How a bedsharing mama and dada ended up ferberizing

Rocketship started school the first week in September, the same as mommy (i.e., me). She entered a Montessori Toddler classroom, her first time being cared for in an institutional setting for more than an hour and a half (though, I’m not sure that the church nursery really counts as “institutional”).

The first week was great — the teachers told me how much they loved having her in class, loved her personality. The second and third weeks, she came down with a cold, and ran a fever on and off, becoming sluggish and not quite herself. The fourth week, she cried every nap time. And that Wednesday, the last day of school for the week, we were told that Rocketship cried so long and so hard that she woke up the other children. They didn’t mind that Rocketship wasn’t sleeping, though they wanted her to, but it was a problem that she was keeping 8 other children from having their nap.

Rocketship was sent home with a note. I called it a kind, positive riot act, which told us that for our daughter to get the most out of her classroom community, she would need to learn to be more independent. That would mean that mom and dad would have to change their behaviors. We would have to carry her less, and have her sleep by herself.

I sprang into action. Right after receiving the note, Rocketship and I went shopping for her big girl bed. I let her pick out sheets and a blanket and a pillow for her big girl bed. I helped her pick out big girl pjs. I helped her pick out a special big girl bedtime book. And we moved the Montessori floor bed (that she has never slept on, but played on often) out of the nursery to master bedroom we had all been sharing since she was born.

My partner and I knew that Rocketship was probably ready for this, and had been talking about it. But we weren’t ready. We liked having her in our bed, our little snuggle bug. We liked her relying on us for comfort, and her being with us. But now that had to change.

That night, we did the bedtime routine, with the addition of three stories (including the new special big girl bedtime book) and nursing with the lights on. I laid her down, and tucked her in, and walked out of the room. The door was left open, but we had a baby gate on the door so she couldn’t run out to us. And she cried. We did “gradual extinction” — I went in after 3 minutes, 5 minutes, and 10 minutes until she fell asleep without us. An hour later, she fell asleep leaning against the baby gate, and I led her to her bed, where she slept through the night.

I was sad after she fell asleep. She did it all by herself, as a big girl, even if it was hard and we had to help her.

A couple of people have asked me how it felt to have a teacher tell us to change our parenting techniques, and I have to say that I was resistant at first. One of the first notes home that hinted at a problem asked us to pick her up less when she was whining — which I was indignant about doing. “Why would I want to not respond to my child’s communications?!” I asked. So I didn’t do anything different.

But, when it became clear that Rocketship’s behaviors were affecting other children, I sprang into action, even though the same advice was offered. Why?

Because one of our family values is responsibility. This is a reference to the story by Harlan Ellison called Paladin of the Lost Hour. We view responsibility — cleaning up after ourselves, behaving correctly according to the situation — as a bridge to respect. That’s how we can respect ourselves and others, by being responsible.

Rocketship needs to act responsibly at school — she needs to behave correctly. And as her parents, we need to help her do that. And in that sense, the note home from the teacher wasn’t about changing our parenting techniques so much as reminding us about our values.

Thinking About Communication: We Should

How many times do you turn to your friends, family, and partner and say something along the lines of, “We should have a party”?

Tim and I have been saying it a lot to each other, as we try to navigate having a small child. “We should do the dishes.” “We should change her diaper.” “We should get food.”

It’s a really interesting statement, if you think about it. First, it identifies a need between two people or a group, or a desire. Second, it completely abdicates responsibility for that need or desire by the person making the statement. “We should” do something often means “you should” do it. (Sometimes, it really does mean “we” — but that requires someone taking a leadership role and taking point on collaborating.) And because no one is taking responsibility, whatever need or desire that is aired doesn’t happen.

Listen to yourself as you talk about household responsibilities with your partners. How often do you say “we should” do something, instead of asking your partner directly? How often does the thing you say “we should” about not happen at all?

Modifying Lullabies

She's holding it...

Look, a man holding a baby! (Photo credit: BenSpark)

I know it’s not the best blogging etiquette to apologize for not posting. But, I’m going to do it anyway. You see, back in September, I started working on the story of my daughter’s birthing, thinking it would be easy to write. It wasn’t, and I’ve been working on it ever since. Her first birthday is in two weeks, so I’m hoping to have it finished by then, but I’m not sure it will be. In the mean time, I’ve been thinking about this blog and how it functions in my life and as a meaningful force in the world. I recently took a personal development class that helped me think about my definition of success.

Enter, bedtime.

I sometimes sing my daughter to sleep. I sing several songs, but the one I am thinking of is “Sleep, Baby, Sleep.” The Lyrics:

Sleep, baby, sleep
Your father tends the sheep
Your mother shakes the dreamland tree
And from it fall sweet dreams for thee
Sleep, baby, sleep

And so I began to think about the message this sent. Daddy works, mommy cares for you. I am more worried about the message it sends that daddy doesn’t care for baby girl than the idea that mommy doesn’t work. So I sing this, too:

Sleep, baby, sleep
Your momma tends the sheep
Your papa shakes the dreamland tree
And from it fall sweet dreams for thee
Sleep, baby, sleep

I know it isn’t much. But I want my daughter to grow up knowing that daddies take care of babies, too.

Actual Risk versus Social Risk

Breastfeeding symbol

Image via Wikipedia

I posted a link to a book review to my Facebook wall, because I was really interested in the underlying thesis of the book, as explained by the reviewer. I haven’t really the book, but I’ve atleast read the review – and the argument was about what the author calls “neoliberal risk culture,” or the conflation of actual risk and social risk. Unfortunately, the example that was used by the author to illustrate her point was one of the most contentious of motherhood debates: bottle versus breast.

The actual risk of feeding your child formula, or the risk of not breastfeeding, is quite small. According to the review, the risk of not breastfeeding is a few upset stomachs. However, the social risk of not breastfeeding (at least amongst middle class women) is high — because of all the propaganda surrounding breast feeding, the decision of bottle feeding without trying to breastfeed is the social equivalent of saying that you’re not doing everything you can to make your baby smarter… and everything else that breastfeeding claims.

Bottle feeding does not carry real risk — rare is the baby in danger because they are bottle fed. That baby would have to have some severe allergies. But in an age of New Momism, the social risk is immense. So immense that women are pressured into trying breastfeeding when it might be better for them to bottle feed — and women who want to breastfeed feel guilty when medication, mental health, etc., prevent them from continuing.

The conflation of small actual risk into large social risk does a huge disservice to mothers, especially, and also society as a whole.

Another example for mothers is bedsharing versus co-sleeping versus nurseries. Bedsharing is considered the most risky, co-sleeping a nice middle ground (if you must have your child close), and a nursery the most safe. However, a close reading of the studies shows that the rates of SIDS is probably equal, and the cost benefits extremely personal, much like breast versus bottle.

I am a bedsharer. There, I said it. Socially, the sleeping arrangement that allows my family to get the most sleep, it’s the most risky. Common perception suggests that I am willingly risking my baby’s life for convenience, even though it was a decision I researched before making. Trust me, I do not lazily risk my daughter’s life.

I’m trying to think of a non parenting example — something where there is a small risk, but a large social backlash. Smoking is probably one, considering how much government propaganda surrounds not smoking. My occasional fast food eating is something I don’t like to admit, so I’d consider that an example of over blown social risk for something with minimal actual risk. I think that multiple sexual partners probably falls into this same category — as long as you practice safe sex, both physically and emotionally, it probably isn’t as risky as our society makes it out to be.

Life is risk, and yes, some risk is more risky than other risks. But, in the end, some things may be more about what works for you.

How to Talk About Chores

Small yellow bathroom

Image via Wikipedia

A friend asked that I write more about the process of choosing which chores are important, and which ones can be overlooked. She also asked about how to negotiate the standards of cleanliness and the sharing of chores so that in partnership, particularly marriage, they might be fair.

Tall order, dear friend.

I think that it’s obvious and perhaps over stated (at least on this blog, I have mentioned it at least two times before) that men and women are socialized to different awarenesses of the work involved in housework, and if men have had the opportunity to care for themselves, different standards for what might be considered clean. The same might be said for what makes up a healthy diet, among other things I associate with adulthood.

I would not attempt these steps unless you have a partner who believes in equality, and is open to dividing the work that goes into the home equitably. (This means hours of paid and unpaid labor should be treated equally.) If you don’t have a such a partner, you have other work to do.

Step One: Shine a bright light on the work that needs to be done to keep your household moving. I found the housework equality scale from EquallySharedParenting.com invaluable for this — it lists chores that happen less often, like post office visits and taxes, so you don’t forget anything.

Tim and I actually looked at this scale twice over about a period of a year and a half. The first time was really tense — Tim didn’t seem to think that a lot of stuff on the list happened in our home. Truth was, I did it, and he didn’t notice. Even though it was a tense conversation, it was important because it opened his eyes. A year later, he was very aware of the work that needed doing, and who was doing it. Since I am currently a stay-at-home wife and mother, the split was about 70% me, 30% him. I asked him if he thought this was fair, and to his credit, he did not think so. Which lead to…

Step Two: Figure out what chores are actually getting done in your home. Chores are done in my house for three reasons, as far as I can see: for our safety, like washing cutting boards and knives with hot and soapy water to prevent food-borne illness; for our sanity, like clearing off flat surfaces of clutter; and for our vanity, like my husband’s recent desire to wash marks off the wall. This list has the benefit of showing you what’s really important to you, and thus the “standards” already exist. I made a list of chores that needed to be done on a daily, weekly, monthly, and basis — focusing on safety and sanity, and telling vanity to take a hike.

Vanity is beating myself up for not scrubbing the bathroom once a week, whether or not anyone besides ourselves sees it. But if the bathroom is done once a month, the germs are kept at bay (Safety!), and I have the satisfaction of knowing exactly how clean it is. And knowing how clean it is, I can figure out if I need to clean real quick before guests come over.

Step Three: Present the list of chores that must get done to your partner and ask what they think. Ask them if they think that any chore is missing; ask them if they think any of the chores can be taken off the list.

Tim wanted to add vacuuming and dusting to the list. Me? I could care less that things are dusted, and I hate vacuuming. Tim doesn’t necessarily see the need to fold clothes.

Step Four: Divide and Conquer. Once you have a list of the chores that you need to do to keep your household moving, chores that are for your safety and sanity (and not necessarily your vanity), and both partners have weighed in on what chores should be on the list, take turns claiming chores. If there are certain chores that only you can do, or that you’re an expert at, or you really like to do, claim those first — it wasn’t on the list, but since only I can breast feed our daughter, I would have claimed that first. I did claim making dinner first, because after a day of childcare, making dinner makes me feel human again.

Dusting and vacuuming got added to the “monthly chore” list, which Tim is in charge of. I picked up folding laundry. But more on that next.

Step Five: Make a schedule. Schedules make sure that there are time to do all the chores. I suggest spacing the chores through the week so you’re not doing more than half an hour of chores each night. The nice thing about a schedule is that even if none of the chores get done one week, you can do it the next week and start to come out from under a lack-of-chore pile. At least theoretically.

So far, all the chores are getting done in our home, because Tim and I both feel ownership of our tasks — and we do them. They don’t always get done right on time; laundry folding happened on Saturday instead of Tuesday, but at least it happened.

Step Six: If it’s not your chore, it’s not your standard. There are downsides to sharing household responsibilities. Because your partner is an adult who has hopefully lived on their own for a time before coming to live with you, chances are, your partner has some idea how to do the tasks that they named, agreed to, and claimed as their own. (Look how much consensus we built up until this point!) If your partner asks for input on how to do the task, feel free to give it. Otherwise, let them get on with it — you have your own chores to do.

Tim is the one that cleans the kitchen and the bathroom. He also does the laundry. He checks in with me sometimes, but the majority of the time he applies his own standards to the task. And for me, that’s fine — but it’s a serious ego muncher for some women.  Remember, equality is about sharing power. If you claim all the power and responsibility of the household standards, you’re only hurting yourself.

Step Seven: Rinse, Repeat. The same chore list isn’t going to always work for you. Be flexible, and keep the lines of communication that you’ve created here open over time!

What I want from a Non-parental Caregiver

I’m lucky to be starting grad school at the end of this month. I say lucky because I have a small fellowship, because I have an infant, because I have a supportive husband. I’m lucky because my mom is going to take care of my baby; I won’t have to take out loans to pay for childcare.

I wasn’t always comfortable with the idea of my mom being my daycare provider. Sylvie is familiar with my mom and comfortable with her. And I have had plenty of chances to observe the two of them together. Those two things are not something you can sneeze at; everything I have read about vetting facilities says those are things you want.

Not only that, but I was able to broach the idea of making “Nanny Notes” and sharing them with my mom — that way my mom knows exactly how I would like my daughter to be cared for (i.e. I am clear about my expectations) and she knows exactly how to spoil my daughter (i.e. I expect my mom to still be a grandparent and do what she wants occasionally).

Nothing I found on the internet about preparing your child for daycare really approached the subject the way I have in my own preparations, so I thought I would share my list.

What I want from a Non-parental Caregiver:

1. Someone who will love her, bond with her; someone who will build trust with her. I subscribe more or less to the Attachment Parenting philosophy espoused by Dr. Sears, and I believe that attachment is key in Sylvie’s development — particularly the psychosocial development task of infancy: learning to trust. This means that when Sylvie cries, my ideal caregiver will respond, because crying is a way of communicating need. Which brings us to…

2. Someone to fulfill her needs. Her needs, as I see them currently, are: eating, sleeping, clean diapers, play, and love. Since Sylvia is breastfed, this means that I will be providing her grandmother with expressed breast milk. Sylvia is not too keen on her bottle, so we may be switching to more of a sippy cup soon. She will start solids at six months, so those kinds of equipment will be needed as well. Sylvie will need a couple of swaddle blankets and a pacifier for her grandma’s house. I gave my mom a set of cloth diapers already. We’ll need to make sure there are good toys at both home and at grandma’s. And I know my mom loves Sylvia.

3. Someone to keep her safe and secure; provide limits. This means that my mom and I will work together to make sure that my mom’s house is appropriately child-proofed, but it also means that we will have to work jointly on discipline issues. Right now, discipline isn’t too much of an issue — after all, she is only an infant. But by the time I graduate, which is when I foresee this arrangement ending, Sylvie will be old enough to be willfully disobeying.  We don’t want to give her mixed messages about what is and is not appropriate, which will require communication. Also, I want Sylvie to be disciplined with positive methods, which will also require communication, so that my mom knows what I mean when I say this.

4. Someone to play with her, and to be her partner in learning. I believe that play is the key to learning, and so I think it’s very important that Sylvia plays. Of course, she can and does play on her own, but play with an adult is important too, because it provides Sylvie and opportunity to stretch her skills with a technique called scaffolding. The play should be directed by Sylvie, if at all possible, to give her a sense of efficacy. Reading is play too!

5. Someone who respects our boundaries as her parents. I am the momma, and with my husband we are ultimately responsible for Sylvia’s care and upbringing. How we want things done matters. However, this means we are also responsible for communicating those boundaries. A major way we’re going to do this is through “memo” type of correspondence; I like to have things in writing.

The thing about this list is that it’s basically what I expect from myself as a parent. I think that’s as it should be — the care for my daughter by non-parental caregivers should be as close to what her parents provide as possible.

Baby Wears Blue: Coworkers Edition

The Mark 2 fibreglass (Tom Yardley-Jones) Tard...

The TARDIS is blue!

One Monday morning, I drove Tim into work, so that I could pick him up after work and we would go somewhere together as a family. (To play Bridge like little old people, but that’s besides the point.) He asked me if I wanted to bring Sylvie in to be shown off to his coworkers. Since I have a couple of friends among them, I said sure.

Sylvie was wearing her blue footie outfit, and I did not bring the sling for this supposed-to-be-quick errand.

First, I visit my friend Matt. (Hi, Matt!) He knows that Baby Rocketship turned out to be female, and I jokingly point out that Sylvie is wearing blue. “Oh noes!” he said sarcastically. “She’ll grow up and be… butch or something, I don’t know.” He rolled his eyes and made it clear that he thought that the color my daughter wore had very little bearing on much of anything. When another acquaintance of mine walked up and we began talking Doctor Who spoilers, Matt stuck his fingers in his ears and ran away saying “La la la!”

Then, another coworker walked by. He was carrying two dinners to the kitchen, one of which was intended for us, and the other for the other new baby in the office. We chatted for a while and he asked the typical polite new parent questions (how are you sleeping? etc.), and then asked, “What’s his name again?”

“Her, actually,” I said, flustered. “We got tired of all the pink, so my friend sent us this blue outfit. I rather like it. Sylvia, by the way, is her name. I mean, it shouldn’t matter.  I mean, I wear blue all the time.”

“Yeah, but you have long hair,” said this coworker. “She doesn’t have long hair yet, that’s why I got confused!”

That’s a simplified version of the conversation. In reality, we talked over each other a bit as each of us navigated our own defensiveness and tried to justify our positions. But that’s what it came down to —  he wanted symbols to tell him how to identify the gender of our daughter, we resisted the ultimate arbitrariness of those symbols, and he was mistaken. He was defensive as a result.

I wish I had handled this situation differently. I wish I had had something to say that taught a lesson about identity politics, how it’s important not to label people, how it is important to let people self identify. But it’s hard, at least in part, because I don’t have much of a stake in this. It isn’t personal — it’s a thought experiment.

But in other ways, this is practice for letting Sylvie make her own decisions. I’m the one making the decisions that take her against the norm, but I’m navigating them for her — and I’ll be sheltering her in the future from some (though not all) of the consequences of her decisions. I want to let her express herself and her identity however she would like, and to grow confident in it, before others tell her that she’s ruining their categories. If she chooses to wear plaid and polka dots together, I’ll be the one that cheers her on and then tells anyone who gives her the stink eye that she’s a visionary.