Archive for Toddlers – Page 2

Avoiding Power Struggles with Your Kids

parenting scolding child

Last week I joined Greg & Lisa Popcak on their radio program More2Life to talk about positive ways to deal with power struggles with our kids.  We’ve all been in situations with our kids when we are butting heads with them:  they just asked for candy for the fifth time in the store in as many minutes; they refuse to come to the dinner table; they hide from us at bedtime.

How do we deal with power struggles with our kids without weakening our relationship with them?  Here a few tips for actually strengthening your connection with your kids while addressing problem behavior.

Routines

Routines help kids know what to do and when.  Our routines create smooth grooves in the road of family life, and our kids are comforted and secure living in the certainty of those grooves.  This is as true for teens as it is for tiny ones.  However, routines are especially powerful in managing problem behavior in toddlers and preschoolers.  What’s the terrifying trio for little ones? Eating, sleeping, and toileting.  If our power struggles erupt in these areas, we have a problem because we cannot force our children to eat, sleep, or pee.  They are ultimately in control.  We can only encourage their compliance with our expectations through gentle, loving persuasion and by keeping healthy routines and rituals around the trio. 

Eating dinner together every night after a family prayer and over enjoyable conversation is both a routine and a loving ritual that gives our child positive associations about food. Having a comforting bedtime routine (bath, story, prayers) prepares a child for sleep.  Even taking a potty training toddler to the potty on the hour is the kind of routine he needs to experience success.

Clear Expectations

Ensure your children know ahead of time what you expect of them:  Have clear rules around behavior in your home; before an outing remind them of expectations regarding purchasing things, wandering off, or basic manners.  Don’t forget that small children usually need lots of patience and reminders about our rules and expectations.  We also don’t want to set kids up for failure by expecting them to be more mature than they are.  For example, we can expect our teenager to sit politely at Grandma’s dinner table for an hour, but our toddler will probably turn the napkin rings into eye glasses!

Modeling Appropriate Behavior

If a child is having a problem with an inappropriate behavior (hitting, lying, grabbing toys), instead of ignoring the behavior or punishing him for it, we can mentor him in making a better, wiser choice.  For example, if our child is taking another child’s toys, we can say gently “let’s ask Jane if we can play with the blocks when she’s done” and then we can help our child cope with his feeling of frustration and disappointment over having to wait; we can then play with him until it’s his turn.  If we have a hitter, even if the child is very small, we can model “a gentle touch” by physically placing her hand gently on the dog or the other child. 

Kids watch everything we do: How we act is a much more powerful lesson that what we have to say.  If we tell our kids to do one thing, but something different ourselves, they notice.  If we don’t want our kids to hit, yell, gossip, or lie, then we can’t do these things either.  We must model kindness, respect, and love in the way we treat our children and others.

The Peace Place

Many parents know about “time outs” –placing your child in designated area for a specific period of time as punishment for unwanted behavior – but sometimes time outs actually create power struggles in the relationship.  If the problem is disconnection between child and parent, time outs might make the problem worse.  If this is happening in your family, I suggest viewing time outs as cool offs instead.  Especially when children are very young, being isolated away from the family can feel threatening and frightening.

Designate a cool off spot where your child can go to calm down and collect himself.  This space should be very inviting and comfortable – think comfy pillows, stuffed animals, books.  The goal is not to punish the child, but to empower him to gain his composure so that it becomes a habit.  This is your Peace Place:  a special place where kids and parents alike go to find some peace and quiet.

If the problem is a disconnection between our child and ourselves, then we should take the cool off with him.  We can snuggle and read together in the Peace Place until things are calm, and then talk through what happened.

Laugh!

I know it seems bonkers to consider laughing with kids when they’re pressing our buttons, but it often works.  In his book Playful Parenting, Lawrence Cohen offers several strategies for defusing tense moments with our kids through play or a playful attitude.  If you struggle with bedtime, dinner time, or chore time, make a game out of it.  My husband used to tap his fingers under the table during dinner pretending to be a mouse coming to hunt for my son’s food: “Hurry take a bite! The mouse is coming to eat it!”  My son loved this game and we were able to encourage at least a few extra bites this way!

Just having a playful spirit instead of a grumpy one can defuse a tense situation.  Racing to see who can pick up the Lego the fastest instead of yelling at the kids to get them picked up, trying to put our child’s jacket on his legs when we’re trying to get out the door, even announcing that dinner will be served on the front lawn – these are playful, fun ways to reduce the tension in otherwise difficult situations.  Instead of weakening your relationship with your child through threats and fighting, you are actually strengthening your relationship.

I think the bottom line with all these suggestions is that our goal should be to mentor our child, to view him as a disciple who needs guidance, not a prisoner who needs punishment.  If we try control our child through threats or with physical force it might work in the short term to get them to do what we want, but often at the expense of their trust in us.

For more ideas for maintaining your connection with your kids while addressing problem behavior, see these awesome resources:

Parenting with Grace by Greg and Lisa Popcak

Positive Discipline by Jane Nelson (see also her books specifically on preschoolers and teens)

Sibling Rivalry (or “when’s that baby going back to her real house?”)

90056894When I was eight-months pregnant with my second child (my daughter Claire), my oldest child Aidan announced, “I don’t really want a sister.”

Now, why wouldn’t any child want a sibling?  Why wouldn’t he want somebody to ride bikes with, somebody to dig in the dirt with, somebody to open presents with on Christmas morning?  Well, because he was a normal four-year-old for one thing.  We’re looking at sibling rivalry here.  What is sibling rivalry really and how do we deal with it effectively?  This is the topic I explored today with Greg & Lisa Popcak on their radio show More2Life, produced by Ave Maria Radio.   (If you missed the show you can find the entire program in Ave Maria’s archives!)

Every parent I know who has more than one child has faced sibling rivalry.  Sibling rivalry is the competition and fighting between siblings brought on by a child’s jealousy or insecurity about how his parents feel about him compared to his siblings.  It’s easy to ignore sibling rivalry as just part of a normal childhood, but true sibling rivalry is very different from squabbling.  This kind of jealousy can become poisonous and painful if left to fester.

Preschoolers 

Let’s begin at the beginning, because sibling rivalry most often begins before the second child is even born, just as it did for Aidan nearly ten years ago.  These feelings of ambivalence about a new child coming into the family are very normal.  But if parents ignore those feelings or if they shame the child for having them, it can set up a dangerous dynamic between the two children.  I think it’s imperative that we recognize how authentically threatened little children are by the arrival of a new baby.  Before the baby arrives, they hear Mommy and Daddy talking “the baby” a LOT ( and what’s a baby? who is it? where is it coming from? what’s it gonna say or do?).  They watch Mommy rubbing her baby belly, witness the joy in the faces of strangers when they talk to Mommy about the baby coming, and watch Mommy and Daddy shopping for cool stuff for the baby.  Then the baby comes.  Well, goodness.  Now they see Mom gazing into the baby’s eyes, cooing at her, nursing her.  What’s to like about that when you’re a little kid?

CAPC’s second Building Block to a Joyful Catholic Home™ is empathy.  Empathy requires us to put ourselves in our child’s shoes so we can understand things from his perspective.  Empathy allows us to respond to our child with more awareness of what they need from us.  Quite simply, our kids are not us!  They have their own thoughts, temperament, and ideas.  If I had considered Aidan’s struggle only from my own perspective, I would have told him to knock it off and get with the program – we were having a baby whether he liked it or not.  However, when I looked at Aidan’s problem from his perspective – the perspective of a preschool only-child with health issues and two overwhelmed parents (I was in law school and Philip was a post-doctoral researcher) — no wonder he was freaked out thinking about a new family member coming.  He felt unsettled, threatened, and unsure where he would fit into the picture after the baby arrived.

Aidan is no different from any other small child facing the arrival of a new baby in the family.  All of us can acknowledge our older child’s feelings and do what we can to give them the reassurance and love they need to help through this transition. Here a few tips to help your little ones cope with their anxiety when you are expecting and welcoming a new baby into your family:

  • Include big siblings in preparations:  When we were expecting new babies, Philip and I got in the habit of calling the baby “our baby” or even “your baby” when talking to our older kids about the baby.  (“When your baby is crying, she might be hungry or uncomfortable.”)  This gave our children the feeling that they were included in the giant excitement ahead.
  • Gentle first introductions:  When baby finally arrived, when my older children came to the hospital the first time to meet baby, I asked my husband to phone me when he was on his way up so that I could put the baby in the hospital bassinet.  This way, my arms were free to hug my older children and I could introduce them to the new baby gently.   I also had “big sibling” gifts waiting for my kids when they arrived at the hospital.
  • Involve big siblings in baby care:  Older siblings will bond better with the baby if they are permitted to hold the baby, help with diapering and bathing, etc.  They feel less sidelined and more important.
  • One-on-one time:  It really helps older siblings feel special when we make an effort to spend “just you” time with them after baby arrives.  When I was recovering from my 3rd c-section, I made the mistake of ensuring my older kids had lots of special time with Dad and Grandma, but failed to take that time myself.  Two-year-old Claire was very jealous of Dominic for several months. I had to heal my relationship with her first before she was able to open her heart to Dominic.  (Now they’re great pals!)

Older Children

Beyond the baby years, older children can struggle with sibling rivalry, too.  My discussion with Greg & Lisa was part of their broader presentation of the problem of resentment – specifically the ways in which we can become mired in our anger and sense of powerlessness about certain relationships and circumstances.  When sibling rivalry is a problem in the relationship of two older siblings, this element of anger and powerlessness is very clear.  The siblings can actually feel hatred toward their sibling, exaggerate affronts, and react to small annoyances with emotional hostility and even violence.  I think this irrationality comes partly from a place of fear and powerlessness.

Older children are striving to demonstrate how they are special and unique.  They are trying to define themselves apart from their siblings.  Siblings can become jealous, angry, and competitive with one another when we fail to affirm them for the unique children of God that they are.  Here are a few tips for quieting the rioting between your big ‘uns!

  • Don’t compare or label your kids:  Never compare your children! (“Why can’t you be a good ball player like your brother?”)   This is a no-brainer.  Most parents I know have risen above this terrible habit because it was one that their parents haunted them with in their own childhoods, but I must make this declaration anyway in case there are few stragglers out there:  Comparing children – their talents, faults, attractiveness – is toxic!  Similarly, labeling your kids is very limiting.  Were you called “the clumsy one,” “the smart one,” “the pretty one,” or “the black sheep” in your family of origin?  Labels like this can hurt feelings and constrain potential.  I think parents get in the habit of labeling kids because they’re trying to create a family identity and sense of cohesion (however strange).  But these labels can create stagnancy and bitterness in family dynamics.  Yuck.  So avoid labels and be open to whatever your kids have to teach you about who they are and where God is leading them.
  • Help your kids discover their talents:  God has a special plan for each of us.  When we help our children see that they are unique and unrepeatable, with talents and gifts of their very own, they won’t feel like they have to live up to their siblings achievements.
  • Have plenty of family fun time:  Reserving special time for the whole family to play together fosters connection and family identity.  When your children regularly laugh together, they are better able to handle their conflicts later.   
  • Don’t forget one-on-one time:  Just like younger kids, older children benefit from me-and-you time when they can experience your love and recognition apart from their siblings.
  • Require and model kindness in your home:  Cruelty and sibling abuse is a reality and it can lead to life-long psychological harm.  We must never accept or tolerate violence or bullying in our homes.  This means we parents have to model the behavior we expect to see in our children.  We have to treat our children and our spouse with respect and love if we expect our children to internalize those values.

None of us wants to see our kids fighting or bickering, especially when it’s motivated by a lack of confidence in our love for them.  Sibling rivalry is avoidable!  Understand where your kids are coming from, meet their needs tenderly and mercifully, and reassure them that everyone’s needs will be met to the best of your ability.  Love your kids without limits, every day, at every opportunity.

Image credit: Arne Thayson (photos.com)

The Family & The New Evangelization

year of faith photo

Today is the Feast of the Ascension.  At the Ascension, Christ announced the Church’s mission to the Apostles:

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.  Matthew 28: 19 and 20.

Christians aren’t meant to sit back and cheer on the Church as she tries to spread the Good News of salvation and Christ’s love.  (Way to go guys!  Convert those lost souls! Woo-hoo!   . . .  Okay, where’s my remote?)  All Christians are called to the task of evangelization.  This truth is evident in the Vatican’s efforts to promote “The New Evangelization” at every level of society.  Ordinary Christian men and women are critical in transforming not only non-Christianized nations, but the de-Christianization of previously rich Christian communities.

But what about parents?  How can we be useful in the serious work of conversion when we have a family to care for?  Today my toddler decided to run the hose in our unlandscaped yard, creating a mud pile; she then rolled around in it until she was covered in mud from head to toe.  This morning, my teenager was having a hard time deciding whether he felt comfortable riding his bike to the middle of town to meet some pals for a movie.  He needed my attention and my ear all morning.  And I will not  mention (okay, I’m mentioning it) my nine-year-old daughter who needs gentle lessons in why growing girls need to wear clothes around the house.

Gee whiz!  I know I’m not alone.  We are busy raising our children and keeping our homes running smoothly.  How do we become part of the Church’s work of conversion?  I explored this question with Greg & Lisa Popcak on their radio show More2Life today.  The fact is, not only are we called to participate in The New Evangelization, but we have a special role to play.

Our first disciples are very near

The Church has identified the family has particularly critical to the Church’s work of evangelization.  However, you don’t need to go off to distant lands to obey Christ’s call to convert the world.  We heed the call by evangelizing our own children:  our first disciples are our children.  We can spend lots of time in Church ministries, packing care packages for the poor, and raising money for missions, but let’s not kid ourselves:  If we fail our children, we fail the call.  Our culture tells us that what we do at home in the private sphere of the family is insignificant especially socially and politically.  But family is everything. It is always and everywhere.  Every human being begins as part of a family.

ConnectionThe family is the first school of love.  Christ said we are to teach and convert our children, so what are our children learning in our families?  Are they learning fear, hate, and rebellion or joy, love, and communion?   Lisa Popcak mentioned her concern that many of her homeschooling friends assume that because they are using a Catholic homeschool curriculum, their children will grow up to become faithful, fulfilled Catholics, but the evidence does not bear this out.  One study I looked at claimed that Catholic children are more likely than not to fall away from the faith in adulthood.  We cannot assume that because we form our child’s mind with good Catholic information that she’ll remain Catholic.  We must win her heart first.  To carry our values into adulthood, our child must see us as credible authorities and care about our values.  By attending to the quality of the attachment and connection between our children and ourselves, we are tending their hearts, and drawing them to Christ.

Studies consistently show that children who are raised in harsh, negative environments are less likely to internalize their parents’ values than children raised by firm but kind parents. Quite simply, we impact the world in the way we love our children.

See those Christians, how they love

The New Evangelization calls us to reach out not only to non-Christians, but also Christians who have lost the faith.  We can do this work comfortably within the vocation of parenting.  You don’t have to stand on a street corner with a Bible to fulfill this call.  The world will see the witness of our lives and wonder what we have that they don’t have!  (See those Christians how they love!) Just in our love, neighborliness, and hospitality toward others, we can evangelize the world.  Inviting acquaintances to your home to share a meal and to experience the love of a healthy, thriving family is a powerful way to participate in the Church’s mission.

Sharing the comfort and warmth of our families in this way will impact others in more ways than we can imagine.  I believe American culture in particular is starving for the kindness and warmth that can be found in strong, loving Catholic homes.  So, invite a work acquaintance home for dinner; bring a widowed or sick neighbor cards made by your children and bring your children along to deliver them; invite a fallen Catholic to share in your Easter dinner.  You don’t have to lean into their faces and ask, are you saved, in order to spread Christ’s Good News.  Your love is the Good News.  As one of the Popcaks’ callers put it, sometimes it’s most compelling to allow others to meet Christ in us, in our merciful actions, instead of through our words.

He is with us always

As we live this noble, sacramental life of parenting our children, of evangelizing world through our families, we will struggle, we will fall, we will suffer.  Christ promised he would be with us always in this work.   Especially through the sacraments, Christ will strengthen us and give us wisdom for the journey.  We must not only attend Mass faithfully in order to take the Eucharist, but we parents benefit from the healing and direction available through the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

We can also meet Christ in prayer.   Each family has a unique path, a special mission within the larger mission of the Church, but we will never know what that is unless we are willing to cultivate our prayer life, both personally and as a family.  If you can’t imagine how you can fit in family prayer in a schedule that is already jammed, start small.  Perhaps you can just pray the Morning Offering together before you all leave for the day, pray at dinner, and then pray again with your children when they’re going to bed.  Praying the rosary is a great way to introduce family prayer even with small children.  With lots of littlies, it’s okay to just pray one decade of the rosary.  Once you have made a commitment to prayer and it becomes family habit, you will notice real changes in the emotional and spiritual environment of your home.

Christ is also with us through the fellowship of other Christians.  I can become isolated in my large parish because I’m so shy, but when I make the effort to get involved in parish activities and events, I am always glad.  I especially appreciate how my children benefit from feeling part of our parish community: they love knowing the special, pretty places on the parish grounds, the names of our deacons (and where they eat lunch after Mass!), and those small seemingly mundane details that often give us all a comfortable sense of belonging.

He is with us always as we lead our domestic church, as we convert the world one moment at a time, one conversation at a time, despite muddied toddlers and teen angst — no, it’s through those things that our evangelical work thrives!

The Bedtime Routine: More Than a Means to an End

Bedtime was rough last night.  While I will spare you all of the grisly details, let’s just say my four-year-old daughter set a new record for length and intensity of her already impressive tantrum throwing abilities.  As parents, sometimes it takes a child screaming at us combined with a feeling of complete helplessness to inspire us to reevaluate the direction in which our parenting skills are going.  Are we continuing to focus on loving our children and meeting their needs through self-sacrifice and growth in virtue, or are we gradually slipping back into selfishness and vice?

57612470I turned back to a trusty resource today, The No Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers by Elizabeth Pantley, and after reflecting on just a few paragraphs, I felt the scales fall from my eyes.  Her emphasis of gentle strategies to help our children ease into a peaceful sleep made me realize I’ve been doing just the opposite.  I’ve been thinking of bedtime as the glorious moment when I get to turn my children off for the day so I can focus on myself and the tasks I want to finish before collapsing into bed myself.  I’ve been dutifully performing the bedtime routine with one goal in mind:  to get to the “me time” that I deserve after a long day of parenting!

I now understand that my children strongly sense this selfish attitude.  At the time of day that they most need to feel the security of my love, my focus is already shifting to other activities.  And at the end of the day when I’m wishing I had spent just a little more time connecting with my children, I realize I missed out on the golden opportunity that is the bedtime routine.

Sleep is a popular topic of conversation among parents.  We are all continually trying to figure out how to “get” our young children to sleep.  And while a break from parenting responsibilities is healthy for both our marriages and our personal sanity, it is important that we don’t sacrifice our children’s sense of security in the process.  Are we taking our time in every step of the bedtime routine to speak to our children in a loving tone of voice, listen to a story about something that happened at school that day, and be silly with them?  Sometimes my children reveal some of their most important thoughts and concerns to me while in the midst of getting ready for bed.

An excerpt from the “Night Prayer” found in the Magnificat comes to mind:

Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake, watch over us as we sleep, that awake, we may keep watch with Christ, and asleep, rest in his peace, alleluia. 

How comforting these words are, that in a world that seems to be filled with too much immorality, tragedy, and terror, there is a Father in heaven who loves us deeply and holds a place for us in eternal bliss so long as we choose to do His will.  Don’t our children deserve to sense the same protection and love from their earthly father and mother?  Even if their day consisted of skinned knees, disappointments, or a “big kid” moment that stretched the limits of their independence, they can always trust that Mom and Dad will be there to hold their hand through the more challenging moments of growing up.

As a Natural Family Planning and Theology of the Body teacher, an important lesson my husband and I have learned is that the end does not justify the means.  While we are often referring to this truth in the context of marriage and birth control, the same could be said for so many of our parenting challenges.  Yes, we want our children to get the sleep they need to function well as people in this world, but how are we achieving this?  Are we using gentle methods that take each child’s personality and individual needs into account, or are we trying to force the issue by playing upon their fears as we attempt to conform their dispositions into a cookie cutter bedtime mold?

In spite of her periodic tantrums, my daughter can be quite rational and reasonable when her emotions are under control.  So we sat down together and came up with a plan for bedtime.  She was happy to help me remember all of the steps of getting ready for bed, and was thrilled with the prospect of now incorporating a bedtime blessing and surprise bedtime book bag into the routine.  She understands there will be reasonable consequences if she does not follow the routine that she helped create, and she seems very pleased to know exactly what to expect at bedtime tonight.  I believe the security of this routine is especially helpful to her as our household continues to adjust to the blessing of a new baby.

My husband and I are looking forward to what will hopefully be a time of peaceful, relaxed bonding with our children, followed by some time to focus on each other as a married couple.  And if things don’t go as planned?  We’ll keep tweaking the routine until we get it right, as I am sure we will continue to do from time to time as our children grow and change.

Once again, I find myself thanking God for providing me with the means to grow closer to Him by loving my children better.  Now where did that unopened bottle of champagne go?  I think I see an at-home date night in my future!

Image Credit: Stockbyte (photos.com)

Thy Will Be Done

Charisse & Baby Faith

Charisse & Baby Faith

I gaze at my newborn daughter’s delicate features and feel my heart ache as it struggles to retain this moment that will go by all too quickly.  The joy of a new birth is soon mixed with the bittersweet awareness of the passage of time, and I am filled with the impulse to hold onto my daughter with possessive and jealous arms with no intention of ever letting go.

As I observe my other children going about their busy lives, the contrast of the peaceful stillness of my newborn snoozing blissfully at my breast creates an acute awareness of how quickly new baby squeaks and tiny baby toes turn into first toddler words and running toddler feet.  My two-year-old reminds me that self declared independence and weaning can happen sooner than I expected, and it doesn’t seem possible that my older children are gaining so much knowledge so quickly, playing at friends’ houses for hours at a time, and going to sleep-overs.  I can easily find myself ensnared by the temptation to long for something that cannot be–to wish that the moments of cuddling my newborn could last forever–to wish that my children could simply stop in time as they journey down the path to greater independence from me and assure me of how much they still need their mother.

Then I realize that this is why I parent the way I do.  Attachment Parenting offers my children the foundation of trust and love that is essential for them to carry out their God-given purpose in this world.  By being in tune to their needs and responding to them through my presence and actions since the day they were born, my children have a strong sense of self worth and moral integrity that will not easily be broken by the pressures of this world.  Attachment Parenting gives me the bonding time that I need with my children so I can be confident that I will guide them in the way God intended.  I love it when my baby needs to nurse or clearly just needs some snuggle time with me.  I never feel more needed than when one of my older children specifically wants me to play that game with him, read that book to her, or put that band aid on.  It is in these moments that our mutual trust and love become evident and our souls are bared so we can truly get to know one another.

I realize my children are a gift, not just to me and my husband, but to the rest of the world as well.  And while, as parents, we are their primary caretakers, we are called not to selfishly claim them and their abilities as our own, but to give them back to God as they learn how He wants them to serve Him.

As St. Peter Damian said, “Let us detach ourselves in spirit from all that we see and cling to that which we believe.  This is the cross which we must imprint on all our daily actions and behavior.”

So while I sometimes wish I could lock myself in a room and keep my newborn’s snuggles all for myself amidst the flurry of new baby visitors, I understand that my beautiful daughter already has a greater mission in life than filling my heart with joy.  She has the ability to thrill grandparents with her precious baby coos, to delight other children with her miniature proportions, and to remind all who see her of how sacred new life is.  Just as my baby daughter carries a unique ability to bring others closer to God simply by being who she is, so are my other children blessed with talents and abilities that will allow them to carry out the specific missions that God has planned for them.  My parenting style gives me the intimate moments with my children that I need to have the strength to detach myself when God is calling me to allow His child to do His work–a strength I call upon more and more as my children grow up.

Perhaps in these moments of child-led detachment we experience many of the same feelings that Joseph and Mary did upon finding Jesus in the Temple.  Mary asks, “Son, why hast thou done so to us?  Behold thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing.”  And Jesus replies, “Did you not know that I must be about my Father’s business?”  (Lk 2:49)

Our loved ones are not our own.  They are precious gifts from God who, if we fulfill our vocation well, will never need to be sought with sorrow, but rather released with joy to do the work of our Father in heaven.

During this Holy Week, I pray that I might emulate Mary as Christ’s Way of the Cross became her Way of the Cross.  I’ll soak up these early years of holding my children close and make a choice in every moment to lead them closer to God by my word and example.  And as my children’s moments of independence fall faster and closer together, may I release them whole heartedly back into His care with confidence that my  personal fiat will inspire them to respond always in the words of Christ, “Thy will be done.”

When Your Kids Lie

We all want to have a loving and trusting relationship with our children, so what should we do when our child lies to us?  Why do children lie and how can we help them value truthfulness?  Gregory and Lisa Popcak and I explored this topic today on their radio show More2Life on Ave Maria Radio.  The Popcaks’ show was on the general issue of trust.  Trust is, of course, a good thing.  We should trust others, but we also need to be prudent.  We parents can get freaked out when our child lies to us or somebody else.  But I think if we consider why it is that children lie, it can defuse difficult situations and help us handle them more effectively.

Why Children Lie:

  1. IMMATURITY:  Toddlers and preschoolers often blur the line between fantasy and reality:  they tell you what they155688779 wish was the truth.  They say, “My Grandma is coming to bring me a bike” or “I saw a pink elephant in my closet eating my lunch” because they wish these things were true.  These lies are not acts of deception.
  2. AVOIDANCE:  Children frequently lie to avoid doing something they dislike, like completing their homework or eating broccoli.
  3. FEAR:  Children often lie because they’re afraid of the consequences of the truth.  They lie about hitting their sibling or about crossing the street to get a ball because they know Mom or Dad will be unhappy, angry, or may even punish them.  A child with low self-esteem may lie to friends about his accomplishments because he fears he won’t be accepted.
  4. FRUSTRATION:  Older children and teens sometimes lie because they feel misunderstood or they feel our rules are unfair.  This frustration weakens the connection between parent and child, and the child looks for ways to take care of himself because he feels the parent is misguided.  He stays out late and doesn’t call home, then lies and tells his parents his cellphone ran out of batteries.

What to Do About Lying:

  1. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY:  Most children aren’t out to hurt us; they’re just trying to meet their needs however feckless their efforts.  Basically, they’re trying to avoid the broccoli.  They’re unlikely thinking about the larger consequences of their actions or that they might actually hurt somebody with their lie. It’s hard for adults to accept this because we have a more mature perspective (I hope!) and can think through our actions more clearly, but put yourself in the mind of your child and it can help you have empathy for him.  I’m not suggesting you excuse the lie, but only that you understand the reason for it.
  2. PROBLEM SOLVE:  For kids who are old enough to reason through things, it’s crucial to talk about why they lied, then try to come up with solutions to their problem together. Try to help them identify the actual motivation for the lie.  If a child is lying because she doesn’t want to do her homework, we can help her manage her anxiety about doing the work.  If a child is lying because he feels we don’t understand him, then work the relationship.  The lie is just a symptom of a connection issue.
  3. MENTOR YOUR CHILD IN HONESTY:  Use the lie as an opportunity to learn together about the virtue of honesty and how important it is to have trust for one another.  My 9 year-old daughter recently lied to me about something and I told her that I love her whether or not she tells me the truth, but that if she lies to me a lot I will have a hard time trusting her. We’ve been talking since then about trust and the virtue of honesty: how it fosters harmony and fidelity between people.

While lying is a normal part of childhood, it’s something we parents should take seriously.  Lying isn’t a sign your child is headed to prison, but it is a sign that you’ve been given a chance to disciple her in the virtues of honesty, fidelity, and loyalty.  Keep it in perspective, pay attention, but most of all, love your kids.  That’ll take you far.

Attachment Parenting from the NICU

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Charisse and Henry

Henry is my New Year’s Baby.  He wasn’t supposed to be my New Year’s Baby.  He wasn’t supposed to be born until five weeks later.  I wasn’t supposed to find myself standing helplessly at his bedside in the NICU, feeling as if a tangle of tubes and machines could care for him better than I could.  I wasn’t supposed to be watching my milk being fed to him through a tube in his nose instead of skin to skin and heart to heart while we soaked up the feeling of oneness that pervaded while he was still in the womb.

But life doesn’t always go the way we think it is supposed to, and we sometimes suddenly find ourselves in situations that require us to remain calm and collected with Herculean physical strength, even though there are moments when we just want to curl up in a ball and awaken from the bad dream into which we seem to have been plunged.

And so I accepted the NICU challenge.

With the help and support of God, family, and close friends, I entered a state of “mommy autopilot”, ready to do whatever it took to turn my and Henry’s relationship into the “normal” that I knew.  This wasn’t just about my baby’s physical health.  This was about my style of mothering and everything that I believed the mother/baby dyad was meant to be.  We both needed the nursing, the snuggles, and the proximity to gaze into each other’s eyes so we could get to know each other through unspoken words.  I entered a world of mothering that seemed guided more by science than by instinct.  Weighing diapers, measuring milk, and watching the clock between feedings became the new normal for me.  The machines quietly whirred along, humming the tune of my baby’s growing strength and stability.

As the hours turned into days, Henry was thankfully moved into a Special Care room that provided a place for me to sleep so I could be by his side 24 hours a day.  He was gaining in strength and starting to nurse more effectively, which left more room in my anxious mind for thoughts of the rest of my family.

The visits from my other three children were brief and bittersweet.  My parents took wonderful care of them during the first few nights when both Rob and I stayed at the hospital, but it soon became apparent that my children’s homesickness could only begin to subside by being at home with their Daddy.

So I sent Rob off, certain that I was strong enough to handle the sleepless NICU nights on my own.  I wasn’t quite as prepared for what I would encounter during the first visit from Rob and the kids.

The sudden and prolonged separation hit my 22 month old Hazel especially hard.  When she arrived in my hospital room, clinging to her Daddy, I expected her to want to sit with me, cuddle, nurse, and reconnect.  But instead she looked at me with a sadness and distrust I had never seen in any of my children’s eyes before.  She preferred to stay with Rob rather than come near me.  It struck me in that moment how much our constant and reliable presence solidifies the trusting bond we have with our young children, and how quickly that trust can begin to waver.  That was a difficult moment.  All I wanted to do was go home and return to the way we all used to be, and yet I felt as strongly tethered to Henry’s machines and tubes as he was.  So I had a good cry, and moved forward with more determination than ever to focus on my premie and his health so we could go home as soon as possible.

Eventually, the NICU week did come to an end, and my family joyfully arrived to take Henry and me home.  I was especially hoping that my presence in familiar surroundings would encourage Hazel to surrender her trust to me again.

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Hazel with Henry

Upon arriving home, I reveled in the simple things I had missed so much:  the big blue La Z Boy that could hold a nursing mama and baby plus up to two other children, our king size bed that promised the joys of co-sleeping again, and our kitchen table where we could all sit as a big, happy family that evening.  But as I soaked all of this in, I carefully watched my little girl circling around me as if she couldn’t quite believe that I was really home to stay.  Finally, I sat down in our big blue chair.  Hazel gazed at me intently with her big brown eyes, then suddenly, with a choked, “Mama!”, she ran into my arms and we assumed that old, familiar position that says, “You are mine, and I am yours–completely and forever.”  As she happily nursed and I brushed away my happy tears that threatened to mix with her own on her soft, sweet cheeks, I sighed with relief.  I was finally home!

I often wonder what I would do if tested like the great saints and martyrs were.  Perhaps on a smaller scale, situations like this are God’s way of showing us who we really are and which virtues need strengthening.  We are not called to find the easiest, safest, most convenient way of living.  We are called to seek God’s way.  Those who are called to the vocation of marriage also carry the responsibility of embracing their gift of fertility and all that encompasses.  For some, this calls for heroic measures, whether it be using Natural Family Planning to avoid a high risk pregnancy for an indefinite amount of time, or accepting pregnancies at God’s calling, trusting that His plan is best, whatever the outcome may be.  Others are called to live out the message of God’s love in all of the smaller mundane moments of parenthood while caring for a large family.  Some couples are called to bear the burden of infertility, multiple miscarriages, caring for a special needs child, or losing an older child as part of God’s plan for their lives.

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A healthy Henry (second from right) with Mommy and siblings.

So after the birth experience I had with Henry, would I do it again if God asked me to?  Absolutely.  As I write this, we are awaiting the birth of our fifth child.  While we are hopeful for a smooth labor and delivery of a healthy baby, we are also prepared to embrace whatever situation God chooses to give us.  Although the week in the NICU with Henry was difficult, it also showered me with many blessings.  I realized how fortunate we were to have such a big, strong premie with no serious health concerns.  I now have more compassion for other mothers who go through the same experience, and I feel compelled to send extra prayers out to parents who are separated from their children due to illness or long hospital stays.  But most of all, that week in the NICU gave us Henry.  Joyful, inquisitive, energetic Henry.  Someone who God gave us the privilege of bringing into the world.  Someone who makes every anxious, difficult, unsure NICU moment a faint memory as the person God created him to be shines brighter and brighter with each passing day.

Tips for Establishing an AP Style in the NICU

1. Pray.

God will not fail you.  He will give you the strength and wisdom you need to get through this.  All you have to do is ask.

2.  Be informed and have a birth plan.

Put your plan for labor, delivery, and newborn care in writing and bring plenty of copies with you so you and the medical staff will have a clear goal in mind for the type of relationship you eventually want to have with your baby.

3.  Have a support person present who can be an advocate for you and your baby.

Either a doula or a husband/coach who can communicate your needs when you are unable to is indispensable.  This person should also be well versed in exactly how you want your newborn to be cared for so he/she can communicate these desires to the NICU team immediately following birth.

4.  Be persistent.

Remind the medical staff that you want to hold and nurse your baby as soon as possible.  Speak with a good La Leche League leader or lactation consultant immediately following birth so you can be well informed about how to pump and get your milk supply going.  Insist that baby receive only your milk, even if it’s through a feeding tube for awhile.  Premies often have difficulty nursing at first.  Keep trying.  Insist on sleeping in the same room as your baby if at all possible.  You are your baby’s best advocate.  The persistence will pay off.

5.  Build a relationship of trust with the medical staff.

Be persistent, but speak with respect.  Voice your desires and concerns, but be open minded while listening to their reasons for how they want to care for your baby.  Be willing to compromise at times, and have good information to back up the way you want to see your baby cared for.  I found that by appearing well informed and open minded, the staff seemed more likely to ask my opinion and involve me in their decision making process of how to move forward with Henry’s care.

6.  Let your baby experience you as much as possible with all of his senses.

“Hug” your premie in his warming bed by cupping your hands around his tiny body so he can feel your presence.  Place fabric swatches that have been tucked next to your skin for a few hours next to your baby’s head so he can smell your familiar scent.  Talk and/or sing to him.  Lean in close and look into his eyes when they are open.

Let your baby experience Kangaroo Care once you are allowed to hold him:  Hold baby skin to skin with plenty of warm blankets covering both of you.  This will also encourage him to nurse more frequently.

Participate in as much of your baby’s care as the staff will allow.  Take his temperature, change his diapers, learn how to administer a feeding or medication.  Your baby will thrive on more interaction with you, and the medical staff will have confidence in your ability to care for your premie.

7.  Trust that the bond you’ve already established with your older children will carry those relationships through this time.

Separation from your family is never easy, but a well-established bond gives children something familiar to come back to.  Trust is fragile, but children are very forgiving and resilient, especially when the bond with their parents is deeply rooted in mutual respect, faith in God, and a love that runs deeper than the surprises and uncertainties of life.

My children and I sometimes discuss the events surrounding Henry’s birth.  Although they still agree that it was no fun to have Mommy away for so long, they also unanimously agree that Henry was worth it!  They love their little brother dearly, and they have lived the lesson that God’s plan for life is worth a little sacrifice and hard work.

The Art of Waiting

“I just can’t wait!” seems to be the phrase of the season in our house right now.  The number of Advent wreath candles left to be lit and the number of Jesse Tree ornaments left to put up are carefully calculated every day.  Questions like, “But how long is 18 more days?”  are asked frequently as my youngest children still struggle to grasp the concept of time.

I remember feeling as they do once upon a time.  I remember gazing into the lights of our Christmas tree, imagining all of the wonderful things that would appear underneath it the night before Christmas.  I remember feeling that the waiting seemed unbearable, and that there was nothing as exciting or worthwhile as that moment when I first laid eyes on all of the childhood delights that magically appeared while I restlessly slept.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself wanting to slow time more often than rush it.  As my children grow, I sometimes suddenly have a vision of a house with no toys underfoot and no little feet and voices constantly filling our home with life and joy.  I know every phase of life will bring with it new and different pleasures, but that doesn’t lessen the pain that pricks my heart at the thought of leaving these younger years of our family behind.

I can’t deny that there are days when I can’t wait for my husband to get home, days when I can’t wait for my toddler to outgrow the into-everything-all-the-time phase, days when I can’t wait for my daughter to permanently leave her temper tantrums behind.  But it is in those moments that I have to stop, take a breath, and realize that it is by waiting that I find opportunity to grow closest to God.  It is by waiting that I seek the love and generosity I need to meet my husband at the door with a kiss and a smile, even while dinner is burning on the stove, my two year old is doing something he shouldn’t be in the bathroom, and my six year old is begging for some unreasonable request to be fulfilled.  It is by waiting that I seek the patience I need to pick up the contents from the same cupboard my toddler emptied five times already that morning.  It is by waiting that I seek the kindness and gentleness I need to effectively and sympathetically handle my child’s emotional meltdowns.  It is by waiting that I demonstrate my faith that all of these pieces of my life are also pieces of God’s plan for me, and that I will experience the fruits of these difficult moments when He knows my heart has been formed properly to receive them.

Perhaps this is why Mary responded with an unhesitant and certain “Yes” when she was asked to bear God’s Son.  The world needed saving.  Not saving through a flash of light, clap of thunder, and immediate conversion of all, but saving through a gentle and humble heart.  A heart willing to wait with faith and patience to witness the fullness of God’s plan.  A heart that waited nine months to give birth and 30 more years to fully understand what her child’s mission was on earth.  A heart that waited for her Son to die as it slowly tore in two with every physical pain that He endured.  By His stripes we were healed, and by His mother’s faithful waiting we were inspired.

What valuable lessons we fail to learn when we are too impatient to wait!

Sometimes I fear my prayers are in vain, that some problems in our culture are almost too big even for God.  I grow impatient and wonder why God doesn’t just fix this right now!  That’s when I look to Mary’s “yes” and realize that my timing is not God’s.  My obligation is to faithfully say “yes” to a devout prayer life and Catholic lifestyle, even though I don’t know if some of those prayers will be answered during my lifetime.

Some of today’s problems may not be resolved until judgment day, but I find hope in the fact that waiting with complete trust in God’s omnipotent wisdom will ensure that the part I play in His plan is one that will lead me to Him when my final day arrives.

Spend some time this Advent learning the art of peacefully waiting in the comfort of God’s embrace.  Leave behind excessive shopping, baking, and decorating to reflect on the joy that Mary must have felt with each passing day of her pregnancy.  Enjoy every moment, whether it brings pleasure or pain, as an opportunity to grow closer to God and receive His great gift of faith.  We may not know what tomorrow will bring, but the Incarnation is proof that the best things in both this life and the next truly are worth waiting for.

Bonding and Godly Parenting

When I became a new mother nearly fifteen years ago, I set out to discover what my baby needed to thrive in every way.  When I looked into his blinking blue eyes and stroked his downy hair, I didn’t want sweet Aidan to be just “okay” – I wanted more for him.  I wanted him to become all God intended and hoped for him.

Well, to know how our children thrive, we have to understand how God created them.  God gives us clues about what our children need, clues that are written into creation itself — including our children’s own bodies.   As attachment scientists tell us, children are most likely to thrive physically, cognitively, and psychologically when they enjoy a strong and loving attachment to their parents.   But why?  What’s the big deal about attachment? This is the question I explored with Greg and Lisa Popcak on their radio show More2Life last Thursday, December 6th.

What is attachment? 

Simply put, attachment is the emotional bond between a parent and child. It’s established in infancy, but it must be nurtured throughout childhood in order for its benefits to endure.  A securely attached child can lose that security when circumstances change or the parent disappears for some reason – whether physically or emotionally.  When nurtured, this bond continues to deepen into older childhood and the teen years, developing into a strong rapport:  the parents are so in tune with the child that the child feels deeply known and understood.

The more secure the bond and the stronger the rapport, the better for the child.  Children with a secure attachment to their parents tend to do well on several measures:  they choose healthier relationships, they have higher self-esteem, are more creative and curious, and are even more kind and generous.  Children who lack a secure attachment have greater difficulty controlling their emotions and impulses, engage in risky behavior as adolescents and adults, and are drawn into chaotic relationships.

How attachment and rapport occur 

The kind of security we’re talking about occurs when a child’s parents and caregivers respond to her needs and fears with empathy, warmth, and respect, when the child receives generous amounts of affection and playful attention – and when all of this happens consistently and reliably.  That’s a tall order!  Fortunately, children do not need perfect parents to thrive.

I’m trying to underscore the kind of basic emotional atmosphere that permeates our child’s life.  If that emotional atmosphere is generally loving, responsive, and respectful, our child can handle occasional disconnects and our mistakes — even the biggies.  I’ve lived in situations where the general feeling is just bad.  You probably have, too.  In conscious Catholic parenting, we’re talking about creating an emotional atmosphere that is generally positive, supportive, and respectful: you don’t have to create a perfect existence for your child to be a good parent.

The big topic on the Popcaks’ show was generosity, particularly when it’s hard to be generous.  The kind of generosity required by conscious Catholic parenting (which is grounded in attachment theory) is definitely a challenge at times.  But it’s not an all-out give-a-thon. As children get older, generosity is most often about the time it takes to discern what children actually need in that moment.  Lisa made a beautiful point during the show that generosity isn’t about giving for the sake of giving; it’s about working for the good of the other person.

Discerning what is for the good of our child takes wisdom and patience.  If we have a newborn who’s hungry in the middle of the night, we feed her because she really needs the nourishment.  On the other hand, if our five year old child is asking for her fifth class of water after bedtime, she may need some hugs, not water.  She may even need some limit setting.  Generosity in this case would be saying no to more water and tucking our child into bed with a kiss.

Why attachment has such a positive effect on a child

Attachment has four primary functions that explain why it’s so critical to our child’s optimal development.  First, it gives a child a sense of emotional safety.  When parents treat their children with respect and take their needs and fears seriously, children know they are safe and can get on with living rather than merely surviving in a frozen state of hyper-awareness.

Second, when children are securely attached to their parents, the parent becomes a secure base from which children move out to explore their environments.  They have an easier time pressing on toward new stages of development.  A parent’s love is like a bridge helping the child cross to new stages of growth, including spiritual growth.

Third, securely attached children gain internal control as they get older.  When a parent responds to her child calmly and warmly when the child is in distress, the child eventually internalizes this comfort and is able to self-soothe even when the parent isn’t around.

Fourth, securely attached children are more effective communicators because they’ve been permitted to express their emotions, both positive and negative emotions.  Real people have feelings.  All sorts.  Children who are not punished or shamed for their emotions learn eventually how to express them appropriately.

God is present and active in our parenting. 

What parent doesn’t want what I hoped for Aidan when he was an infant?  There’s something present in all parents when our children are born, something imprinted upon our souls, urging us to look beyond today, to think beyond meeting our child’s basic physical needs.  We turn inward, recognizing on some level the promises of God within our hearts, promises that direct our eyes toward the everlasting hills. This isn’t all I hope for you, he’s saying, I promise you freedom from darkness; I will heal your broken heart; I will draw you closer to me.  Come.

We want that for our babies:  the promise of freedom, joy, safety, and union.  Even if we’re too tired, broken, or confused to recognize why we’re searching for something more for our children, something more than we had, something more than we’ve been giving them, God’s invitation is there, urging us to a beautiful life with our children.

Understanding attachment is key to Godly parenting because it provides a piece of the road map as we guide our children toward those everlasting hills.  Let’s move.

Image Credit:  Allison Saathoff

Empathic Response

According to Dr. William Sears, being emotionally responsive to your child is of paramount importance in parenting. It’s something that begins early and continues to grow as you and your child grow.  Because of this empathy, only you become the best-educated person on your own child.

Our Catholic faith tells us that we are the first educators of our children. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2221+) In our choices of response or restraint, we teach our children about the Father’s love.  Positive response is love.  Positive response means specifically responding with what is good to the very particular needs of the child at a particular time.  God himself gives of himself in a particular way to us (through his very self) and we, as parents, learn to imitate this love of God to our children.

A mother gives of her physical self during pregnancy and nursing.  A father learns self-denial and restraint in educating through life and atmosphere to his children.  His response to his child gives a child his/her first education of what a heavenly Father is like.  For me, the first part of being empathically responsive to my child is to find a calm in myself.  When I am at peace with myself, I am much more able to respond to the daily needs of each of my children.  And birth is just the beginning of a life of responding to a child!

The Saint Francis of Assisi prayer can be one to help you find peace in a tense moment with a child.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

Or in the heat of a moment we may find assistance in an even simpler prayer such as “Mary Queen of Peace, pray for me!”.

The initial response of a mother to a child at birth might include skin to skin contact. Skin to skin contact is proven to increase the mother-child bond. As the child calms at the mothers chest or breast, the mother receives both emotional and physical benefits. This begins a beautiful circle of growth for mothers to continue to respond to their children’s needs for years.

An emotionally responsive mother uses all her senses to notice her child’s needs. In the beginning years, when communication from an infant is all noise and body movements, a mother learns to identify the need behind specific cries. She sees and learns that a fist placed near a mouth might mean “I’m hungry”. The changes in baby’s breathing patterns teaches a mother through hearing that someone is lonely or tired. A mother can even smell the need for a diaper change!

 

Keeping a child near mother both during awake and asleep times can help the mother to respond quickly to her needs. I’ve found babywearing to be particularly helpful in noticing changes in babies’ needs. During the night, having a baby near mom makes for a quick response. Safe co-sleeping allows a parent to respond to a child before they reach a panic state. If a mother is breastfeeding, she will be able to return to sleep more quickly when baby is with her in the bed.  (The benefit for mother to have extended infertility is great too!)

When a baby is responded to quickly, she begins to trust her parent. This becomes a strong bond that lasts for life. A parent must continue to grow this relationship everyday. As a child grows, the parent finds new ways to respond to needs/wants/requests. With each response to our child, we teach our child. Learning to respond with clear boundaries and expectations allows us to balance our child’s needs with our own.  As children reach two years of age, they can learn through our gentle communication that sometimes a response means “wait” and sometimes it means “no”.  This is a way that parents can teach virtue.

God’s emotional responsiveness was shown to Adam and Eve and recorded in the Old Testament. His presence (Shekinah) to his chosen people, the Hebrews, went before them as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. This showed them that God was both present to them and protecting them. (Exodus 13:21) In the New Covenant, Jesus came physically to us as a human and remains with us physically after every Mass. God also sent the Holy Spirit to be continually present with us until his return. (John 16:5-15)

Empathic responsiveness toward toddlers, who are yet to develop words for how they feel, requires us to decode their behavior. According to Pam Leo, in her book Connection Parenting, “decoding behavior means looking for the intention behind the action.” When children act, they are communicating. It’s a parent’s responsibility to help them communicate their need until they are old enough to meet their own needs. We, as adults, might give them words to say such as “you are feeling angry about Tim taking that toy from you.” This list helps me to know different ways to share how kids are feeling (and for myself at times too). As parents it’s also our responsibility to follow up by saying “It’s not okay to hit Tim when he takes your toy.” “Let’s tell Tim that it hurts you when he takes your toy without asking.”

As children find their voice, they can share their needs and wants. We, as adults, can see the many blessings that God gives us without us even voicing our needs (though sometimes we need reminders to see them!). It becomes a gift when parents can respond to their child before their child even asks for a need. This might be through preparing a snack for a long morning away from the house with the knowledge that hunger comes after shopping with a toddler. Some parents might find a child is emotionally exhausted after trips away from the home and so they plan down time accordingly for that child. A parent might plan for a longer night-time routine when having been away from a child during the day.

As children reach school age, responsiveness can mean walking away from daily distractions and purposefully carving out time just for our child.  This might mean finding a project to share together on a continued basis or as simple as a weekly walk in the woods. By having this one-on-one time together, we foster a powerful but quiet togetherness. In those moments of quiet work and play, a child feels safe enough to share his feelings with a parent. It can be a tender time of continued growth in the relationship between child and parent. For me, sewing with my daughters and gardening with my son allow us to have time to share and quiet companionship.

Empathic responsiveness begets more empathic responsiveness. When children see parents responding to their siblings, they too want to be emotionally responsive. This carries on down the line. When children’s emotional cups are filled, they are much more able to respond to the needs and concerns of others.

Do you remember those cheesy bumper stickers from the 80’s?

I’d like to challenge you a step further:  How will you be emotionally responsive to your child today?

GUEST POST: “Coffee Break” by Charisse Tierney

Editor’s Note:  Charisse Tierney shares with us her thoughts about prioritizing and connecting when our children give us signals that they need us to really SEE them.  Charisse is a professional musician, Catholic writer, and stay at home mom of four. She and her husband, Rob, teach Natural Family Planning and Theology of the Body for Teens through their parish in Newton, Kansas. Their family enjoys living the attachment parenting lifestyle and growing in their Catholic faith together.

Charisse and Henry

The gentle breeze brushes my hair from my eyes with its perfumed scent of spring, and I take a sip of my coffee as my overjoyed toddler smiles at me.  Henry and I are taking a coffee break together.

Just a few moments ago, I was knee deep in piles of laundry. The sink of dirty dishes was threatening to completely overtake my kitchen, and my toddler was simply refusing to play happily by himself.  Weary of listening to whining while plowing through my housework, I decided to stop and focus on the most important task at hand:  making my toddler’s life a little more enjoyable.

I grabbed my afternoon cup of coffee and a sippy cup of water for Henry, and we headed out onto the back deck together.  I sat down to drink in the beauty of the day.  Henry happily sat next to me, watching my every move and imitating me with periodic sips of beverage.  I gazed into our flower garden, marveling at the beauty of God’s creation.  Then I looked at Henry, radiating with joy at being the focus of his mother’s attention, and I knew I was spending those particular moments of my day in exactly the way God wanted me to.

As parents, we have the ability to teach our children how to achieve great success through their actions and by the power of their own self-discipline.  These are certainly invaluable lessons as they carry out the work of God in their lives.  But more importantly, we can teach them that God created us for relationship, both with other people and with Jesus Christ himself.

It is in the still moments of the day that our children learn they are more important than folded laundry, more worthy than clean dishes, and hold a value infinitely greater than a perfectly orderly home.  It is in the peaceful moments of the day that they see the unfailing, unconditional love of Christ through us.  They see our delight in being with them and loving them simply for being who they are, regardless of what their actions may have accomplished that day.

Let us inspire the joy of knowing Christ to appear on our children’s faces by taking the time to get to know them ourselves.  Take a cue from Mary and abandon our Martha ways.  Seek out the beauty of God in our children’s faces, and make sure that they are seeing a reflection of that in our own.

My Response to the Boobs

What extended nursing really looks like

The TIME cover photo and story “Are You Mom Enough” have gone viral and achieved the sensation and blabbering attention the editors were looking for.  I agree with Dr. Popcak’s remarks about that cover photo.  It obscures the real issues and merely reinforces inaccurate perceptions people have about attachment parenting.

My family was actually being considered for that photo shoot.  Can you imagine?  We were not selected; The Holy Spirit was working in that one.

TIME provided several articles on-line when they released that cover photo; most of them focus on extended breastfeeding.  Why extended breastfeeding?  Why not show photos of mothers nursing their young infants, as breastfeeding on demand in infancy is one of the central recommended practices for securing an infant’s attachment?  Why narrow the focus to one practice at all?   By focusing on extended nursing, and choosing to highlight mothers who breastfeed well into the preschool years, TIME moves the discussion away from the heart of attachment parenting. It’s like walking up to a Ferrari, sitting down on the ground, and staring at the hubcaps. You miss the beauty entirely.

AP isn’t about a list of things you have to do to belong to some club.  It is a conscious decision to parent based on what a child needs so that they can grow up with a deep sense of well-being and “rightness”.  What a child needs varies by child depending on many factors, including their temperament and developmental age.  Children’s needs change over time.  The media has raised questions about the intensive nurturing required of attachment parenting and ask what kind of life the mother will have away from her child. The intensive needs of an infant are quite different from the needs of a toddler; the needs of toddler different altogether from those of a school age child.  Fathers also play an increasing role as the infant moves into older babyhood and toddlerhood.

Parenting is tiring in the early months. I’m sorry, there’s no getting around it.  But, it amuses me that people think co-sleeping, nursing, and babywearing are so arduous for the mother when in fact it makes our lives easier.  Much easier.  You know what I would find exhausting?  Getting up every 2 hours and walking down the hallway in the middle of the night, trying to calm a frightened infant crying without relief, strapping a baby into a bouncy seat every time I want to get a cup of coffee.  And as our attached infants grow into toddlers and older children, their sense of peace and connection makes them much easier to parent.  That initial investment of love pays off.  Why are we so afraid to give these tiny souls what they deserve?

Many of the statements about AP in those on-line articles were simply wrong or misrepresentations; a video statement by Kate Pickert, the author of the main article about Dr. Sears, is also disastrous.  Clearly the staff failed to perform adequate background research or they merely chose voices of convenience, like an interview they published with the mother who is on the cover of the magazine.  That’s the best they could do?  Why not interview one of the founders of Attachment Parenting International who synthesize and analyze information every day about AP?  Why not interview the unflappable Mayim Bialik, actress, neuroscientist, & AP advocate, who would have provided some of the scientific evidence they needed and the glitz they wanted for that article.

Kate Pickert, the TIME journalist who wrote the main piece in the magazine about Dr. Sears, makes several strange statements in her video release, such as:

  • Dr. Sears “basically invented attachment parenting.”

(Of course he didn’t invent it.  He merely observed these practices in other cultures which produce peaceful, well-adjusted adults.  He put this together with what he knew about attachment theory in the field of psychology, which was developed by John Bowlby.)

  • Co-sleeping is a “new phenomenon.”

(Of course it isn’t a new phenomenon.  Most of the rest of the world co-sleep with their children.  Also, co-sleeping isn’t a litmus test of AP.  Many parents let their kids sleep with them who don’t practice AP — they’re just tired and let the kiddos climb into bed with them.  And while co-sleeping is practiced by many AP families, not all do so for various reasons.  I would hope a journalist would ask more questions.)

  • She makes a disturbing leap in logic with the following train of thought:  “It turns out that a lot of what [Dr. Sears] has taught is intertwined with his personal life . . .”  Both Dr. Sears and his wife Martha “had difficult childhoods.”

(I imagine his decision to focus on gentle parenting may be entwined with his personal life,  including difficult parts of it.  That’s true for all human beings.  Why is that a problem?  Isn’t it perhaps the Holy Spirit working to turn something dark into something beautiful?  These two lovely souls, Dr. Sears and his wife, uncovered practices that may  have been lost in our culture or at least been more difficult for the average family to find.  Pickert uses this information to make the following bold leap:)

  • “A lot of people attracted to attachment parenting are reacting to their own childhoods as well.  A lot of people who get into attachment parenting think they need to do it for their babies, but if they did a little examination they would see it’s about a lot of their own issues.”

(If you asked a portion of any group they would tell you they had difficult childhoods.  The other portion would tell you they had pretty good childhoods.  So what?  Our childhoods inform many of our choices and assumptions, sure.  I’m sure some AP parents had difficult childhoods and some had wonderful childhoods.  But if you asked a group of parents who use more child training type approaches you will get the same or similar statistics.  I’m not sure why this leads her to conclude that AP parents choose to nurture our children not because of what our children need but because of some unresolved issues we have ourselves. 

In fact, parents will tend to parent the way they were parented unless they come to a conscious decision to do things differently with their own children. This is something to be celebrated! I think it’s more likely that attachment parents from difficult backgrounds come to the approach not unconsciously and because of unresolved issues, but quite deliberately after research and comparing their options.  They choose attachment based parenting because they are willing to do what is best for their children no matter the costs, including adopting some practices that may be counter-cultural and unpopular, even misunderstood.)

  • “There’s no evidence to show that wearing a baby in a sling or sleeping with kids is gonna change the way they turn out later when they’re adults.”

(Again, she misses the central goal of AP.  Attachment parenting isn’t about these little practices she is glomming on to.  AP begins with the rapport and relationship you build with your child in infancy, but that rapport has to be nurtured and maintained throughout all of childhood.  Pickert is equating AP with just 3 infant parenting practices, when that’s just a scratch on the surface of this story.  But here’s one article  providing scientific support for many of the practices we are talking about, including studies suggesting babywearing promotes attachment and others suggesting securely attached children have fewer behavioral issues and higher IQs.  Margot Sunderland’s book The Science of Parenting discusses what the field of neuroscience tells us about the importance of attachment.  In Sleeping With Your Baby, James McKenna, a world recognized sleep expert, encourages parents to sleep with or near their infants and presents the scientific support for this recommendation.)

Pickert is a health care staff writer at TIME, so this perhaps explains her clinical approach to parenting.  I’m not sure if she’s even a parent herself.  I’ve been walking through the day, feeling alternately angry about the article and relieved that I wasn’t caught up in it at that photo shoot.   Finally after prayer, time playing at the park with the kids, and a nap with my toddler, I think I’ve gained some distance.

I understand tonight that there are real humans behind the story:  writers with deadlines; editors struggling to have a life.  There’s the mom on the cover:  She’s one of the most famous women in America this week.  I wonder if she expected it.  Even though I wanted to kick their hineys earlier today, they deserve my compassion and my prayers.  But most important of all, there are children to be loved. They deserve our compassion, too, the most tender compassion, every one of them. Hopefully the article and cover photo will lead to fruitful discussions that will lead to increased wisdom in our homes and our society.

Photo credit: Anita Patterson-Peppers (photos.com)