My husband and I went out for dinner the other night. We sat at a table for two overlooking the kitchen at one of our favorite restaurants. I sipped on a Cosmo and looked around, spying on the other diners. A few tables over, there was a young couple with a baby. The woman was giving the kid a bottle as her food sat off to the side. I swirled my martini around the glass, watching, wondering if she wished she was at a table for two sipping a cocktail and eating while the food was still hot. I asked my husband, “Is the grass really greener on the parenting side of fence?”
It occurred to me that as jealous as I am of couples with babies, maybe, just maybe there are a few out there who are a teensy bit jealous of us. Maybe that couple was looking at us thinking, “I remember when we used to go out to dinner and drink martinis and didn’t have to worry about where we were going to put the stroller, or if the baby would cry through the whole meal.”
Or maybe that mom who was standing next to me as I was buying my Size 0 pants the other day was thinking, “I remember when my butt used to fit into smaller clothes.”
Or maybe our friends who get up in the night to change diapers or feed a crying infant think about us sleeping in until 9:00 on the weekends and say, “I’d give anything to sleep past 4:00 in the morning.”
My girlfriend, a working mom of two, reminds me all the time that though the joys of parenting are great, there’s something to be said about being a youngish couple without children. I love it when she says things like “See what you have to look forward to,” as she tries to wrestle her toddler into a highchair.
The other day we were out at a coffee shop with her two and half year old. We were talking about ovulation predictor kits when she stopped mid-sentence, looked at her son and said, “Are you pooping?” We put our conversation on hold as she checked his diaper and carted him off to the bathroom. I stayed at the table, kept my eye on the plastic dinosaurs and the Buzz Lightyear doll, and started thinking, maybe life without children isn’t so bad.
I mean, we do have a pretty sweet life. I took a two hour nap a few days ago and when I got up, I poured myself a glass of wine. I sat on my couch and read Cooking Light and listened to the sound of silence. Not once did I think, “I really wish there was a baby crying for me to feed it this very second.” I also didn’t think, “It sure would be nice to change a diaper right now.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not changing my tune. I still want to start a family, and seeing pregnant women still makes my heart hurt. But I’ve decided, a baby isn’t going to make my life perfect and it’s probably not going to make me happy, especially in the short term. I don’t know how many people smile through a diaper blow out, a 2:00 AM feeding, or a colicky wail.
The whole subject of whether being a parent makes a person happy is hotly contested these days. A recent, controversial article in New York magazine cites numerous studies that show, statistically speaking, parents are less happy than non-parents. If I was a parent, this article would irritate the heck out of me. But as a non-parent, as a woman who has recently been through the trauma of a miscarriage, and as someone now on the verge of diagnosed anovulation, the article gives me strength to get out of bed, put on my size 0 pants, drink a Bourbon and gingerale at a table for two, and do it all with a smile on my face.
On The Brady Bunch, Carol never had to do anything without help. Alice did the shopping with her, cooked dinner with her, and made herself the butt of a lot of the jokes (supposedly so Carol never looked dumb). In the real world, you’re probably going to do most of these things on your own (though hopefully with help from hubby?) The cupboards may be stocked with goodies, the pantry may be filled with treats, but it seems like there are always errands to be run. And guess what? You don’t have to do them alone. Now you get to do them with a heavy, irritable, impatient infant. Here are 10 survival techniques to get you through what used to be an easy trip to the supermarket:
When will you let her get her ears pierced? Will you allow her to dye her hair? Does he have to wait until 18 to get a tattoo? How do you punish him if he gets a speeding ticket? In other words, how do you plan on parenting your child? The smallest issue, like ear piercing, can represent a greater picture of the kind of parent you plan to be. Whether or not you let all of it fall by the wayside as soon as your kid hits five months old, you’re already planning your tactics on maneuvering some of the many obstacles you’ll eventually have to climb.
How your parents handled such situations will also mold your decisions. Maybe they let you run wild as a teenager, and you feel you would have benefited from more structure, or maybe they kept you in a cage until your twenty-fifth birthday, and you wonder if that was such a great idea.
My parents trusted me as a teenager, for the most part, and I followed their unofficial rules, for the most part. Granted, I had an evening or two of pretending to be Jane Shmo’s mother and calling my friend’s mother, so my friend could stay out all night, but I’m still alive, so it’s all water under the bridge, right? But will the same parenting work for my child? Whenever I see a preteen girl wearing jean shorts the size of diapers, I judgingly think, “how could her parents let her leave the house like that?” But who knows? Maybe that girl will grow up to be a self confident CEO of some women’s empowerment firm that helps fund organizations that counsel young girls who dress like tramps. What do I know?
I know that I want my daughter to grow up feeling like she doesn’t have to expose her body in order to be significant. I want her to get a tattoo after the age of 18 because I want it to be something she chooses to do on her own, and doesn’t need permission from me. I want her to get a car as soon as she, or I, can afford it, because practice makes perfect. I want her to have only real juice, and none of this Capri Sun stuff, because I want her to respect her body and what goes in it. I want her to go on dates (ah hem – supervised, or in a well lit movie theater) because I want her to gain experience on handling herself with the opposite sex. And I want her to get her ears pierced because she’s ready, and not because Joe Shmo told her she should.
But again, what do I know? I’ll probably throw all this stuff out the window the second she asks for Oreos, instead of fat free Jello, because hey, Oreos are awesome.
Many of you who are pregnant may not have given a lot of thought yet to how you plan to discipline your child, because you won’t have to discipline them for awhile. After all, you can’t spoil an infant! They are developmentally unable to “manipulate” you, so giving in to an infant’s requests for assistance (crying) whenever they request it (cry) will not make them a “brat” later in life. Infancy is when babies learn to trust, by learning to trust that you will be there for them when they need you (cry).
However, how you plan to discipline your child isn’t something you can really improvise. You do need think about it. You need to talk about it with your partner. You may find you have vastly different ideas about how to discipline your child than your partner does, and you’ll need to talk those through. You will need to make choices, and you will need to inform your family and extended support system about the choices you’ve made.
Why am I writing about this today? Two recent studies have been on my mind, and I wanted to share them with you.
First, there’s this….
Then, there’s this study…
Let me be clear. This post is not going to be a diatribe against corporal punishment. Many parents choose to spank. Spanking can be an effective disciplinary tool, if done in a certain way. We’ll talk more about that later.
This post is about violence, though, and often children are exposed to this violence when they are being disciplined.
Let’s start by taking a look at some info from the first study…
New research just published finds that U.S. children are routinely exposed to even more violence and abuse than has been previously recognized. Nearly half of the children surveyed have said they experienced a physical assault in the past year.
According to the research, three out of five children were exposed to violence, abuse or a criminal victimization in the last year, including 46 percent who had been physically assaulted, 10 percent who had been maltreated by a caregiver, 6 percent who had been sexually victimized, and 10 percent who had witnessed an assault within their family.
Those numbers upset me, but they don’t surprise Wendy Middlemiss, Ph.D. and Associate Professor in the Development and Family Studies program at the University of North Texas (she is also my academic adviser as I pursue my Master’s Degree in Development and Family Studies). She says, as a culture, we don’t protect our children from violence.
Our culture is saturated with violence. You’ll see it in even the most benign adult programing. It is common in certain types of children’s programming. It’s in video games. It’s everywhere. There’s not much we can do about the culture, right now, but we can do the best we can to monitor how much violence our children are exposed to.
I’ve always found it curious that so many parents are scrupulous about protecting their kids from exposure to displays of affection, in the culture and on TV, or get all bent out of shape when their kids see a woman nursing their hungry infant (even if they are seeing no breast at all), yet don’t give a second thought to allowing them to play the most violent video games. Exposure to affection is not harmful. Exposure to violence is.
Which brings us to our spanking study….
A new study of more than 2,500 toddlers from low-income families found that spanking may have detrimental effects on behavior and mental development.
“We’re talking about infants and toddlers, and I think that just, cognitively, they just don’t understand enough about right or wrong or punishment to benefit from being spanked,” said Lisa Berlin, the study’s lead author and research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University.
Berlin and colleagues found that children who were spanked as 1-year-olds tended to behave more aggressively at age 2, and did not perform as well as other children on a test measuring thinking skills at age 3. (bolding added by me)
They chose to observe low income families for a reason…
The new study focused on children from low-income families because prior research suggested that spanking is more common among them, Berlin said. This may be because of the added stresses of parenting in a low-income situation, or because of a “cultural contagion” of behaviors among people. For example, in some families this study examined, a grandmother would spank a child, or neighbors would encourage physical discipline, she said.
But spanking of toddlers isn’t unique to low income families, so if you’re from a middle or high income family, don’t tune out now!
I promised this was not going to be a diatribe against spanking, and it’s not. Dr. Middlemiss says you can spank children (NOT toddlers…please don’t ever hit your toddler) without causing them harm.
Despite its common acceptance, and even advocacy for its use, spanking is a less effective strategy than time-out or removal of privileges for reducing undesired behavior in children. Although spanking may immediately reduce or stop an undesired behavior, its effectiveness decreases with subsequent use. The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse. Thus, at best, spanking is only effective when used in selective infrequent situations.
The following consequences of spanking lessen its desirability as a strategy to eliminate undesired behavior.
* Spanking children between the behavior and the punishment.
* Although spanking may result in a reaction of shock by the child and cessation of the undesired behavior, repeated spanking may cause agitated, aggressive behavior in the child that may lead to physical altercation between parent and child.
* Spanking models aggressive behavior as a solution to conflict and has been associated with increased aggression in pres
chool and school children.
* Spanking and threats of spanking lead to altered parent-child relationships, making discipline substantially more difficult when physical punishment is no longer an option, such as with adolescents.
* Spanking is no more effective as a long-term strategy than other approaches, and reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use. Time-out and positive reinforcement of other behaviors are more difficult to implement and take longer to become effective when spanking has previously been a primary method of discipline.
* A pattern of spanking may be sustained or increased. Because spanking may provide the parent some relief from anger, the likelihood that the parent will spank the child in the future is increased.
Parents who spank their children are more likely to use other unacceptable forms of corporal punishment. The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults. Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents.
That said, my four-year-old has never been hit by an adult, and hopefully never will be. I grew up in a household where the spanking was hitting. It was done in anger and done often. It was violence.
I cannot bring myself to spank.
However, I didn’t want to raise an out-of-control-monster-child! I found the book Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood: Practical Parenting from Birth to Six Years to be very helpful. There are also Love and Logic DVDs. There is also Positive Discipline: The First Three Years, if you’re like me and don’t want to spank. Even though some of what I’ve read doesn’t fit for my daughter and me, I take what is helpful and leave the rest.
We all do that, I think, in every aspect of parenting, as we create our own family “style.”
By the way, one of the most common reasons discipline edges into abuse in toddlers is parents just don’t know what their babies should be capable of, and at what ages. The book Touchpoints: Birth to Three by T. Berry Brazelton should be in every new parent’s library. It was invaluable to me.
So that’s what’s on my mind today. It’s a lot more than I thought, actually!
Just a note — and this is strictly my opinion — if someone gives you the book On Becoming Babywise, please don’t bother reading it. Recycle it. Don’t give it away, don’t sell it to Half Priced Books…recycle it. It is full of flawed information, written by people not trained in child development, as is detailed here. Some of the advice in the book can be harmful to the health and well-being of your child. Some of it is fine, but can be picked up elsewhere by reading more reliable sources. Those of you who might jump to the conclusion that child development experts don’t like this book because it claims to be teaching parenting from a religious perspective should note that many people who teach parenting from a religious perspective also denounce this book.
It’s one of the most excruciating moments many of you will face as a new mother…the day you drop your too-tiny-to-be-away-from-you-for-a-whole-day baby off at daycare, and you return to work. I’m not gonna lie to you. It’s hard. But it can be made marginally easier if you feel really comfortable with the childcare you have chosen.
But how do you choose it? Good question.
Sandy Renick, a Certified Family Life Educator and the Program Project Manager of the Campus Children’s Initiative at the University of North Texas, has a lot of excellent advice. This interview is a little long, but this is an important decision and there’s a lot to consider. Oh, and please forgive the PBS kids in the background lol. I do this blog from home, where I keep a three year old!
Renick suggests you can make the transition easier for yourself, and your baby, by starting slowly, a couple of weeks before you go to work. You can begin by leaving your baby with the childcare provider you have selected for an hour or two, and then a little longer, and then a little longer, as you prepare yourself for that first full day away. It’s still not going to be fun, but it will not be so sudden.By the way, Renick suggests word of mouth recommendations for infant care are probably the best sources for finding quality care. She says ask neighbors, fellow church members, co-workers, or maybe members of a mother’s support group. She also says your Human Resources Department at work may have a list of providers you can look over.
Renick adds that the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and Child Care Aware are great resources. Child Care Aware also has more information that may help you pick the best childcare situation for your family here.
About accreditation…Renick says the National Association for the Education of Young Children is the most widely known and has been the forerunner in childcare accreditation. There is much more on accreditation at the National Accreditation Commission for Early Care and Education Programs‘ website.For much more on how to get the most out of the amount of maternity leave you can afford to take, please listen to this Pea in the Podcast, Working While Pregnant.
Did you know that nearly half of America’s three month old babies are regular television viewers? Yes, that’s three MONTHS old, according to researchers at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Ninety percent of two year olds get to know Blue, Barney, Dora, her devil-may-care cousin Diego and that sippy-cup-set superstar Elmo intimately through daily television viewing.
How ’bout those insanely trippy DVDs we rush to the store to buy so we can make our children the next Bill Gates, or those space gobbling contraptions we buy that zing and whir and light up? How about those developmental video games targetted at two year olds?
American parents (including me) have poured — and continue to pour — gazillions of dollars into the educational television and toy industry…but are all these entrancing trinkets making a difference?
Well, maybe…and maybe not in a good way….
They need to “make believe”…
Hear What Dr. Rizvi Has To Say About Children And Play:
So if you have an infant, I’m not gonna say it’s wrong to get an infant DVD. I had one, thank goodness. It’s the only way I ever got to brush my teeth. I’m not going to say you should throw your exersaucer away. When my daughter had HFM it’s the only place I could get her to eat!
I am saying that what infants need are touch, eye contact and conversation. Lots of it. As they become toddlers, they need all of that plus they need their parents to play blocks with them, or dolls, or peek-a-boo.When they’re older, still, they need a stick and a box and a blanket and a couple of cans and string…whatever. No doubt, my daughter would find a way to make that haul into a crown, a wand and a batman cape (she’s confused).
Don’t feel guilty if your kid has a bunch of things, or watches some tv. I don’t. But they’re extras. They’re fillers. The real way to healthy development is through old fashioned play. The kind you did when you were a kid. The kind I did when I was a kid.
And remember, adults need to make time to play, too. We often forget that. So when the kids go to bed, why don’t you and your partner make a fort out of sofa cushions and blankets? I guarantee, you’ll thank me later.
For The Record
The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges you to not let your child under two years old watch tv. At all. It’s in bold print and everything. This time is essential for brain development, and there is concern that even tv targetted at little ones can do more harm than good. The AAP suggests that even older children watch no more than two hours of quality programming a day. You can out more about their recommendations here, and some compelling reasons why you should limit your child’s tv viewing here.