Thursday, July 29, 2010

Do Parents Really Hate Parenting?

Ask just about any parent you know, and they'll tell you that they're happy that they have kids.  If it's a casual acquaintance, they will probably smile and tell you all about the adorable qualities their offspring possess.  If it's someone you know a little better, they might share some colorful anecdotes about their more "challenging" parenting moments. 

Neither one, however, is very likely to tell you that sometimes parenting makes them very unhappy, even though chances are pretty good that it does.

But with the explosion of blogging in the past few years has come a new breed of parents who are willing to open up and share some of the uglier truths of their lives with their children.  Heather Armstrong of Dooce has built an entire brand around her willingness to talk openly and honestly about some of the harsher realities of her life as a mom.  Many other mom and dad bloggers have followed her lead, and you can now find all sorts of complaints and rants all over the internet bemoaning just how hard parenthood can be.

I think this is a good thing.  Because parenting is hard, and it isn't always going to make you happy.  If we don't talk about the difficuties and the dark moments and share our experiences, we can be left feeling like we're the only ones, and that things would be easier if only we could get our act together and be more like everyone else.  That doesn't do anyone any good. 

So I'm a big fan of the brave parents and bloggers who are willing to talk about the unhappy moments that their children bring to their lives.

And they are brave.  Because when these men and particularly women write about feeling depressed or dare to complain about the difficulties they face, the public backlash can be brutal.   When writer and mom Jennifer Senior wrote a piece entitled All Joy and No Fun: Why Parents Hate Parenting, over 600 comments flooded into New York Magazine in response.

Many were less than sympathetic to the plight of the modern parent, saying things like:   

"Why do some parents insist on making parenting harder
than it really is? Get some help and get some therapy, fast"

"don't have them and don't regret it"

"The immaturity and selfishiness of today's mothers is deeply disturbing"

Yeah, lots of support for parents over there (insert eye roll here).

In fact, the article goes a lot deeper than it's title implies.  Senior explores the nature of what truly constitutes happiness, and questions what it is that compels parents to find joy in parenthood, even when they feel like they're struggling through on a daily basis.  She finds that in general, parents seem to be less happy overall than non-parents, but also that parents experience moments of greater joy. 

And most importantly, that despite their diminished happiness, most parents still wouldn't change their decision to have kids.  Senior writes:  

"Children may provide unrivaled moments of joy.  But they also provide unrivaled moments of frustration, tedium, anxiety and heartbreak . . .  Loving one's children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing."

Which I think sums up parenthood beautifully and accurately. 

We can proclaim our love for our children and complain about how hard it is to raise them in the same breath.  We can love certain aspects of parenthood and loathe other ones.  We don't always have to be happy, and we don't have to listen to the haters who claim that we made our bed and now have to lie in it.

I don't think that most parents hate parenting.  I know that I certainly would have made the decision to be a stay-at-home mom if the act of parenting my children was something I didn't enjoy at least most of the time.

But I do think that it's perfectly legitimate to dislike, or even sometimes hate, certain aspects of parenting.  It doesn't make you a bad parent, or mean that you love your children any less.

"Loving one's children and loving the act of parenting are not the same thing."

Thank you, Jennifer Senior.  I'm taping this to my refrigerator.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I'll be repeating this phrase to myself many, many times a day. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Movie Review: Ramona and Beezus

As a child, I was an avid reader.  I loved Little Women, the Little House on the Prairie books, the Betsy-Tacy series, and anything related to Anne of Green Gables.  Charming but feisty female heroines were always among my favorites.

And yet I don't remember loving Ramona Quimby.  I remember reading books like Ramona the Pest and Beezus and Ramona, and I know that I enjoyed them.  I appreciated Ramona's funny antics, and understood many of her gripes about how grown-ups just don't understand.  But I don't think that I counted the Ramona books my favorites because, as a child myself, I didn't fully get Ramona. 

As an adult, I totally do.

About a year ago, I started reading the series again, this time reading out loud to my own young daughter.  And I have fallen totally and completely in love with Ramona Quimby and her world.  Because as a parent myself now, I can see and appreciate  Ramona for who she truly is:  the ultimate high-need child who is struggling to reconcile her natural impulses and vivid imagination with the strict (and unrealistic) expectations of many of the adults in her world.

Author Beverly Cleary wrote the Ramona series as an attempt to give children what they wanted, books about kids "just like us."  She claims that she was frustrated by the overwhelming number of children's books where "children learned to be better children" and she believes that part of Ramona's popularity stems from the fact that "she is never reformed." 

Throughout the series, Ramona is constantly getting into trouble and challenging the status quo.  She wants to make up words and spell them her way.  She wears pajamas under her clothes and cracks raw eggs over her head.  She throws tantrums when life doesn't work the way she wants, and can never seem to follow the rules at school.  She has all the rebellious and high-spirited qualities of a high-need child, but she also has a good heart and good intentions.  She means well, even when it doesn't seem that way.        

Ramona's confused attempts to understand and fit into the grown-up world make great comedy, but they also point to an important theme in the series:  that being a kid is hard, that learning to grow up and fit into the adult world isn't easy, and that children need and deserve adults in their life who value their opinions and understand just how challenging growing up can be. 

Ramona grapples with some very serious issues in the books:  her father's unemployment, the death of a beloved family pet, tension in her parent's marriage, just to name a few.  In true Ramona fashion, she doesn't always deal with these issues well.  But she is fortunate to have a family of people who love her, even when she's driving them crazy.  Beverly Cleary has blessed Ramona with parents who understand her well enough to work through their exasperation and see the good intentions beneath the surface.  The kind of parents that every child needs to make their way through childhood.  The kind of parent that I want to be. 

And I think that's why I've enjoyed the books so much.  Because I like seeing a child who doesn't always behave.  It's realistic.  And even more, I like seeing parents who hande it well.  More often than not, Mrs. Quimby's first reaction to Ramona's outbursts is a smile.  She understands Ramona.  She's rarely threatening or yelling, because that's not what Ramona needs.  Beverly Cleary shows Ramona in particular and children in general as deserving of respect, and I think that's a message that is far too rare in our society today.

And now, finally, Ramona has come to the big-screen. 

I'm always hesitant when I hear about children's books being made into movies.  For one thing, movies rarely live up to the books they are based upon.  The storyline usually changes, the characters are never cast the way I've imagined them in my head, and director's always seem try too hard to make the story "relatable for today's audience." 

(I'm thinking of movies like Cheaper By The Dozen here; a decently entertaining movie, but just a vague shadow of the book that shares it's title.)

So it was with trepidation that I headed to the movie theatre and purchased a ticket for Ramona and Beezus.  They've already messed with the titles -- there's a book called Beezus and Ramona but no Ramona and Beezus.  And Selena Gomez?  I wasn't quite seeing how the flippant, self-centered Alex from Wizards of Waverly Place could transform into Ramona's serious, studious, teen-angst-ridden older sister Beezus. 

And of course I was concerned with the casting of Ramona herself.  Who could do justice to the role?

I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  The movie was not the same as the books, and, of course, there were parts that I would have liked to have seen handled differently.  But I do think that, for the most part, director Elizabeth Allen gets Ramona too.

Ramona's vivid imagination is highlighted in several fantasy sequences -- when she's swinging on the rings at the playground the camera pans back to show her hanging far above a canyon.  When she's jumping through the hole in her house, she's suddenly parachuting high above Klickitat Street.  And at the end of the movie when she runs away, she's walking through the big city and past the Statue of Liberty (completely impossible considering that the Quimby family lives in Washington). 

Obviously, none of these things actually happen, but they remind us as viewers that children see the world completely differently from adults.  They put us on Ramona's level, and allow us to empathize with her more fully.

The movie combines all the books into one story, so, no, it isn't completely accurate.  But it hits many of the high points from the series -- Mr. Quimby's unemployment and Mrs. Quimby's return to work, the death of Picky-Picky, the courtship between Aunt Bea and Howie's Uncle Hobart, and Ramona's love/hate relationship with her sister Beezus.  It's funny and poignant, and Selena Gomez and Joey King exceeded my expectations as Beezus and Ramona.  John Corbett of Sex and the City fame was also surprisingly good as the world-weary but loving Mr. Quimby.

Overall, the film was a bit sappier and more sentimental than the books, which I think is a nod to today's economy and an intentional ploy to tug on the heartstrings of an audience who can relate to economic hardship and appreciate an emphasis on family values.  I'm also guessing that Beverly Cleary would have liked to see Ramona's behavior portrayed as a litte bit worse.  As sympathetic a character as Ramona is in the books, she is also very clearly more of a handful than she is portrayed as in the movie. 

But I still liked the movie more than I expected to.  What I liked most were the scenes where the adults showed their willingness to understand Ramona and the difficulty of being a kid.  I was glad to see the scene from the book Ramona and Her Mother where Ramona runs away because she feels unloved was included in the movie.  Just as in the book, Mrs. Quimby calls her daughter's bluff and packs Ramona a suitcase when she announces that she's running away. 

(FYI:  I'm tucking this idea away in my mind to use in the next few years if necessary.) 

Only after Ramona has started to walk down the street does she realize that her mother put all kinds of heavy things in the suitcase on purpose so that she can't get very far.  It's great parenting -- calm, rational, and most important, effective.  How many of us want to yell and scream and totally lose our cool when our kid's do things like this?

Overall,though, Ramona and Beezus is a fun and entertaining movie.  It may not accurately follow the series, but it  does capture the essence of Ramona's world.  It's not great cinema, but I think it's a movie worth seeing. 

But then go home and reread the books. 

Because, as usual, the book is better. 

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ask Dr. Sears

There's nothing like becoming a parent to make you realize how much you don't know.  It's no wonder that the old cliche about how kids should come with a manual is appreciated by so many new and seasoned moms and dads.  Just when you think you're starting to figure things out, something new comes along and you're left with a feeling that can only be expressed adequately by a WTF!!!

That is where the Sears come in.  Pediatrician William Sears and his wife Martha, an RN, have raised 8 children together and co-authored more than 25 books on just about every topic related to parenting.  The Baby Book, one of their most popular, is a comprehensive guide to just about everything new parents might need to know. 

Other popular books include The Birth Book, The Breastfeeding Book, The Family Nutrition Book, The Fussy Baby Book, and The Attachment Parenting Book, as well as several others. 

Two of the Sears' sons are pediatricians as well; you may recognize Dr. Jim Sears from the hit show The Doctors, and his brother Robert Sears is the author of The Vaccine Book: Making the Right Decision for Your Child (Sears Parenting Library),which was released in 2007.

Helping families seems to be the family business.

So the Sears clearly have some credentials.  And that's one of the reasons why I love their website  I'm also a fan because of their attachment parenting values and the fact that they value practices like babywearing, co-sleeping, and extended breastfeeding as a normal part of parenting babies and toddlers.  Sadly, some pediatricians aren't supportive of these practices, so it's always nice to find one who is.

Yes, even if my relationship with him only exists in cyberspace.  

But even if you're more mainstream and these things aren't for you, you'll still find lots of good information on this site.  You can look in Dr. Sears Medicine Cabinet for information about a variety of over-the-counter medications, and what they might be used for and what the proper dosage for your child would be.  Look in the Childhood Illnesses section when your little one is acting sick and you want to find out what his symptoms mean, or if a phone call to your own doctor is really needed.  Or use the Family Nutrition section when you're looking for answers about how to improve your child's diet.  The website also includes information about sleep, fussy babies, breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, vaccines, and much, much more 

So go explore the website. 

Bookmark it. 

When you face your next parenting crisis, it's a resource you'll be glad to have around.        


Friday, July 23, 2010

What's Wrong With My Kids? Epidurals, Judgements, and Those Damned Mommy Wars

When I was pregnant with my first child, I made the decision that I wanted to give birth without an epidural.  I decided to have a natural birth for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was my irrational fear of needles and my horor at the thought of having a giant one shoved into my spine.

And, yes, I had a lot of other really good, well-researched and medically valid reasons for avoiding an epidural as well.  I'll write about that sometime, but it's not really relevant to this post.

What is relevant are the reactions that I got when I shared my plan for a drug-free birth with other people.

My obstetrician smiled supportively, but made it pretty clear that he thought I was a naive, first-time mom who was in for a rude awakening and would be begging for an epidural once I actually experienced the pain of labor.

Whatever.  I was twenty-four years old and I still looked like a teenager.  I was used to people underestimating me and not giving me credit for knowing what I was talking about.  I knew that it was the obstetrician who was in for a rude awakening, because in the end I gave him a run for his money and did get the natural birth I was planning.     

What really bothered me, though, was the reaction I got from another mom, a close family member with two babies of her own.  Her first birth had been an induction, followed by an epidural, followed by a c-section, and her second a scheduled cesarean.

"Wait," she said when she heard my plan.  "You don't want to get an epidural?"

"What's wrong with my kids?" 

And there it was.  Five little words.  Without even realizing it, she had cut straight to the heart of the mommy wars. 

Oh, and also left me speechless, by the way.  'Cause I had no idea how to even begin to respond to what she had just said.

How the hell did my decision to skip the epidural instantaneously translate in her mind into an indictment of her decision to get one?  And more than that, a conclusion that I thought that her decision had permanently fucked up her kids???

I might have understood her response a little better if I had been up on my high horse preaching about how natural birth is the only way and epidurals ruin children for life.  But I wasn't.  Number one, I'm not that kind of person, and number two, I don't believe those things are true.  And most significantly, I hadn't even had a chance to say anything at all.  I didn't utter one word to defend or explain the benefits of unmedicated birth before she jumped to the assumption that I was judging her for making a different choice from my own.

I think I escaped the conversation that day by mumbling something about not liking needles and quickly changing the subject.  But her words have stayed with me.  So much so that here I am writing about it over six years later.

Why do we as mothers so often assume that if another mother has made a choice different from our own, she must automatically think that our own choice is wrong?  Is it so hard to accept that, just because the choice was wrong for her, doesn't mean that she thinks it's also wrong for us? 

Are other mothers really judging us all the time, or are we the ones judging ourselves?

There are benefits to unmedicated childbirth -- an easier start to breastfeeding, a lowered risk of a vacuum or forceps delivery, as well as a lowered risk of an episiotomy or cesarean, just to name a few.  There are also drawbacks, the fact that it fucking hurts being at the top of my list.  I'm not one of those birth is beautiful, embrace the pain and let's light candles and burn incense types.  I understand why so many women opt for pain relief, and I don't judge them for making that choice.  But I think I should have the right to stand firm in my choice to skip it for a myriad of reasons, and to talk about the benefits that caused me to reach my decision without other moms assuming that I'm judging them just by virtue of thinking differently.     

I read somewhere recently that the mommy wars are fought more in the heads of individual women than they are between women who have made different choices in their lives, and that idea has really resonated with me.  We're all so sensitive to perceived criticism of how we raise our kids that maybe we're not catching on to the fact that sometimes we're not really being criticized at all. 

Maybe, sometimes, we really are fighting the mommy wars in our own heads. 

Maybe we're the ones questioning our own choices.

Maybe we are our own worst enemy.

You think?


Do you feel judged by other mothers for your choices?  Or are you sometimes afraid to talk about or advocate for them for fear offending other moms who have done things differently?  What's your take on the so-called mommy wars? 

Photo credit: jordy clarke / Flickr

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Alfie Kohn Takes On the Myth of the Spoiled Child

I love Alfie Kohn

I love that he sees kids in a positive light.

I love that he is passionately outspoken abut his belief that parenting should never be treated as a battle, and children should never be treated as opponents.  

I love that he thinks homework in American schools is way out of control and that standardized testing is unnecessary and unhelpful. 

I love that he writes like he would probably talk. 

I love that he gets the way I want to parent, and that his books are there to help me and force me to think critically along the way. 

And now I love him for taking on the mainstream media. 

In a July 18 article for the Washington Post, Kohn counters all the bloggers and magazine and newspaper columnists who churn out story after story about how kids today are spoiled and parents have gone soft and lost control.  Usually, the main point of one of these articles is that parents today coddle children and don't set enough limits or provide enough discipline.  Often, there's a bit of nostalgia thrown in for good measure -- you know, a nice "back in the day when kids were kids and grown-ups were grown-ups and everybody knew their place" sentiment. 

It makes for good media, because it usually provokes a reaction.  Which is the entire point of media these days, right?  Get a reaction, get good numbers, get good advertising, get good money . . .

Digression, I know.  Back to my point.

In his typical succinct, easy-to-follow style, Kohn blows this stale argument about spoiled kids to bits.  He points to the fact that this argument has been around for over a century, and that it is not likely that the current generation is any worse than any of the previous ones. 

In his opinion, there is neither science nor logic to back up the claim that we're spoiling our kids.

In my opinion, his opinion is one worth listening to.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Notes On A Two Year-Old

Yesterday morning, I made breakfast for my two year-old.  Just like I do every other morning.

Except that yesterday morning, I pissed him off when I told him that, no, he could not eat his scrambled eggs with a knife.

And when I turned my back, the scrambled eggs were dropped and scattered all over the clean, just mopped floor beneath his seat. 

I think it was a form of silent protest.

Three minutes later, two triangles of raisin toast came hurling across the breakfast counter, through the air and straight for my head. 

I'm not sure what I did to prompt this one.

Please, can we just skip two and go straight to three, I thought to myself.  Sometimes, this kid has more energy than I can handle.

Later last night, this same two year-old finally fell asleep. 

And as he lay there so peacefully, so quiet and so still, he looked like an angel and I couldn't stop admiring him and thinking what a delight he is and how much I love his spirit and his energy and his zest for life.

Please, I thought to myself, can't I just keep him this age forever?


Photo credit:  Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Mother's Rage: Diffusing Our Anger and Disciplining Ourselves

In a recent article for BabbleLiane Kupferberg Carter writes about "that irate moment no one can adequately warn you about, when hostility and sarcasm shove aside reason and patience, and you suddenly sense your own terrifying rage."

"Does anyone else get this mad?" she asks.

My answer?

Hell yes.

Raising children isn't for the faint of heart.  We come into it with high ideals, expectations of hugs and kisses and angelic faces that look to us with nothing but adoration and a loving desire to do exactly as we say.

Does that happen in your house?

Mine either.

We have our moments, when I get told that I'm the best mom in the world and my two children fight over my lap.  When I look at them and can't imagine my life without them and wonder how it's possible to love two little people with such fierce intensity.

More often, it seems, we have other moments.

Moments when an argument over a doll or a dump truck suddenly escalates into World War III. 

Moments when a six year-old's desperate attempt to play a video game far beyond her capabilities ends in a full-fledged temper tantrum of over-reaction and a cascade of self-loathing and self-doubt. 

Moments when dinner gets burned because a two year-old is clawing at my leg and just can't wait

Moments when my sanity is in question and I have to be the grown-up even when I don't feel like a grown-up and at the same time am desperately wishing there were another grown-up in the room with me.

And I get mad. 

Actually, I go way beyond mad.   

I can feel the rage bubbling up inside of me, as if I'm a volcano on the verge of explosion.  I want to lose my temper.  I want to verbally unleash.  I want to hit.  I want to run and lock myself in my bedroom and hide. 

I think about the mom who left her kids with her husband in the middle of the night and ran off to Utah.

There.  I said it.  Out loud. 

Yes, sometimes, I get that angry too.  So angry that it scares me.  And Carter is right.  That kind of rage can be terrifying.

But, here's the important thing:  I don't act on it.  Sure, there have been times when I've lost my temper and yelled and said things that shouldn't have been said.  I'm human.  But I don't hit.  I don't run and hide. 

And I would never, ever actually take off and leave my children behind, as enticing as that fantasy might occasionally be.

How do I manage this?


Not for my kids.  For me.

I noticed a long time ago that when I get mad at one of my children and have a desire to yell or hit, it's more often about me and my emotions than it is about my child's behavior.  It's usually because I haven't gotten enough sleep, or because I have stress in other areas of my life that has nothing to do with my kids. 

Or because I'm trying too hard to control their behavior and make them do what I want, instead of listening to them as individuals and guiding them when they need to find a better way.

It's because I haven't taken the time to breathe, to step back and look at the bigger picture.

In our country, the word discipline usually has negative connotations.  It is most often associated with punishments such as spanking or time-outs.  But I prefer to think of discipline as a method of teaching and self-improvement.  And I can't expect to teach this to my children if I don't lead by example.

So when the drama and the screaming begin, I let myself feel the anger.  Because anger is a real and legitimate response to a difficult situation.  The daily grind of raising children can be overwhelming, particularly when it's coupled with the other stresses of our everyday lives.

I don't think that feeling anger, or even rage occasionally, is either bad or unnaural. 

I tend to think the opposite is true, that it would be unnatural if you didn't sometimes experience these emotions.

Anger and rage, like physical pain, can be taken as a sign that something is not right.  If we use our anger in this way, we can use a very negative emotion to achieve a positive outcome. 

If we are angry at our children for not playing as we would like, we need to figure out how to teach them a better way to play.  If we are angry because we feel out of control, we need to either take control or learn to relinquish our desire for control. 

A mother's rage doesn't have to be a bad thing.  Sure, if we can't get it under control, or if it continually  appears in response to the tiniest of infractions, or if we act on that rage in a way that hurts our children, rage can become a real and serious problem. 

But occasional feelings of anger and even rage can also help us to see that things aren't working as they are.  It can help us to find a better way.

When I took childbirth education classes in the Bradley method, I learned how physically tensing the body can actually intensify pain.  It's funny, but those classes have helped me a lot more post-baby than they did in the delivery room. 

When my kids get loud and crazy and upset, I may yell for a minute or two.  But then I get remarkably calm.  I might be inwardly seething -- much like the way I was writhing in pain through the contractions of labor -- but on the outside, I look calm.  I breathe slowly.  I speak slowly.  And softly.  I don't yell, no matter how much I might want to.  I remember to breathe slowly, and slowly, miraculously, my anger dissipates.

I look at my children and really see them.  I see how little they are, and how much they need me to help them cope with life.  I remember how fiercely I love them.  I apologize for being angry.

And, together, we find a better way.            

Monday, July 5, 2010

Keeping Up With the Kardashians

Last month, Kim Kardashian made headlines when she tweeted about her discomfort with public breastfeeding.  And then Kim tweeted again, this time referencing her breastfeeding sister Kourtney and saying that women should cover up.

(For an excellent take on the situation, far more nuanced than my own, check out this post from Her Bad Mother). 

A few weeks later, Kourtney wrote a post on her own blog about her experience breastfeeding her son Mason.  And then last Wednesday, Kourtney added a blog entry about co-sleeping with her son.

It's no wonder the title of their show is Keeping Up With the Kardashians.  They're a busy bunch . . .

So why am I writing about this? 

I'm not a big fan of reality shows or silly celebrities.  I tend to not watch people like the Kardashians.  But I have a lot of respect for many of the things that Kourtney writes about in her recent blog posts.  She's open and honest about how much he loves breastfeeding her son Mason.  She talks about the benefits of nursing exclusively for 6 months before starting solid foods, and is open about the fact that she doesn't plan to stop any time soon.  She even writes about nursing Mason on an airplane during takeoff and landing -- which can be hugely helpful when flying with an infant because the jaw motion helps with ear popping as the air pressure changes.  It's like the baby equivalent of gum chewing.  And not something that a lot of moms know about.

In her post about co-sleeping, Kourtney writes about how at first she thought the idea was crazy.  And about how she reached the decision that it was something she wanted to try.  She says that she loves the time snuggling up with him at night when she's had a long, busy day.  I share many of her feelings, and I think it's really neat to see a celebrity who is willing to open up about making parenting choices that are not exactly mainstream.  I imagine that many of Kourtney's fans are young women who don't know anything about breastfeeding, and didn't even know that co-sleeping is an option. 

No matter what your opinion of the Kardashians, I think that Kourtney is having a tremendously positive impact by bringing these ideas to her mainstream audience.  Any time we see a more complex image of motherhood in the media, it's a good thing. 

So why again am I writing about this?

The dates. 

Her first post was dated 6/22/10.  Her second post was dated 6/29/10.  Both appeared right on the heels her sister's tweet and the ensuing anti-Kim controversy among the natural parenting community.  Maybe I'm too cynical, but it seems like a little more than a coincidence that the Kardashian's need for positive parenting press just happened to coincide with Kourtney's desire to share details of her own experiences. 

You know, these people are skilled at PR.  I mean getting publicity is pretty much all that the Kardashians are skilled at, right?

Tell me that it doesn't look like Kourtney wrote these posts to take the heat off of her sister and draw in a whole new audience of mamas who may not have followed the Kardashians before . . .

I would like to believe it's not true.  For some strange reason I can't fully understand, I like the Kardashians.  I particularly like Kourtney.  I like that she's talked openly about aspects of motherhood that most celebrities don't share, and I like that she's been candid about the fact that she's had doubts as to whether what she's doing is right.  It all just seems so honest.

Except that maybe, it's not.


What do you think?  Are Kourtney's blog posts genuine?  Or are they just part of a larger PR stunt within the family?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

On Moving, Attachment Parenting, and Finding Stability in the Instability

My son recently turned two.  And we've just moved into the fifth house that he's lived in since he was born. 

In her six years on this planet, my daughter has called six different places home.

And, believe it or not, we're not finished yet.  Our recent move was a temporary one.  At the moment, we're in a kind of a stopping-over place until we can find a permanent home where we can put down roots and finally unpack every last box.

So yeah, if you're wondering, I'm feeling like mother of the year right now . . .

No, we aren't gypsies or drifters or circus people.  No, we never intended to move this many times, and we certainly never intended to do it with young children.  But life has a way of throwing you curve balls, and sometimes you just have to play the hand you're dealt. 

And you know what?  It hasn't been that bad. 

Through the many moves, the parade of houses that never quite felt like home, my children have coped remarkably well.

Experts may caution that moving can be "traumatic" for kids, who supposedly thrive on "familiarity and routine."  Okay, sure, moving a lot isn't the ideal situation for young children, but it doesn't have to destroy them for life either.  In my opinion, my children have managed well for one very simple reason:  they aren't attached to their things, they're attached to me.

In our culture today, we place a lot of emphasis on "stuff."  As adults, we're often impressed by the cars we drive, the clothes we wear, and the houses we live in.  We shower our children with all the supposedly necessary baby gadgets and hot new "it" toys of the moment.  Many parents think that a special blanket or a beloved pacifier or a bedtime routine that takes place at the same time every evening in the same bedroom with the same exact crib will provide children with the security that they need to grow up feeling safe and loved.

Sorry, but that's not necessarily true.

Children do need security and familiarity.  But they shouldn't derive it from their relationship with their things.  It's the relationships that they form with the important people in their lives that should make them feel secure. 

My little boy has slept in my bed from the day he was born.  He doesn't care when the bed or the bedroom  changes, because he always has the familiarity of falling asleep next to me.  And he wakes up to find me right where he left me.  He's never had a pacifier or a security blanket because I'm both of those things to him.  He nurses for comfort or to pacify himself when he's scared or upset; he clings to me instead of an object in new and uncertain situations.  He's happy and he's well-adjusted and he's secure.   

I've raised my daughter in much the same way.  She might be older, and more independent, but she's independent and secure precisely because she's been securely attached to me from the day she was born.

Some people refer to the kind of parenting I'm talking about as attachment parenting.  Basically, that's what I do; I just don't like the label.  I pretty much parent by instinct, doing what feels right to me and what works for our family.  I've been raising my kids this way since I first became a mom, before I had ever even heard the term attachment parenting or been introduced to Dr. Sears. 

Now I don't mean to wax poetic about what a great mother I am or how life is always a bed of roses when you choose to parent in a way that's truly responsive to your children's needs.  The fact is, it's pretty damn hard.  There are days when you feel like you're suffocating.  There are days when you feel like a martyr.

Always being there to meet your child's every need is not only exhausting, it's impossible.

But being attached to our children from the very beginning has huge benefits.  We come to understand them well from a very early age.  We know which needs are most important to them.  We know which child can't fall asleep by himself because he is afraid of the dark, and which one needs her alone time.  We can tell when our child  really needs us, and when an alternate caregiver will do.  We know what types of situations they handle well, and what types of situations cause them stress.

They, in turn, know that they can trust us absolutely and that we will always be there for them.  They know that, no matter where we live, they can always climb into our bed in the middle of the night. 

They know that, even when houses and cities and jobs and friends change, they've always got their parents. 

They know what's truly important in life.

And, mother of the year or not, that's a lesson that I'm pretty damn proud to have taught them.