Only Child, Lonely Child?

But I HAVE a friend! See, right here!

Now that W is almost 18 months old, many of the mommies who gave birth at the same time I did are pregnant again, or at least trying again. I increasingly find myself fielding questions — sometimes from complete strangers — about whether and when we’ll try for #2. While I’m not offended by these questions, I do find them a little personal. Further, it is interesting to me that in a society so puritanical that we dislike the notion of a mother feeding her infant from her breast in public, we nevertheless find it appropriate to inquire about the procreational inclinations of someone we’ve only just met. But hey, I stopped trying to make heads or tails of social mores a long time ago.

In any case, W is it for us; we won’t be having a second. She’s not truly an only child, as she has an 18-year-old half-sister. Still, for all intents and purposes, she’s the lone chick in the nest; her sister is off to college this fall. Not only is W a mostly-only child, she is also cousin-less (or, at least, she has no first cousins). There are a few second cousins scattered around the country who are close to her age, and there’s a third cousin* who is close to her both geographically and in age, but my little girl is pretty much on her own as far as same-age family goes.

*Third cousins are, in reality, barely related. Their grandparents are cousins; their great-grandparents are siblings. She probably has a lot more third cousins than I realize, given the distance of the relation. Heck, she’s probably third-cousins with half of the Western U.S.

I wonder how this will affect her as she grows up. During my childhood, for instance, I had so many cousins who were close to my age — not to mention a brother — that I spent more time playing with family than with little friends. Will W “need” friends more than I did at that age? There are some psychologists who suggest that only children grow up feeling (and acting) like “little adults”; this, the experts claim, makes them both precocious and a bit socially awkward. I do worry about that a little; our family tends to be precocious and a bit socially awkward even when we grow up surrounded by lots of other kids. Need proof? See here.

Last year, rather than enroll W in daycare, I did a lot of working from home, and used family and a mother’s helper to pick up the slack. This next year, however, I think we’ll start daycare a few days a week, just to get her some social interaction. That’s my long-term plan, I guess; simply to make sure that she always has the opportunity to interact with other kids through school, sports, and activities. Still, though, I do worry sometimes. It bothers me a little that she’ll need to play alone so much of the time. I worry that without having to share and cooperate with other kids all the time, she’ll lag in those skills. I worry that she’ll identify more with adults than with children, and won’t fit in when she starts school (but then again, maybe “fitting in” is overrated). Regardless of these worries, I know we’ll work it out. I know I’ll do everything I need to do to make sure she has the social contact she’ll lack at home.

That said, while it doesn’t bother me when people ask whether we’ll have another, it definitely does chap my hide when, in response to my answer, they argue that she “needs” a sibling. They list all the reasons above, as though trying to change my mind. As though generating a playmate for W is a reasonable justification for bringing a human into the world. There are arguments that can be made for having two (or more) children. There are arguments that can be made for having only one…or none. The decision to have (or not to have) children is, in my view, as intimate and private as the act that produces them, and if it’s (marginally) socially appropriate to ask whether a couple is planning to have a(nother) child, I would like to submit that going on to debate that decision is entirely gauche.

 

Do people ask you whether you’re going to have another? Do they question your decision?

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Attachment Parenting, Ideology, and the Mommy Wars

It doesn’t matter how I feed her, how I transport her, where she sleeps…we are attached.

The Atlantic recently published an article online titled What Everyone’s Missing In The Attachment Parenting Debate. It made many excellent points, including mocking that abhorrent, desperate bid for attention of a recent Time Magazine cover that tried to throw fuel on the fire of the “mommy-wars.” From a personal standpoint, however, I found it helped me crystallize my thinking about attachment parenting (in the sense that the term is used these days).

Before I was pregnant with W, I had absolutely zero experience with babies, and had essentially no parenting philosophy whatsoever. During my pregnancy, I began to develop some feelings about how I wanted to mother. These notions arose from my burgeoning maternal intuition, and initially weren’t influenced whatsoever by the myriad books, magazines, and websites that attempt to mold our mothering (or, more accurately, shame us into doing things their way). For instance, I liked the idea of carrying my baby around in one of those Baby Bjorn things that everyone seemed to have, so I purchased one (I later returned it and bought a different baby carrier after reading that carriers that allow the legs to dangle are thought by the International Hip Dysplasia Institute to negatively impact hip health). My mother gave me a crib, and advised me to put it in the nursery as opposed to my bedroom. My baby would sniff, snuffle, and make all kinds of normal baby noises at night, she said, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep. My husband and father dutifully installed the (very heavy, very cumbersome) piece of furniture in the nursery, but I found myself increasingly uncomfortable with the arrangement — this was all while I was still pregnant, mind you — and asked them to move it into the bedroom only a few days later. With regard to the feeding of the baby, I’d long intended to breastfeed until 12 months of age, because that was the recommendation of the AAP.

Around the time W was a few weeks old and purely by accident, I found out about attachment parenting (or, more accurately, the Bill and Martha Sears brand of attachment parenting). This happened because W was a very, VERY high-need baby and I was losing my mind. Someone in my breastfeeding support group suggested I look at the Sears’ writings on high-need babies, which are based upon their personal experience with one of their children. I found strength and hope in these writings, if only because they offered reassurance that it’s possible to survive parenting a really intense child. Prior to finding the high-need baby writings, I’d had no use whatsoever for the Searses, purely on the basis of their son (Dr. Bob Sears) and his ridiculous, unfounded-in-data, alternative vaccine schedule. Still, after reading about high-need babies, I decided that perhaps I’d judged the Searses prematurely. I went on to read their other writings and some of their other books, including their work on attachment parenting, a term with which I was wholly unfamiliar.

I guess I got interested in attachment parenting because I fit part of the description of what, per the Searses, an attachment parent is and does. I breastfed. I “wore” W. We co-slept (we never intended to, but we sort of fell into it when, the third night she was home with us, she wouldn’t sleep in her crib for more than 20 minutes in a stretch without crying for me). I guessed that I “believed in the value of her cries,” — another of the Searses criteria, whatever it means — because I figured she was crying for a reason, rather than to irritate me or manipulate. As to the other so-called “Baby B’s” of the Sears’ style of attachment parenting — Birth Bonding, “Beware the Baby Trainers,” and Balance — well, I figured they probably fit my style. After all, W and I had spent lots of time bonding after birth, I wasn’t planning to do a cry-it-out with her (since I was happy enough with her sleeping in my bed), and…who doesn’t want balance?

As a result of my reading, even though I’d never before heard of attachment parenting, I started to identify as “AP.” And boy, did I identify. I was I glad I was an APer in those early days. After all, according to Dr. Sears, babies raised by the AP method don’t cry much; babies in cultures where AP is the norm, he says, cry for only minutes a day as compared to the hours a day of crying we so often experience in our culture. Babies raised by APers grow up with empathy. They become less needy. They’re less prone to SIDS, he claims. They’re smarter, even! Hooray for AP, I thought to myself.

I’d like to take a time-out right now and explain that, for those of you looking for a shred of evidence-based decision-making in my behavior as I describe it here, don’t trouble yourself to look further; there is none to be found. I was swept away on a tide of hormones and promises, of new-mommy fears, hopes, and dreams. I was, in short, not my normal evidence-driven self.

Back to our story. Fast-forward, say, 6 months, and we find me meticulously following the AP regimen, identifying even more strongly with the label of “attachment parent.” As I look back, I wonder if I clung ever tighter to the AP label as I felt it start to fail me; as I wondered in a place deep down inside — a place I didn’t consciously acknowledge — if I’d done something terribly wrong. Cognitive dissonance, anyone? Because far from being an easy-to-please, happy baby (as W should have been, according to the AP promises), she was becoming more and more demanding. She’s a smart little stinker, and she was learning to work the system. In short, she became a tyrant. She cried for hours every night, because she’d only sleep with a breast in her mouth, and I couldn’t sleep while nursing her (no matter what AP said I should do). I went almost a year never sleeping more than 2 hours in a stretch. She forced me to carry her in my arms or in a carrier at all times, protesting angrily and ceaselessly if I put her down. Other mothers’ 6-month-olds would play for 5 minutes by themselves with a new and exciting toy. Not W. W required physical contact with mama — ideally with mama’s boob — at all times.

I started to become resentful. I started feeling like she was sucking the life out of me. I wrote in a journal entry that I later tore to pieces, fearing she’d see it one day, that it felt like the only way for her to be happy was for me to be miserable. On my better days, I wondered if our happiness was simply mutually exclusive. On the hardest days, I literally felt that she fed on my misery, like some sort of freakish swamp-dwelling mold. I talked to support group members who I knew were also committed to AP about my experiences. I said it felt like we (my husband and I) were operating as though W was the only family member who mattered. This bothered me for two reasons; first, because we were getting worn pretty thin. Second, because I worried that it would set a bad precedent as she grew (in her mind, in ours, or in all of the above). These folks were absolutely the wrong choice for moral support; they told me to stay the course. They more or less scolded me for being selfish, saying that this amounted to a very small portion of both W’s life and ours, and that we needed to give her EVERYTHING right now to ensure that she grew up securely attached.

Looking back, can I just say…BULLSHIT. That was an utter load of Bull. Shit.

Because this post is more about my failed AP experience than my road to recovery (12 steps…hello, my name is Kirstin, and I’m an AP addict…), I’ll spare the details, but suffice it to say that it took many months and finding a new group of supporters for me to turn the corner. It also took Zoloft, but that’s a story for another day. Two people in particular were responsible for the bulk of me finding my way out of my AP hole. The first told me that being a mama was a little like being on an airplane when the pressure drops unexpectedly and the oxygen masks fall: you’ve got to put your mask on first. It’s not selfish to take care of mama, because if you don’t take care of mama, mama can’t take care of anyone else. The second person who really made a difference was in the same boat as I, with a smart kid who was (at nearly the same age as W) also learning to work the system. She — let’s call her “A” for the sake of anonymity — and I sent lots of emails back and forth, and sometimes I’d read her latest message with tears running down my cheeks just because it helped me so much to know I was not alone, and that while AP might work for some, it doesn’t work for everyone.* In short, “meeting” her and her very W-like child (I put meeting in quotes because to this day, we’ve never met in person; she’s an online friend) helped me to forgive myself for “failing” at AP; it helped me to understand that some kids just need a different sort of parenting.

*I know Dr. Sears talks about balance, and says “If you resent it, change it,” but he also talks about how important AP is in general. Because I basically resented the whole damn thing, I figured it was me — not the parenting style — that needed changing. I assumed that I was being selfish (as other APers told me I was being), or that I was somehow lacking the mom-gene, or that I was hormonal. This post is not meant to be an indictment of all aspects of Sears-style parenting; after all, I still breastfeed, co-sleep, and so forth. There’s a big difference, though, between using parenting techniques that work and subscribing to an ideology. I wonder if some of the Sears’ writings — particularly combined with AP cheerleeders on Internet fora and in support groups — don’t have a tendency to push some of us into ideology. I can’t speak for others, but I know that’s the effect they had on me.

To return to the article I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I found it a fascinating read because it explained the origin of the term attachment parenting, which was not at all developed by the Searses. Instead, attachment parenting originally came from researchers Mary Ainsworth and John Bowlby, who suggested in the 1950s that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to take the advice of early 1900s child psychologist John Watson. The latter had cautioned women not to interact fondly with or “pet” their children too much. He called mother-love “a dangerous instrument.” Even when I identified as a Sears-style APer, I found the term a little short-sighted and insulting; surely women who don’t breastfeed, who don’t “babywear,” who don’t co-sleep are still attached to their babies. Maybe not physically, but emotionally. Learning about the origin of the term helped me to understand that, at the time of its inception in the 1950s, attachment parenting WAS defining an emotional attachment (as opposed to the previously-recommended emotional detachment). It was the Searses who sort of hijacked attachment parenting, added additional layers of meaning and requirements, and spun it into something it was not originally. For instance, Ainsworth and Bowlby didn’t talk at all about bedding arrangements or feeding. They didn’t warn parents to “beware the baby-trainers.” They didn’t equate letting a child cry-it-out with emotional neglect, if not abuse. No, Ainsworth and Bowlby simply suggested that it was better to be emotionally attached than not to be.

While I harbor no illusions that my writing these words will have any impact upon the prevalence and ferocity of the horrid “mommy-wars,” I nevertheless submit this: These wars have been fought and won. Regardless of how we handle the day-to-day logistics of child-rearing, we have come a long way as a culture. We no longer treat our children as though they should be “seen and not heard.” We no longer worry that holding them close and covering their yummy faces with kisses will make them spoiled, or weak. True attachment parenting — Ainsworth and Bowlby style — is so much a part of our culture now that we don’t even have a term for it. We are, all of us, attached to our children. Whether we feed our babies from bottles, breasts, or a combination of the two, whether we push them in strollers or wear them in slings or balance them on our hips like so many generations — and even our evolutionary ancestors — have done, whether we allow them to cry for a bit in their room or put them down in our own beds, we are all so deeply emotionally attached to our children that we sometimes can’t feel where they end and we begin. In a great irony, many months after shedding the last of my identification with AP — sure, I still co-sleep and W sometimes rides around in a carrier, but these no longer define my parenting; they’re just things we do — I have realized I’m an attachment parent after all. We all are.

Spanking Associated With Development Of Mental Disorders, New Study Suggests

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is a relatively conservative organization, in the sense that they require a significant body of evidence before making a statement or changing a recommendation. For instance, they equivocate on infant circumcision, ignoring both the violent protestations of those who feel the practice is immoral as well as the body of evidence that suggests it’s of modest health benefit (see this post and this one for more discussion on this topic). One topic on which the AAP does take a firm stance, however, is that of corporal punishment and spanking. From the Healthy Children website (AAP):

The American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend spanking. Although most Americans were spanked as children, we now know that it has several important side effects.

  • Even though spanking may seem to “work” at first, it loses its impact after a while.
  • Because most parents do not want to spank, they are less likely to be consistent.
  • Spanking increases aggression and anger instead of teaching responsibility.
  • Parents may intend to stay calm but often do not, and then regret their actions later.
  • Spanking can lead to physical struggles and even grow to the point of harming the child.

It is true that many adults who were spanked as children may be well-adjusted and caring people today. However, research has shown that, when compared with children who are not spanked, children who are spanked are more likely to become adults who are depressed, use alcohol, have more anger, hit their own children, hit their spouses, and engage in crime and violence. These adult outcomes make sense because spanking teaches a child that causing others pain is OK if you’re frustrated or want to maintain control—even with those you love. A child is not likely to see the difference between getting spanked from his parents and hitting a sibling or another child when he doesn’t get what he wants.

Each of the statements made above is backed by solid scientific evidence (see, for instance, Bender et al, Berlin et al, Bradley et al, Gershoff, E., Knox, M., Slade et al, Strassburg et al, Strauss et al, Taylor et al).

It’s known that physical and emotional abuse and neglect are associated with certain mental disorders, including major depression and other mood disorders, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, and the like (see, for instance, Fergusson et al, Kessler et al, MacMillan et al, Scott et al). One question that has remained unanswered, however, is whether children who are spanked are more likely to experience these same types of mental disorders during adulthood than those who are not spanked.

A new study examined the relationship between spanking (and similar punishments, all in the absence of more serious abuse or neglect) and mental disorders in an attempt to answer this question (Afifi et al). The study involved an examination of a large quantity of data that included information on more than 34,000 individuals. Participants who reported having been spanked, slapped, or similar were compared to those who reported not having been physically punished. Individuals who were spanked but who also reported having been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused or neglected were discarded from the data set, leaving a total of about 20,500 individuals whose data were analyzed.

Of these, just over 19,000 reported not experiencing physical punishment, while 1258 did experience such punishments. Once the data were corrected to remove possible confounding variables (such as parents with mental disorders, which would predispose children to mental disorders), the prevalence of mental disorders was approximately 2-7% higher among adults who’d been spanked as children as compared to those who had not.

Unfortunately, while I’m intellectually inclined to believe that there may be an association between physical punishment during childhood and adult mental disorder, I have a number of concerns about this study and its methodology. First, it’s notable that of over 34,000 original records, only 20,500 remained once the authors removed individuals who had been physically, sexually, or emotionally abused or neglected. This is a tremendous portion of the original population, and simply doesn’t make intuitive sense. On further examination, I find two potential explanations. First, the data were pulled from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, which despite the implications of its name, surveyed a large group of individuals who were more-or-less representative of the general population for information about substance use/abuse habits and mental disorders (Grant et al). Grant does note that the survey over-sampled certain minority demographics, and further, the survey was voluntary and depended upon self-report of information (with an approximate return rate of 81%). As such, it’s possible that individuals who were resentful of the way they’d been parented (and who were perhaps more likely to report a mental disorder) were also more likely to return the survey. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know whether this is a significant factor.

Far more likely to produce the startling proportion of survey respondents who were not included in this study because of abuse and/or neglect is the definition of abuse used by Afifi et al. Per the authors, individuals who were removed from the study population were those who (among more traditional definitions) were hit hard enough to leave marks, had objects thrown at them, were sworn at, and/or were made afraid during or by punishments. It’s not difficult to imagine, given this definition, that there would be very few individuals left in the physical punishment category once those in the abuse category had been removed.* Whether the authors’ definition of abuse is appropriate or not, the exclusion from the study of many individuals who were physically punished in ways that would not be considered abuse in the traditional sense weakens the study by reducing the number and the type of participants. It would be interesting to see what the data would reveal if the definition of abuse were more narrow (and more traditional), allowing inclusion of a larger group of those who’d been physically punished in “non-abusive” ways.

*Note that here I do not express either agreement or disagreement with the authors’ definition of abuse; I merely suggest that per the given definition, it’s not surprising that there were relatively few participants left in the punishment condition.

Along these same lines, the authors apparently fail to recognize the effect that the elimination of this large group of participants might have had on their data, leading them to make some bizarre observations. For instance, they note that physical punishment is more likely in families in which parents are better educated (39.2% of physically-punished children had a parent with a post-secondary degree) than in less-educated families (8.8% of physically-punished children had parents who hadn’t completed high school). The authors expressed surprise at this finding, as would I were I faced with the raw data. However, a more reasonable explanation (and of course, without the 14,000 records that were not included in the study, this is purely speculative) is that individuals from lower-education families were more likely to be punished physically in a way the authors deemed abusive, and were thus thrown out of the study. From a scientific perspective, the lack of awareness of these sorts of possibilities on the part of the authors distresses me; generally speaking, scientists value the work of other scientists more highly when the researchers are aware of potential confounding factors and methodological limitations.

Another concern I have with the study is that the authors make the mistake of confusing (at least in their language) correlation with causation. In the abstract results, they state:

Approximately 2% to 5% of [one category of mental] disorders and 4% to 7% of [another category of mental] disorders were attributable to harsh physical punishment.

Based upon the study design, it’s impossible to say that the disorders were attributable to harsh punishment; the design allows only the statement that harsh punishments were positively correlated with mental disorders. Regardless of this error, however, the findings nevertheless somewhat strengthen the (already considerable) body of evidence suggesting that spanking and other corporal punishments aren’t effective, and are likely harmful.

As a scientist, I’m not particularly impressed by this new research; I’d want to see what sort of data the very large group of survey respondents (about 14,000 in all) who were thrown out for abuse might have contributed if the definition of abuse had been a bit more in keeping with traditional usage. Again, I want to make it clear that just because a punishment isn’t classically defined as “abuse” doesn’t make it right. In classical terms, however (and here I refer, for instance, to the social mores regarding appropriate discipline techniques in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s) “spanking” was one thing, and “abuse” was another. Clearly, the delineation between the two isn’t absolute, but I nevertheless feel that by defining “abuse” too broadly, we lose the opportunity to extract potentially valuable information about the damage done by “non-abusive” physical punishment.

The weaknesses of this particular study aside, there is nevertheless a tremendous body of compelling science that shows spanking and other physical punishments are simply not effective, and likely contribute to at least some lasting negative effects through childhood and into adulthood. In lieu of spanking and corporal punishment, the AAP recommends techniques such as natural consequences and time-out. For those who don’t mind a slightly more technical read, there’s an interesting paper by the AAP’s Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health here. Those looking for a less technical guide to effective and positive discipline may find some good information in Elizabeth Pantley’s The No-Cry Discipline Solution (McGraw-Hill), which has suggestions for children of all ages, and Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Toddler On The Block (Bantam), which focuses on children aged 12 months to 4 years.

Science Bottom Line:* The new study of physical punishment and mental disorders in adults doesn’t establish a strong link due to flawed methodology and interpretation, but the existing body of research that discredits spanking as a viable discipline technique is large enough to be compelling without the addition of these results.

 

How do you feel about spanking children?

 

References:

Afifi et al. Physical Punishment and Mental Disorders: Results From a Nationally Representative US Sample. Pediatrics. 2012 Jul 2. [Epub ahead of print]

Bender et al. Use of harsh physical discipline and developmental outcomes in adolescence. Dev Psychopathol. 2007;19(1):227–242

Berlin et al. Correlates and consequences of spanking and verbal punishment for low-income white, African American, and Mexican American toddlers. Child Dev. 2009;80(5):1403–1420

Bradley et al. The home environments of chil- dren in the United States part II: relations with behavioral development through age thirteen. Child Dev. 2001;72(6):1868–1886

Fergusson et al. Exposure to childhood sexual and physical abuse and adjustment in early adulthood. Child Abuse Negl. 2008;32(6):607–619

Gershoff, E. Corporal punishment by par- ents and associated child behaviors and experiences: a meta-analytic and theoret- ical review. Psychol Bull. 2002;128(4):539–579

Grant et al. Prevalence, correlates, co-morbidity, and comparative disability of DSM-IV generalized anxiety disorder in the USA: results from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. Psychol Med. 2005;35(12):1747–1759

Kessler et al. Childhood adversity and adult psychiatric disorder in the US National Comorbidity Survey. Psychol Med. 1997;27(5):1101–1119

Knox, M. On hitting children: a review of corporal punishment in the United States. J Pediatr Health Care. 2010;24(2):103–107

MacMillan et al. Childhood abuse and lifetime psychopathology in a community sample. Am J Psy- chiatry. 2001;158(11):1878–1883

Scott et al. Prospectively ascertained child maltreatment and its association with DSM-IV mental disorders in young adults. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2010; 67(7):712–719

Slade et al. Spanking in early childhood and later behavior problems: a prospective study of infants and young toddlers. Pediatrics. 2004;113(5):1321–1330

Strassburg et al. Spanking in the home and children’s sub- sequent aggression toward kindergarten peers. Dev Psychopathol. 1994;6(3):445–461

Strauss et al. Spanking by parents and subsequent anti- social behavior of children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 1997;151(8):761–767

Taylor et al. Mothers’ spanking of 3-year-old children and subsequent risk of children’s aggressive behavior. Pediatrics. 2010;125(5)

Lessons In Positive Parenting

W at the aquarium touch pools.

W, my husband, and I are currently on an Extended Summer Trip.* We’re using our time to visit family on the left coast, hang out with friends, take W on her first camping trip, and so forth.

*We’re both university faculty, and once the first summer session is over, we’re free as school children until August. I realize that this sounds amazing…and it is. But before you get too jealous, let me point out the downside of having two months off each year that can be used for an Extended Summer Trip: two months off = two months of no paycheck.

This week, we spent some time hanging out with a family member to whom I’ll refer simply as AwesomeMom. AwesomeMom has a 5-year-old boy, who is just a really cool little guy. He’s intense and a bit clingy, which gives me a glimpse of what life with W will likely be about 4 years from now, given that she shares those qualities. Further, observing AwesomeMom interact with her child — let’s call him SharkBoy, not because he bites or anything, but because he loves sharks — is a constant, low-key lesson in How To Interact Positively With A Child.

I suspect I’ve learned more than I realize this week — and I realize I’ve learned a TON — but I wanted to share a few of my aha! moments from our time with AwesomeMom and SharkBoy.

  • Toddlers crave independence. I know this, and I do everything I can to ensure that W has choices. When I need to change her diaper, she chooses whether to walk to the changing area or be carried. She gets to pick which color diaper (we use cloth hybrids) she wears. She picks her clothing (I pre-select two options) each morning, and her pajamas each night. However, there are things in life, like taking medicine when it’s necessary, that aren’t optional. While we were staying with AwesomeMom, W needed a dose of medication, and I was muttering to myself about how difficult the whole process is — it takes two adults to hold her, goes about as smoothly as pilling a cat, and half the time results in W upsetting herself so much that she vomits the meds back up and we have to start all over again. AwesomeMom suggested I put the dose in a little cup and let W take it herself. I looked at her like she was crazy, thinking that there was no way W would choose to swallow the medication. AwesomeMom explained that I wasn’t offering W a choice between taking the medicine and not taking it, but rather a choice between taking it herself from a cup or being held down and dosed against her will. I shrugged and gave it a go, explaining to W that she had to take medicine, but that she could choose to hold the dose cup with her own hand and swallow it herself OR I could give it to her from a dropper. She shook her head NO (just as I anticipated), but I kept talking to her calmly and quietly about it (and explained again that not taking the medicine wasn’t one of the choices available to her), and she finally reached out for the cup and took a small sip. She made a face and said NO again, and once again, I explained the choices. It took a few minutes, and she rested between sips, but eventually she took all her medicine by herself. You could have knocked me over with a feather!
  • We went to an aquarium at one point during our visit. The kids had a great time checking out the fish (W has now added “ish” to her vocabulary — she’s not big on first consonant sounds). Toward the end of the day, SharkBoy wanted to go to the gift shop, and while AwesomeMom was fine with that, she had zero interest in dealing with the “gimmes” that kids inevitably get when surrounded by shameless commerce. She gave SharkBoy a ten-dollar bill and told him it was his to spend as he liked. She later admitted to me (out of SharkBoy’s hearing) that she didn’t realize how few options he’d have for $10; even little stuffed animals were closer to $15. Still, she stuck to the original allocation, and helped him find several items within his budget from which he could select. She also pointed out a sale table in the middle of the shop, and explained that choosing from it would help stretch his money. He ended up making a purchase with which he was very happy, and got a great lesson in economics as well. What I liked about her strategy was that he was too busy figuring out how he’d spend his money to beg her for item after item, and was so pleased with being able to make his own decisions regarding what to get within his budget that he valued his eventual purchase much more than he might have done had she simply bought him whatever he asked for.
  • A few times, we were really late getting dinner put together for the kids. AwesomeMom taught me her trick for getting SharkBoy to eat veggies while simultaneously helping to prevent the meltdown that generally occurs when a hungry child and a meal fail to converge on demand in space-time: she simply puts out a smorgasbord of kid-friendly veggies, and he digs in. W, famished from a long day of playing, happily chowed down on grated carrot, thinly-sliced cucumber, cold steamed cauliflower left over from a previous night’s dinner, and frozen corn kernels (AwesomeMom taught me about these, too. Apparently toddlers and little kids love them, and peas too, right out of the freezer. Who knew?). The corn kernels, in particular, kept her busy as she worked hard to pincer each one between her chubby fingers and pop it in her mouth, and we were able to finish making dinner without having kids clinging to our legs and whining.

As much as I learned about parenting this week, I might have started to feel a little bit insecure in the presence of AwesomeMom’s sheer awesomeness had it not been for a conversation we had one night after the kids had gone off to bed. For some reason the topic of baths came up, and she mentioned that when SharkBoy was about W’s age, he’d pooped in the tub. She reacted by totally freaking out (not in a mad way, but in an ohmygod there’s poop in the tub way). Her freak-out apparently freaked him out, to the point that he refused to take a bath for more than a week, and when he finally agreed to get back in the tub, he insisted upon doing so diapered so he wouldn’t poop. In this story was the most important lesson about parenting I learned all week: no mom, no matter how awesome, became so instantly upon the birth of her first child. AwesomeMom has amazing mom-skills, but she has learned them and honed them over the years, and has made a conscious effort to transform herself from mom-who-freaks-out-at-tub-poop to AwesomeMom. This, she’s done by talking to her own cadre of mom-mentors, by reading, by trying and failing, reevaluating, and trying again, and mostly, by watching her child and getting to know him. There lurks within each of us — even moms like myself, who go to bed so many nights thinking tomorrow, I must do better — the seeds of parenting greatness; the seeds of AwesomeMom-ness.

 

What’s the most amazing thing you’ve learned from another parent?