It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Beauty is in the … mind of the beheld

“She gave me soap!” Her blue eyes, though dimmed with age, still manage to flare in indignation. “Does she think I’m dirty? Does she think I don’t wash?!?”

My elderly neighbour, Mrs. L., is in full battle-cry against her sister-in-law. Again. Being a well-brought-up woman, I don’t argue with my elders. I don’t know the sister-in-law, despite all the tales of offense and infamy I’ve heard. What Mrs. L. tells me won’t hurt this woman, since the much-scorned SIL lives in a different city.

The offense is clear, however: The scorned sister-in-law gave Mrs L soap for her birthday!!!!

I like Mrs L, I really do. She’s a feisty old thing, determined to live her life till the last breath as an independent woman. She still drives her car — only in brightest daylight, as her vision fades, and it won’t be long before he license is taken away, I’m sure. She lives in her own home. She has supportive family, who see that her fridge is properly stocked and that she gets to doctor’s appointments. And she has attentive neighbours, myself among them, who note whether she’s walking her little dog every day, and that her mail is not accumulating worrisomely.

But she’s also a cranky old biddy, only too willing to take offense, to see offense where there is none, to be OUTRAGED by something as simple as a gift of soap.

I listen and nod, listen and nod, until Mrs. L runs out of steam and totters back into her kitchen. Then I breathe a sigh of relief, shake off her negativity and willful self-absorption, and move on to my day.

I never argue with Mrs. L. She’s old, and, despite her brave front, she’s frail. The days that she can continue to live on her own are numbered. Though she’s in denial, I suspect much of her rage stems from this awareness. (Even if it doesn’t, even if she’s just a cantankerous old biddy, she’s old.) I am kind.

A frail, cranky old lady who, despite herself, sees the writing on the wall, is one thing.

I am less patient with the gazillions of healthy young things who do this sort of thing day after day. Today I came across this post.

I’ve been pregnant, three times. I meet a dozen or two pregnant women each year; on average, one of my clients becomes pregnant each year. When I taught prenatal classes, I saw hundreds of pregnant women in a year.

This sort of article wearies me. The woman who wrote it doesn’t like to be asked when she’s due, and doesn’t enjoy the ‘wow’ comment. Okay. So she doesn’t. But you know what? Lots of women do. What’s the poor hapless bystander to do? You say ‘wow’ to one woman, she’s offended. You don’t say it to the next, she’s disappointed.

When people make complaints of the sort this author makes, they are assuming that all people feel as they do. Therefore, what they need, is what everyone wants, what pleases them is what everyone should be doing. And that just ain’t so. Since all pregnant women don’t respond in the exact same way to their pregnancy and to comments on their pregnant body, then what she’s asking of people is that they be able to read her mind. Which is hardly fair or rational. This exasperates me.

I could have stopped here. There would have been a certain amount of undeniable satisfaction in writing an acerbic, biting, sarcastic post on the self-inflated precious snowflakeness in our society, the incessant demand that everyone UNDERSTAND me, and react EXACTLY how I want and need. How dare you step on my delicate toes?

But you know what? Once that moment of exasperation had passed, compassion arose, and I just couldn’t be so unkind. Because what this woman is really expressing is insecurity. She’s not being fair or rational, but her distress is genuine, and I feel compassion for her.

And I am here to say to the author of this post, and to all of you who empathized with it, “Oh, honey. The problem is not with those people, even if some of them are tactless. You’re pregnant? Congratulations! And I will tell you now, even though I haven’t seen you in the flesh, you’re gorgeous.”

How do I know that, sight unseen? Because pregnant women are. Gorgeous. Yes, you are. Each and every one of you. Despite how tired you feel, how bloated you feel. Despite the bags that may or may not be under your eyes. Despite varicose veins and linea nigra and flatulence and stretch marks and the aches and pains and general weariness… You.Are.Beautiful.

Know why? Because you are a miracle on legs, you are. And that baby inside you? Is another miracle.

Those people who want to know when you’re due? It’s because they want to celebrate with you! Or perhaps to commiserate, and on a day where you’re feeling nothing more than “will I ever, EVER get my body back?”, a little commiseration is always welcome. Isn’t it?

Those people who look at your belly and go, “Wow!”? They are thinking, “Wow. Isn’t it amazing what the female body can do?” Or they’re thinking, “Wow. I’m so glad that’s not me any more!” Or maybe, “Wow. I can hardly wait till I get to do that!” Or, “Wow! Who knew a tiny woman could stretch so far!!” Some of them may even be thinking, “Wow. Why, why, why won’t my body let me do that?”

What they are not thinking is “Good lord, what a whale!” Do you hear me? They.Are.Not.

If you take offense or cringe in shame, when you hear that ‘wow’… Do you know who’s thinking that ‘whale’ comment?

You are.

Nobody else. Just you.

When you are pregnant, you gain weight. You do. It’s a fact. A biological necessity. 25 – 40 pounds is perfectly, deliciously, healthy. You are not “fat”. In fact, this is the one time in your life when gaining 25 – 40 pounds is the right thing to do. (If you gain more than that, you are not ‘ugly’, but you are making it harder on yourself. Pregnancy will be harder. Labour will likely be harder. Chasing your wee one after s/he is born will be harder. So, for your own sake and comfort, please keep the gain to healthy limits. But ugly? You’re Not.) And shame? It’s so unwarranted as to be ridiculous. Truly, it is.

Okay, we could all wish some of them would be a little more tactful. Sure. But I will tell you with 100% sincerity, no one who says ‘Wow!’ when they see a pregnant tummy is thinking ‘Ew!’. (Okay, maybe 0.0001% of them do. You can pay as much attention to those people as you do to people who think the world is flat. They are the lunatic fringe and should impact your self-esteem as much as the flat-earthers impact your travel plans.) So, please believe me: people are excited, not repelled. Pregnancy may not bring out the tact in everyone, but it does bring out the joy. People love babies. People love pregnant woman.

If you feel shame — seriously: shame?!? — when someone comments on your size, the problem lies not with the commenter, but with you. Because you don’t believe, in your heart of hearts, that your growing, blossoming, lush body is beautiful.

I’m here to tell you, it is.

When I taught prenatal classes, I would often hear women complain that they didn’t feel ‘feminine’ any more. And I would tell them, “Can you think of a single time in your life when you are more womanly? What man on the planet can do what you’re doing now?” You may not look like the pencil-thin 14-year-old models in Vogue, but you are as female as they get, sister!

All of it. All the aches and pains and lumps and farts and burps… and … beautiful skin and thick hair, blossoming breasts and lush, luxurient curves. You are beautiful. Utterly beautiful.

If you believed that yourself, if you really, really believed that, then every time someone asked, “When are you due?”, you’d be thrilled to tell them. And every time someone looked at your voluptuous belly and said, “Wow!”, you’d caress it with your mother’s hands, and you’d say, “Yeah. Isn’t it great?!”

Because it is. It’s great. It’s a miracle. It’s beautiful.

You’re beautiful.

Wow!

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October 21, 2014 Posted by | controversy, health and safety, parents, pregnancy and delivery | , , | 6 Comments

Breastfeeding Women: Brave New Mavericks or Just Another Mother?

On my post with the pro-breastfeeding video, Zoe commented that she’d “never seen anyone turn a hair” at the sight of a breastfeeding woman in the city of Norwich where she lives. (Or the city closest to where she lives? Where do you live, Zoe?)

I was struck by that, because you know that? I haven’t, either. Well, not when I was nursing my own children. This is even more striking, perhaps, when you understand that my eldest is 28. She was breastfed till she was over a year old. In all that time, as a stay-at-home mother, I took her wherever I went and nursed her when she needed. Restaurants, libraries, bus stops, church (and no, I didn’t necessarily go down to the nursery, which was often too full of distractions and noise), coffee shops, malls… Everywhere. I never once took her to a public toilet to nurse, either. Ick. My two younger children are almost-25 and 20. They, too, were nursed till they were a little over a year old. They, too, went everywhere with me, feeding as required.

And in all that time, I never had one negative remark. I did have a few positive ones.

— From a very elderly woman in the church I was attending at the time, when I slipped into a pew at the back of the sanctuary to nurse, a lovely frail lady who tottered back to keep me company. “It’s so nice to see young mothers feeding their own babies again! I always thought it was such a shame when those ridiculous doctors convinced all those poor women that those concoctions in bottles were better than what God had given us to feed our babies.” If she was 80-something then, and had fed her babies when she was in her twenties, she was talking about the 1920’s. History, right there in the pew beside me!

— From the woman in the seat beside me on a trans-Atlantic flight. My eldest was 9 months old, and I was nursing her during the ascent to assist with the popping of her teeny eardrums. “Oh, such a smart idea. She’ll be so much happier.” (Turns out she was a pediatric nurse at Sick Kids in Toronto, and her lovely husband an Anglican priest.)

For the most part, people ignored me when I fed my babies. Granted, that could have been the averted eyes of the squeamish … but I never got that impression. For the most part, I assumed people were just respecting my privacy.

Oh, wait! I’m wrong. I did have one negative response. When my son, Adam, my middle child, was five days old, we were visited in our home by good friends. When Adam cried, I made ready to nurse him. The husband of the couple made an exclamation of dismay. “You’re not going to do that here?!?”, he wailed.

I raised one eyebrow (I can do that) and nailed him with a steely glare. My tone was measured, but ironclad stern. “Byron. This is my home, and my baby is hungry. Yes, I’m going to ‘do that’ here. If you don’t like it, you can go out in the kitchen.”

Meantime, his wife, appalled, rolled her eyes at me as she smacked him in the arm. “BY-ron!!!” He glanced at my then-husband for male support, and found none. He was a great guy, Byron, and knew when to admit defeat. He grinned, heaved a giant mock-sigh. “Oh, all right. I guess I’m outnumbered.”

I fed my baby. Byron did not run cowering to the kitchen, and discovered being in the room with a breastfeeding baby wasn’t as horrific as he’d feared. (Three or so years later, when Byron’s first child was born, he was the strongest supporter of breastfeeding his wife could have asked for. I take some credit in turning that around.) 😀

Now, recall that all this was far closer to 30 years ago than 20. Three decades ago, pretty much, I nursed children in several cities in Ontario, with no backlash, no resistance, no negative comments whatsoever. Thirty years ago! Why, I wondered, this sudden flurry of defiantly pro-breastfeeding articles I’m seeing? As if women expect, as if they’ve actually been receiving, flack, push-back, disgust? I’m baffled.

The Canadian in me wants to suggests that it’s because breastfeeding is only just now being truly popularized in the (prudish) US, and so all these articles, posters, tweets and comments reflect American battles, battles largely won in Canada two and three decades ago. It could be that. Except that the video I posted was from Australia, of course. Hm. Is Australia equally prudish? I wouldn’t have thought so, but who knows?

Or was it that my experience wasn’t representative? I lived in urban Canada, in Ontario. Would I have experienced more revulsion had I been in rural Ontario? (Though that sweet little old pro-breastfeeding church lady? She was in Buffalo, New York, where I was living when my eldest was born.)

Or is it that there are pockets of prudery here and there, that people in those pockets post something on the internet, and the rest of us all read/watch what they’ve posted and come to believe it’s a bigger problem than it is? Because that happens. We know it does.

So, wanting to get to the bottom of it, I have a couple of questions. The first is for you currently (or recently) breastfeeding women.

1. How do most people respond to you? Positively? Negatively? Neutrally? (Not the outliers, now. The majority. I don’t want to hear about that one stinker every so often, and make him/her sound like they’re the norm. I’m interested in your everyday experience.) Though I admit I’m curious to know how frequently you encounter those stinkers, if you do.

2. How do you, breastfeeding or not, account for the sudden upsurge in defiant women demanding their right to … do something I thought was a non-issue 28 years ago?

I’m baffled. And curious.

February 27, 2014 Posted by | Canada, controversy, food, parenting | , , | 26 Comments

Oh, just stop it

Being a sex-positive sort, I am drawn to people who write intelligently about sex. (Sometimes it’s me! This post remains a favourite.) Dan Savage? Love him. Read him every week, follow him on Facebook. Laura Kipnis? Intelligent and provocative. Mary Roach had me in stitches with “Bonk!” (Lest I appear too pure/intellectual on the subject to be credible, I read a fair amount of lower-brow writing on the subject, too. There is a discreet shelf in Mary’s library that under-teens don’t have access to.) More recently, I’ve been enjoying Marina Adshade, whose slant on the subject — sex and money/economics — interests me.

So when links to a recent article in the Globe and Mail appeared in my Twitter feed, I hopped over to check it out.

Hm. Another salvo in the mommy wars. Oh. I am not enthused with the mommy wars, but maybe she has something useful to say? The title was not promising, however. A bit early-adolescent edgy, no?

I went through the points. Some were absolutely valid. “Someone actually said that to you? With a straight face? Unapologetically? Outrageous!!” It never ceases to amaze me that people feel it is their right to make unsolicited negative assessments of someone else’s life choices to their face. Bizarre. Who asked you? Rude, rude, rude.

A couple of the other points, though, it seemed clear to me she was misinterpreting, or likely misinterpreting, the intent of the person making the comment. They read to me like completely innocuous comments she’d received badly. And on one of the comments, I disagreed entirely. “No, Ms. Adshade, that really is a negative consequence of your life choices; you just have to own it.”

Moreover, and regardless of the validity of her personal list of slights, I was aware that each and every SAHM could come up with an equally valid, equally convicting, equally meaningful list of slights received at the hands of mothers on the other side of the income divide. No group of women has the corner on insults received — or dished out.

And by the time I got to the end of the article, I was primarily struck by the sheer defensiveness of the thing. This isn’t a well-reasoned, intelligent article. This is just a short shit list, adding nothing of substance to the debate. It’s same-old, same-old griping, stuff I’ve heard and read a thousand times before. Poop. I was disappointed.

Maybe the complaints are entirely valid. Maybe the sting of those comments is intended. There are bitchy, judgmental people out there, who are only too thrilled to trip through life sprinkling rancor wherever they go.

Maybe they’re not valid. Maybe the comments are innocuous.

The “I don’t know how you do it!”, for example, that comment which so annoys Dr. Adshade? I get that comment, too. A lot. Sometimes it’s pretty clear that the speaker can’t imagine how because the “it” she perceives revolts her. Whining, bickering, snot and shit all the live-long day. Why would any woman with a brain in her head, with the education to have other options, want to do that?

However, most of the time, unlike Dr. Adshade, I’m quite confident the comment’s sincere. They admire what I do for a living, and genuinely don’t think they could do it. I often suspect the “it” that people imagine I’m doing doesn’t bear much resemblance to the “it” I’m actually doing, but I also believe that yes, I do a great job, and that few people could do it as well.

I’m confident that a certain percentage of the people who’ve said this to Dr. Adshade genuinely meant it as a compliment. There are only so many hours in a day, and if 8 or 9 or more hours of your day are filled with a career, how do you do it all? Maybe they’re impressed by her energy, her efficiency. Dr. Adshade’s point that, with the income you make in those hours, you can hire out a lot of domestic tasks is well taken … but was it necessary to turn that fact into a shot at the stay-at-home moms? With that shot, she becomes the woman she’s objecting to, except on the other side of the war.

If you’ve complained about this comment, the question is, why does it bother you? Could be be the sting is not because the comment is barbed, but that the sting is, rather, entirely a reflection of your own insecurities?

No choice is without its downside. Whichever choice you make — work from home, stay-at-home, work away from home, work full-time, work part-time, whatever arrangement you devise — has benefits and disadvantages, strengths and weaknesses. I accept the downsides of my chosen career. I don’t deny them. I don’t pretend they’re not there. I don’t get angry when other people notice them. I accept them, because I think the benefits of my choices more than make up for any downsides. I own my choices, the pros and the cons.

Other people will see it differently. Other people will see the same set of variables and make different choices, because the variables carry different emotional and practical weights for them.

That’s fine. Their different choices don’t devalue mine. Not in my mind, anyway. If they want to believe that their different choice is superior to mine, or (worse) makes them a superior person/mother … well, okay. They can believe that. Doesn’t change how I view my choices. Or how I feel about my worth.

Generally, I believe, insults are unintended. “I was so surprised when I found out you do daycare!” said a new neighbour on our second meeting. “You look so …” She waved her hands up and down, indicating … what? My demeanor? My outfit? My radiantly intelligent face? I dunno. “You sound so well-educated and articulate!”

Yes, well. I am. I am also very happy with my chosen occupation. So the fact that she assumed only slovenly half-wits do it is … hugely offensive to me! How dare you demean me so! I am Outraged!!!

No, I’m not.

And I get that a lot. It’s not an occasional thing. It’s undeniable that there are some half-wits doing this job. I’ve met them. I have no idea who leaves their children with these women. Other half-wits, I suppose. It doesn’t matter. I’m not one of them.

What did I do about that comment? I laughed. I laughed that she honestly thought she’d given me a compliment. She genuinely meant well. I laughed that she could be so obtusely tactless, drop such a bomb into a conversation and have no idea she’d done so. And then, apart from a funny story to tell family and other caregivers, I forgot about it. It’s not a barb under my skin, constantly abrading.

But what if the sting is intentional? My working assumption, when someone is being deliberately insulting, is that that person’s insistence on making you feel bad about your choice suggests a level of uncertainty/ambivalence about their own choice. They can’t believe that their choice is a sound one without believing yours is inferior. Foolish, true, but human nature. At least, an insecure human’s nature.

The point is, I like what I do, I’m excellent at it, it makes good use of my skills, talents, and training, and I think it has value. That’s it.

Bottom line?

Who cares? Who cares what my new neighbour thinks of my occupation? Who cares what that random woman at the bus stop things of your life choices? Or the other mother at violin lessons, or the swimming pool, or the soccer field?

Why do you care?

I am weary of thin-skinned women, on both sides of the income divide, who insist that everyone else admire and respect them at all times. Who see slights where there are none, who toss insults back when insults are perceived, and the whole thing just goes on and on and on. Endlessly.

Are you really such a precious snowflake that everyone else on the planet has to agree with your choices? They could — and yes, should — have the common courtesy to keep their critical opinions to themselves. But even if they won’t … so what? That only makes them rude, and even more deserving of being ignored.

If you’re happy with your choices, then someone else’s opinion/judgement on it, real or imagined, is irrelevant and will not sting.

If we all just let it go, stopped fretting about other people’s opinions, and got on with enjoying our lives, appreciating our own choices in all their good-and-badness, the mommy wars would die a quiet, and very welcome, death.

Please?

November 26, 2013 Posted by | controversy, parenting | , , , | 3 Comments

Food, food, food

I love food.

I like cooking. I like eating. I love just about everything about food. I love the smells that fill my home as I cook, making it warm and welcoming. I love the bright colours of fruits and vegetables. I love the textures. (Well, except for the ones I hate, but texture! Important to food!) It appeals to all the senses, even as it nourishes, fuels, satiates and fills.

In my world, food is a Good Thing.

Which is why I am so dismayed to see food horribly, horribly abused in our culture. And I’m not talking here about poor quality food and edible non-food items, though I don’t think much of them.

I’m talking now about how we use food, and particularly how we use it with our children. I’ve spoken before about my experiment — now ranked as a success — in reducing the amount of snacking amongst the daycare kids. A few people had questions, based on some ubiquitous parenting wisdom. Toddlers have tiny tummies. They need to refuel more often, don’t they? And what about blood sugar? Don’t you get behavioural issues if they blood sugar dips?

My immediate answer is “I haven’t seen any of these problems in the 5 weeks we’ve been doing this.” However, much as I love the stuff, I am not a food expert, so I consulted with a couple of dietitians I know. Their response: 1. Yes, we do feed children too frequently. 2. If feeding schedules are consistent, children can learn to gauge how much to eat based on their awareness of the next food opportunity. 3. Toddlers have tiny tummies, but they also have tiny bodies. Their food needs are proportional, though you’ll likely need to make occasional temporary adjustments for growth spurts. 4. They weren’t aware off the top of their heads about studies suggesting snacking prevented behavioural outbursts due to low blood sugar. One of them did a quick search through a database and informed me that the studies which do address this issue focus on children with diabetes, not children with normal blood sugar regulation.

If breakfast includes a decent protein source, I was told, they can usually get to lunch. If breakfast is cereal and milk, toast and jam, a piece of fruit? There’s probably not enough protein in the splash of milk in their cereal to hold them, and the rest is pretty much all carbs. Quick energy, but not lasting energy. Kids who have a high-carb, low-protein breakfast will crash before lunch. So. Put peanut butter on that toast. Fry up an egg. Put ground almonds on the cereal. Give them firm tofu cut into fingers to dip in some yogurt. Give them an ounce of cheese. That punch of protein can make all the difference.

So that’s the input from the professionals.

But mostly? Everywhere I go, I see, snacking is used as a distractor and a bribe. A child is teetering on the brink of an outburst, getting to the point where they’re going to need some firm and focussed parental attention to move them past the rising likelihood of bad behaviour … and we hand them a container of Cheerios. “His blood sugar’s crashing,” we say.

And I wonder. Is it?

There are many things that affect a toddler’s behaviour. Sleep is a huge one. Get enough sleep into them, and their behaviour is exponentially better. Boredom. If they’re bored, they get fractious. Impatience. They hate having to wait for anything, at any time. Illness. Teething. Physical discomfort — they’re too hot, too cold, itchy. Their age. The fact that they’re two just means a certain baselines contrariness. And yes, sometimes hunger. Their behaviour does deteriorate when they’re hungry. But they are not hungry nearly as often as we feed them.

Feeding is used to distract.
To appease.
To divert.
To comfort.
To reward.
To praise.
To soothe.

I would argue that it is used for those things more often than it is used to actually nourish a body or satiate a hunger.

He’s cranky?
Feed him.
She’s doesn’t want to wait in line at the bank?
Feed her.
The siblings are squabbling?
Feed them.
You want to talk on the phone for five more minutes?
Feed them.

What are you using food for in those instances? It’s a sedative. A quick fix for an inconvenient situation. There are other fixes: a special toy that’s only used for these occasions. Crayons. Little cars. Sticker books. Sing a song. Play a clapping game. Or simply a level glance and a firm, “I know you’re bored, but you can wait quietly for another five minutes.”

Did I do any of those food-inappropriate things when my children were little? Of course I did. I did it without even thinking about it. In fact, packing that well-stocked diaper bag with the Cheerios and the apple slices made me feel not just prepared, but competent — a better parent! That, however, was 20 years ago. I’ve been tending toddlers for a long, long time, and have had more time to think about these things than most people ever get (or want to!). These days, I don’t pack snacks at all. Water bottles, yes (and for the littles, milk bottles). Snacks? No. With five children.

Now, when you go out, and you pack snacks, I’m not suggesting you kill yourself with guilt over it. No one achieves parental perfection every moment of every day, and somehow, children all over the globe live to grow into healthy, happy, functional adults despite having suffered fallible parents. Popping food into your kid for some reason other than nutrition every so often is not going to damage them. Once in a while, no harm done.

But. As a daily event? Even several times a day? It sets the child up for a bad relationship with food. Where food isn’t enjoyed for its wonderful satiating quality. It isn’t enjoyed because it looks, smells, and tastes sooooo good, even as it nourishes and fills. No. Food is consumed, mindlessly, because I’m bored, sad, tired, discouraged… or happy, content, proud of myself. Food becomes associated with activities that don’t need to have anything to do with eating: watching television, reading, sitting in the car, travelling, walking…

Food becomes quite detached from its primary purpose: nourishment. We need to stop doing this. We need to stop using food as a drug, and start savouring it as food.

Feed your children less often.
Enjoy your food more.

February 27, 2013 Posted by | controversy, food, health and safety, parenting | , , | 9 Comments

Snacking: When, Where … and why so much?

How often do your kids snack?

Increasingly, I am coming to the opinion the answer to that question is almost certainly “too often”.

Kids snack a lot these days. A lot. More than I did when I was a kid, I’m sure of that. Why? Are kids hungrier than before? Has the essential physiology of the human body changed so much in a generation or two? Of course not.

Kids eat all the time, and everywhere. In the stroller, in the car, before daycare or school and after it, before bed. We take snacks to soccer games and kindergym — so that kids who’ve burned off 200 calories running can quick! ingest 300 more!! We don’t even consider leaving the home without food. Has it struck anyone but me that this is a bit excessive?

Why do you give your kids snacks?

For all sorts of reasons, I’ll bet. I’ll further bet that many of those reasons have nothing whatsoever to do with hunger. We feed our kids to bribe them, to motivate them, to appease them, to distract, soothe, quiet, coax. That container of food in the diaper bag is our security blanket. If they get fractious, we can pop something in their mouths and fend off the meltdown for a few more minutes. I’m not saying we must never do that. I am suggesting, however, it should be the aberration, not the norm. We should have enough tricks in our parenting arsenal, including the firm look and equally firm “That is enough. We’ll be going home soon”, that we are not stuffing food into their ever-willing mouths five, six, ten times a day.

In fact, though our children, when requesting a snack, will declare themselves to be STARVING!!!, I’d go so far as to say that most North American children never really experience hunger. They may get peckish from time to time, sure. And most assuredly, they are conditioned to expect food at certain times (in the stroller, in the car), and that association has them wanting food. “Wanting food”, however, is far from the same thing as “being hungry”.

It would be a tremendous thing, so good for their long-term health, if we could teach our children the difference between those two things.


And what do you feed your kids, when they do snack?

Most toddlers get an astonishing amount of simple carbs in a day. Simple carbs are not bad in and of themselves. We need a certain percentage in our diet. But, variety! We also need variety! A day spent tanking up on Saltines, goldfish crackers and Cheerios, followed by a dinner based primarily on pasta, is not variety.

I believe that infants who are strictly milk-fed should be fed on demand. They know when they are hungry.

But you know … I fed my kids on demand, and in those earliest weeks and months ‘demand’ varied from every hour some days to every three or four. However, when I was nursing, the term “cluster feeding” had not hit the popular psyche. Some days your baby had a “hungry day”, sure, but the idea that a child could nurse, relax, then feed again in twenty minutes, then again twenty minutes after the end of that feeding … and again, and again?

Well, okay, some days that might happen, but it wasn’t considered normal. It was an aberration that you tried to work out of their little systems. You’d take them for a ride in the stroller, give them a soother (after the first six weeks or so, when breast-feeding, if that was your choice, is well established), put them in a baby swing, swaddle them tight and put them down for a nap on that tummy you KNOW was full. By popularizing the term ‘cluster feed’, I fear that we’ve put yet another burden on young mothers, that they can never say, “Oh, no, you little fuss-budget. You are not hungry so soon!”

But for the most part, demand feeding in those first six to eight months, with a gradual weaning into solid in the second half of that first year.

And by a year, they should be eating everything you’re eating, pretty much. Cut in smaller pieces, steamed a little softer, sure, but everything you eat.

Once they were two years old, my own children got about one snack a day. You read that right. One. We’d have breakfast, we’d have lunch, we’d have an afternoon snack, we’d have dinner. Now, this is not to say that in the proud tradition of North American parenting, I didn’t keep an emergency stash of Cheerios in the diaper bag for those occasions I’d be stuck in the line at the bank as naptime approached. Sure I did. But they were truly used for emergencies. That half-cup container of Cheerios might need to be refilled every couple of months.

But somehow, when I started a daycare, I fell into the pattern of more. We snack at 10 in the morning, we have lunch at 11:45, we snack around 3 or 3:30, depending on when naps were over. So between breakfast and dinner, they’ve eaten three times, and their parents know this … and yet, they were having snacks in the car or stroller on the way home! This just blew me away. Why am I feeding afternoon snack, when they’re only going to eat again an hour later? And then they have dinner. Some of them get bedtime snacks, too. And of course, this is normal. My clients are not aberrations, they are just parenting as North Americans parent. It’s what we do.

And just try suggesting to parents (I’m talking societally here, not dissing my parents) that kids don’t need to snack so much. While mulling over this post, I stumbled across a thread in a parenting forum where a young mother asked if snacking in the car was strictly necessary. She didn’t want the mess, and surely it was reasonable to think that kids could wait a bit?

In the four pages of responses I scanned, I found only two people who supported this idea. Those two exceptions aside, Every.Single.Parent responding said things like “Kids eat constantly! Get used to it!” Some were more polite, some less so, but that was the overwhelming message.

But you know? I just don’t think constant snacking is necessary. I don’t even think it’s desirable. We are teaching our children that hunger is a bad, bad thing, to be avoided at all costs, by eating incessantly. We are teaching our children to eat for all sorts of non-hunger, non-nourishment reasons. If they never experience hunger, they will never know when they need to eat. They will be eating provoked by cues of association, not physical need.

What’s our big fear about being out of the house without food? I suspect it’s not so much that the children will be hungry, as it is that the children will misbehave and we won’t have our quick-and-easy distraction. Is the child addicted to the steady stream of food, or are we addicted to the small bit of security that container of Cheerios provides? Could it be we are afraid to be out in the big world with our toddler without our edible safety net?

But even if it is our child’s hunger …

What of it? Is it so very bad that a child should feel hunger? Hunger is what lets us know we’re ready to eat. Hunger does not mean I MUST EAT! INSTANTLY!!! Surely there’s something to be said for pleasurable anticipation of a good thing to come?

So, just because I feel the whole constant-snacking thing has gotten so out of whack, I’ve been running an experiment recently. I’m skipping morning snack (which was almost always fruit; once a week it was muffins), and tacking it to the end of lunch as ‘dessert’. I’ve been skipping afternoon snack altogether, because I know they’re all going to eat on the way home, anyway. So really, I’m having these kids eat the way I ate at their age. I’m going retro with food.

It’s stretching parental comfort zones to suggest that kids be allowed to get hungry, I know. So what do I do when the kids tell me they’re hungry? Which, being accustomed to a 10 a.m. snack, they do?

I tell them what we’re having for lunch. Cheerfully. Which is, now that I think about it, exactly what my mother did: “You’re hungry? That’s great! Then you’ll really enjoy the yummy eggplant lasagna I made for lunch!” Or commiserate: “Yes, I’m getting hungry, too. Won’t that lasagna taste great??” The message being it’s okay to feel hunger. It’s okay to savour the next meal with cheerful anticipation. And then, before they get stuck and whiny, I move them on to the next activity.

The results?

— There has been no enormous uptick in bad behaviour. There has been no change in behaviour at all. This includes the two 17-month-olds, which I hadn’t necessarily expected.
— They are eating more at lunch.
— Jazz, our chronically picky eater, is eating. No fuss, just eating. Sometimes multiple helpings. (I am 110% convinced there would be far fewer picky eaters in North America if children were ever allowed to feel hungry.)
— They are not necessarily eating their ‘dessert’ (formerly their morning snack), because they are filling up on lunch.
— This may be a total coincidence, but the two younger ones have been napping longer.

I’m going to give it another couple of weeks, and then, if nothing changes, I’m calling it a success. Cool.

January 29, 2013 Posted by | controversy, food, health and safety, parenting | , | 29 Comments

The Great Debate

I’ve been thinking this week about the Great Divide amongst mothers. Stay at home or go back to work. The so-called “Mommy Wars”, a term I loathe. I loathe it because it’s too simplistic. I loathe it because it’s too often true — women do wage war with other women over this issue. I loathe it because it’s so damned unhelpful.

I was inspired to muse upon it as a result of an email conversation with a woman I quite admire. We were discussing a parenting issue she had recently encountered, and as I composed my notes, I was having to pause, consider, reconsider, rephrase, edit, alter, tweak…

She isn’t a difficult, prickly woman. It wasn’t a difficult, prickly subject, except that it was informed and underscored by the work-home debate. The issue haunted our conversation. As I sought examples from my own parenting experience to bring to her dilemma, they were, necessarily, examples from the other side of that great divide. I wasn’t attempting to convince her of the superiority of my choice over hers, but it’s so easy to mis-step, so easy to cause offense, even when trying very hard not to.

I got to wondering why that would be. Why, even when two women are trying very hard to be respectful, is it so easy to poke at the other’s sore spots?

You know what? I had an insight, I think.

When a woman is deciding whether to go back to work after the birth of her child —

oh, wait.

I need to back off a pace and address a pre-issue, lest I cause offense to yet another group of women. I am very much aware that there is a significant percentage of mothers for whom this entire debate is irrelevant, and its continual appearance in public discourse a continuous abrasion. Because, as they rightly say, “Wouldn’t it be nice if it were an actual choice? Wouldn’t I love to have to luxury to even consider making a choice?” No matter that some of them might still choose to return to paid work, the fact is for them it isn’t a choice. You can speculate as much as you wish on how many of the people who think they don’t have a choice in fact do, but it is undeniably fact that many, many families simply cannot afford to have a parent stay home. So, no choice, and the unceasing blah-blah-blah about it is just too freaking annoying for words!!!

So, to you women? You might just opt to skip this post now.

Back to the post.

When a woman is deciding whether to go back to work after the birth of her child, she (and her partner) will take a set of factors into account.

She’ll consider practical issues like finances, insurance, availability and quality of daycare, professional development, pension, time. Personal issues like ambition (this is not a dirty word, by the way), aspirations (for yourself, your partner, your children), self-esteem (what are its sources, for you?). Parenting concerns: will my child be best served by having this role model, or that? living here or there? having mom around all the time, or sharing time with other loving people?

The thing is, each woman making the decision is going to be choosing from a very similar range of factors. When two women weigh “child’s emotional health + personal aspirations + finances + role model + professional development” and come out with two entirely different choices, it can be very easy to see the other woman’s choice as a criticism of yours.

If you weigh the same set of factors, shouldn’t you come up with the same decision?

Well, no. Only if those factors carry precisely the same emotional weight for each person. Professional advancement was never a huge motivator for me. I might like the increased salary that came with it, but the job title isn’t a biggie. For me. I am not going to extend that to someone else and say, “If you really valued your children, “mom” would be the only job title you’d aspire to.” Any more than I would accept it if someone said of me, “If you really valued your daughters’ future, you’d be showing them that women can achieve great things in the world.”

We need to stop saying this critical stuff to each other, and even more important, we need to stop reading it into what other women are saying. Because really? I believe we read offense into things far more often than it’s intended.

(A little secret? Even if offense is intended, the best response is often to refuse to hear the insult. React to it straight, as if you believe they were only sharing a different perspective, with no judgment at all. Very often, if you do that, they will retract the claws and go along with your interpretation. They may even feel quietly ashamed of themselves, and change their tune a little. Thus we evade and re-direct aggression, and reduce the intensity of the Mommy Wars.)

Human beings are emotional animals. It is pretty much impossible for us to make a 100% rational, 100% non-emotive decision. In the case of parenting, I tend to think that’s for the best, anyway. Parenting is so very much about emotions, after all. You can’t eliminate them from your parenting decisions, nor should you.

So, you’ll weigh the same sorts of factors, and you’ll come up with a different conclusion than your sister, your best friend, your co-worker. Not because you’re right and they’re wrong. (Nor even because they’re right and you’re wrong — relax!) But because the factors carry a different emotional weight for each of us.

And that’s as it should be. We are different. Our children are different. Go to work or stay at home? Make the decision that feels right to you, that meets your needs and matches your values as closely as possible. And your children? Will be FINE. Love your child/ren, spend time with them, respect them, guide and correct them, provide a stable and nurturing home … and they’ll be fine.

January 2, 2012 Posted by | controversy, parenting | , , , , | 7 Comments

Misplaced children

There was an incident here in Ottawa last month. Parents dropped kids off with a caregiver and headed out for their adults-only date day — at Home Depot.

Oooooo, romantic, huh? A “date” spent choosing ceiling tiles and switchplates at Home Depot. Or maybe it was insulation and plumbing fixtures. It doesn’t much matter.

Can we relate? We can relate.

At this point, I’ve heard a couple of different versions. Either they heard their license plate called over the store’s intercom, or they had actually left the store to see the window of their car being smashed in by police. Why? They had left their baby in the car.

Their three-week-old baby. In a car in a sunny parking lot when the temperatures were about 30 degrees.

What kind of parents would do a thing like that?

Well… In this case, regular, normal, loving parents. Who had made a mistake.

Each thought the other had handed him over to the caregiver, you see. For her part, I’m guessing the caregiver figured that since the baby was asleep, they’d decided not to disturb him. Baby was in the seat behind, in a rear-facing car seat, sound asleep. Easy to miss, particularly if you honestly believed the seat was empty? I’d say so.

They went out to find that police had smashed in the window of their car, the Children’s Aid had been alerted, and they were the centre of a whole lot of nasty attention. (Lest any of you faint before the end of this post, I’ll tell you now that the baby was fine! He was taken to hospital to be checked over, of course, but he was fine.)

Attention which only got worse when, after appropriate investigation, Ottawa Police Services decided that it wasn’t a criminal matter. Suddenly the righteous everywhere were outraged. Outraged and leaping to judgment — because that’s what the righteous do best.

“Those people deserve to have that child taken away!!!”

Wait. They did not knowingly leave the child in the car. They didn’t decide, “Oh, it’s too much trouble to wake him up. We won’t be long, let’s leave him there.” No. They had made arrangements for their children to be cared for by a loving relative. Each thought that’s where the child was.

This wasn’t a bad decision, this was an accident. A miscommunication at worst. An accident which could have had tragic consequences, of course, and had that happened, who would have suffered most? Not the righteous, with all their frothing and fulminating, but those poor parents, blaming themselves for the rest of their lives.

I was talking about this with another couple over the weekend, a couple whose children are all adults, some with families of their own. They shared how they’d been part of a social group not too long ago where the conversation had moved on to just this topic: Forgetting/misplacing your child.

It seems bizarre, just writing that down. Misplacing a child???

And yet, in the rather large group of parents-of-adults, there were quite a few stories of forgetting a child and/or misplacing one for a few terrifying seconds/moments/hours. At gas stations on long car trips, at gramma’s house, at school, and, most bizarrely by me, a baby in a car seat left behind in a cab.

All these stories had happy endings. Parents and children were reunited, nobody hurt (except a few ulcers born, perhaps).

How often, we wondered, does this happen to young parents, and you’re just too scared to tell anyone? Because who loses their baby??? Only loser parents do that, parents who just don’t deserve to have kids, right?

Wrong.

People get distracted. People lose count. People assume the other parent has the child. Parents of young children are often distracted and sleep-deprived.

It happens. Not too often, and not to all of us, but it does happen.

I had a friend whose wife left him with their then 6-week-old daughter so she could go out with a friend. First time since the child’s birth. Dad was in his workshop in the basement, baby was sleeping in her room. Partway through his project, dad realized he needed something from the Hardware Store a couple of blocks away, so off he went.

It was only when he was in line at the checkout that it hit him like a ton of bricks — the baby!!! The baby he was in charge of! The baby he had totally forgotten he even had.

The baby was fine. He got home and she was still sleeping. The marriage survived, too, helped in part by his decision not to tell his wife. (Oh, he did eventually, but I think he waited a good three years…)

But I wonder if more of this happens than we realize. I wonder if we only feel safe to talk about it when years have gone by, when, by virtue of producing healthy, happy adults, we have earned sufficient parenting cred to feel safe to admit to the “time we almost lost one”.

Soooo… How about you? Any ‘baby left behind’ stories in your lives?

August 16, 2011 Posted by | controversy, health and safety, Ottawa, parenting | , , , | 29 Comments

What would you do?

There are many caregivers in my neighbourhood. We offer a variety of styles of service. Some start earlier, some go later. Some are heavy on the crafts, others are all about the outings. Some are French, most are English, a smattering have another language. There are caregivers for every style of parent.

There are those who, in my estimation, are better than others. There are the truly great: appropriately attentive, but not helicopter; a nice way of interacting with the children; clear and sensible consequences and expectations for the children; true professionalism when dealing with parents.

There are the middling ones, like the one who’s great with the kids, but just a tad less attentive than makes me comfortable — not, I hasten to add, that any of her children has ever suffered anything more than the standard bumps and bruises so common to this (uncoordinated) age, nor in excessive numbers. She just lets the kids wander a little further than I would, doesn’t check on them as often as I do. More of a style difference, but… it makes me a smidge uneasy, her style.

And then… then there’s that one that I just don’t like. Not as a person, and even more, not as a caregiver. There’s a saying that you don’t deserve the face you have at 20, but at 50 you have the face you’ve earned. I look at her, the lines of her face drawn severe and scowling, and wonder, “Who would leave their child with a face like that?” A face that so clearly reflects the years spent scowling and stern?

When I see her as I approach the sandbox, I sigh inwardly, knowing that I’m in for a morning of sharp complaints and negativity, without even the (unworthy yet occasionally satisfactory) pleasure of a vent-and-gripe session, for she doesn’t listen, she only talks.

She doesn’t like the parents, she doesn’t appear to enjoy the children. She doesn’t say anything positive about her job, her days, her family, her activities. Though I’ve never seen her say or do anything inappropriate with her kids, she’s never warm with them, either. No laughter, no spontaneous hugs, kisses or cuddles from this one.

And once in a while, a parent looking for care will ask me, “Do you know X? What do you think of her?”

I hate that question.

“I think she’s awful!” would be the 100% accurate response. But that, friends, is unprofessional. You don’t backstab colleagues, and though I don’t like her, she’s never done anything that crosses any legal lines. (To my knowledge, of course, but I really don’t think she has. She’s not abusive, she’s not a psychopath… she’s just not very nice.)

Now, when I’m asked that question I tend to assume that they have a negative gut feeling already, and want confirmation of it. Because you know what? No one’s ever asked about any other caregiver. Just her. Isn’t that telling?

Which is why, the first time I was asked, I answered with a question of my own, “Why do you ask? Do you have a concern about her?”

Another time I had a different question. “Well, that depends. What, would you say, is your parenting style?” Because, you know, there are families out there who are looking for someone with her style. What I might call ‘authoritarian’, they would call ‘firm’. Different strokes.

In essence, I’ve opted not to answer the question directly, but instead encourage them to express their feelings. Another way to deal with it would be to evade it directly, “I have a policy not to discuss other caregivers with parents. It might be best for you to arrange to meet her so that you can form your own opinion.” (Given that I don’t say, “I think she’s wonderful!!!”, which I would if I did, I’ve pretty much answered the question right there, haven’t I?)

Gah. I still don’t like it.

The most recent time this happened, I was tempted to avoid the whole dilemma with a lie: “X? Nope, never heard of her.”

But I’m curious. Have you ever found yourself in a parallel situation? How would you respond?

July 28, 2011 Posted by | controversy, daycare, the dark side | , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Paradigm Shifting, maybe

Or at least an adjustment, I think. Before I can explain that, I want to give you an example:

When my Wonderful Husband first moved in with me, he was bemused by my parenting style, particularly my discipline methods. Interested, mind you, but bemused. He’d been brought up, as had I, with the discipline methods of the day: clear expectations, scoldings when necessary, and the occasional spanking.

When my children came along, I started off as an occasional spanker, but soon discovered that clear expectations, firm follow-through, consistent consequences, and praise for the good stuff was sufficient to achieve the behaviour I was striving for. If I didn’t need to spank, why would I? My first was spanked perhaps a half-dozen times; my second once or twice, and my third, not at all.

I don’t think spanking is abuse. I don’t think parents who avail themselves of it — within certain very careful parameters — are bad parents.

It’s just unnecessary.

But this isn’t a post about spanking. This is a post about the evolution of thought and attitudes. Spanking just happens to be the example.

Though we’d started out in the same place on our parenting journey, my husband and I diverged when we began parenting. His first marriage was, by mutual consent, a very traditional place. He went out to work, she stayed home with their children and did the bulk of the child-rearing. Discipline involved spanking.

He wasn’t entirely comfortable with spanking, but he didn’t see what their options might be. The parents he knew who didn’t spank were entirely at the mercy of their unruly children. His children were cheerful, lively… and well-behaved. So for him the choice seemed to be “Spank, or Have Brats”.

Then he moved in with me. A non-spanker… with cheerful, lively, respectful, well-behaved children.

Huh.

He moves in with me, and he observes parenting and discipline that deliver the results we want — cheerful, considerate, well-behaved, nice people — without that form of discipline that he had always believed was, while unpleasant and regrettable, the only viable option.

End of example. Now on to the philosophical musings that are the real point of this post.

My husband had one set of experiences resulting in a certain perspective, and even though he wasn’t entirely happy with his conclusions, the alternative didn’t seem viable. He was making a pragmatic compromise with reality in a way that seemed reasonable.

That’s what people do, don’t we? We develop a perspective, we evolve into a way of doing things that seems right and reasonable to us. And then, often without being conscious of it, we downgrade the other options. “It’s the way I do it,” we think, “or that other, silly, ineffective way.”

I don’t think most people are trying to bolster their position by making the other options out to be stupid. It’s just that the way we do it makes such sense to us. And of course, you can always find examples of people doing it some other way, and it not working so well.

(A small tangent: In my husband’s defense here, I will add that he is a man of enormous integrity, remarkably open to new perspectives. He has had a full-on paradigm shift in his life where, after much careful thought and no little gut-wrenching anguish, he changed his world from top to bottom, to bring his life into alignment with his new perspective and convictions. This takes more courage than most of us possess. Rather than make those sorts of wholesale changes, most of us would settle for being disgruntled and increasingly depressed. We’d grumble to our friends, but we’d stay in that rut. He made the changes, and the process was agonizing. As I say, courage and integrity.)

Back to the main topic: I am beginning to wonder if I’ve been guilty of that myself. I’ve been framing a certain parenting pattern as an “either-or”, where the “either” is the way I do it, and the “or” is that other way which doesn’t work. You get polite children my way, and ill-mannered self-centred rotters the other way. No middle ground.

When in fact, there’s a range of options between my way and the other way. When in fact, the other way may very well work, or at least have aspects I could incorporate into my familiar way.

I’m finding it all very interesting, and when I’ve sorted it out a little more in my own head, I’ll tell you about it.

How about you? Has this ever happened to you? You’ve been quite contentedly muddling along in your own way, happily convinced the way you do things is reasonable and effective, and then experienced a shift of perspective? Where you’ve started with one set of attitudes and then realized you could, if not change them outright, maybe adjust them?

June 14, 2011 Posted by | controversy, parenting | 8 Comments

Risk me not

“Mary, my hood!”

Tyler struggles to pull his hood back up over his head. It’s a blustery day, and though the sun is warm, the wind is not. He needs his hood up.

Only it won’t stay up. Over and over again we pull it up over his wind-tossed blond mop, and over and over it’s quickly blown back off again. On a windy, blustery day, when the warmth and protection of a hood would be greatly appreciated, it won’t stay up. It can’t. It has no drawstring.

There are few things more pointless than a hood without a drawstring. Why bother? Really? Why tantalize us with the possibility of a hood? Because that’s all a hood without a drawstring is — a theoretical hood. A virtual hood. Looks like you have one, but really? You don’t.

I know why hoods for toddlers no longer have drawstrings. It’s a strangulation hazard, particularly on slides. Now there’s an unpleasant image: your poor little guy/girl halfway down the slide, with the toggle of the string wedged somehow at the top.

Ick.

Not something we want to happen!

So the solution is to ban drawstrings altogether? Not to take the hoodie off, wear a different sweater, tuck the strings inside? No, none of that! We just WON’T HAVE THEM AT ALL!!!

And so Tyler is chilly and uncomfortable, because his parents naively thought that his hood was, well, functional.

If there’s anyone reading this whose child has died tragically because of a drawstring, you have my heartfelt sympathy. My complaints are not intended to diminish anyone’s loss, nor to put blame where it doesn’t belong. Any parent who has lost a child in such a way is probably putting all the blame required, and then some, on themselves anyway. I can’t imagine the devastation. When you balance the inconvenience Tyler is experiencing against true tragedy… well, there’s no comparison, is there?

“If it would save even one child’s life, it’s worth it!” we declare. And who can argue with that sentiment? Well, the sentiment is sound, but…

But what are the risks, really? In 2004 in the US, six children died, and 673 were injured in cars EVERY DAY. Every.single.day. I don’t see anyone banning children from cars. Whyever not? It would save far more than ONE child’s life; we could be saving hundreds. Thousands, over time. But, every day, we keep putting children into cars. Every time you put your child in a car, you are putting him/her at risk.

And do we give it a second’s thought? Nope. Do we hesitate in the driveway, pause before we pop the child in, feel that frisson of worry, of unease? Do we take a second to consider if this trip really is worth the risk? Nope. We pop the child in the carseat and drive off in complete expectation of arriving at our destination without incident.

We don’t think about it, and we don’t ban kids from cars. Instead we have rules. Rules against drunk driving, rules about car seats, airbags, and where children can sit in a car. In short, we manage the risk. The not inconsiderable risk.

But those DRAWSTRINGS???? Do away with them! Totally and forthwith! Far too risky!!!

Methinks we are not being entirely rational or consistent here…

There have been approximately 22 deaths by drawstring in the US… since 1985. I’m not sure when that stat was published but that’s probably in the order of one a year… vs six per day for cars.

Hm.

I am not saying we should ban children from cars. (Though you might consider walking anyplace less than a mile from home. Just a thought. Good for you, good for the environment!) Cars are not just a fact of life, they’re very often essential. So we do what is sensible, and manage the risk.

Why not let us manage the risk — the far, far, faaaaar lower risk — of drawstrings?

Tyler would be very grateful.

I’m curious. This is a pet peeve of mine. Are there any risk-avoidance strategies that drive you crazy?

June 6, 2011 Posted by | controversy, health and safety | , , , , | 18 Comments