Category Archives: parenting

Adjusting to less focused time

It feels like I’ve had much less focused time over the past two months. Weaning, sickness, and A-‘s bigger emotions all needed more patience and energy. I’ve been prioritizing sleep and household maintenance over things like staying up to consult or write. On the plus side, we’ve gotten back into the rhythm of preparing meals for the week, and cleaning the house is a little easier now.

How can I adapt if this is my new normal?

I’ve been setting more firm boundaries (myself, bedtime routines, etc.), and that’s been working reasonably well. I’ve also adjusted my plans and made sure not to commit to more consulting than I could do.

I’m not keen on making videos a regular part of her day, since we don’t want to add another cause for conflict. I considered creating space by having a babysitter come over for 3-4 hours. A- is still not keen on the idea, though, and I can see how we both benefit from the time we spend with each other.

So the main thing to do, I think, is to rejig my plans in order to make the most of the constraints. What do I want to learn even without lots of focused sit-down time? How do I want to grow?

  • Equanimity: This lets me turn A-‘s tantrums into learning opportunities. I can practise appreciating her and this life, especially when we’re in the thick of things. Taking care of our basic needs gives me the space to be patient and kind when A- needs me to be, and it’s good practice in anticipating and heading off challenges. I tend to be firmer than W- is, so I can work on noticing when a little kindness or flexibility might help a lot when A- and I are on our own.
  • Household maintenance: I want to take on more chores, help A- get involved, and become more effective. This is also a good opportunity to practise noticing things. I can learn things from W- and from the Internet.
  • Thinking, learning, and improving in short bursts: I want to get better at using little pockets of time. Drawing and dictating might be good techniques to explore further.
  • Mindfulness and being present: I want to get better at being there for A- instead of letting myself be distracted. I want to get better at enjoying now. I also want to balance that with thinking about and doing my own things. I can start with a few magic moments a day, and then expand from there.
  • Playfulness and creativity: I like the way W- interacts with A-. It might be interesting to practise playfulness and creativity, especially since A- can be my play partner and guide. I can pick up ideas at the drop-in centres, and sometimes reading helps.

These things are less obviously rewarding than, say, figuring out a clever solution for a client problem or coming up with a neat Emacs hack and blogging about it. But they’re worthwhile things to learn anyway.

How can I make my learning more intentional? It might be interesting to make myself a list of things to focus on or try out, and then try one at time while keeping an eye out for other things that are relevant to the situation. For example, I could have a day of involving A-‘s toys in tasks, then see how that resonates with A-.

How can I make my learning more visible? I think journal entries will help a little. Sometimes A- insists that I stay close while she’s sleeping, so that might be a good time to write. I can draw thoughts while waiting for A-, too, which is a good way to model writing and drawing. Paper seems to work a little better than drawing on my phone, although maybe that’s a matter of practice. I don’t have a good workflow for dealing with notes yet, but I can archive pictures for now and deal with them as mostly transitory thinking aids.

I’ll probably have lots of focused time later on. Crunch time isn’t forever. Even if I may need to start over, I’m not too worried. I think I’ll be able to get the hang of things again.

In the meantime, we’re mostly set up for playing and doing chores at home. Once we recover from this cold and cough, I think our daily rhythm will involve drop-in centres as well as home time. I’ve got things to learn and ways to grow. I can do this, even though it’s a bit different from what I’m used to.

Life changes. It’s good to adapt.

Weaning

A- hates weaning. She’s desperate to reconnect. I wish I had more patience or cleverness for a gentler approach, but I’m all done with nursing, so we’ve gone cold-turkey.

All I can do is to accept her rages and pleas, snuggle her close when she wants (“Tighter!” she says), give her space when she wants (“That’s my body!”), offer milk and food and hugs, and not take her rejection personally. (“I like Daddy more than Mama!” “That’s okay with me.”)

I am okay with her being upset. I’m okay with giving her an outlet for her feelings, and being there for her until anger melts into sadness, or through the cycles of falling asleep crying and waking up screaming.

I’m also okay with taking care of myself (bathroom breaks, cat-naps) so that I can take care of her. W- is awesome.

Thank goodness for the mercurial moods of toddlers. It’s hard to go from calm to angry tantrum in the space of a few minutes, but fortunately she also sometimes switches out of a tantrum, so I know she’s okay.

It’s also mind-boggling to know that as much as she resists, she says she’d still rather spend time with me than with a babysitter, even when I’m low-energy. Even in the middle of a tantrum, she gestures for me to lie down too and snuggle her closer. Even though she says she doesn’t want me to say no or to set limits, she also says she wants me.

Of course, once W- is home, she’s all about him. (“Private time, Mama! Please go somewhere else.”) That’s cool too.

While we’re working on this, everything else is on hold. I need as much sleep and space as I can that I can give her as much patience and support as she needs. I misjudged it one night, staying up for an hour of consulting and an hour of planning. Four hours later, she woke up and refused to settle. The next night, I was so exhausted that I cried, and she was even more distressed by my tears. W- woke up again, calmed her down simply by taking her out of the room, and let me have a much-appreciated start on sleep.

She’s slowly coming around. She still asks, but she doesn’t rage as much now. I can acknowledge that she wants to nurse, comfort her, and offer something else. Helping her sleep is still a challenge, but at least she settles back down when she wakes up in the middle of the night. She wakes up grumpy and wanting to nurse, but the mood passes by breakfast.

It’s a lot to get through, but we’ll get through this together.

Adjusting to weaning

I’m gradually weaning A-. She hates it when I limit her nursing time by counting out loud, singing a song, or setting a timer. She responds well if we make a game out of how quickly she can nurse. That’s been helping us move away from long nurses, although she still asks to nurse throughout the day. She can fall asleep without nursing if I read to her, rock her, or snuggle her. It’s currently a bit more conflict-ridden than simply nursing her to sleep, but it’s necessary, and I’m sure things will get better as she gets used to the new routine.

Between weaning and setting firmer boundaries around my bedtime, I’m definitely not A-‘s favourite person at the moment. Whenever W- is around, she switches over to him, often saying, “Private Daddy time! Mama, please go somewhere else.” This is wonderful. She’s practising independence and individuation by rejecting me, and she gets to build memories with W- too.

It has also been a good opportunity to test my equanimity in the face of toddler disapproval. In the chapter on discipline in Between Parent and Child, (Ginott, Ginott, and Goddard; 2nd ed. 2003) there’s a note: “Most parents love their children, but it is important that they not have an urgent need to be loved by then every minute of the day.” I am okay with A- being upset with the limits I set, and I am okay with being with A- throughout those strong feelings. I trust that we’ll come out the other end with less adoration and more security.

When W- is away, A- is fine with hanging out with me. A- still likes me enough to insist, “No babysitter. Only Mama. Mama, play with me.” I’m focusing on playing with her more and letting her have more control over the day to balance the things I need to insist on at night.

Since our routines are shifting, it’s a good time to think about how we want to adjust. If A- wants to spend most of the weekends and weekday evenings with W-, I can do more housework and cooking. It’s harder for me to get her to playfully join in brushing teeth or doing other bedtime routine things, so W- will need to take care of those things too.

The important thing for me is to not turn it into a battle of wills. Even if she’s upset with me, I’m on her side. I set limits, but I’m also here to help her adapt, and I’m learning things too. I want to get better at telling the difference between the times she’ll settle down after a little boundary -testing and the times she needs more kindness and flexibility.

The tough times are usually when we’re both sleepy. She wants to nurse to sleep, and she gets upset if I limit her or reject her a lot. If I’m too sleepy, I can’t read or rock her to sleep. For naps, she can fall asleep easily if she’s in a carrier or stroller, although that runs the risk of my not being able to nap too. For night-time sleep, I may just have to read sitting up, or I can have a quick nap after taking care of household chores. In any case, I probably need to prioritize sleep over discretionary time things until this settles down.

A- and W- continue to be awesome. We’ll figure this out together!

Textbook Thursday: How Children Develop Ch. 8: Intelligence and Academic Achievement

A- stayed up late on Thursday, but I was still able to sneak in 40 minutes of reading when she insisted on spending time with W- instead of me. (“Private Daddy time!”)

Chapter 8 of How Children Develop was about intelligence and academic achievement. I’m not particularly worried about either and definitely not at the moment, although I’m interested in providing as good an environment as possible for A- to flourish, and in learning as much as I can myself.

The chapter mentioned Home Observation and Measurement of Environment, for which I found these resources: Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment, Wave 1, 1994-1997 (from Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods) and HOME-SF Scales (NLSY79 Child). The main things I want to focus on for the 0-2 year part of this scale are to arrange visits to or from relatives/friends at least twice a month, and an outing at least every other week. A- often wants to stay at home, but is occasionally game for a field trip or a visit. The scale asks if the child gets out of the house 4 times a week or more, so that’s something to keep in mind. I was amused to see that having a pet counts for something, too.

The next set of questions cover the range from 3-5 years old, so here are the items I may want to focus on then:

  • Access to a music player and at least five records/tapes/CDs/etc.: I wonder how this translates to technology today. I’m definitely not keen on letting her loose on YouTube. We could dig up a CD player for her and make a few CDs. I could build a simple media interface for her with a selection of music using Tasker on an old Android phone coupled with a Bluetooth device or a speaker, which would require less fussing about with CDs. I could label the music with drawings, too. I haven’t been keen on music-playing devices, but maybe I can ask the music teacher for advice.
  • Some delay of food gratification: we mostly spread out meal/snack times, but it would be good to start delaying snacking when out and about too.
  • Newspaper at home, to model interest in current events? Or is this just a correlation with families who are interested in current events and discuss them, and who have print-rich environments? I wonder what that means for us. W- and I often discuss what we see on Reddit, but she won’t have access to that for a long, long, long time. I wonder if I can find a researcher I can ask about this sort of stuff…
  • Regular participation in community activities: We’ll continue going to the drop-in centres, and it might be nice to find or form a playgroup as well.

This literature review has more information about HOME and the influence of the home environment and home interactions on many outcomes.

The textbook chapter also talked about academic skills: reading, writing, and mathematics. At this stage, learning about letters and phonemic awareness will help A- prepare for reading and writing later on. She’s interested in letters and is starting to visually identify them. I can see if she’s ready to play games with phonics, like picking something that starts with a given sound, and then eventually telling me if two words begin with the same sound. We’re experimenting with keeping this embedded in everyday life instead of turning to apps or flashcards.

Reading is both enjoyable and useful, and the fact that reading skills will help her in school is icing on the cake. She picks up a lot of words and phrases from books, including the little books I’ve been making for her. We’re experimenting with reading to A- as much as she wants, except when we really need to do something else (like sleep). I keep my mind occupied while reading by studying the illustrations and thinking of ways to do dialogic reading, so I’m up for reading to her as much as she wants. Hmm… Maybe I can print out those dialogic reading bookmarks and put up a poster close to her bookshelf downstairs. She used to fill in pauses a lot, but now she often wants me to just read to her instead of prompting her or asking her to point to things. She’ll sometimes add her own remarks if I wait for her signal before turning to the next page. I want to keep reading fun and enjoyable instead of veering into quizzing her, so I just make an effort to relate what we’re reading to recent experiences. I’m sure our reading will keep evolving.

As for pre-writing skills, we often do fine-motor activities like drawing, playing with playdough, and cutting with scissors. I do a lot of drawing and writing in front of her, too, and she usually wants to join in. I’m not worried about getting her to learn actual writing just yet.

I’d like to weave math into playtime and everyday life as well. We count a lot and she knows the sequence, although it hasn’t quite clicked for her yet. There’s more to early math than counting, of course. A- definitely pays attention to magnitude comparisons, and will often talk about taking a bigger or smaller piece of cheese. One-to-one correspondence might be good to practise with activities like distributing forks and plates. Laundry gives us classification practice. Maybe I can make visual aids to go with counting songs. It would be nice to find a more visual timer that can work with Google Assistant’s voice recognition, too. Anyway, there are lots of early math activities to explore.

It’s neat working on our home environment and on my interactions with A- – not because we want to hot-house a prodigy, but because it’s fun thinking about these things and appreciating how kids learn. Whee!

Book: Unconditional Parenting

Updated 2018-07-29: Added note about doing to / working with.

For (Text)book Thursday, I actually managed to make a sketchnote! Hooray! Hooray! It’s been so long, I’m not even sure what my process for posting these things was…

2018-07-26a Unconditional Parenting – Alfie Kohn #book #sketchnote #parenting

Anyway. On with the book notes.

Unconditional Parenting (Atria Books, 2005) resonates a lot with the kind of parenting we seem to be doing, and it challenges me to go even further. I’m looking for alternatives to timeouts and reward charts mostly out of curiosity, not because I judge people who use them or that I’d judge myself if those techniques end up being what we feel we need. It’s good to explore possibilities and learn from experiences.

I remember reading a parenting article that inspired me to try moving away from evaluative statements like “Good job!” towards you-focused statements (“You did it!”), or better yet, more specific, descriptive statements (“You put the wooden block on top of the other block!”). A- is almost two and a half years old now, so it might be interesting to see what we can do with more questions. (“I see you made two blue handprints on the pink paper. Can you tell me about your painting?”)

I have so much fun observing A- and acknowledging all the cool things she’s doing. I need to be careful not to crowd her, though, or to make her feel that she’s only interesting when she’s doing new things. She’s good at telling me when she wants me to do something different (“Mama dance different dance!”) or when she wants me to do the same thing she’s doing. (“Play playdough together!”) I’ve been working on toning down the running commentary for words she already knows, giving her more quiet time, and waiting until she prompts me by looking at me or talking to me. It can be hard to sit there, though. I also catch myself thinking in terms of positive reinforcement of behaviour, so that’s something to watch out for.

So far, we have the flexibility to invite A- to make lots of decisions with us and to accommodate many of her preferences. For example, she’s not keen on babysitters at the moment, and that’s okay with me. She’s getting better at telling me how she feels and what she wants, and she’s even starting to propose ways to solve problems. For my part, I’m getting better at turning things into games, which has been handy for brushing her teeth.

I like focusing on A-, not just on what she says or does. Today, for example, she was suddenly a teenager: “I hate this fish. I hate beansprouts. I hate everything.” Instead of telling her not to use the word “hate,” getting offended, or getting frustrated, I tried different things and found out that she actually wanted her own portion of fish from the fridge, not off my plate. She’s experimenting with big emotions, boundaries, language, and will, and I’m glad I have the space to support her through that.

The book has a few details on helping kids develop perspective-taking skills, which was one of the skills in the ELECT framework that I wanted to focus on. I’m looking forward to modeling perspective-taking through conversation, and practising taking her perspective too. I like how it can turn even unpleasant encounters into opportunities for reflection, which reminds me a lot of Stoic philosophy.

Unconditional Parenting is quite different from most of the parenting books I’ve come across, and it probably isn’t a good fit for everyone. It’s a little heavy on the negative side, and would probably get lots of people’s hackles up. I would have liked to read more about the challenges of applying the approach and how to figure things out together. That’s often the challenge with parenting books – the anecdotes sound so smooth, but I’m more curious about the figuring-out parts and the repairs and the let’s-try-agains. I guess I’m looking for something less sales-y, more open source support forum-y, if they makes sense? Anyway, I think we have a good opportunity to try out a few of the ideas from it, though, so it might be fun to explore while we can. It’s been a while since it was published, so I wonder what more recent recommendations say.

I do like the book’s distinction between “doing to” parenting and “working with” parenting. It reminds me of the way pedagogical documentation reframes the grown-up’s role from the dispenser of wisdom to a co-learner supporting the kid’s growth.

The book reminds me of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves and How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, both of which feel like books I can recommend a bit more generally. Janet Lansbury’s stuff, too.

As always, it’s all a grand experiment, so if something different works for your family, great, good for you! Goodness knows different things work for us at different times, too. It’s good to have things to think about and try out, though!

Tips for new parents near High Park, Toronto

Getting through the first few weeks:

  • Telehealth +18667970000 – 24-hour access to nurses so you can ask questions and find out if you need to go to the emergency room or the doctor, or if it’s perfectly normal.
  • At the first few well-baby visits, your doctor or midwife will ask you about sleep, number of wet / poopy diapers, and bottles / nursing. I found it impossible to remember these things, but an app like Baby Connect makes it easy to track stuff like that. It’s even multiuser.
  • You’ll also weigh the baby a lot. Since babies tend to protest about being undressed, it can help to use a good scale to weigh the baby’s clothes and a dry diaper before you dress the baby up, allowing you to just weigh the baby with everything on (change their diaper if wet). If you want to weigh the baby in between scheduled well-baby visits, you can either schedule a weight check with your doctor or drop by a breastfeeding clinic (https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/children-parenting/pregnancy-and-parenting/breastfeeding/services/breastfeeding-clinics/ – Crossways is nearby, Tue 11-3 / Fri 10-3).
  • It’s totally normal to need help figuring out breastfeeding. You can go to the breastfeeding clinic (see above), find a La Leche League meeting close to you, text or email your local La Leche League leaders, or find a lactation consultant.
  • Extra flannel blankets make good burp cloths. A flannel bedsheet can be cut up into soooo many flannel wipes.
  • Stash snacks and water bottles wherever you usually nurse/feed, and figure out which meals you like that can be easily eaten one-handed.
  • The BabySparks app suggests activities and helps you track milestones. In Ontario, we have free access to the Looksee Checklist at ndds.ca. There’s a wide range for normal development, so don’t worry too much about it.
  • Babywearing is a great way to free up your hands. Carry Me Close Toronto (https://m.facebook.com/myCMCtoronto/) has meetups and a carrier library, so you can try different carriers and get tips on how to carry babies correctly.
  • You can ask Google Maps to show you accessible routes, which is handy for taking a stroller around.
  • There are Facebook groups for pretty much everything. Locally, there’s a Junction Parents Meetup and a Junction Moms Meet Up Group. Bunz Kid Zone Toronto can be a good way to barter for stuff (or get rid of stuff).
  • We like using WiFi Baby Monitor as a free baby monitor on our Android phones. There’s probably something similar on iPhones.
  • Take pictures/videos even of ordinary moments. It’s fun to look back, and kids like reviewing them too. It’s totally okay to ask someone to take a picture of you, or to prop your phone or camera up and get a picture of yourself with the baby.
  • Google Photos can automatically back up all your photos, and it offers free unlimited storage for regular-quality images. Definitely good enough for printing 4×6 or 5×7.
  • If you want to share pictures and other updates via Facebook, a secret group or closed group is a handy way to control access and organize the photos. You can add people, and they can remove themselves or unfollow if they don’t want to be flooded by kid pictures.
  • Whatever works for your family works for your family. There can be a lot of judging online and in person, and it’s easy to feel guilty or insecure especially as a first-timer. Don’t worry, you got this, you’ll figure things out.

Later on:

  • Once things have settled down a bit, you might enjoy going out with your new baby. The City of Toronto has many free programs and drop-in centres. “Living and Learning with Baby” and “Make the Connection” are both registered programs run by nurses where you can ask questions, learn about stuff, meet other parents, and pick up songs and rhymes. If you can get into the Healthy Babies Healthy Children program, it’s great – a nurse and a home visitor come to your house to help you learn how to parent and play.
  • Libraries often have baby storytimes. Also, it can be hard to find time to read paper books with a newborn, but you can get e-books and audiobooks from the library too.
  • There are plenty of EarlyON child and family centres. One of our favourites is the Junction Family Resource Centre in the basement of Annette Library (M 10-1, T/Th 1-4, http://www.centralhealthline.ca/displayService.aspx?id=132493), which even has a toy lending program. They also accept donations of toys and baby clothes, which is a good way to declutter. The Parkdale-High Park Ontario Early Years Centre on Dundas West (near Dollarama, https://www.childdevelop.ca/programs/healthy-child-development) has a baby program on Monday afternoon, too.
  • The Where to Go Kiddo app focuses on the west end of Toronto and lists other free drop-ins. Also, http://kidsprograms.ca/ lets you search programs.
  • The Children’s Book Bank (http://www.childrensbookbank.com/) is a great place to get free children’s books, or to donate ones you don’t need. It’s close to Riverdale Farm and the Regent Park Aquatic Centre, so you could pair it with one of those for a field trip.
  • In terms of paid stuff, we liked the Smart Start music classes at the Royal Conservatory of Music. They have programs for 0-12mo, 12-24mo, and so on. The Royal Ontario Museum was a nice place to walk around indoors during the cooler months. Try the biodiversity section: the animals are behind glass, there are some textures to touch, and you can point to things.
  • Shallow pools: Joseph Piccinnini Community Centre has a nice warm indoor wading pool. Regent Park Aquatic Centre has wide steps going into the pool. The indoor wading pool in Trinity Bellwoods has several levels.
  • Baby sign language: We found the signs for “more” and “milk” quite useful.
  • Elimination communication: Surprisingly less intimidating than I thought it would be, or maybe we were lucky. Great way to cut down on poopy diapers and make toilet training easier later on.
  • You can get nutrition advice from EatRight, and you can also sign up for the Peer Nutrition program offered by the city. Toronto Public Health recommendations are generally in line with Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility: you’re in charge of what and when, and the kid is in charge of whether and how much.
  • You can still catch movies if you want to – Movies for Mommies (http://moviesformommies.com) runs baby-friendly screenings. Or you can borrow movies from the library, and I think the library even offers streaming.
  • daycarebear.ca is a daycare search engine. Also, ratings for licensed daycares are available through the City of Toronto.
  • It can be lots of fun learning about child development and appreciating all the little things your kiddo is learning.

Have fun! There will be lots of tough moments, but you’re in for a great adventure. :)