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. 

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.
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.

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.