Monday, June 13, 2011

When I'm A Parent...

Remember being about twelve years old and stomping off to your bedroom, slamming the door and dramatically falling on the bed proclaiming that you will NEVER EVER do that (whatever sin your parents just committed) to your own children?  Usually it was a punishment of some sort?

We'll discuss discipline at a later point.  What's on today's agenda is looking at how you were parented.

Admittedly not everyone experienced idyllic childhoods.  In fact, many of us had a mix of bad experiences haunting our childhood memories.  Build on it, whatever "it" is.  Your parenting style will be strongly influenced by how you were parented - good and bad.  From horrific abuse to the dramatic proclamations of unfair treatment, we are going to use those benchmarks of what will never be allowed to happen to our own children. 

While soap in the mouth isn't even a point of consideration for most people, I am to this day scarred by seeing my youngest brother choking on a flow of bubbles spewing from his mouth.  No matter what bad word could possibly fall out of one of my children's mouths I can guarantee that soap was never in my response possibilities.  Ever.

It seems we all have a few items that supply the "I never" list.  Surprisingly you might find yourself setting that list to the side and pissing off your inner twelve year old when you ground your child for an entire week.  We do that sometimes.  Keep evaluating your list because as you get older you'll start to see the wisdom in some of your parent's choices - are you willing to break that promise to yourself?  Sometimes it may be the best option on the table.

But these are the negative aspects, building the "I never" list, but what about the positive points?  We spend so much time focusing on the negative we seem to act like there aren't any positives to be found.  The truth is there are more positive points to be acknowledged and we tend to unconsciously replicate a great majority of dear ol' mom and dad's parenting styles.  Put some conscious effort into listing those positive traits, what do you plan to incorporate into your own parenting?

Mom and dad aren't the only source of parenting tips from our pasts.  Is there a close aunt or uncle?  Maybe it's your grandparents or a long-time babysitter or your best friends parents?  What memories do they instill?  What did they do that you would want to recreate for your own children?  Maybe you were raised with a close knot of cousins providing an endless stream of playmates.  What if you don't have any siblings or your siblings live far away?  Clearly having other children around is important so you should keep that in mind when you buy a house and keep an eye for children of similar age to your little bundle of joy. 

Keeping that list running will make you more aware of yourself as a parent.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Parenting Plan - Religion

I left the details of a parenting plan rather open ended, as well it should be, but maybe I could explain it more in depth?  I figure I would dice it up a little more over time.

As a reminder, I said everyone should take time to define a parenting plan, hopefully before children arrive.  Don't worry, though, if you are getting a late start it's better than never.  Quite honestly, most people have a parenting plan bouncing around in their head, but never really put a label on it.

A parenting plan is the core of your parenting attitudes.  To define it outloud, especially with your partner, helps bring the both of you to the same page.  It's also helpful to have this defined before you're faced with discipline issues and major life decisions.  This way you're not parenting off the cuff and are equipped with some intentionally set guidelines.  It is very important to remember that your parenting plan is going to morph over the years.  You'll find what works, doesn't work and what needs to be amended.

So what about religion?

This is really a huge issue that requires some discussion with your partner.  Obviously if you two are from different religious backgrounds this will feel like the 500 pound gorilla standing in the room.  How do you meld your differences?  Which belief standard will dominate in child rearing?  Whose church, or whatever, will you attend?  Or at all?

Most people tend to match up with someone of similar religious and moral standards, but this still ought to be discussed.  Even if you met at church and are both very active in its activities you may be surprised that you still have some differing opinions concerning religion and how it should intertwine with your lives.

On top of the logistical issues of how to spend holy days and attending chapel, what about the religious standards of raising your child?  How are you going to dispense information concerning your beliefs?  How are you going to deal with other people's beliefs?

Even for people with agnostic views, religion is going to be an issue.  Other people's religious views are going to be shared with your little tyke.  Other people's religious views are going to surround and even question how you raise your child.  Knowing how you are going to face controversial and inflammatory statements and invasive questions will make it slightly easier when the time arises.

Remember to consider the physical aspects of your belief system (food, clothing, swearing, worship) as well as the spiritual contexts. 

Then you need to consider your families.  What are their beliefs?  How strong are they about their belief systems?  How with the various views impact your daily life?  How will you handle differences of opinions?  And if you dare oppose their views, how is that going to impact your relationships?

All of this is going to address some issues in your relationship with your partner, but it most definitely will impact your children.  Address it and define it early on and you could avert some really ugly confrontations.

All of us have religious beliefs in some form.  Defining those beliefs may even strengthen something that has been lying dormant for a long time.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Preparing The Nursery

Despite the bagillion different items offered in any baby store or baby section, you truly do not need a lot.  A newborn baby has very simple needs - eat, poop, sleep.  If you can cover each of those items you're fine. 

Unless you have severed contact with all of your family and friends, your first child will likely be provided for rather amply.  In other words, DON'T BUY ANYTHING!  Spend your time filling out gift registries and let us, your family, spoil your baby properly.

You are likely going to be the recipient of TONS of hand-me-downs.  Babies shoot through clothing and toys so quickly they get very little wear and it is simply criminal to throw away anything.  People don't know what to do with all of that stuff so they pile it up waiting for some sucker in their circle to pop out a baby.  TaDa!  Instant stuff!  Fortunately you can return the favor.

If I were to ever suggest loading up on anything it would be a few empty tubs to house the clothing and other stuff your child has not yet reached age-wise or to dump what your baby has outgrown to pass on to someone else.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Over-Protective Momma

I like to joke about first-timers and uber-over-protective parents.  So do a lot of other seasoned parents.  We really need to stop, it doesn't help anyone, does it?  Since my own son is going to be a first-time daddy and my daughter-in-law has all of the makings of being an over-protective momma, maybe it's time for me to simmer down.

First-timers tend to be overprotective because they're still learning the boundaries of baby's abilities.  When a second child comes along it's virtually impossible to focus our attention on two moving bodies in the same manner.  Three or more kids?  Forget it.  Soon we learn that eating worms, squishing dog poop through their fingers and staying up past 8pm is annoying, frequently gross, but in the end no one is hurt.  Not that I encourage any of those, but it happens.

My sister-in-law insists that talcum powder will not be used on her infant son's bottom.  She's read somewhere that there might be a link between dusting our baby's tushes and asthma.   While I resist the urge to giggle, I remind myself that SIL is abiding by what she feels is important.  I could argue with her standards and point out the century of babies with dusted asses that never developed asthma.  That even though I started my own developmental years in the smoggy environs of Los Angeles, my allergies didn't kick in until my 20's.  Somehow I doubt baby powder caused it.  Yet, she is doing her best to protect her child and I must respect that.

Remember a few days ago I suggested that we develop a parenting plan.  It means defining your standards and they must be YOUR standards, not mine nor anyone elses, YOURS.  And if that means following the advice of an article warning against baby powder or limiting fruit juice or restricting hot dogs, then so be it. 

This is your child and you must raise him or her as you see fit.  What you will learn, what us seasoned parents learned many years ago, is your standards will change and your parenting plan will morph.  As your baby grows and more children populate your home it may be unrealistic or too expensive to hold to the standards you set in the beginning.  But that is for you to learn and for me to sit quiet as you make that journey.  Ultimately children survive the parenting journey taken by the adults in their world.

As a soon-to-be grandma, I want parents to be over-protective.  I want them to pad every sharp corner in the house and to monitor sugar intake.  It shows you care.  I want my grandbaby to be healthy and strong so I must trust my son and daughter-in-law to raise their child in a safe environment and that will only happen if they are in fact, over-protective parents.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dealing With Advice

The instant you announce your pregnancy you will be inundated with advice, most of it unsolicited.  I am guilty, I've done it myself, hell I'm doing it here.  Do yourself a favor - ignore ALL OF IT.  You will drive yourself absolutely insane giving any of that jabber a moment's thought.

It's okay to seek out advice, but even then, take it all with a grain of salt.  Pick and choose what you want out of the information and leave the rest behind - including what you read here.  It is simply impossible to process all of the data being thrown at you and to follow all of those different directions.  Much of what is offered doesn't even begin to apply to your situation or your personality or your belief system.

I remember being stunned by the amount of advice that flew in during my first pregnancy.  Something clicked in me and I almost got angry when people started in on their opinions and stories about pregnancy, delivery and infant care.  Once I released myself from following all of that different advice I suddenly felt lighter.  I would nod and thank people for their input and then plunder forward with a path agreed upon between me, my husband, and my medical team.

Worse yet, the same volume flooded in with my second and third pregnancies.  REALLY?  I think I've got it down now, you can move on.

Please give us a break - we can't help it.  We remember being lost, first-time parents.  It's hard and we made so many mistakes.  We are trying to help you and save you even a little bit of pain.  Ultimately, however, those mistakes are what made us good parents.  When you learned to ride a bicycle you had to wobble and fall, sometimes a lot, before you got a good handle on keeping your balance.  All of the verbal advice in the world cannot make you a good bicyclist - you have to figure it out on your own.

But advice does exist and it's here for your taking.  It's easiest to take it by bits and pieces - focus on your current situation and the next stage of development barreling down on you.  Find one or two sources you feel comfortable with and possibly a friend or family member you trust.  Rely on their information, but even they won't be perfect.  Follow what in your heart feels right. 

OH!  And you!  Even as an inexperienced first-timer you have a pretty strong base of experiences.  Once the mechanics of baby care are established - how to diaper and mix a bottle, you really can do this on your own without anyone else's input. 

Trust yourself.  You're going to be awesome at this.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Second Child

A friend is expecting her second child.  She asked me recently how to prepare her three year old daughter for the new arrival.

First, talking about a coming baby before you start showing is just too abstract for young children.  A growing belly is something they can touch and can relate with.  Allow them to talk to the belly and read stories or whatever they come up with for interaction.

Prepare yourself for questions, but make sure you listen to the question.  Yes, the sex question is coming, but usually they are not asking about the mechanics of getting the baby in there.  Sometimes something so simple as "mommy and daddy love each other very much" or "daddy gave mommy a seed" is sufficient although those open the door to some interesting interpretations.  I recall a story I read several years ago - the child asked his father about where he came from so the dad went into the big sex talk and discussion about anatomy.  The child took it all in and after dad was finished with his dissertation, the kid asked, "but what hospital did I come from?"

When the baby arrives encourage, but don't force, interaction.  I have two younger brothers.  When the first was born I was allowed to lead a parade of neighborhood friends into the room for show and tell.  My mom talks about how I was a mini mother to him, fetching bottles and diapers and involving myself in his care.  To this day I have a very maternal attitude toward him.

My second brother was very medically fragile.  Tweedle Dee an I were hands off.  No breathing on the baby, no poking sticks or toys into his playpen, and don't you dare pick him up.  Eh, how BORING!  We scampered off into the yard to throw rocks at each other leaving Tweedle Dum stranded in his crib with his scary machines and over-protective mother.  We were never allowed to bond.  The boys grew up with a strange rivalry, beating the everloving shit out of each other.  I grew up and moved away.  It's only as adults that I have any form of relationship with my youngest brother but honestly we don't have much to say to each other.  It's a shame because he's a great person with a funny personality and of course I'm fabulous, but we have never bonded as siblings.

When my older son was born there wasn't a chance of keeping my daughter out of the action.  She gleefully fetched diapers and reported on the baby's needs.  Eight years later when my younger son was born, he too was a medically fragile baby but nothing as severe as my brother.  Amanda and Keith were allowed into the NICU to see the baby and when he came home they got to hold him and help care for him.  All three of them have wonderful relationships and I am convinced it is based on allowing them to bond at the very beginning.

As the children get older it's important to allow them to have their relationship however they define it.  The more you meddle and interfere the less they'll bond properly.  Let them duke it out.  Now I'm not saying you should allow a bloodbath, I mean after all it took too much work to get their grumpy asses into this world you sure don't appreciate anyone taking one of them out.  So yes, stop fights when they escalate, but definitely let siblings squabble the little stuff through.  It's important.  Trust me.

I remember long evenings lasting into the wee hours of the morning sitting on my step-sister's bed.  I had snuck into her room after lights out and we talked about everything and solved all of the worlds problems.  We talked and talked and talked.  We certainly had a few fights along the way, but we formed our own unique sisterhood completely outside the bounds of our parents reach.

Not so long ago I discovered when Keith was little he would crawl into Amanda's bed on stormy nights.  AWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!  This happened under my roof when I was at home.  How did I not know?  I also found out they talk about ME.  How dare them!  Actually, YAY!  My kids have their own relationship and don't need me to play intermediary - as well it should be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Parenting Plan

Do you have a parenting plan?

Most people really haven't put much thought into their parenting style and face each challenge as it comes - you know, how we live our lives?  How can anyone have a plan when life is crammed with so many different variables?  But here is the secret successful people would share with you - they DO have a plan, surprises are all met with the same game plan.  Successful parents do the same thing - they have a plan.

A parenting plan involves a statement of your parenting style - do you see yourself as strict, easy going, focused on formal education, wanting to give a broad base of experiences?  There is no correct answer to this question, it will be as individual and the people involved.  It has to do with you and your partner's personalities and personal experiences.  It will be based on reflections of your parents, both good and bad.  It will involve your views of politics, religion and society at large.

The second part of this equation is to describe what that parenting style looks like.  If you see yourself as "strict" what would that involve?  Does that mean rigid rules enforced with corporal punishment or does it mean you're going to have curfews for your teenagers? (uh, yeah, let's look forward to consider what our lives will be like with teenagers underfoot)  Some people think any rules at all is "strict" others think rules with wiggle room is "easy going".  So say it, define it. 

Some people can't define something so vague as a style or theory.  Instead, pluck out parenting situations you know people struggle through (catching stuff from TV is a decent source) and describe how you would handle it - either the same or differently.

People fail to discuss these matters with their partners and most never do so BEFORE the babies arrive.  If you're expecting your first baby, NOW is the time.  If you have no plan set for your parenting future, at least say out loud how you see your own parenting style.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time To Start Up Again

I'm glad I didn't delete this blog as I have a new purpose for it!  I'm going to be a grandma!!!!!  Keith and his fiancee are expecting my first grandbaby in August.  I guess it's their first child, but since this is all about me it's my first grandbaby.  HOW EXCITING!

When they told me at Thanksgiving, I surprised myself by bursting into happy tears.  This did not surprise my daughter, she totally predicted my reaction.  I'm not so sure I like someone being able to predict my moves!

This is a new role for me even before the baby has arrived and I'm trying to keep from being an overbearing bitch while expressing my joy and concern equally.  This is not for wimps!  In the meantime a coworker is pregnant and complaining about her meddling mother-in-law.  These are tough relationships as we walk those fine lines between not enough involvement and too much.

A blog, THIS blog, would be a great place for me to work out those difficulties as I learn the tightrope of grandmother and mother-in-law.  It's also a place for me to rattle out all of that parenting advice I'm just bursting to share with my son.

I doubt I will post everyday, but I will try to do something at least once a week.