Thursday, October 24, 2013

Three bits of parenting advice that changed my life

My friend J and I have known each other for 22 years. We met in college, became roommates, and now live in the same city. I don't see her as much as I'd like, thanks to busy family schedules and a lake that separates us (though let's not be dramatic, it's only about a 20 minute drive.)

Not only is J generous with her hand-me-downs, she has given me a few pieces of parenting advice over the years which are pure gold. These were not unsolicited drive-bys - they were little gifts that came when I asked questions on the parenting e-mail list we're both on. Her younger child is a couple of years older than T, so she's got more experience, but recent enough that she's still got useful details.

Baby Zombie Eye

If she hadn't told me about this, I would *still* be wondering why my kids never nap and wake up 10x a night. It was THAT life-changing for us.  When T was about 12 weeks old, I posted a question to our email list about naps. When did we expect babies to be on some kind of schedule?  How do we accomplish that?

Most of the answers came back as "it's still early", but only J gave me the info that changed our lives significantly.

She told me to keep an eye out for T's "tired signs" and mentioned her baby used to get this glassy-eyed, unfocused look when she got tired (long before she'd get fussy). Once she saw that, she'd try to put her down for a nap. Experienced mamas, this sounds so obvious, right? But as new parents, we assumed that a newborn would just fall asleep wherever she was, and we didn't have to *do* anything about naps.  Hah!

So we made a plan. T's other tired sign was nice and obvious - yawning. We counted yawns. When she got to Zombie Eye or 3 yawns, we'd put her down for a nap - nurse her and put her in the crib in a darkened room with white noise. If we got to the 2 hour mark without seeing these things, we'd try for a nap anyway.  And O. M. G.  This worked wonders within days.

Prior to doing this, T would stay awake for HOURS (because we were too dumb to realize she needed help to get to sleep!). One day at 8 weeks or so, she was up for 9 hours STRAIGHT and then cried for the next 3 (who wouldn't!).

We tried the same tactic with M, except she doesn't typically get Zombie Eye until it's too late, after she gets to the fussy stage.  M's tired sign?  Eye-rubbing!  Again, super obvious, so lucky us.  But with M we had to be even more vigilant because she masks the tiredness and gets her second wind easily when people are around playing with her.

Don't get me wrong - we were blessed with two fairly good sleepers.  But we never would have discovered that had J not given me this magic advice.

No Power Struggles 

J told me there were a few things you couldn't make a kid do: eat, sleep, and use the bathroom.  If you try, you'll get stuck in a horrible power struggle. It's better to avoid getting into that position.

Again, *so* brilliant. It got me out of the mindset of "she *should* be doing xyz", or worse, "she *has* to do xyz". I keep this one top of mind, and trust that my girls will do these things when they need to, with our help and routine, of course.

This helped me get through potty training with T and her current habit of waking up in the middle of the night to play in her room. It makes me less crazy when M gets up at 1am and is ready to PARTY. We just go downstairs and she plays in the gated living room while I nap on the couch.

Don't get me wrong, I'm still annoyed when they don't do what I (think I) need them to do, but I don't get all dictator-y about it. Most of the time, anyway. I'm still a work in progress.



Fair Isn't Equal

J told me this one before I was pregnant with BabyM so it didn't really sink in at the time, though I recognized it for its brilliance. She said her grad school adviser told her that fair didn't mean everyone got the same thing - it's each person getting what they *need*.

*So* true for siblings, especially those with different personalities and big age gaps.  M doesn't have the attention span for more than one or maybe two short board books, while T would love to read together for hours. I don't try to make sure I read the same *number* of books to both girls.

I know M loves it when I just sit in the playroom with her and let her do her own thing. T wants me to participate actively in her games. What fills each of their cups is pretty different, despite them being sisters in the same house with similar temperaments.

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I'm grateful to have a wise friend like J! What about you - what did you learn about parenting that rocked your world?

18 comments:

  1. I feel like it is the little things. Like, just seeing where other kids are helps me. You wrote about how T gets herself ready in the mornings. Before it was always a power struggle here but we put Avunash in charge of the routine himself and it made a world of difference.

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    1. Yeah, I love picking up things to try from other people. Some will work for T, and some won't, but they're often ideas I never would have even thought about.

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  2. Thanks for the shout out! Of course, I learned all those things from experienced parents themselves. We have to stick together and help (rather than judge each other), right?

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  3. Fair Isn't Equal - this is true. even now, when my girls are 13 and 11 :)

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    1. Ooh, good to know. One of the takeaways I got from reading "Siblings Without Rivalry" was the idea that you love each kid *differently* for *who* they are - it's not an "amount" or "equal" thing.

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  4. Very VERY interesting ! My own best advice (from my sister) was to leave the room if I m really too upset/angry.

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    1. YES! This is an excellent one too. It's ok to walk away and talk about it when you're not so angry.

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  5. Ive learned that if I was going to have kids, I would want you to be there mom. Wait that doesn't sound right. What I mean is, you are awesome. I love how you so project managerlike approach things and treat your little girls like they're people not little people.

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    1. So, you want to have babies with me? ;) Haha. Thank you. Your compliments mean a lot, *especially* since you don't have kids. I want to raise mine to be likeable, among other things!

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  6. These are so helpful! I'm expecting my first in January, and I can use all the advice I can get. :) Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Congratulations and good luck! You will definitely learn a lot "on the job"!

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  7. Great advice for parents of younger kids, mine are grown now and come with a whole new set of problems lol

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    1. I bet! I'm choosing not to think about that now :D

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  8. I love this post! Three solid gold nuggets, that's for sure. I'll be bookmarking it for advice-giving to my younger sisters.

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  9. Somewhere along the way I heard that my job as a parent is to raise well-adjusted, capable, joyful adults, not to create well-behaved or happy kids. That one turned things on their ear for me a bit. I'd done a lot of child care, and child care is very much about getting kids to behave in a certain way. Changing that focus has changed a lot about my parenting.

    Also: WORD on the giving-them-space-to-sleep thing. I got talked into the whole idea that if I provided her with dark and quiet every time, she would never learn to just sleep anywhere and that would be so much better. So when she was 3 weeks, I quit my quiet-dark-soothing routine for a day and she went 13 HOURS without sleeping and was an absolute total utter basket case. And I said to hell with that noise and went back to my creating-a-routine routine and never looked back. :)

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    1. Yes, to raising capable adults, though I would *also* like them to think they had a happy childhood too :)

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