a slow reader) was called Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. I fell in love with the ideas in this book and believe whole heartedly in most of what this author discusses. And wouldn't you know, I have recently joined another group called the Unconditional Parents of Eugene! My cup is overflowing!

I have already started using these unconditional parenting ideas in my work as a family therapist, and we plan to use them in our own family. The ideas have received mixed reviews, and some parents have argued that implementation of this approach isn't feasible in the "real world." I believe that it is absolutely possible, if not a challenge at times, and to take this approach on discipline will be most authentic for us as people and as parents. Afterall, my whole purpose in life as a mom is to promote my daughter's ability to learn and grow so that she may live a fulfilling life. I will always ask myself "what do I want her to learn from this situation?"If the methods don't work seamlessly if she starts to develop difficult behaviors, at least it will be a lens in which to look through when figuring out how best to respond.

I have more to learn about this, and the approach will be fluid because you can't predict children's behaviors via textbook...of course! We're not always going to get it right. Luckily, we have a huge support network in Eugene to get feedback and have discussions about the challenges we might face.

As I understand it so far, some basic principles of unconditional parenting are:

1. Consider my requests. I am the adult. If my child does not respond to a request favorably, there is probably a reason other than my child wanting to be defiant. What do I expect? Is my expectation valid? How might I change my approach to making a request to my daughter?
2. Put the relationship first. Being right is not what matters. What matters is the connection, alliance and mutual respect. I want my child to feel safe to explain why she did something wrong. Is putting my foot down going to be worth a possible injury to the relationship?
3. Unconditional love. Never send a message that my love (sometimes love comes in the form of attention for young children) has to be earned. It matters less that I do love her unconditionally, and more that she feels loved unconditionally. Remember that over-using praise and positive reinforcement can encourage a child to become dependent on my approval, and foster insecurity. I shall send a message that my child is unconditionally loved for who she is, not what she does.
4. Imagine how my child sees things. Try to see the world from her point of view. When I say "X," how does she feel? Imagine how my friends or family members seem to my child. From my daughter's point of view, I may be interfering with something fun.
5. Authenticity.  Don't pretend to be more competent that I am. Apologize to my child sometimes. Remember my humanity.
6. Talk less, Ask more. Good parenting includes listening. Imagine my child's perspective. Elicit and respond to her perspective. Validate her experience.
7. Assume the best. Assume that my daughter has the best possible motive, not that she is trying to make me unhappy. Young children do not understand promises or the need to sit still at a family dinner. Remember my child's development when trying to understand motives.
8. Try to say yes when I can. Pick my battles. Do not over-use the word "no." Provide guidance and support. Be a mindful parent. Sometimes I will have to say "no," and my child will have plenty of opportunities to experience frustrations. Say "Yes" when I can!
9. Don't be rigid. Be flexible. Wave the rules. Understand the context of the situation. Always presenting a "united front" to my child is dishonest. Demonstrate that we can disagree as parents and talk it out.
10. Let my child decide whenever possible. Bring my child in on the decision-making. Support her autonomy. My child will feel better about herself as a result.

These ideas are so rich with possibility. I love that this applies to both my personal and professional life. The unconditional parenting philosophy is more complex than these principles, so this is a topic I will be returning to repeatedly as we try to work it out with our own little girl. The principles here are just surface level. Alfie Kohn criticizes the common parenting approaches and argues that the majority of parenting books promote mindless obedience in children. Children get feedback that they are "good" if they demonstrate appropriate manners, are quiet, polite, etc. Not much room is left for creativity, individuality,  or the benefit of a child that can learn to disagree! Alfie Kohn is opposed to time outs and even privilege removal. I am eager to learn more about alternatives to these things.

Stay tuned for further exploration of unconditional parenting!