Thursday, February 2, 2012

What You Don't Know Can Hurt You: Parenting Myths Edition

There is one myth in the parenting world that holds more sway than any other. One myth which leads people to do horrendously stupid things. One myth which spurs parents to take action in direct opposition to the recommendations of national and global health organizations.

And I'm going to tell you that myth.

Before I let you in on this secret, I just want to be clear about my intentions here. I don't intend to shame anyone. I'm not saying anyone I do or do not know may or may not be a bad parent. I'm simply pointing out this myth in an effort to help others. I want to expose the reality of this horrible misinformation to the benefit of new, old, and future parents everywhere.

Got it? Good. Let's get started.

MYTH: The best way to parent is to follow your gut.

Let's do another quick round of Things I'm Not Saying With This Statement (cause defending myself against trolls is my most favorite game!) I'm not saying that following your gut instinct is stupid. I'm not saying that you should ignore your parenting instincts. I'm not saying that mother doesn't know best.

So what am I saying? I'm saying that following your gut instincts without educating yourself on the possible options is not a great idea. Here's an example situation:

A new mom is wondering why her baby won't sleep for longer stretches. All the parenting books and the other (obviously perfect) parents tell her that the little bundle should be sleeping through the night by now - he's four months old. Her gut instinct tells her to listen to these older, wiser, friends who have been through this all before. So when they tell her to feed her baby solid food to get him to sleep, she does. Unfortunately, her friends were misguided and now her young son is constipated from the rice cereal she gave him. It turns out that the food her friends recommended had less calories than the milk he was getting so it didn't help him feel full at all. But it did give him gas and tummy troubles which are keeping him up at night even more than before.

This hypothetical mom, who has no other information, is now wondering what she did wrong. CUE MOMMY GUILT

This situation isn't helpful for anyone. If this woman had googled The American Academy of Pediatrics or The World Health Organization, she would have had access to a plethora of information that basically said "he's a baby, babies don't sleep through the night." And that's it, that's the answer to her problem, there WAS NO PROBLEM. And this is why I'm frustrated, this is why I'm writing this post. Because our gut instincts can be horribly misguided sometimes; just like any other input, they should be vetted.

Unfortunately, we are parents and not researchers. So many parents feel alone and scared and tired, they just want to find an answer to the problem. It's not as simple as that. It's not enough to read one article about sleep training and rush home to try that method. What if that method doesn't work? How many parents would go back and dig deeper to find more information? It seems like not enough, unfortunately. A lot of people would be livid if they read this post. "But every baby is different!" is the battle cry of the Warrior Mama and it's true. Which is EXACTLY why I'm saying that parents need to educate themselves. Every child is, in fact, different. So if you are determined to make Cry It Out work, you will keep plugging away at it, having no idea that there are other methods out there. And when you find yourself, listening to your baby cry for the fourth straight hour, weeping outside of the nursery, you will blame yourself when you should be looking for another solution.

So, young padawans, go forth and raise your progeny. Good luck, have fun, and follow your gut (after you do the research, of course.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New Mom Confessions, or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the accident.

This morning, Caro fell off the couch and landed on her head. I'm sure the neighbors heard the loud thunk as her skull made contact with the floor, and I'm sure they heard the hysterical sobbing that took place directly afterward. What they didn't hear was me quietly congratulating myself for letting her do it.

record scratch

Yup, you heard me. I'm GLAD she fell off the couch and hurt herself, and I'll tell you why in two words: Experiential. Learning. No amount of me telling Caro "we sit on the couch" was going to make her, well, *sit* on the couch if she actually wanted to stand on it. She's a toddler, they are little scientists, fucking up and learning from it is kind of their bag. I spent about two weeks repeatedly telling her to sit down when she was actually standing on the couch and it got me exactly nothing except a low level of frustration. I had three choices:

1: continuously provide verbal cues to direct her behavior
2: remove the opportunity to make an unsafe choice
3: let her learn through the consequences of her own actions

I was sick of telling her what to do, not to mention that I can't always be watching her climb on the couch to catch the behavior in time for a verbal cue. What happens if she gets up on the couch while I'm washing dishes or sorting laundry or in the bathroom alone (what luxury!)? Well, she would learn that I didn't always tell her to sit, so it clearly wasn't always important and could be disregarded. Not gonna work, next option.

I'm not getting rid of my couch so she won't fall off of it and bust her ass. Nope. Not gonna happen. NEXT!

This is where you come in, dear reader. I let her climb, I let her fall and I let her cry (for a moment or two, anyways). We'll see how this plays out, of course, but I'm betting that she'll only hurt herself one or , max, two more times before she either A) sits the fuck down or, more likely, B) starts paying enough attention to stand on the couch without taking a header off it. Suits me either way.

Ooh, this brings up another interesting anecdote. Last week, I let Caro eat chalk. Yeah, because she does this thing where she's a toddler and PUTS EVERYTHING IN THE UNIVERSE INTO HER MOUTH. While I totally get that this won't happen forever, I have officially let go of my control over this. I can't possibly scour every environment for gross things that I don't want in her mouth, at least not while maintaining my current level of sanity and caffeine consumption. And, guess what? I am willing to bet that 90% of the stuff I don't want in her mouth, she also doesn't want in her mouth. She just doesn't know it yet. So, yeah, she ate chalk and it was gross and she got pissed and got over it. I've got $10 that says she doesn't eat chalk again. Although it was cute when her tongue was purple...

Thursday, June 2, 2011

This I Believe

This past weekend, I gave a homily during a lay-lead service at our church. I felt like a minor celebrity, with all those lovely people congratulating me and telling me how much they enjoyed it; several people asked for copies, and one even said it should be published! So, by popular request, here is my homily, entitled "This I Believe":

Good morning. I’m Kim Hersey, and I believe in you. I believe in people, and I trust that they are good. I know we’re selfish and imperfect, but that’s ok. In fact, I prefer my people that way.

I believe in Love, and I believe It is good. I believe we're all going to the same place, but how much we enjoy the journey is up to us. I believe in priorities – I believe that being happy should be priority number one.

I believe in the miracle that is my daughter and I believe man alone cannot make that brand of perfect. I believe that childhood is beautiful. I believe in magic and whimsy, so I can give them to my children before they lose the faith. (Sometime around when they stop thinking kissing is gross, I imagine.)

I believe in wearing sexy underpants, even if no one will see them.

I believe in the healing powers of music, water, coffee and friends. I believe that work goes more smoothly with love, and wine goes better with laughter.

I believe in reading.

I believe cardio isn't the only necessary exercise for your heart.

I believe in honesty in communication. I believe in communication in relationships. I believe first dates don't have to be awkward but that, sometimes, it's part of the fun.

I believe in small victories: finding a good parking space; having all the ingredients for dinner; remembering to pack something needed; a hug just when you wanted one.

I believe that the greatest deficit our country faces is that of love for one another and I believe we need to start working on that now.

I believe in community. As Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” The community you build has a unique advantage over your family - you get to choose them. Life is a team sport, y’all, pick a good starting lineup.

I believe in ice cream. Especially chocolate kinds. I believe that people are like flavors of ice cream. They might not be my favorite, but they’re all pretty good and I believe it’s important to remember that someone likes them best.

I believe in ritual and spirituality. I believe everyone needs these elements in their lives. You may count brush strokes when you’re brushing your teeth, or kneel in prayer at the same time everyday, but everyone has ritual. Humans thrive on it, and I think that’s beautiful.

I believe that everything happens for a reason, but there may not be logic to that reason. I believe that every tough situation will work out. But that doesn’t mean it will work out the way we want it to.

I believe that we all have deep-seated geographical preferences of which we are oftentimes unaware. I think it’s important to take note of where your body feels most at home, where your spirit feels most at peace.

I believe that catharsis - the process of releasing emotion through or because of art - is a necessary, wonderful, freeing aspect of the human condition. How lucky we are to see a play, watch a film or read a book and cry for the characters! How attuned we are to the collective to feel such empathy for figments and imagined hardships! If we can cry for the fictional characters we meet, what can’t we do for one another?

I believe in body modification. If our bodies are temples, I believe we deserve to decorate them for worship however we see fit. Somebody once asked me if I thought God had given me a nice enough body. I responded that Frank Lloyd Wright designs beautiful houses, but if I lived in one, I’d still want to put up my own curtains.

I believe that as long as a person is being safe, sane and consensual, it’s not my place to judge or tell him or her what to do. This is a struggle, and it only gets harder as I get better and better at using my mom voice. On the other hand, I fully believe that people tell others what to do not out of a sense of coercion or manipulation, but out of love. This might be foolish of me, but I can’t help it. I also believe that when people drive dangerously, it’s because someone they love is having a baby and they must arrive in time. It’s nice to believe the best of people, if only because it makes road trips easier.

I believe children are far more capable than adults generally give them credit for. I believe we are robbing the next generation of their self-confidence and courage by insisting they are unqualified and unskilled and need our help. I believe in free-range parenting.

I believe that hydration is happiness and sunscreen is your friend.

I believe it’s a waste to chew bubblegum and not blow any bubbles.

I believe that something doesn’t have to be real to be true. There are lots of examples of this, and they mostly come from Star Wars.

I believe in gratitude. I’ve found that the two easiest ways to be happy are to be grateful and to perpetuate kindness through my actions. There was a preschool in Montana that gave the kids capes and called them “superheroes of kindness.” Three and four year olds ran a food drive and passed out flowers to strangers. Best. Superpower. Ever.

I believe we can all find peace within ourselves, and I believe that my journey to that includes helping others find theirs. I look forward to hearing what you all believe, in time, as I get to know you individually. Also, I have a sewing machine in case you’d like to make capes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Are you in some special club or something?"

Yes. Yes I am. I'm in the special club of women who wanted to make friends with their bodies after having kid(s). And this, girls and boys, is why I bought myself a corset for my birthday.

I could have gotten myself anything, and I tend to go for the more useful gifts (for myself, anyway). But not this time, oh no. This year, I was going for pure decadence, pure luxury, pure sensuality. I loved my pregnant body with a passion. Before pregnancy, I had only been really, truly, happy with my body on the rare occasions when I was corseted (Ren Faire, anyone?).

So, for my first birthday post-baby, I went to Ren Faire and I bought a corset. And, I'll tell you something: I. Looked. HAWT. I had missed my tiny waist so much! I had missed my huge boobs being huge (?). I had missed my hips swaying and being all...hippy. I think I just got off topic.

Anyways, here are some pictures of my birthday trip to Ren Faire:

Caroline loved Mama's hip scarf :D

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Happy Fucking Mother's Day or, sometimes having a kid is like having an abusive husband.

Do you remember, way back last August, when Caro was barely a month old, and I wrote about how obsessed I was with her? Well, I think it's safe to say that the honeymoon is over. I'm realizing now that having a child is less like being secretly in love with your best friend and more like having an abusive husband. They have a ridiculous amount of needs that you need to meet for them and you can rest assured that you'll never be good enough for them and they will let you know when you disappoint.

As frustrating as it sometimes is, and as exasperated as I undoubtedly become, she is still totally worth it. You know what's not worth it, though? Getting all worked up for Mother's Day. Here's a realization: Mother's Day is just like a birthday or any other greeting card holiday - pretty much just another day. I still have to do laundry and be the sole care provider for aforementioned abusive husband-esque infant. So, please, do everyone a favor and stop asking moms what fabulous plans they have for today. Chances are they're just getting on with the business of being moms and keeping shit together for everyone else. Maybe they'll get a card, though.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The things they don't tell you about parenting

I could write a freaking book, y'all. It would have chapter headings like:

Moving When You Have a Baby, or: How Paying a Babysitter Will Save Your Sanity
Human Gestation takes 10 months, Not 9 (Joke's On You, Preggo)
Teething: A Primer in Losing Your Sanity and Sleep Simultaneously
Who Needs a Lover When You Can Have Coffee

I just wish there had been some book or something that could have prepared me for this. Why do we have so many parenting taboos? Where was my parenting sensei? I wanted to be a grasshopper, dammit. I wanted to know what it was really going to be like! Lots of moms say "but you can never really be prepared for what it's going to be like the first time, you just have to do it." Maybe I wouldn't have been able to fully understand the implications of any information thrown my way, but it sure as shit would have been helpful to have it. Like after I got pregnant my mom decided to say "Oh, yeah, all the women in our family are extremely fertile." THIS IS INFORMATION THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN HELPFUL TO ME YEARS AGO.

This begs greater questions: why is there a culture of silence surrounding parenthood and especially motherhood? Why do we feel the need to show an outward face of perfection to even those closest to us? We have these conventions, and then we get online or with a group of other parents and we vent about all the awful parts of parenthood because we have no other outlet. We talk to childless people like our lives are perfect, and talk to other parents like we're on the verge of alcoholism or baby shaking.

These issues are connected to other problems: our parenting culture has started presenting a face of fear mongering and unfair judgment. We scare the shit out of each other, and appraise others' value as parents based on how seriously they take these imaginary or bizarrely perceived threats. Amongst the more offbeat parenting community, there is sometimes an "eco-machismo" attitude. "Your parenting choices are killing the earth, and mine aren't;" "how can you let your kid play with plastic branded crap?"

We are so afraid to honestly and openly talk with each other about our experiences, we're afraid we're doing it all wrong. And that fear won't allow us to seek knowledge to help us on this path; instead, we lash out at others' in judgment to hide our own insecurities. We join parenting sites and forums to dish out our advice to others and quietly compare ourselves to them to feel better about our choices. We have a great lip service: "you make the choices that are best for your family," "if it works for you, that's great." But, secretly, we're thinking how lucky our children are to have us are parents and some of these other yahoos that are procreating without a clue about what to do. Here's the best kept parenting secret: none of us know what we're doing. We just wake up everyday and love our kids and try to make it through. We're doing our best. Our choices are informed by our parenting philosophy, previous experience, and our own needs. I, for one, don't think those choices should be informed by fear of mortification or appraisal by other people - parents or not.

Parenting is a mixed bag, and that's ok - so is life. Some days are great, and you never want them to end. Some moments make up for the bad days. And sometimes it's all you can do to get the baby in bed and have a glass of wine and force yourself to let it all go. The challenges of parenting are nothing compared to the challenge of making hard choices and standing confident in those decisions in our current parenting culture. Go ahead, y'all. Open up. Tell me the bad and the good and let's brainstorm creative solutions to your parenting problems. Let's help each other through this. We're all lost in the woods here - there's no sense in us wandering alone.

I was a great parent (before I had kids...)

Before I had Carrie, I knew I was going to be a great parent. I didn't understand how some people let their kids get so dirty. Bananas in their hair? How could they let their kids do that?

How could some people give their children painkillers around the clock? Sure, the kid is teething, but that level of medication surely isn't necessary.

How could some people ignore their children when they cry? Can't you see that love and affection is a basic human need just like food? Clearly, that child was crying out for a little bit of attachment parenting.

And then I had a baby and went back to work and guess what? It turns out I'm some people, too. Do I wash Carrie? Yes. Every day? HAH! I wish I had time for that craziness. Do I let her get bananas in her hair? Um, she self-feeds now, so she gets all manner of crap in her hair and I'm just happy that some of it makes it into her mouth. Do I dose her with motrin when she's teething? You're damn right I do, or we wouldn't get any sleep. Do I snuggle her every time she cries? Nope. Cause Mama's gotta pee sometime.

I find myself watching Carrie smear snot and apple juice all over herself and everything within reach while I blithely sip coffee and text my best friend about the details of my life. I somehow register the dropping of a sippy cup from a high chair, but I don't stop typing or break my train of thought to pick it up until a meltdown is imminent. On the other hand, I take Carrie to the museum to meet a guinea pig and tell her about the relationship between the animal she's babbling to and a capybara. Also what "ovoviviparous" means. So maybe I'm doing alright, even if I am some people.