Oh hi, it’s me again

Whenever I go for a while without blogging, I get into a negative feedback loop about it.

It’s been a while, so my next post needs to be something Big and Important.

I don’t have the time/energy to write any Big and Important posts right now.

[days pass]

[cycle repeats]

So this post is a deliberately short note to break the cycle.

I’m almost halfway through this pregnancy.  The baby is healthy, so far as I can tell; he or she is a strong kicker.  I’m healthy by the numbers, but ridiculously fatigued, which is pretty much the story of my adult life in one sentence.

Little Boy’s two-year-old cuteness deserves its own post.  The Terrible Twos get a bad rap, I think.  He can be plenty obnoxious sometimes (and has an inexhaustible supply of bouncy energy), but he’s also smart and thoughtful and independent and deeply engaged with his world.

How are you?

There’s new advice for new parents

It’s been a busy week when it comes to telling new parents what they should and shouldn’t do.  The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released several new policies, and the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) reviewed and updated their recommendations on breastfeeding support.  Even though Little Boy is well past infancy, I’m still very interested in the science of infant care (and we might decide to have another kid), so I’ve been paying attention.  Let’s take a look at each of the new policies.

Kids & screen time

The general message of the AAP’s new policy statement on media use by young children is familiar: choose age-appropriate media, talk to your kids about what they’re watching, and turn off the TV (and other devices) before bed.  But there are a few key updates worth pointing out:

  • They’ve lowered the age of “no digital media” from 2 years to 18 months: you are now allowed to introduce “high-quality programming” to your 18-month-old if you so choose.  I’m pleased with this recommendation, because it agrees with my observations of child development.  Little Boy was 17 or 18 months old when he started really caring about Sesame Street.  By age 2, he knew all the characters and could identify the letter C (is for Cookie) in other contexts.  The old ‘kids don’t get anything out of TV before age 2’ policy seemed frankly incorrect.
  • For children under 18 months, the “avoid digital media” recommendation now explicitly says video-chatting is OK.  It’s a little thing—I mean, we all kind of figured that Skyping with Grandma didn’t really count as “screen time”—but it shows that the AAP put some thought into the various uses of media in modern society.
  • I also appreciate that this statement is included: “…there are intermittent times (eg, medical procedures, airplane flights) when media is useful as a soothing strategy…”

Safe infant sleep

Again, most of the recommendations in the AAP’s new policy statement on infant sleep safety are things we’ve heard before.  Babies should sleep on their backs.  Avoid blankets and soft bedding.  Don’t smoke.  Offer a pacifier (nobody quite knows why, but pacifier use is associated with lower rates of SIDS).  In a few cases, though, the details have changed:

  • Room-sharing (baby sleeps in parents’ room but in his/her own crib or bassinet) is now explicitly encouraged for the first 6–12 months.  Popular media articles seem to be treating this as a shocking new development, but the old safe sleep policy already recommended room-sharing, just without a specific length of time.  The science around this is up for debate, though; it’s not clear if the references cited by the AAP really show strong support for room-sharing.  (Some thoughts from educated folk here and here.)
  • The AAP remains very strongly against bed-sharing; however, they now admit that parents get really fricking tired caring for new babies and sometimes falling asleep with your baby in bed is the least bad option.  While bed-sharing is most definitely not for me, I appreciate their concession to reality:

    However, the AAP acknowledges that parents frequently fall asleep while feeding the infant. Evidence suggests that it is less hazardous to fall asleep with the infant in the adult bed than on a sofa or armchair, should the parent fall asleep.

Supporting breastfeeding

The recommendation statement by the USPSTF, accompanied by an in-depth statistical analysis, addresses whether anything hospitals and medical professionals do actually increases breastfeeding rates, and if so, what interventions are most helpful.  They conclude, “with moderate certainty,” that breastfeeding support has a “moderate net benefit.”

That’s not terribly surprising, but there are some really, really interesting specifics in the report, highlighted in a Journal of the American Medical Association editorial:

  • There is no evidence that the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) does any good.  If you’re unfamiliar with the BFHI, the idea is that hospitals can be certified if they implement a set of ten “baby-friendly” (read: breastfeeding-friendly) steps.  Some of these steps are controversial; for instance, if a new mother wants to formula-feed, the BFHI requires that hospital staff “educate her about the possible consequences to the health of her infant.”  Anyway, the USPSTF report determined that “individual-level interventions” (seeing a lactation consultant, attending a breastfeeding support group, etc.) were useful, while “system-level interventions” (the BFHI and other hospital policies) were not.
  • There is no benefit (in terms of breastfeeding duration) to completely avoiding formula during the newborn period.  Moms who supplement with formula before their milk comes in are just as successful at breastfeeding!  This is a big deal, because current breastfeeding advice tends to take an “any formula ever will ruin your breastfeeding relationship” approach.
  • Pacifiers are also OK!  Pacifier use is not associated with breastfeeding problems.  In fact, because pacifier use is associated with lower SIDS risk, the JAMA editorial goes so far as to say that

    routine counseling to avoid pacifiers may very well be ethically problematic.

Interestingly, when the USPSTF posted a draft of their recommendations back in April, there was apparently some concern about their choice to talk about the “support” of breastfeeding instead of the “promotion” of breastfeeding.  Because people are weird about this.

That gorilla incident illustrates how mothers are basically screwed

The internet’s perpetual outrage machine is busy right now with a sad incident at the Cincinnati zoo.  (Quick summary: small child fell into gorilla enclosure, gorilla behaved threateningly, child survived but gorilla did not.)  A significant chunk of that outrage is directed at the child’s mother: Why didn’t she see him entering the enclosure?  Why wasn’t she watching? 

Now, I wasn’t there.  I don’t know exactly what happened.  Maybe this particular mother was being genuinely neglectful.  Maybe she just had a lapse for a moment and made a mistake.  I’m sure it’s being thoroughly investigated, as it should be.

But all this B.S. about the mother “not doing her job” and the like?  That needs to stop.  If you’re tempted to say that, stop and ask yourself: Have you always done your own job to 100% perfection?  Have you never made an error, out of ever single day that you’ve ever worked? 

From a safe distance, it’s easy to say that she should’ve done this or she should’ve done that, but to do so ignores the cultural context in which women parent.  (And yes, it’s moms who face the fiercest judgement.)  I’ve read piles of “the kid should have been on a leash!” comments, often with a stated or unstated “if she couldn’t handle him” accompanying.  Which is the irony of those very comments—to put your small child on a leash might be convenient and safe, but it will get you branded as someone who “can’t handle” their rambunctious toddler.

People are damn judgemental about those leashes.  “Parenting won’t include those for us,” sniffed one woman in a now-deleted Tweet when the topic came up on my feed a few weeks ago.  A big chunk of American culture has decided that confining children in any way is a mark of lazy parenting—just look at how weird people are about playpens these days.

Another recurring comment I’ve seen is that the mom shouldn’t have brought the kid out at all if the kid was a known “runner.”  Because apparently the punishment for being an actual human being and not a perfect robot is that you don’t get to go anywhere.

For goodness’ sake, people, listen to yourselves!

If you use a leash, you get judged.  If you don’t use a leash and your kid does anything untoward, you get judged.  If you stay three inches from your kid the whole trip, you’re helicoptering.  If you stay three feet away, you’re neglectful.  If your child is any less than a perfect angel, or you are less than 100% perfect yourself, someone will think that you should’ve just stayed home.  But if you stay home, you’re not providing your child with the “enrichment” they need.

We can’t win.  All we can do is hope that our imperfections don’t make national news.

Our evolving toddler TV policy, part III

I have a confession to make: Little Boy’s been watching more TV.  Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Curious George have permanently joined Sesame Street (still his favorite) in rotation, with an occasional smattering of Mighty Machines and Reading Rainbow.  There are two main drivers of this increased screen time.

The first reason is that Little Boy has been sick a lot.  And I mean A Lot.  Just this week, for example: he came down with pink eye on Tuesday and is running a fever today.  Books and friends warned us that the first year of daycare would be bad, but we didn’t realize just quite how much illness it would involve.  I’ve been hoping that it would taper off as cold and flu season ended, but no such luck yet.

Anyway, as I’ve mentioned before, the rules get relaxed when people are sick.  When Little Boy is uncomfortable and cranky, you can bet that we’re going to try to distract him from that discomfort however we can.  We also read, and go for walks, and snuggle, but yeah, TV is a big part of sick time.  After all, what do I do when I’m sick?  I lay on the couch and entertain myself with screens of the TV or tablet variety.

The second reason for the additional TV is that Little Boy has grown to be highly mobile and curious.  He’s also becoming increasingly social and, I think, gets frankly rather bored stuck at home with his mom and dad.  This combination means that he can get into lots of mischief.  Now, that normally isn’t too big of an issue, since we offer plenty of supervision, but sometimes as a parent you have to get things done that require your attention, and that’s where TV can help.

Do I feel guilty about this?  Of course.  I’ll always feel guilty about something.  But Little Boy has made recent leaps in verbal development, and he loves to read books and stack blocks and chase bubbles.  Television isn’t stunting him in some kind of terrible way.  In the end, I suspect it’s like most things: use thoughtfully and in moderation.


I wasn’t quite expecting this topic to turn into a series, but hey.  Here are parts I and II.

“Educate yourself” & “Do your research”

If you’re a parent on the internet, you’ve likely come across the “do your research” folks.  They’re the anti-vax idiots, the über-natural nuts, the ones who are convinced that formula is toxic and that any amount of crying irreparably damages your baby’s brain.  You find it a lot among fad dieters, too.  The phrase “do your research” is an immediate signal that the speaker has no idea what constitutes real research and should henceforth be ignored.

“Educate yourself” tends to come up in a very different context: diversity initiatives. “How to be a good ally” lists, that sort of thing.  Unlike the anti-vaxxers, the writers of these equity-related missives generally have the facts on their side.  Their motivation is also different: they just want the people who interact with them to stop being ignorant trolls.

However, these phrases share a common fallacy: that more information will necessarily convert the reader/listener to the side of the writer/speaker.  That’s laughably wrong in the case of the anti-vaxxers and “natural” nuts.  Such people seem to believe that they’re the bearers of a secret truth, breathlessly informing you of “facts” from Dr. Google.  It doesn’t seem to enter their worldview that we have already heard all that stuff and have considered and rejected it.

Things are much more complicated when you’re telling us how to be good allies to the underprivileged.  Reading other perspectives is absolutely a plus when it comes to being more tolerant.  But… one must always remember that not everyone is going to interpret the same information in the same way.  I’ve lurked in quite a few diversity-related conversations where disagreement was incorrectly blamed on ignorance, and people who genuinely wanted to help decided not to bother.

The moral of the story is: be careful when you say things like this.  Don’t assume that the reason someone has different opinions is because they don’t know as much as you.

The blessing of Tylenol

Little Boy woke in the night with a mid-level fever, moaning and crying and generally unhappy.  I gave him an age-appropriate dose of Tylenol, then sat back in the rocking chair to soothe his wee self.  As we snuggled, his hot head pressing against my shoulder, I felt a surge of gratitude for that basic drug, and for all of modern medicine.  I don’t have to sit through the night, listening to his cries of discomfort and praying for the fever to break.  I can make him comfortable and loved and relaxed and give him the sleep his body needs.

What’s your favorite part of modern medicine? 

Turns out it’s hard to buy a boy a pink shirt

Quite a while back, I wrote about the importance of pink shirts.  Actually, that post is about how I don’t want “gender equality” to mean “girls can be like boys, but not vice versa.”  Pink shirts for boys are just one of the more obvious examples; still, it became important to me that Little Boy have one.  He’s too young to care about his wardrobe—why not offer him a wide selection?

It should’ve been so easy.  Walk into store.  Buy pink shirt.  Dress baby.  But it turned out to be a lot harder than that.

In the store, I got whacked in the face with my own ingrained gender biases.  I couldn’t bring myself to buy my Little Boy a ruffly purple shirt or a sweater with pink sparkles.  I don’t like that, I thought.  And it’s true, I don’t tend to wear sparkly ruffly things myself.  But if my child were a girl, would I have bought it?  How much was my conception of “boy” getting in the way of me purchasing some cute stuff for my kid?

It wasn’t entirely my fault.  A plain ol’ pink T-shirt, it turns out, is a surprisingly rare commodity.  The toddler boys’ section of the department store is filled with staples—T-shirts, jeans, thermals—in a good set of basic colors.  Toddler girls, on the other hand, get to choose from the aforementioned sparkly ruffly things.  “Basics” don’t seem to be a part of girls’ clothing.

After putting it off for far too long, I ordered a couple of shirts for Little Boy from Primary.com, a website promising basic children’s clothing in a variety of colors.  I still had to order from the “girls” section of the website—as if 18-month-old children didn’t all have the same body type!  And the girls’ clothes, of course, run small, so we had to order a size up.

On Monday, Little Boy wore one of his new shirts, in a pleasant lavender, to daycare.  The other new shirt is a jewel-toned pink.  They’re not the most outrageous colors in his dresser drawer; that honor belongs to the blinding plaids given by a well-meaning relative.  Nevertheless, I found myself rather unreasonably nervous.  Would anyone notice?  Would anyone care?

If anyone did notice, they didn’t care.

Of toddlers and tantrums

As you might have deduced from that last post, Little Boy has entered the tantrum age.  He’s smart and curious and loving and he makes noises that sound like a cute gremlin and he giggles like crazy when we tuck him in at night—and he throws a fit when he doesn’t get his way.  Sometimes those fits are rather dramatic.  He’ll fling himself on the ground and angrily refuse all attempts at comfort.

You know what?  I kind of get it.

Some people say tantrums as kids trying to get their way, but I don’t think they’re that, not really.  Trying to get his way comes before the tantrum, when Little Boy communicates via word and gesture the thing it is that he so desperately wants.  Despite a vocabulary of less than a dozen words, it’s usually pretty easy to understand him.

No, the tantrum is the frustration at being denied.  It’s an expression of the anger and vexation and helplessness that comes when you don’t understand why Mommy said no, we can’t put on our shoes and go to the park right now.  I suppose that a kid could learn that tantrums get them what they want, depending on the parent’s response, but they don’t start out that way.

When I say I get it, what I mean is this: I know what it’s like to feel hopelessly frustrated, to the point of great anguish, by something that’s out of my control.  I know what it’s like to be angry about something other people think is totally irrational, or even by something I think is irrational.  Little Boy is experiencing totally valid feelings, even if he’s acting on them in a somewhat socially inappropriate way.

Which isn’t to say that Little Boy’s tantrums aren’t sometimes frustrating and tiresome for me and his dad.  Just that I get where he’s coming from.

An honest chat between parents

My husband and I often touch base on chat when we first arrive at our workstations.  Here’s how that went this morning, when I got to campus after dropping Little Boy off at daycare:

Me:  At school.  Grumpy boy this morning.

Husband:  No kidding.

Me:  He was OK playing with stuff while I signed him in, but got very sad when I handed him to [Teacher A] outside.

Husband:  I don’t know what’s up with him lately.

Me:  Me neither.

Husband:  Well, daycare’s problem for a while.

Me:  Yes, thank goodness.

Husband: #realparents

Me:  “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again!”*

Husband:  Heck yes.

Me:  I think it used to be more culturally acceptable to say that.  Now we have to go through this act of how much we miss our kids when they start school.**

Husband:  Bleh. 

Husband:  I’m going to channel Red Forman.

Me:  LOL
 

*For those who don’t immediately recognize it, this is a line from the carol “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.”

**To be fair, I did miss Little Boy when he started daycare.  But that was one of the best things that’s ever happened for our mother-son relationship.

We need to banish the phrase “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent”

If you’re spent any time on the “mommy internet” (forums, blogs, etc.), you’re bound to have come across the self-righteous mother.  You know, the one who made all the “best” choices in pregnancy and birth and parenting and can’t imagine that—gasp!—other people’s lives might be different.  One of Ms. Self-Righteous’s favorite things to say is this: “Well, that’s just what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Kid wakes up every 45 minutes all night long?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Bleeding nipples from trying to breastfeed?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

Feeling stuck at home and missing adult interaction?  “That’s what you signed up for when you became a parent.”

It’s bratty, it’s common, and it needs to be banished forever.

For one, it rests on an utterly ridiculous assumption: that the person in question “signed up” to be a parent.  Some people do.  I did: the pregnancy that brought me Little Boy was very carefully planned and sought after.  But half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, so chances are good, when you’re speaking to a strange woman on the internet, that she didn’t actually “sign up” to be a parent.  For some people, it just happens.

Second, do you know what this attitude reminds me of?  Hazing.  “You can’t complain about having to run around campus naked in sub-zero temperatures,” says the bro.  “It’s what you signed up for when you pledged this fraternity.”  We don’t allow that kind of excuse when it comes to college students, why should we allow it with new parents?

Third, while all parenting necessitates sacrifice, there is essentially no one specific hardship that is required by 100% of all parents.  Some women (me!) breastfeed with minimal pain.  Some babies actually do go to sleep easily, and some very lucky parents can afford a night nurse or postpartum doula to help when they don’t.  Heaps and heaps of parents balance parenthood and working, or parenthood and community service.  There’s no checklist of things you could “sign up for” to be a parent, even if you wanted to.

Fourth, it’s just plain mean.  Becoming a parent is a huge adjustment, and people need safe spaces to talk about that.  Even if someone is venting about something that seems completely shallow to you (“I can’t go out to the bar as often anymore!”), don’t be a brat.  They’re going through a major life transition and they need empathy, not self-righteousness.  If you can’t muster up any empathy, STFU.

Fifth and finally, this phrase and its variants tell us something very important about the speaker:  When you say this, what you’re really saying is that you’re insecure about your own parenting choices.  You’re angry and bitter about other people taking the “easy way out.”  That’s why one of my husband’s relatives was so insistent that formula-feeding mothers were “selfish”—she couldn’t handle the thought that it would’ve been OK if she’d switched to formula and skipped the hardships she’d faced while breastfeeding.  (For another example along the same lines, see this comment.)  It’s again very much like hazing: “I did it, so you must too, or else you’re not worthy.”

Look, sometimes you have to own your own decisions and accept that you did things the hard way.  We, for example, played a crazy game of alternating shifts to keep Little Boy out of daycare until he was eight months old.  In retrospect, that was unnecessary (except possibly for the money side of things).  We could’ve put him in daycare several months earlier and maybe been happier, without any sacrifice at all to his well-being.

You know what we don’t do?  We don’t go around trying to justify our decision by telling everyone that babies need to stay home with their parents for the first eight months.  We’re OK with the decision that we made, even if we might do it differently in retrospect.  Because here’s the thing: when it comes to parenting, if you really made the best choices for your family, then other people’s choices don’t matter.*  So take responsibility for your decisions and don’t be a smug jerk to compensate.

*Except for vaccination.  You’re putting my kid at risk if you don’t vaccinate yours.  Vaccines are awesome.  Make sure your children get them all.

What other parenting-related phrases should be banned forever?