Thursday, January 27, 2011

Kids Aren't the Only Ones Who Need a Time Out

Being a mother is like being on an airplane when the pressure is dropping and the oxygen masks pop out from the overhead panel. "Please secure your own mask before assisting others," flight attendants remind frequent fliers before every takeoff. It's common sense, really. A person can offer no help to the passenger beside him if he's gasping for air. Nor can a mother raise a child if she's gasping for air.

Every mother wants to be Supermom, spending all her time with and on her children, and if she's not with her children, she feels her remaining energy should go to her husband. But it's crucial to a woman's physical and emotional well-being, not to mention her sanity, to get a break sometimes. Physicians are not allowed to work more than 30 hours in a row, and for good reason: they could seriously hurt or even kill someone if they don't get a break. Well, isn't that true of mothers as well?

That's not to say you can take a break from parenting every 30 hours, but you should try to get a little "me time" in at least once a week to keep from going crazy. Not only will you feel better, but your kids and your husband will notice the difference too. After all, who do you really think they'll prefer to be around: a cranky, exhausted, overworked wife and mother or a refreshed, relaxed, happy wife and mother? The answer is simple. A stressed out mom makes for a stressed out household and a happy mom makes for a happy family.

A lot of times when moms are home on maternity leave, they start to go a little stir-crazy, missing their daily routine and grown-up conversation. By the time those few months are up, they're practically climbing the walls to get back to work. But when they're no longer around their kids 24/7, these same moms find they actually have more patience and appreciate and enjoy being with their children in a way they weren't able to before. Similarly, getting away even just for an hour or two can refresh you and give you a whole new perspective on life (or just enough energy to make it through till next week).

"Time for mom" does NOT mean the two minutes of privacy your kids allow you in the bathroom (if you're lucky). There are a million things you can do with a little "me time" - and a nap doesn't count either! Napping doesn't recharge your sanity. You might be a little less tired when you wake up from a nap, but you won't feel energized and refreshed like you will if you do something that truly makes you happy. Once in awhile you need to know you have a life outside your kids. So try out that new sushi place with the girls. Take up a hobby like scrapbooking or learn to master an instrument you've always dreamed of playing. Join a pilates class. Take up photography. Get a mani/pedi, a facial or a massage.

Unfortunately, budget has to be taken into account and a lot of moms complain that between the price of babysitters these days and the cost of whatever club or class they want to join, extracurriculars are just not an option. Well, no one said a happy mom needs to be a broke mom! There are plenty of things you can do that don't cost a cent and don't require you to fork over cash to a babysitter every week either. Try one of the following tips for moms:

• Take a luxurious, candlelit bath (with or without bubbles).

• Read a book. You can even start a book club that meets at your house once the kids are in bed!

• Start a journal or a blog.

• Work out to an aerobics video or groove to some tunes on your iPod.

• Draw, paint, or create a collage.

• Take up sewing, knitting or crocheting.

• Invite a friend over for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine.

And if you really want to learn to play that flute, get creative! See if you can work out some kind of barter arrangement based on skills you have - offer to tutor the instructor's child in math, for example, or perhaps draw up an ad for her business if you're skilled in graphic design.

Too tired to go out and do anything fun by the time you get your kids in bed? Enlist your husband, your parents or a friend to help out with dinner, bath and bedtime once in awhile so you can check out early. If evenings are too difficult, send older kids off to a playdate one day a week, reciprocating the offer so the other mom can get a break another day. And there's no shame in asking your husband to give you a couple of hours to yourself on the weekend. This is a great opportunity for him to bond with the kids, and when he sees how refreshed you are when you come back, he'll be glad he obliged.

Even Supermom needs a break once in awhile to fly off to her Fortress of Solitude, be it at the North Pole or at the local yoga studio. So instead of feeling guilty for not being the perfect mom, embrace what you might see as an inherent flaw and use it as an opportunity not only to pamper yourself, but to actually make yourself a better mom.

There's a phrase that can be heard by women at happy hours everywhere: A happy mom makes for happy kids. So get yourself to that happy hour, and make your kids happy!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

As Seen on Facebook

My friend's Facebook status yesterday:

"Sometimes I've cut the crusts off my own sandwich before I realize what I'm doing."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Driven to Distraction

Q: I have twin one-year-olds. I'm constantly telling Becky, my four-year-old, not to pick up the twins because I'm worried about her dropping them and seriously hurting them. (She has dropped them before and they've been badly bruised.) I try to focus on how nicely she plays with them, but I feel like a broken record saying "don't pick up the babies" over and over again. I understand why she does it and I can't blame her for wanting to, but I can't allow it because I'm really worried that they'll get hurt. I'm afraid to leave her alone with them for a minute, even just to go to the bathroom. An "I listen the first time" sticker chart has worked with other issues but not with this one. Any suggestions?

A: I have two tips for dealing with this issue, which I'm going to place in the general category of "following directions."

1. Turn the negativity around. This will accomplish several things. You won't sound like a broken record. You won't feel like a nag. Becky won't feel nagged and she won't feel like she's being picked on. (I know she plays nicely most of the time, but for every negative interaction you have with your child she needs at least five positive ones. Can you really say you compliment your kids on their behavior five times as often as you find something negative to say? I know I can't.

Think about it: Your boss says you did a good job on something. You feel good for a few minutes, maybe even an hour, and then you move on. Your boss criticizes you. You hold onto that for the rest of the day - at least. How much more so with a child? At the end of the day you want your child to remember how much you showed her that you love her and forget about anything negative you might have said.)

Besides, there's an important rule I've learned about kids. When you say "Don't do XYZ," all they hear is "XYZ." The "don't" falls by the wayside. I remember so clearly when I was a teenager, playing outside with some kids I was babysitting for. I said "Please don't break my sunglasses." Fifteen seconds later, CRACK.

Obviously those kids didn't hear "break my sunglasses," but you get the picture. It would have been much better if I'd said "Please give me my sunglasses" or "put the sunglasses down."

Believe me, "Don't pick up the babies" is going in one of Becky's ears and out the other. And the more you say it, the more she tunes it out. I admit, this will require some effort on your part. You may have to make a list of alternative things to say when you see Becky wants to pick up one of the twins. Here are a few ideas:

- If you go sit on the couch I'll put the baby on your lap.
- Please cook the babies some soup in your play kitchen.
- Why don't you go get a book to read to the twins/for me to read to you?
- Should we get out some play-dough/crayons/something else Becky enjoys doing?

Keep your list handy so you don't get flustered.

Which leads me to my second point.

2. Distraction. When a child is doing something you don't want her to do, one of your best options is to distract her with something else. Don't even deal with telling them what not to do. Just find them something else to do instead. The younger they are, the easier this is. "Hey, look at this toy." "I think I hear an airplane." "Want a snack?"

In this particular case, switching negativity to positivity and using the distraction method end up on your end as one and the same. This is not always true. I'm sorry that I'm not giving you two different practical actions you can take to change Becky's behavior. These are two general parenting tips that can be applied in all sorts of situations. But unfortunately in your situation the practical application of both tips is the same.


Finally, here's a note that you can feel free to take or leave at your discretion:

I gave you the above answers a couple of days ago. But rereading your question now, it strikes me that perhaps (and I hesitate to say this to any parent) you're being a bit overprotective. Kids fall. The twins are going to have their share of spills, whether Becky drops them, they trip over a toy, or fall down the stairs. Kids are resilient. I always say that's why babies are so short. They fall all the time but because they're so close to the ground, they're usually OK.

Becky is not that much taller than the twins - she's only four. She's not holding them way up high off the ground like you do when you hold them. And they're not newborns. They're not THAT fragile. They can hold their heads up, they can catch themselves when they fall. I know they've gotten hurt in the past and it scares you. I'm not promising that nothing's ever going to happen to them - I wish I could. And I'm not saying don't TRY to prevent Becky from picking them up most of the time. But I am saying you shouldn't freak out if you have to run to the bathroom and leave Becky alone with them for a minute. Give her a little space. She might just surprise you.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pacifiers, Part II

In last week's post, a mom wrote in asking about weaning her 3.5-year-old, Katie, from her pacifier. In that post I discussed the various opinions about whether or not a child that age should have to get rid of her paci, and concluded that weaning her would be best.

Here's a list of pacifier weaning techniques:

1. Cold turkey. You'll have to deal with crying for a few days to a few weeks. It may help to keep Katie up late till she crashes for the first couple of nights. My mom taught me to cut with scissors the night I gave up my paci (giving it up was my idea, though, as she had always drilled it into my head "when you're a big girl you'll throw your paci in the garbage" so I did). I stayed up really late cutting paper and watching TV with my parents till eventually I crashed.

2. The Paci Fairy. Go around the house with Katie, collecting all her pacis and putting them in a fancy gift bag. Before Katie goes to bed, take her outside and help her hang the bag (or a bunch of loose pacis) on a tree branch. In the morning, the fairy will have left her a special prize.

3. Needy Babies. Tell Katie the new babies in the hospital don't have any pacis and they really need some. It will be a wonderful good deed on Katie's part if she'll help you put them all in a box and to send them to the new babies in the hospital. You can even have her decorate the envelope and write a special message to the babies.

Some parents combine methods 2 & 3, telling kids that the Paci Fairy will come collect the pacis and bring them to the new babies in the hospital, and leave a prize for the good little children who give up their pacis.

4. Sticker chart. I've never seen this done with pacis, probably because it's best done cold turkey. But theoretically you could do one with small prizes leading up to a big prize when she's ready to get rid of it altogether.

5. Books. Read books with Katie about saying bye-bye to paci. There are tons of them, although I don't have personal experience with them so I can't recommend any specific ones. There was a great one that my sister-in-law had for my nephew a few years ago, I don't remember what it was called. It was about a little boy who made a house for his pacifier out of a cardboard box. He used to peek in at it through the window when he missed it.

6. I think making a little house with Katie for her paci is a great idea too!

After some research, I also discovered the following ideas:

7. Make the paci taste bad. I've heard the same with weaning from the breast - rub vinegar on your nipples and tell her your milk has gone bad. It sounds a little cruel but it does make the decision your child's and not yours. Some websites suggested chili pepper but I'd go with the vinegar.

8. Lose it. This shouldn't require a lot of work on your part. Pacis go missing all the time. Just stop buying new ones. If for some reason they don't go missing in your house, just put one away (or throw it out) every few days. Tell Katie there are only a few pacis left and when they're all gone, that's it. She'll be sad but it makes a lot of sense - there just isn't a paci to be had. Again (at least in her mind), you're not the one taking it away.

9. Break it. Start by poking a tiny pin hole into the paci. For some kids, the loss of resistance when they suck is enough for them to lose interest. If this doesn't deter her, you can cut off a tiny bit of the tip. When she shows you that her paci's broken, tell her that pacis are for babies. I'm sure this is something you've told her countless times before, but now add that babies don't have teeth, and because Katie's a big girl, she has big girl teeth and they're too sharp for a paci. She'll probably get fed up with her half-a-paci and trash it herself.

I hope that with all these options, you'll find something that will work for you.

Good luck, and remember: transitions like these feel like they last forever, but in the grand scheme of things, a few rough nights (or even a few weeks of rough nights) are not all that much in the course of your or your child's lifetime. One day you'll look back on this, just like you will with potty training, the first day of school, and a million other things, and wonder "why did I make such a big deal out of that?"

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Body Image and Your FIVE YEAR OLD?

Q: Maya, age 5, keeps coming home from kindergarten telling me she doesn't want to get fat! What is she learning? Who is telling her this stuff and what do I say??

A: You want to know who's telling her this stuff? Ask her! The first thing you need to do, before you react, is find out what's going on in Maya's world. Who's she been talking to, what are they saying, and why doesn't she want to get fat? Why is fat "bad?" Does she know how people get fat? What does she know and what does she believe?

Once you find out exactly what you're dealing with, there are several issues you need to tackle. The first one is self-image. If you don't tell Maya, she won't know that the most important part of her, and of any person, is what's inside. No matter what she or anyone does, nothing's going to change who she is. If she's a good person who cares about others, helps them and shares with them, she's a beautiful person INSIDE and that's the only part of her that matters.

Ask her who she likes to be with. What do these people have in common with each other: Do they look alike? Are they all tall? Brunettes? Blue-eyed? The same age? Probably not. These physical, external factors do not make them the people they are - the people she wants to be around. She likes who she likes because they are kind or fun to be with. That's what makes them beautiful inside. And people are going to like her if she displays those same qualities - it doesn't matter what she looks like on the outside!

The next issue you should discuss with Maya is health. It's true that in general it's not a good thing to be overweight, but that's not because of how it makes you look. It's because usually it's not healthy for your body. What's important here, though, is that she learn a lesson in good nutrition. At the end of the day, again, it's not what's outside but what's inside that counts. If Maya - or anyone - eats the right foods in the right amounts, it doesn't matter what she looks like because her insides are healthy.

I'd teach her about the food pyramid. (Is the food pyramid even the model nutritionists go by anymore? Who cares, really. It's a good, simple way to teach the food groups and what's healthy and what's not.) Teach her about the different kinds of food - starches like bread, rice, cereal and pasta - and what they do - give our bodies energy. Dairy products - milk, cheese and yogurt - help build strong teeth and bones, etc. Show her on the pyramid how many servings of each we need to make us grow healthy and strong. At the top of the pyramid are sweets and junk. This means not to eat very much of them because not only don't they contribute any nutrition to our bodies, but they also fill us up so we don't have room for the healthy foods our body does need.

If we follow the food pyramid and eat the right amounts of the foods that are good for our bodies and help us grow - and we keep fit by exercising, playing outside, and not sitting around being couch potatoes - chances are we won't get fat.

Finally, I'm sure you're well aware of how much what we parents say and do seeps into our kids' minds and hearts. I'm on a low-carb diet but I am very careful not to let on to my kids because the next thing I know they'd be saying they don't want to eat bread or pasta or cereal either. Once in awhile they'll offer to share their candy with me and I'll say "No thank you, Mommy tries not to eat junk because it's not healthy." But be aware of how you talk about and look at your own body, because even when you think Maya's not paying attention, she is!

When it comes down to it, Maya needs to understand that getting fat is not something she needs to worry about. The most important message you can give her is that all she needs to focus on is being a good, kind person, because at the end of the day, that's what's going to make her friends like her and that's what's going to take her far in this world.