Showing posts with label Dads. Show all posts

Practical Advice for How to Fail and Be a Good Parent

The child is clearly not strapped in... but IS learning social skills!
Parenting is an exercise that humbles everyone. Once you find out that you are going to become a parent, whether it's by peeing on a stick, hearing the results of your partner peeing on a stick, receiving a phone call, or accepting delivery from the stork, you vow that you will do everything right for your soon-to-be progeny.  And it's that sense of responsibility, and setting of high expectations, that can be so crushing when things don't go as you planned.

The sense of parental failure is often exacerbated by looking around and seeing all the parents who you think aren't failing (oh and know-it-all bloggers, of course).  But, when you observe parents who seem calm in the face of a volcanic tantrum, brave in the face of a daring climber, equipped in the face of a hurt child, you are only seeing them in that one shining moment.  You can never know if they are ashamed that their child threw the tantrum, climbed too high, or got hurt in the first place.  That parent may very well be snatching victory out of the jaws of parental failure.

And that there is the secret all experienced parents everywhere know - the measure is not in avoiding parent fails, but in the response. Some days the best you can do is hold it together until bedtime (look for my recommended wines that pair well with self disappointment, coming soon!). Other days, you can aim to fail in ways that cancel each other out.  So here are some real life examples of turning parenting lemons into lemonade.

  1. 1. Does seeing the ever present and insurmountable piles of laundry stress you out? Put the hamper in the closet and stop worrying about it.  Let's be real.  Your kid will love nothing more than wearing a pajama top and a tutu to school and everyone will compliment his creativity and brave sense of style.

  2. 2. Did you wake up in the morning refreshed only to realize the baby monitor has been off the whole time? You win - the baby sleep trained herself and you got a good night of sleep. Enjoy it!
  1. 3. My daughter went through a phase of hating the bath and this really bothered me. Eventually I just shrugged and let her bathe infrequently, figuring it saved time and built her natural immune system.

  2. 4. I constantly forget to give my baby his Vitamin D supplement. Then I remember that I forget to put sunblock on him too - it's called letting nature take its course.

  3. 5. Skip the headache of baby food.  Is your baby eating food off your plate? Congrats! Chili fries is now baby food (beans totally have protein and are a vegetable, right?) and you have an excuse to eat chili fries. 

  4. 6. Proudly parent your second child in the relaxed way you always wished you could parent your first. By "relaxed" I mean that your second child will be largely left to their own devices while you attend to the heretofore unimaginable antics of your first.  I think this is called "encouraging independent play".

  5. 7. Finally, teach your children how to make amends after losing your temper by modeling that behavior yourself.  After all, losing your temper is inevitable. (If your kid hasn't unscrewed all the light bulbs in your room while they were supposed to be napping, or poked the baby in the eye a couple of times, just take a moment to picture them doing it... feel that need to scream yet?). Demonstrating to your child how to act in the face of strong emotions is the real victory.

Dealing with the Mom Guilt

Mom guilt... It's a gift that keeps on giving, an internet meme, a stark reality that really only comes into focus with impending or ascended motherhood.  It seems to be a fact of life when living with children in 2015.  In fact, it's not even really just for moms! Jim Gaffigan devotes an entire chapter to feeling guilty about his "insufficient" dad skilzzz in his hilarious parenting memoir, Dad Is Fat!

It would probably be easier to write a list of things I haven't felt guilty about as a parent.  However, recently, the constant nagging feeling of not measuring up has gotten tired and so have I.  So, 3 years and 2 kids into this parenting gig, I've decided it's time to do something to fight back the niggling feelings of inadequacy.  They say identifying the problem is the first step to finding a solution.  So, here is by no means an exclusive list of thoughts that have passed through my addled sleep deprived brain at some point, often in rapid, contradicting succession.

Things I've felt guilty about

Food

  • - OMG I'm not feeding my child sufficiently healthy food!
  • - OMG I'm depriving my child of a "childhood" because she doesn't know about cookies!
 

Relationships

  • - OMG am I doing enough to foster a good relationship between my kids and their extended family?
  • - OMG I'm a horrible, neglectful mother for how much time my daughter spends with her grandparents, aren't I?

Sleep

  • - OMG I just accidentally let my baby cry himself to sleep because I dared to use the bathroom for literately a minute... and he was crying... and then he fell asleep!
  • - OMG I'm not fostering good sleep habits because my baby is still not sleeping consistently...

Play

  • - OMG I'm an ungrateful parent because instead of getting on the floor and playing with my daughter I'm tooling around the internet while she plays by herself!
  • - OMG I'm failing at teaching my child persistence by not making her play by herself more!

Body Image

  • - OMG I need to lose this baby weight or my kids will never learn to respect their own bodies and value their health!
  • - OMG what if my calorie counting leads my daughter to have an eating disorder!

"Having it all"

  • - OMG What if my children won't know how much I love them because I am always rushing them out the door in the morning so I can get to work at a reasonable hour?!
  • - OMG But if I don't work I'll be a terrible role model for my daughter (also we'll get evicted)!

The best part of course is that often these opposing thoughts on a given topic enter my head within seconds of each other... all... the... time!

Ok crazy lady... so what's your plan?

Returning to the basics

We all know that many of life's problems can be solved with the obvious trifecta of sleep, therapy, and wine.  Sure the former is illusive with a toddler and a 5 month old, but even prioritizing just 10 minutes of "me" quiet time a day can do wonders for the psyche.  Making time for therapy can be hard too but worth the effort when necessary.  At least, wine is easier to schedule and always takes a rain check.

Finding my peeps!

Some people find their tribe in fellow parents at the playground, some strengthen their bond with their own parents once they are humbled by their own offspring.  These are all great, but ever since I was a nerdy little teenager, I have found solace in reading essays by people who've been there and done that.  For this reason I love, and often reread, the wonderful essay of how no one is failing at motherhood from Pregnant Chicken.  Likewise, the collection of essays in The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood to Fit Reality is a fantastic solace.  This book normalized so many of the feelings I've outlined above, and others I hadn't even verbalized to myself yet.

Treating myself like I would a friend, or better yet my child...

Finally, it occurred to me recently, that if a friend of mine said any of the guilty thoughts I outlined above out loud to me,  I would instantly reassure her that she was a fine parent and silly to worry. But, I never extend that kind of charitable thinking to myself.  Better yet, when dealing with my children, I know that I need to parent to their strengths.  I would never advocate teaching a cautious child to swim by throwing them in the deep end (metaphorically speaking).  I know better than to try and talk or cajole my stubborn daughter into a new food, because I know that unless she thinks it's her idea, it's a lost cause.  Parenting to the child you have is a Parenting 101 move.  However, for some reason, I never use this most basic of techniques to reassure myself.  Instead, I feel guilty for not being crafty mom, a bento box ninja mom, a super involved school mom, etc.  

So here goes.  I am not, nor will I ever be, doing Pinterest worthy art projects with my kids.  It's not my thing and that's ok.  I have nothing but adoration and respect for parents who can entertain their kids at home with projects. I bow down to your patience and creativity... but that's not me.  My mom super power (and we all have a couple, if we're honest with ourselves) is getting everyone bundled out the door for an outing, in all kinds of weather.  I take my kids outside to play every day.  It's my thing... often we are one of only a few families out there in the Boston cold.  So if you pass me and my kids and think to yourself "I wish I could do that," know that I will never be making use of the puppetry kit you're taking home to your children. It's not my strength and I'm not that mom (though you should totally invite my kids over sometime... I'll bring snacks!).

So from now on, I resolve to focus on my super powers and appreciate yours, without guilt, as best I can.  And if that fails... there's always the wine.


Photo credit: Working from home - babywearing style! under Creative Commons License.

Things to do - Music Together

So I played the violin as a kid. I also went to a million concerts in high school, owned too many CDs, and may or may not have used a lot of Napster in college (is that what us 1st wave millennials will say wistfully about college?). Suffice it to say, music is important to me...
That said, I didn't practice the violin, mostly went to radio festivals and other concerts in 1000+-seat auditoriums, and never heard of a band before you did (though my college roommate did, so I was like 6 weeks ahead of all of you on Modest Mouse). Suffice it to say, music isn't that important.

So how to find a good mix of goofy kids fun, some active dance, lots of instruments, and a dash of music theory without devolving into silly songs you'll hate hearing, or kids doing hand motions and forgetting about the music entirely? Alternatively, I don't need to pressure them to Carnegie Hall (ever, but especially in preschool). Music is important, but it's not that important.

Music Together

Music Together fits this niche pretty well. They use a mix of classic and new children's songs, sourced across many cultures, and with a rotating batch of instruments and other activities. The class is intended for a wide age range (6 mos - 5 years) so all the kids get some exposure to kids bigger and smaller and it's easy for siblings to attend together. They give you a CD (and MP3 download access) for all the songs so you can practice at home (or in your car, they say, but whatever). The attitude overall is "anyone can sing, anyone can play, and find fun ways to incorporate music into your life," which seems great to me.

It's not perfect, but my three criticisms are minor. 1) The attempt to be multicultural occasionally feels like it borders on cultural appropriation and/or parody. 2) Someone has clearly decided it's in their interest to tweak classic tunes just enough to make them copyrightable, which can feel a bit ridiculous at times. 3) The whole thing fits pretty neatly into a formula class-to-class and session-to-session, which is great for toddler brains, but I found that I had to take a couple sessions off once in a while to regain my enthusiasm and interest in going week after week.

To their credit, they are extremely welcoming of all sorts of family and work situations. As a Dad who works part-time and thus finds himself often in Stay-at-Home-Mommy-land, a program that expects/welcomes Dads, grandparents, nannies, or whatever other person you have caring for your kid is refreshing. The couple times I've dropped in on a weekend class to makeup for a missed session, it's been a lot of Dads too, which is great.

Music Together works as a franchise, so you'll need to find who operates it where you live. If you're in Boston, it's Groovy Baby Music and if you click through on this referral, it'll even net you a $15 discount.



Milk bags! (the kind that go in your freezer)

As we've discussed elsewhere on this site, if you're exclusively breastfeeding and have sufficient supply then it's a great idea to build up a stash in your freezer.  The best way to do that is by storing your milk in freezer bags.  (Here are some other good tips from around the web).

There's definitely good articles out on the Web comparing various brands of bags, and they are certainly worth a read. However, since this is my blog, here are my 2 cents on the topic.

What makes a good bag for freezing milk?

Having fed and pumped for one baby for a year, and currently being in the process of doing the same for another, I can certainly describe what my perfect milk storage bag would look like.  The perfect bag would

  • - Let me pump directly into it.  I've expressed (ha! there's some milk makin' humor for you) elsewhere on this blog that I like to have many back up plans for pumping at work that don't rely on perfect memory from yours truly.  Being able to pump directly into bags if you forget your bottles is definitely a great fall back option

  • - Have accurate volume markings.  This one is so obvious it seems like you wouldn't even have to mention it, and yet, so many bags fail on this criteria based on my own experience and also many Amazon reviews.

  • - Stand up on its own.  This is a great feature for when you're just finished and don't have an extra hand to detach and seal, etc.

  • - Have reasonable fields for you to mark, specifically: name, date, and volume. (The reason you need to write down the volume on the bags is that the volume frozen will seem bigger than the actual liquid volume... see: water expands when frozen, etc.)

  • - Never burst or leak.  Once again, being obvious here but it bears repeating.

  • - Store 6 ozs of milk.  You may ask why 6 and not any other number.  Many babies never eat more than 5 oz a meal at any point (which is why many bottles and bags top out at that number).  My babies are all gluttons.  My daughter definitely spent months downing 8 ozs a meal.  My son is still young but if he follows the trajectory he's been on he'll definitely match his sister.  So the more a single bag can store, the longer I can go using only one bag per meal.  I haven't seen bags that store more than 6 ozs and sadly they probably wouldn't fit in my freezer organizer.

  • - Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: My wife usually only fills, but does not empty, the bags.  Thus she left out another important criteria... ease of emptying the bag into a bottle, especially while holding a crying baby WHO WANTS TO EAT NOW. This may be the EXACT situation that created "crying over spilled milk" as an expression.

So which one do I use?

I have personally tried 3 brands:
  1. 1. Ameda Store'N Pour Milk Storage Bags.  These bags were supplied by my insurance company last time around, but I've bought a set for this time as well.  They kind of fail on most of the above criteria (don't stand up, have very inaccurate markings, only fit 5 ozs, and occasionally leak).  I have a set because the adapters that come with these guys screw on to any pump that takes Medela Bottles and let you pump directly into them.  I keep the bags and the adapters at work for emergencies.  I've also now used them enough that I can interpret their markings into much more accurate guesses at the volume. Oh and the fields to fill out on them are great. 
  2. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: These are the best for pouring. The tear-off section makes for a great spout and it's pretty easy to predict where the milk will go. On the downside, the tear section is below the seal, so once you open the bag, you're pouring all of it.

  3. 2. NUK Seal 'N Go Milk Storage Bags.  These guys are pretty much the inverse of the Amedas.  They stand up, are accurate, fit 6 ozs, and are super sturdy and leak free.  They do not however, allow one to pump directly into them.  Also, the fields they have you fill out are name, date, and time.  Time? What?  What possible purpose does that serve?  So this is the field I write the volume in.  These are the bags I use 90% of the time, which is to say, all the time that I'm not pumping directly into bags.
  4. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: I spilled about half an ounce of milk using these bags no less than 30 minutes before being asked to read through this post before publication. The zip-style seal provides an obstacle for the milk just before the top and frequently causes a double-steam, which is not good for a narrow-mouthed bottle.

  5. 3. Evenflo Feeding Advanced Milk Storage.  These are frankly the worst bags I've tried.  Originally I was optimistic because they advertised that they were made out of a thin plastic that heats quickly (this appealed to my husband for obvious reasons).  They also fit the Ameda adapters for pumping directly into bag so I thought I'd give them a try despite the fact that they only fit 5 ozs.  Well, it turns out that they are also leaky and difficult to use.  They don't stand up well at all, the markings are inaccurate, and the labels on top are upside down for some reason?
  6. Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: The overall shape of this bag is reasonably conducive to pouring. The zip seal is further away from the spout so it's more predictable. although the flimsiness of the bag material does not make it a particularly rigid spout. While I didn't do any head-to-head tests, I did not feel that this bag heats more quickly than others, which would have excused the flimsy material if it had.
So in conclusion... I haven't found the perfect bags.  I wish the Nuks could be pumped into directly.  As it is, however, I use a combination of them and the Amedas and that works out ok for me.
Dad/Non-Pumping Partner Note: If you have enough of a backup in the fridge and/or at daycare and can cope with about one leaking bag a month (and want to simplify life for your spouse/non-pumping partner), add some extra credit to the Ameda.



  

Out and about when you don't lactate (or choose not to)

So one of the harder things for partners of breastfeeding moms (and to a similar degree, parents of formula fed children, see below for why I make the distinction) is the logistics of taking the kid out to the park, library, music class, etc.

You may have developed a routine for heating and prepping milk at home, but how the heck do you do this without a kettle, making a mess, or trying to explain why you want a cup of hot water but no teabag at whatever sandwich shop you stopped at when the crying begins, especially if you don't want a sandwich right now (see: crying)?



Ok, so what do we need?
  • - bottle, preferably with milk already in it
  • - milk, if not in bottle already
  • - heat
  • - contained place to apply heat to bottle

Bottle

By now, you probably have a pretty good mental accounting of how long it takes your bottles to heat (and doubly so if you own multiple models). Our daycare only takes plastic bottles, but we have a small collection of glass ones for use at home for exactly this reason. Glass bottles heat much faster and as every non-lactating parent knows, every extra second listening to your kid scream is no fun. As they get bigger and recognize that "THIS IS A BOTTLE RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME, I WILL GRAB FOR THE BOTTLE BECAUSE I AM HUNGRY AND DON'T UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF BOILING WATER," this gets only worse. For those of you out-and-about with your first kid, this is exacerbated when out in public (I cringed at every cry in a cafe, on the train, and even in the park. Especially when "well-meaning" old ladies started with their "advice.") I'm getting better with the second, though.  I figure if he hasn't puked on anyone else, we're good.

Anyway, we'll eventually write a post on bottle recommendations (we use the Evenflo Feeding Classic Glass Twist Bottles) but really just go with what works with your pump and baby's disposition.

Milk

The easiest thing is, of course, to store the milk in the bottle before you leave the house, but sometimes you gotta go with a bag (for example, from your freezer stash). You can read about our freezer bag preferences here.

Heat

So now we're at the crux of this all. Boiling water in a kettle and pouring it into a large cup or bowl is how we do this at home.  But, reliable access to boiling water was not something I wanted to count on in the park.

We tried some open-and-they-heat-up pad things, but found them to be garbage. (They advertised they wouldn't burn you because they only go to body temperature.  However, something at body temp takes a LONG time to warm up something that's cold or frozen.  Plus it was very slow to get TO body temp. My wife is the scientist here, but even I know enough thermodynamics to know this won't work). 

So if hot water is what we want, how about a thermos? That brings us to...

Place to Heat the Bottle

While any old thermos would surely work to transport hot water, we found the Tommee Tippee Travel Bottle and Food Warmer to be really useful because the lid over the main thermos part a) helps keep the whole thing relatively cool inside the diaper bag, b) contains spills if you have some leakage, which you shouldn't, and c) serves as a cup you can pour the water into to immerse your bottle and heat it! So for the size/weight of a normal thermos, you get all the stuff you need.


The only complaint is that you have to PAY ATTENTION to the open/close positions on the lid. It's the opposite of what is intuitive and I have poured scalding hot water on myself (or into the lid) a few times. Being a "safety culture" kind of guy, I now verify I have it in the closed position by turning it to a pouring position over the sink before I pack it in the diaper bag.

Could you just use a normal thermos and a cup? Yeah. Is it slightly expensive for a thermos and lid? Yeah. But it's extremely convenient and $20 is pretty cheap for the sanity it enables.

You said something about formula

We've not formula-fed, so I have no specific suggestions, but I do add the following thoughts:
  1. 1. There is a ton of formula-specific gear out there that looks pretty cool when I've seen other parents use it.

  2. 2. My understanding is that heating to body temperature is not necessary for exclusively formula-fed babies.  This is because breastfed babies are used to receiving milk at body temperature for obvious reasons.  If you introduce formula early enough, most babies can and do get used to drinking it at room temperature.  This certainly simplifies the feeding process.
That said, if you do find yourself in need of a way to heat things, this has been our go-to solution.

Pregnancy Books for Dads (and non-Dad-partners)-to-Be

Ok, parenting stuff for Dad is pretty dire in general, and doubly so for the pregnancy stage of things where everything assumes you're Family Guy's Peter Griffin or anyone who has appeared on CBS since 1994. An Amazon search of books for Dads-to-be includes a hearty helping of the word "Dude," advice to stop cheating on your girl / take your job seriously, and backwards-for-the-1970s expectations on gender roles.

I found two books that rose above the crowd.

I am not a bro-dad.
Don't be this guy.
First is The Expectant Father. Annotated with New Yorker cartoons (yeah, I feel like that makes the point about this book better than any other way), author Armin Brott goes month-by-month through the pregnancy covering the basics on symptoms and fetal development, sure, but also gets into your emotions, her emotions, how to react to her emotions, and dozens of other things. Sections include thinking about work-life balance (and how to talk to peers/superiors about your desire to be actively involved in your child), your relationship with your own father, baby gear, and sex life during pregnancy. It does a good job of covering some of the more "traditional" topics of finances, life insurance, and the like too.

Note: I read the 3rd edition before my daughter was born and the 4th edition has come out since then.

Also note: Brott has a whole series of books covering the first years of childhood as well as some other special circumstances. I enjoyed The New Father though it went longer between updates and the 2nd edition that I read was dated by that time. I imagine the brand-new 3rd edition is wonderful.

My second recommendation is The Birth Partner. This book is written by a doula about how to be the best companion for a woman in birth, either as a father/partner, parent, friend, or doula and was an invaluable resource for both births. The book is heavy on natural birth but entirely non-judgmental about those who opt for (or otherwise need) more interventions. 

Important point about "natural birth" that is often lost: We tried natural twice and wound up with a boatload of interventions both times, but having all the tools to try a natural birth made both of us (mostly her) more able to handle the various surprises, complications, and delays that made both of us (mostly her) need to fall back on various coping mechanisms. It also made the laboring "at home" portion before the hospital much more palatable (for her) that would otherwise be the case. 
Helpfully, this book is sorted by topic rather than month/trimester and key sections have pages with color edges, which makes it a great resource during labor. For this reason, I would recommend the print copy over the eBook one, even though I'm normally ambivalent about format.




Photo credits - Bad Dad: Rolands Lakis under a Creative Commons license