27 February 2012

Words, Rewards, and Beauty (Oh, My!)

I'm growing a little weary of hearing how I should be neutral in my dealings with my children. Don't clap for baby-ish cutesy things. No getting excited when your toddler masters the slide for the first time. Don't overdo positive reinforcement. Certainly don't use negative reinforcement. Let them discover the joy of accomplishment without external influence!

Praise is good! No, wait, it's bad. That's not right. Generic praise is bad, specific praise is good. Hang on, all praise is iffy. Unless it's encouragement. Then it's not really praise after all. It's . . . um . . . what were we talking about again?

Guess what? I tell my kids "good job!" all the freaking time. And I don't feel bad about it, or like I'm destroying their sense of self or intrinsic motivation. (I even know what terms like "intrinsic motivation" mean. I have a psychology degree and I'm not afraid to use it.)

And I'm not buying the whole extrinsic rewards are evil, either. Tell me you've never enjoyed a good performance review? Accolades on a fabulous meal from your dinner party guests? Oh, I don't know, a paycheck? All external rewards, no?

I probably uttered some indiscriminate praise here
Personally, we don't use rewards/punishments around here, because they don't work for my kids. Honestly, they couldn't care less about a flipping sticker chart. And take away a privilege? Totally doesn't affect them; they just move on to something else. 

But believe me there have been times I would have promised a pony ride to Disneyland while eating ice cream if I could get just one pee in the potty and not on the floor.

On a related note, I tell my daughters they are beautiful. And I mean it in both the inside and the outside sense. But really, I often just mean they look pretty, or totally cute, or incredibly adorable. So I tell them: Girls, you are beautiful! Every. single. day. 

I tell my son the same thing.

I believe it's more about the relationship you have with your child/children and what kind of conversations you have with them in general. Is "good job" one of many meaningful interactions you've had with them while playing with them and making a conscious effort to be in the moment? Or is it a knee-jerk reaction to a plea for attention from across the room, mindlessly slipped off the tongue when you didn't even look their way?

Seriously, people out there belittle and shame their children on a regular basis. I ask you to please give me a pass for tossing a few nonchalant "great work, honey" comments at my kids. They are not ruined. (In spite of the fact that entire books, websites, and blogs would like to argue otherwise.) They are pretty darn awesome. 

I’m glad you stopped by today, friend. If you would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

23 February 2012

A Letter To My Preggo Self

Today I'd like to share some wisdom with my first-time pregnant, anticipating the birth of Agent E, confused, overwhelmed self. Following are just a few things it would have been nice to know in advance.

The birth class at the hospital will be pointless. Still, you attend out of obligation and hang on every word. You even drag your husband with you, with pillows. (Why do they ask you to bring pillows? It's not like they have nap time halfway through.) You come away with a list of things to bring to the birth, including but not limited to a giant ball to sit on, music (with your own boom box), and more pillows. Then you go into labor at 2:00 a.m., three weeks early, before you pack your hospital bag. So, you throw your cell phone and a few pairs of underwear in a backpack and consider yourself ready. When Baby #2 comes along, you plan what you are taking right after you pee on the stick.

Take more pictures of your pregnant shape. Yes, you will go on to do this two more times, but each growing baby deserves its own photographic evidence. Then back them up; your computer will crash when your daughter is a few weeks old and you will lose some beautiful photos forever.

You have already decided you will breastfeed, and that's great! However, you seem to think it will be quite simple since you've read a few chapters of a (lame) pregnancy book. Trust me; you do not have the first clue what breastfeeding is really going to be like. You know those breastfeeding classes you have seen advertised? The ones you have been kind of giggling at and making fun of? Take one. I'm serious. Take. The. Class. Plus, you still have some unresolved negative feelings about nursing from what you've heard from friends and the media. Get over it, and get to a La Leche League meeting. Your future self will be most grateful, and someday write this about your breastfeeding experience and how far you've come.

Just under a month before Agent #3 arrived
About that pathetic pre-birth reading list . . . you could really use some new material. Go ahead now and buy a copy of The Baby Book. While you're at it, pick up a copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding as well. Read them both from cover to cover. Now do it again. Stop reading pregnancy magazines, mainstream parenting magazines, and online message boards. You're just making yourself crazy.

Buy some cute newborn clothes and pajamas. Everyone will tell you it's not worth it, they outgrow them too fast, and to buy 3-6 month stuff instead. However, you will birth a tiny baby who will be completely swallowed by every article of clothing you have. Luckily, some nice friend (who's been there, three times) will give you some clothes that actually fit, and it will be much easier to dress her for the first two months.

You will debate the merits of crib style and mattress firmness as if the fate of the universe depended on it. And you will end up co-sleeping. Congratulations: You just purchased the most expensive cat bed and stuffed toy receptacle ever. Actually, that's not 100% true. Eventually you will discover if you remove the front it makes a great sidecar. Agent E will sleep here until she's almost three. And you will kick yourself for taking so long to figure this out.

That Baby Papasan chair you get as a baby shower gift? The one you open and think, "what in the heck will I need this for?" All three babies will spend many, many nights sleeping in there when stuffy noses, earaches, or tummy troubles require them to sleep upright. It will end up being one of your most used baby items.

The CIO sleep book you also receive as a gift? Exchange it for a copy of The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Or take bookstore credit, buy yourself a fancy latte and a muffin at the in-house coffee shop, and get some quiet writing time in while you can.

Do get a good supply of those thin receiving blankets. You will use them for many things . . . to lay the baby on, wrap the baby in, as a towel, as a burp cloth, to put under the baby for diaper changes, to cover the baby while sleeping or nursing . . . everything. Skip pretty, fluffy blankets, and definitely pass on the crib bumper (see above).

Don't buy wicker baskets. Not for putting toys in, not for storing little baby washcloths, not for anything. I know they're in all the catalog pictures, they look cute, and they have those pretty liners with the tie on the front that matches the changing table pad cover. And when you find them on clearance at Target it will be hard to resist. But . . . babies try to eat them, toddlers destroy them, and preschoolers use them as footstools. Someday you'll be pulling shards of wood out of your 15-month-old's mouth. Forget sweet and buy big, ugly, plastic bins from the get-go.

Most importantly, when E arrives, after you get through the blurry post-birth hemorrhaging fiasco, unravel the swaddling and pick her up. Hold her to your body. Do this as many hours a day as you are physically able. Someday you will regret not focusing on this skin-to-skin time until your third baby comes along. Do it for E. And for J, too.

What would you tell your first-time pregnant self?

This post was also shared at Connected Mom.

14 February 2012

Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently

Welcome to the February 2012 Carnival of Natural Parenting: Respectful Interactions with Other Parents
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have focused on how we can communicate with other parents compassionately.

This is not the first time I've written about being nice. I published a post just a few weeks ago wondering why we can't all get along better.

My goal here is to build on those posts further and present a few ideas for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner. Following are four things I consider when conversing about parenting, whether that be in person, online, with a friend, or with a random stranger.

Share information, not an agenda. I try really hard not to fall into the trap of, "If only you knew more, you'd agree with me!" Information is good. Knowledge is good. But sometimes enough is enough. Not everyone will have an epiphany when presented with my logical and compelling argument, and that's okay.

Focus on the positive. Take the high road. It's typically not worth getting into a negative, spiraling debate over anything. Instead, I calmly (okay, usually) state what positive practice works in our family, and let that speak for itself without getting drawn into the defensiveness. Many folks simply expend too much energy getting riled up. 

Be gentle with your words
Remember the audienceIt's so easy to preach to the choir. They nod along and share your posts. But what about everyone else? Is my tone kind? Could it be interpreted as condescending instead of helpful? Have I skimmed over thoughts/details because I am so used to communicating with likeminded individuals on the same page?

Everything in moderation. When I read or hear something that goes too far in one direction or comes across as too extreme, I tune it out. I'm guessing other parents do, too. With rare exception, few practices are all bad (or all good). Even theories/ideas I completely disagree with make a valid point sometimes. A little common ground can go a long way.

What about you? How do you peacefully share information with others? Leave a comment and share your tips.

Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:
(This list will be live and updated by afternoon February 14 with all the carnival links.)
  • How to Respond Respectfully to Unwanted Parenting Advice and Judgment — At Natural Parents Network, Amy (of Peace 4 Parents) offers some ways to deal with parenting advice and criticism, whether it's from your mom or the grocery store clerk.
  • Judgement is Natural - Just Don't Condemn — Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shared her views on why judgment is unavoidable and why the bigger issue is condemnation.
  • Four Ways To Share Your Parenting Philosophy Gently — Valerie at Momma in Progress shares tips for communicating with fellow parents in a positive, peaceful manner.
  • When Other Parents Disagree With You — Being an attachment parent is hard enough, but when you are Lily, aka Witch Mom, someone who does not enforce gender roles on her kid, who devalues capitalism and materialism, and instead prefers homeschooling and homesteading — you are bound to disagree with someone, somewhere!
  • Mama Bashing — Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on the hurt caused on the blogosphere by mama bashing and pleads for a more mindful way of dealing with differences.
  • Accentuate the Positive — Joella at Fine and Fair shares how she manages interactions with the parents she encounters in her work as a Parent Coach and Substance Abuse Counselor by building trusting relationships and affirming strengths.
  • The politics of mothers – keys to respectful interactions with other parents — Tara from MUMmedia offers great tips for handling the inevitable conflict of ideas and personalities in parenting/mother's groups, etc.
  • Trying to build our village — Sheila at A Gift Universe tells how she went from knowing no other moms in her new town to building a real community of mothers.
  • Internet Etiquette in the Mommy Wars — Shannon at The Artful Mama discusses how she handles heated topics in the "Mommy-space" online.
  • Parenting with Convictions — Sarah at Parenting God's Children encourages love and support for fellow parents and their convictions.
  • How To Be Respectful Despite Disagreeing On Parenting Styles... — Jenny at I'm a Full-Time Mummy shares her two cents' worth on how to have respectful interactions with other parents despite disagreeing on parenting styles.
  • Public RelationsMomma Jorje touches on keeping the peace when discussing parenting styles.
  • Navigating Parenting Politics — Since choosing an alternative parenting style means rejecting the mainstream, Miriam at The Other Baby Book shares a few simple tips that can help avoid hurt feelings.
  • Hiding in my grace cave — Lauren at Hobo Mama wants to forget that not all parents are as respectful and tolerant as the people with whom she now surrounds herself.
  • Carnival of Natural Parenting - Respectful Interactions with Other Parents — Wolfmother at Fabulous Mama Chronicles explores how her attitude has changed regarding sharing information and opinions with others and how she now chooses to keep the peace during social outings.
  • Empathy and respect — Helen at zen mummy tries to find her zen in the midst of the Mummy Wars.
  • Not Holier Than Thou — Amyables at Toddler in Tow muses about how she's learned to love all parents, despite differences, disagreements, and awkward conversations.
  • Nonviolent Communication and Unconditional Love — Wendylori at High Needs Attachment reflects on the choice to not take offense as the key to honest and open communication.
  • Respectful Parenting As a Way of Life — Sylvia at MaMammalia writes about using her parenting philosophy as a guide to dealing with other parents who make very different choices from her.
  • Homeschooling: Why Not? — Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares how parents can often make homeschooling work for their family even if, at first glance, it may seem daunting.
  • If You Can’t Say Something Nice… — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now tells her philosophy for online and offline interactions … a philosophy based primarily on a children’s movie.
  • Different Rules for Different Families — Mandy at Living Peacefully with Children discusses how differences between families affect our children, and how that can be a good thing.
  • Respectful Interaction With Other Parents — Luschka at Diary of a First Child shares the ways she surrounds herself with a like-minded support network, so that she can gently advocate in her dealings with those whose opinions on parenting differ vastly from her own.
  • Parenting as a mirror — Rather than discrediting others' parenting styles, Kate Wicker discusses why she tries to focus on doing right rather than being right — and why she’s also not afraid to show others that she’s a heartfelt but imperfect mama just trying to be the best mom for her family.
  • The One Thing {Most} Parents Have In Common: They Try Their Best — Christine at African Babies Don't Cry finds interacting with other parents easier once she accepts that they are all just trying their best, just like her.
  • Finding your mama-groove: 5 ways to eliminate judge/be judged metalityMudpieMama reveals 5 ways of thinking that have helped her find her mama-groove and better navigate tricky parenting discussions.
  • Speaking Up For Those Who Can't — We've all had those moments when someone said something hurtful or insensitive, or downright rude that just shocks you to your core, and you're stunned into silence. Afterwards, you go home and think "Gosh, I wish I said…" This post by Arpita at Up Down, And Natural is for all the breastfeeding mamas who have thought "Gosh, I wish I said…"
  • Thank you for your opinion — Gaby at Tmuffin shares her go-to comment when she feels like others are judging her parenting style.
  • Mending — A playground conversation about jeans veers off course until a little mending by Kenna at Million Tiny Things is needed.
  • The Thing You Don't Know — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about what she believes is one of the most important things you can consider when it comes to compassionate communication with other parents.
  • 3 Tips for Interacting with Other Parents Respectfully When You Disagree with Them — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares what she has learned about respectful interactions on her parenting journey.
  • Peacefully Keeping My Cool: Quotes from Ana — How do you keep your cool? Ana from Pandamoly shares some of her favorite retorts and conversation starters when her Parenting Ethos comes into question.
  • Kind Matters — Carrie at Love Notes Mama discusses how she strives to be the type of person she'd want to meet.
  • Doing it my way but respecting your highway. — Terri from Child of the Nature Isle is determined to walk with her family on the road less travelled whether you like it or not!
  • Saying "I'm Right and You're Wrong" Seldom Does Much To Improve Your Cause... — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment writes about how living by example motivates her actions and interactions with others.
  • Have another kid and you won't care — Cassie of There's a Pickle in My Life, after having her second child, knows exactly how to respond to opposing advice.
  • Ten Tips to Communicate Respectfully, Even When You Disagree — What if disagreements with our partners, our children or even complete strangers ultimately led to more harmony and deeper connections? They can! Dionna at Code Name: Mama shares ten tips to strengthen our relationships in the midst of conflict.
  • A Little Light Conversation — Zoie at TouchstoneZ explains why respect needs to be given to every parent unconditionally.
  • Why I used to hide the formula box — Laura at Pug in the Kitchen finally talks about how judgement between parents changed her views on how she handles differences in parenting.
  • Assumptions — Nada at minimomist discusses how not everyone is able to nurse, physically, mentally, or emotionally.
  • Shushing Your Inner Judgey McJudgerson — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction knows that judging others is easy to do, but recognizing that we all parent from different perspectives takes work.
  • Respectfully Interacting with Others Online — Lani at Boobie Time Blog discusses the importance of remaining respectful behind the disguise of the internet.
  • Presumption of Good Will — Why — and how — Crunchy Con Mommy is going to try to assume the best of people she disagrees with on important issues.
  • Being Gracious with Parenting Advice — Tips for giving and receiving parenting advice with grace from Lisa at My World Edenwild.
  • Explain, Smile, Escape — Don't know what to do when you're confronted by another parent who disagrees with you? Amy at Anktangle shares a story from her life along with a helpful method for navigating these types of tricky situations (complete with a handy flow chart!).
  • Balancing Cultures and ChoicesDulce de leche discusses the challenges of walking the tightrope between generations while balancing cultural and family ties.
  • Linky - Parenting Peacefully with Social MediaHannabert's Mom discusses parenting in a social media world.

09 February 2012

Why I Hate MNO (and What I Do Instead)

When my first child was born, I joined a local moms' support group. One of the big things everyone kept going on and on about was Moms' Night Out and its importance for keeping mom sane, having fun, enjoying "me" time, saving the planet, and promoting world peace.

Okay, maybe not those last two. But . . .  they certainly made a huge deal about it.

So, when Agent E was three months old, I gave it a try. I came home (early) to a hysterical baby who wouldn't take a bottle and simply missed her mommy. This was early in my mothering and a lot of my parenting philosophy hadn't really come together for me yet. I tried again two more times (over the course of the next couple of years). While the second attempt turned out okay (in that toddler E did fine with Dad and Momma didn't have a panic attack), I ended up coming home early from the third attempt to nurse baby Agent J. 

To sum: I did not have fun, I missed my baby as if a part of my own body were cut off, and I spent the entire evening uneasy.

Still, I listened to the voices that insisted I had to leave my baby, I had to teach her to get along without me, I had to do this for myself. This was great for moms and I needed it! Right? Why didn't this work for me? Why wasn't I looking forward to this? What was wrong with me?

Turns out, nothing. It's just not how I'm wired.

Not until I participated in a Bible study some time later did it finally hit me. A chapter in the book we used described introverts and extroverts in a way I had never heard. I always assumed that being an introvert meant you didn't like to be with people, and being an extrovert meant you did. It made perfect sense that I wasn't that into MNO as an introvert, but there was more to it. I don't dislike being with people. I enjoy family gatherings, small group discussions, meeting other moms at the park, and joining friends for coffee. However, that's not how I energize myself when I'm feeling low.

Being an introvert vs. an extrovert is more about how you refuel when you need to recharge your batteries. An a-ha moment for sure. Somehow I had managed to find myself in a group of extroverts who thrived on being able to go out once a month (or more) and let loose, have a few glasses of wine, and be part of a big group in a festive atmosphere. 

I, however, much prefer to go out during the day. I am not a night person. I absolutely hate leaving my babies at night. (Even my oldest "baby" who is now almost six.) I don't feel recharged; I feel on edge and restless. I need "reset" time, just like every mom does, but in a different way.

What do I do instead? I do the things that help me (not the mom next door, or my best friend, or well-meaning relatives) to refocus and enjoy parenting with a clear, relaxed mind. I get up early to have some quiet time for reading, writing, and thinking. I employ the use of a sitter a few hours a week (early in the day) when Hubby is out to sea for extended periods. When I meet with friends it's during the day, not at night, not at bedtime. I arrange mom/kid play dates with one or two other families at a time, and avoid big, organized "mom and tot" events.

And that is what works for this introverted Momma.

What energizes you, fellow parents?

I’m glad you stopped by today, friend. If you would like to connect, you can find me attempting to be social on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

06 February 2012

My Practice of . . . Learning at Home

Today I'm linking up with Sarah at Emerging Mummy for the Practices of Parenting Carnival. Click on over and check it out.

I never intended to homeschool my Agents. At one point I even mocked the whole idea of education at home. Now, however, it has become—in five short months—simply a way of doing things around here. I cannot imagine not doing it.

We're approaching our homeschooling differently this year. Back in September I had grandiose plans of how it would go down: routines, lessons, goals. Oh my! This worked okay for a while. Then I just thought one day: What if I let it all go?

What if I started focusing on making better use of our my time instead of specific schedules? What if I stopped worrying about what I could teach her, and concentrated on what excited her about learning? What if I let go of my expectations and let E take the lead?

Sometimes we climb in a box and
pretend it's a pirate ship
Some folks might call this unschooling, although that term tends to scare the uninitiated, mostly because of sensationalized portrayals in the media. I prefer to look at it as Agent-Led Education. Perhaps Cooperative Learning. (Does Organic Education sound too crunchy?) We go about our day and this amazing thing happens: We all gain new knowledge. Every. Single. Day. Turns out those crazy homeschoolers were right: Learning really is everywhere.

Anyway, I came to this conclusion: I would much rather have her "studying" naturally on her own for an hour because she wants to than have her compliantly "doing school" with me for five hours because I've forced asked her to.

And I think it will be okay for a while. You know, until she's six.