Archive for Ages & Stages – Page 2

How to Survive Teen Drama with Grace

Teenagers.  I am living proof it is possible to actually enjoy those annoying, hormonal, child/adult hybrids who have taken your phone, tv., computer and fridge hostage.

One of my sons, in his early teens, had just announced he could not stand living under our roof another minute,

“I’m out of here!,” he bellowed, “and don’t expect me to come back!”

The door slammed and he tore off on his ten-speed bike. Of course, my father was visiting and witnessed this dramatic episode. After a few minutes, Dad turned to my husband Michael and wondered, “Aren’t you going to go after him?”

Michael calmly kept reading, then looked up and explained, “Oh, I’m not worried. The only place near enough to bike to is one of his buddy’s and they don’t feed kids over there. He’ll be back when he is hungry enough.”

melanie photoSure enough, hunger brought my son home late that night. We did not need to pronounce any ultimatums because the recognition he still needed to live at home and attempt to get along with our rules and his family was humbling enough. No need to rub his face in the facts.

Teenagers are often humiliated by their mistakes in judgment so they relish the opportunity to catch us in the wrong.  For example, Michael’s usual response to swearing, disrespect or a poor attitude was, “Leave that sort of stuff at school!”

One evening at the dinner table on a Sunday, Michael yelled in anger at the dog.

David had just filled his plate and was coming back to the table. He leaned over, looked at his dad and with a twinkle in his eye and a huge grin on his face said, “Leave that sort of stuff at church, eh Dad!”

Michael snapped out of his bad mood and had to smile. The kid was right. David’s humour diffused the situation and Michael was the one who had to apologize this time.

Teenagers have a deep inner compulsion to rile their parents and flaunt rules in a blind attempt to figure out who they are in and of themselves. If I remember this fact, I don’t overreact to obnoxious behaviour. I like to compare teenagers to two-year-olds because the very same dynamic is unfolding, only this time it is a stressful transition from childhood to adulthood which requires many years to complete. I read somewhere that young adults finally get an adult brain when they’re 25! In our family, we actually celebrate this birthday and welcome our offspring into full adulthood.

Sometimes teenagers, boys especially, like to prove their new-found strength. David loved to come behind me in the kitchen and with a huge grin on his face pick me up and swing me around or even turn me upside down!

“Oh well,” I’d think to myself, “This too will pass, this too will pass.”

Summer Spirituality for Kids

dreamstime_xs_21585662

The Spiritual Works of Mercy move beyond the needs of the body to the needs of the soul. They nurture others at a profound level, bringing them into deeper union with others and with God. We are sometimes presented with the opportunity to carry out these works of mercy when we least expect it. The practical suggestions below will help even small children feel prepared for those unexpected moments. Pray the Holy Spirit prayer that accompanies each work of mercy so that you will “not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say.” Trust that, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, “you will be given at that moment what you are to say.” (Matt 10:19)

1.  Admonish the sinner

  • Don’t be afraid to tell your children (who have reached the age of reason) that immoral behavior is an objective sin. (“Playing my smartphone when I told you not to was disobedience. That was wrong and a sin.”)
  • Encourage your children to charitably remind their siblings or friends of the right thing to do when they see a bad choice being made. Role play some example scenarios.

Holy Spirit, please give me the fortitude I need to speak up for what is right and encourage others to follow God’s commandments.

2.  Instruct the uninformed

  • Have older siblings teach a Bible story or a principle of our Catholic faith to younger siblings. Get creative with a puppet show, play, or craft!
  • Ask one of your children to invite a non-Catholic friend to a fun parish event.

Holy Spirit, please fill me with Your gift of understanding, so that I can teach others the Truth about my Catholic faith.

3.  Counsel the doubtful

  • Encourage your children to look for reasons to praise each other. Use the power of positive reinforcement to confirm good choices.
  • To give good counsel, we have to be good listeners. Ask your children to tell you something interesting (not gossip) that they heard as they went about their day.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of counsel so I will know what to do and say when someone is feeling scared or unsure.

4.  Comfort the sorrowful

  • Come together as a family when someone is sad or sick. Have each family member think of something nice they can do or say.
  • Explain grief to your children at an age appropriate level. Have them help you make a card for someone who is suffering — just to let them know you’re thinking about them.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of knowledge, that I might see my life the way God sees it. Help me to share with others that everything that happens to us works for a greater good.

5.  Be patient with those in error

  • Teach your children calming techniques (deep breathing, taking a “time out” from a heated situation, getting a soothing hug from Mom or Dad). Tell them to use these techniques when they start to feel angry with someone so they can use a gentle tone of voice to work things out.
  • Remind your children that your family loves people more than things. Even if a sibling breaks a treasured possession or interrupts a fun activity, teach your children to show respect and kindness toward him or her.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of wisdom so that I can love You, and those made in Your image, above all else–even when I feel sad or mad.

6.  Forgive offenses

  • Give your children the words they need when they claim they “hate” someone who did something they didn’t like. (“Instead of ‘I hate him’, try ‘I didn’t like it when he smashed my Lego truck.’”)
  • Help two children who were upset with each other find something fun to do together once they’ve cooled off. Assist them in repairing their relationship.

Holy Spirit, please gift me with a healthy fear of the Lord so that I will be filled with a desire to please Him and forgive others as He forgives me.

7.  Pray for the living and the dead

  • Make a “spiritual bouquet” for someone who needs your prayers. Send them a card filled with paper flowers — one for each prayer you will say for them.
  • Write down the names of deceased relatives and friends in a prayer journal, and light a candle while you pray a decade of the Rosary for them.

Holy Spirit, please give me the gift of piety, so that I will remain obedient to the prayer life you have chosen for me.

Image credit: “mercy” by Andrew Parvenov (dreamstime.com)

Giving Your Baby a Language Boost

reading to babyGwen Dewar over at the Urban Child Institute has a terrific article on “6 Tips for Boosting Your Baby’s Language Skills.”  Read her whole article here.

Here’s a summary of  her tips with my own thoughts:

1.  Take a cue from your baby’s curiosity.

When babies reach for or gaze at objects they are interested in, we can view these as our cues to engage them in conversation.  We can name the objects or just talk to them about what they’re looking at.  When we’re playing with or reading to our child, we can pause and allow them to lead us in conversation in this way.  When their curiosity drives our time with them, they not only develop increased language skills, but she becomes more comfortable exploring the unfamiliar.

2.  Tune into your baby. 

Think about how you interact with adults, the way you affirm their presence in often subtle ways.  We respond to their questions, acknowledge their entry into the room, etc.  Dewar says, “Babies – even babies who can’t speak yet – look for the same message from us. They want to know that we will respond contingently to their signals, and when they perceive us doing it, their brains seem to flip a switch. Studies indicate that babies learn language faster when we talk with them, not at them.”  I think this is related to her first tip.  Being attuned to our child includes noticing the things she cares about, even when she’s a little baby.  This early attunement creates a strong foundation for great communication throughout the toddler and preschool years when our kids are gaining skills in communicating their needs, feelings, and interests.

3.  Be flexible and spontaneous.

Dewar says, “It’s easy to get bogged down with routines, but when it comes to family communication, we need to be ready to improvise. For instance, if your toddler interrupts your bedtime story because he wants to talk about the chair that Goldilocks smashed, go with it. Insisting that you stick to the narrative isn’t going to help your child build better verbal skills. On the contrary, it’s likely that kids learn more when the conversation veers off-text. Besides, forced bedtime reading is neither fun nor soothing. Your child might end up having more trouble falling asleep!”

This is a great tip! We grown-ups get fixated on doing things the right way, but following our child’s lead on occasion not only provides opportunities for communication, but allows our child to feel respected and affirmed.

4.  Supplement verbal messages with expressive emotions, gestures, and movements.

There’s a reason adults tend to act a little goofier when they are interacting with a baby!  Babies actually learn better when we couple our words with exaggerated gestures and a heightened tone of voice.  When we show our baby a stuffed monkey, we can name the object “monkey”, but we can also make funny monkey sounds and animate the stuffed object for our baby.  Dewar explains,  “When babies are learning to talk, they don’t just listen to our words. They also notice our tone of voice, and pay particular attention when we speak with exaggerated emotion: It helps them figure out our meaning.”

5.  Don’t worry about being perfect.

You don’t have to be a seasoned public speaker or possess perfect grammar to pass on strong language skills to your baby.  Dewar suggests that when parents stumble to find the right word, it actually engages the child even more — they pay even more attention to what we are saying.

6.  Shake things up.

Dewar encourages us to speak to our babies and young children like we would with anybody else.  She cautions that if we dumb down our conversations with our babies too much, they will have access to a more limited vocabulary.  It’s okay to simplify things when you are actually naming objects for your baby, but otherwise feel free to speak to them with words far more sophisticated than you imagine they can comprehend.  One great tip Dewar offers is to repeat back what our child says, but expand upon it with more words.  So if your child says, “FIRE TRUCK!,” you can talk about how loud it is or what it looks like.

I can’t help but notice that all these tips are easier to implement when we are using the parenting tools associated with attachment parenting — particularly babywearing, breastfeeding, and sleeping near your baby.  These tools help us keep our baby calm and close by, and they help us tune into our babies more easily.   Attached, responsive parents also enhance their child’s language development by giving her confidence that she will actually be heard.  I think a baby’s cries are really her first words.  When she is ignored or made to cry increasingly fretfully in order to get a response, then she’s not spending that time listening to and learning about other sounds in her world.

 

Praying in Silence with Children: VIDEO

A free video from Apostleship of Prayer.  Love these 3 tips for helping children become comfortable with praying silently.

  1. Timed prayer
  2. Secret good deeds
  3. Listening

Nursing a Two-Year-Old: It’s Normal for Us

I could see the idea forming in her mind by the way she looked at me. She fidgeted. She fussed. She wriggled her entire 31 pounds of two-year-old chub around in my lap until she had assumed the familiar position, head in the crook of my arm and eyes looking up at me longingly. Not ready to give in quite yet, I attempted to distract her. Cheese crackers–refused with disdain. Water bottle–given “the hand”. Fuzzy bunny book–an audible “Uh-uh!” and a decisive head shake. I had to act fast, before the situation (and her vocalizing) escalated. I had choices, and it was time to choose. So right there in the pew, somewhere between the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel, I lifted my shirt.

I’ve implemented the concept of child-led weaning with every one of my five children. This means that I follow their lead in the weaning process. I allow them to help me determine when we are both ready to stop nursing. I’ve only had one particularly independent child self-wean before the age of two (he’s still a big-time Daddy’s boy), and my longest nurser required some gentle convincing from his weary mommy at the age of four.

madonna nursingI’ve nursed through four healthy pregnancies. My children’s identities have been nurtured by the intimacy and security of an extended nursing relationship. And I’ve become quite adept at nursing discreetly in public. So I never minded when people caught me feeding my baby in a grocery store or restaurant. Nursing an infant in public never seems too surprising to the average observer. I’ve often received looks of affirmation and smiles of awe as I sat feeding my adorably dependent infant.

But those looks change when I suddenly find myself nursing a two-year-old. Fortunately, I haven’t been faced with very much blatant animosity toward my parenting choices, but I do see looks of surprise, doubt, and questioning. Nursing no longer feels like the “normal” thing to be doing.

But it’s normal for me and my child. This is where she finds comfort, stress relief, and nourishment. This is what makes her body strong and her mind sharp. This is a huge yes that I can still give her in a world filled with so many no’s.

The frequency of nursing does lessen as a child grows in size and independence. Most of the time, I am able to nurse my older baby in the privacy of our own home. But there are still times when that same child poses the question and insists on an answer, regardless of where we are.

And there’s really only one answer I can give when she takes my hand and pulls me toward a chair saying “Mama, Mama.” There’s only one answer I can give when a scraped knee or complete exhaustion leaves her in a puddle of inconsolable tears. And there’s only one answer I can give when my child needs me under the shadow of the crucifix during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. That answer is myself, freely and completely, until we are both ready to move forward into a new phase of independence.

Raising Children Who Love (or Don’t Hate) Confession

My guest essay on Dr. Greg Popcak’s blog Faith on the Couch:

I’ve heard that some people love going to Confession.  I personally don’t know any of them.  Maybe it’s an urban legend.  I think avoiding the confessional is our human default,

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi

because we are uncomfortable exposing our weakness to others.  The Church wants us to know that the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a gift.  It’s more an opportunity than a duty.

Confession brings our human failings to the Light where we can find healing, courage, and support.  The devil hates that!  He thrives in the dark, like a fungus.  He wants us to keep our sins and moral struggles to ourselves, because full freedom from them requires community – it requires family, friends, and counselors, especially our priest when he acts as Christ in the confessional.  In particular, as embodied creatures we need the physical experience of the confessional:  when we feel and hear ourselves speaking aloud the truth of our failings, when the priest with his body and his voice acts as Christ extending his mercy to us, we can understand better the power of repentance and the reality of God’s forgiveness.

How can we raise children who understand this deeper truth about Confession, who welcome it as an opportunity?  Here are a few lifestyle tips that may help.  These aren’t lessons our children learn from a book, but rather from the way we relate to them:

Read the rest on Dr. Greg’s website!  Leave a comment, too!

Explaining Lent to Our Children

As a new mom, I used to look at my sweet, innocent pre-school aged son and wonder how to explain this Lenten season to him. Would I wait for him to ask me questions? What if he never did? Or worse…what if he did? How would I answer?

While the Christmas season found me gushing to my young son about the Christ child and a humble manger and that beautiful star of Bethlehem, Lent left me speechless. How was I to describe this very difficult part of Jesus’ story, of our story, to him?

crown of thornsThe day when I had to answer that question came before I was ready. We were at church, lighting candles in the chapel when my then three-year-old looked at a particularly bloody Jesus nailed to a cross. “Mommy,” he asked me, “how did Jesus get up there?”

“You mean, how did that cross get hung up there?” I teased him towards an easier question to answer. He didn’t take the bait.

“No.” He pushed further. “Who put Jesus on there?”

Cue butterflies filling the stomach. Had I been wrong in not bringing it up to him first? Was this going to be a shocking blow? My mind scrambled for the right words. How much should I say? How deep into the story should I go?

Before I opened my mouth to speak, I thought of all I’ve learned from my mother, a woman who, with my dad, pretty successfully raised six children. Once, when my sister’s daughter began asking questions about death, I overheard my mom’s advice for handling the situation: “Let your daughter lead these difficult discussions. Too often, we explain these things to kids at a level too deep for them to understand. We forget that it’s children, not adults, asking these hard questions. And we end up answering them as if they’re adults. You’ll be surprised to find that the simplest answers are all they’re usually seeking at the moment. No more. So start simple and let them lead.”

Start simple. I thought of what my son’s three-year-old mind understood. Peter Pan and Captain Hook. Cops and robbers. Good guys and bad guys.

“Well,” I began carefully, “there were bad men who didn’t like Jesus…”

“…and they hurt him?” my son finished.

“Yes,” I answered. I waited, wondering if I should elaborate but willing myself to follow my child’s lead.

“Oh,” he said easily. “I don’t like those bad men.”

I searched my son’s eyes for tears or anger. Instead, I saw compassion as he stared at the crucifix.

“Mommy,” he asked, “can I kiss his boo-boos and make them better?”

“Of course,” I whispered.

As I watched my child approach the crucifix, leaning to kiss Jesus’ nailed feet and reaching up to kiss his bloodied side, my fear and anxiety were replaced with love and peace, and gratitude for my mother’s shared wisdom.

“Let’s go find Daddy,” my son exclaimed, bolting into the church. I almost stopped him. I was ready now. I could do this. I almost wanted to go into further detail about just how much our Lord suffered for our sins, but my son was already at my husband’s side, choosing a pew for Mass.

As usual, my mom was right. My child asked what seemed like a big question, but all he wanted was a simple answer. The difficult details, I know, will fill in as he grows. As his mind gets bigger, so will the answers. But, for now, he’s satisfied.

And so am I.

Babies Are People, Too

Newborns are complex little people who see, hear, touch, communicate, receive information and, above all, remember.

Many adults are tempted to treat babies like cute little things. They forget to communicate with them as people. They forget that those cute little bodies house hearts and souls. I discovered early in my mothering career that it is important to treat infants with respect by listening to infantthe sounds they make and watching and interpreting their body language.

Most people have noticed that loud, sharp, or deep voices cause a newborn to jump, but a newborn will also respond to a voice he remembers hearing in the womb. It was amazing to watch my first granddaughter turn towards her mom’s and dad’s voices when she was only hours old.  When her parents held her, she calmed down right away because she had been constantly reassured of their love and devotion while she was still in the womb.  Out in the world, she knew she was safe and protected in the arms that were connected to the familiar voices.

Conversely, all babies are sensitive to the approach of a stranger.

I was once holding my six-month-old daughter, Mary, when a tall, slender, older priest, dressed all in black, gently reached out to hold her. He smiled and patiently waited while Mary tensed her little body, drew back and looked him up and down very suspiciously. She drew back a second time, even further, and once again glanced from his head to his feet and slowly looked back at his face again. A third time, Mary repeated the process and then suddenly she relaxed, broke out into a wonderful smile and reached her own arms out to lean forward so Father could pick her up.

My baby was receiving unspoken messages from Father’s facial expression, tone of voice, body language, and emotional and spiritual ‘vibes’ which radiated from his inner spirit.  Even though Mary was not talking yet, she was still a person with intuition and wisdom because she processed the information she received and made a decision to trust this priest.

Babies are people too, and when we treat them as such, they reward us with connection and trust.

Isaiah 49:1

Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name.

Blissful Breastfeeding? When Nursing Isn’t as Easy as It Seems

“Still, the truth remains that for some of us, nursing doesn’t come so naturally. It can be work – for our children and for us. But, it’s work that yields great rewards if we can stick it out, if we’re willing to discard the not-so-realistic standards we’ve been holding ourselves to and if we adopt, instead, the techniques that work best for us as individuals, that will allow the type of feeding relationship we want with our child rather than the type of relationship other moms have.”

The first time I had a baby, I was fooled.

After days of induced labor, half a week riding the roller coaster of contractions, and three hours of pushing my boy into the world, I believed the struggle was over. The bliss of motherhood could begin.

I cuddled my baby close to my breast and waited for the magic of nursing to start, for my son to latch on and for the two of us to begin to bond in the way I’d always heard breastfeeding would bring.

But this little person who for nine months had been nourished by my body seemed to want nothing to do with being nourished by me now. After all, in the womb, it was easy. This nursing business, though, was hard work – for both of us.

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Madonna and Child, DaVinci

Two weeks after giving birth to my son, I sat in our living room recliner, crying. While it could have been the little sleep I was working on, my tears also stemmed from the fact that there I sat, pumping milk, while on the sofa, there my husband sat, feeding our baby a bottle of my milk.

“I’m supposed to be the one bonding with him while he eats,” I lamented as my husband gave a weak, sympathetic smile. He offered that I could give the bottle, but I wanted to keep my body on our son’s feeding schedule, to keep up with his demand. So, my husband fed while I pumped.

To say nursing didn’t come easily for me would be an understatement. And I’ve found since then that we don’t often hear the stories of struggle that come with breastfeeding. We see blissful moms wearing sweet smiles and taking selfies as they nurse their newborns, a trend especially popular in the celebrity world lately. Since giving birth to my second child seven months ago, I’ve taken more notice of these peaceful pics because, though encouraging, they also run the risk of being terribly discouraging.

It comes so easy for them, we might think. Nursing just isn’t for me. And really, it’s okay if it’s not. But, what if it is? What if we really, really want to breastfeed our child but it’s surprisingly difficult, and our disappointment at our shattered dream breaks our hearts?

That’s where I was at five years ago. In the end, it took the first full month of my son’s life to get him to nurse at all, and the second full month to get him to nurse well. For the majority of that first month, my son subsisted on bottles of pumped milk, and I kept trying, day in and day out, to wean him from them and onto me.

After four weeks of persisting, it worked. Not because my son suddenly and miraculously figured out how to work for his food, but because I finally abandoned the myriad words of advice I was given, particularly the advice to avoid giving into the use of a nursing shield (“He’ll never get off it,” I was warned). For me, the shield restored my dreams of a happy breastfeeding relationship with my child. I let go of the chidings of others and embraced what would allow me the bonding I’d been hoping for.

Medela breast shield

Medela breast shield

After a week or two of nursing with the shield (which my son took to immediately), I began to pull it away halfway through feedings. In time, he latched back onto me without it as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do. And, eventually, it was. We enjoyed a full year after that of the type of peaceful, easy breastfeeding I’d envied other moms.

Still, the truth remains that for some of us, nursing doesn’t come so naturally. It can be work – for our children and for us. But, it’s work that yields great rewards if we can stick it out, if we’re willing to discard the not-so-realistic standards we’ve been holding ourselves to and if we adopt, instead, the techniques that work best for us as individuals, that will allow the type of feeding relationship we want with our child rather than the type of relationship other moms have.

Because parenting isn’t about comparing. It’s about every mother doing what’s best for her unique child and accepting that what comes easily to one parent/child relationship doesn’t always come easily to another.

If we trust in that, then no blissful picture of perfection will ever discourage us again.

Then Comes Baby: The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood

then comes babyI have a new favorite book to recommend to the parents of infants and toddlers:  Dr. Greg & Lisa Popcak’s Then Comes Baby:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Three Years of Parenthood.

This is the most balanced book I have read about parenting little children:  Dr. Greg and Lisa recognize the importance of laying a strong foundation for the parent-child relationship in these early years when a child’s sense of safety and well-being is forming.  Without this strong foundation, children struggle emotionally as they face new developmental challenges.  Yet, the Popcaks also consider the needs of the parents in presenting their advice, in particular the importance of nurturing our marriage, so that theirs is truly a family-centered vision of parenting.

What I also love: The Popcaks coach both parents, not just mom.  Dad is seen as absolutely essential to the flourishing of the whole family.

The book is divided into sections:  Birth to Six Months, Six to Twelve Months, Twelve to Twenty-Four Months, and Twenty-Four to Thirty-Six Months.  We learn to understand the developmental goals alongside the potential challenges at each stage, and how to address these challenges while protecting the parent-child bond.  The blossoming spirituality of young children is addressed, in addition to discipline issues and work-family balance questions.

Check it out and buy a copy for new parents!

Tweens and Decision-Making

I recently read an interesting article by Jennifer Powell-Lunder over at Psychology Today about tweens (kids aged about ten to twelve) and motivation.  Her big point is that sometimes we have more influence over the views and decision-making of tweens than we may realize.

Tweens are at the funny age of push and pull. They often shirk at your simple suggestions yet seek out your input and advice when you leave them to make their own decisions. One minute they don’t need or want your help, the next they are hunting you down to show them the way.

She goes on to say that tweens can seem irritable or angry when a parent tries to offer guidance to a problem.  She encourages parents by pointing out that these kids are still internalizing a lot of our advice and viewpoints.  Sometimes they will make the choice we recommended without realizing they are acting on our advice, because they aren’t conscious of this internalization:

It is not uncommon to hear a tween own an answer that clearly came previously from their parent. Quite often the response is information that the tween seemed to reject or ignore when their parent initially offered the proposal.

If confronted a tween will often deny that their thought or action came from a previous conversation with a parent. It is not because they are lying, trying to take credit for something that came from their parent. More often instead, they really don’t recognize that they have internalized their parent’s recommendation. This is in fact quite common.

I do wonder, though, why a child would be upset or angry at the mere thought of finding meaning in a parent’s tween and momwords of wisdom and then following that advice.  I guess it is good news that they internalize our voice even when they feel hostile toward us but why would they feel hostile?

Powell-Lunder seems to suggest that this rejection of parental input is somewhat natural as they turn “to their peers for direction and approval.”  I disagree with this position wholeheartedly.  No child — no matter their age — should be turning to their peers for direction and approval to such a degree that they would reject or resent a parent’s input.  I think this may be the NORM in our culture, but it is not healthy or optimal.  Until quite recently in history, children primarily found meaning, direction, and inspiration from their parents and older family members  While they had friends, the friends were peripheral to the child’s life and sense of purpose. This is the thesis of Gordon Neufeld’s book “Hold on to Your Kids”.  From the press release for the book:

Children today [look] to their peers for direction—their values, identity, and codes of behavior. This “peer orientation” undermines family cohesion, interferes with healthy development, and fosters a hostile and sexualized youth culture. Children end up becoming overly conformist, desensitized, and alienated, and being “cool” matters more to them than anything else.

I highly recommend Neufeld’s book; it’s powerful and persuasive.

I am not naïve.  I have an 11 year-old daughter (Claire) who teaches me every day to be humble, to examine again everything I thought I knew about older kids and teens. I see that kids this age can be grumpy as they navigate through the strange and turbulent waters of early adolescence.  Claire sometimes huffs off to her room and slams the door; she becomes angry with her younger siblings when they make mistakes that are normal for their development.  I have to dig down deep to understand my own feelings about her in these moments.  More likely than not, before I can figure out a solution to Claire’s problem, the cloud over her passes as quickly as it formed and I find her singing through the house or painting with her little sister by her side.

Despite this, Claire is very different from the kind of tween described in the article.  Claire has friends and she enjoys them, but she continues to come to us for advice and direction. I think she still finds her sense of safety and well-being in her relationship with Philip and me.  She does not seem to possess the deep resentment toward her parents that some people think is normal and I hope I can maintain my rapport with her so that never happens. I am working with her on managing her frustration and communicating her feelings respectfully, but she cares about my opinions and seems to seek my guidance quite naturally.

Is it possible that Claire will become nasty, rude, rejecting?  Of course.  She has her own will and we live in a fallen world.  I am glad I don’t have to have all the answers.  I don’t have to understand Claire completely.  I know God not only loves Claire, but he is actively working in her life and her heart, working through the people in her life, through her gifts and talents.

However, I do choose to reject the cultural view that teens will by nature look to their peers for answers about the world and about their own value; I expect more from my relationship with my children. While I cannot predict Claire’s choices and attitudes with precision, I can cooperate with God in his action in her life by respecting Claire and by taking the time to nourish a warm and open mom-daughter relationship with her.   Ultimately I want Claire’s motivations and decision making to be rooted in her right relationship to God.  Ultimately I want her to internalize the Christian virtues and God’s love for her, because I know this is the true path to joy.

For great advice and guidance about raising tweens and teens, I recommend:

Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers by Gordon Neufeld

Positive Discipline for Teenagers by Jane Nelson

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel

Mothering and Daughtering: Keeping Your Bond Strong through the Teen Years by Eliza and Sil Reynolds

Carry On!

Michaelyn updates us on what’s available in the world of baby carriers.

The first time I “wore” my infant son, I was desperate. He wouldn’t sleep anywhere – except on me. I loved the cuddling, but resented feeling so stuck. I couldn’t get dishes done, couldn’t change or fold laundry, and really couldn’t do much of anything very easily. I should have relished my forced relaxation. What an excuse! “I’m sorry, I couldn’t iron that shirt; the baby was sleeping in my arms.”

But, as much as I enjoyed my reason for sitting on the couch and reading a book instead of vacuuming, I just couldn’t stand that carpet anymore. Or those dirty dishes. Or the backed up laundry. At some point, things just have to get done. But, how would I do them with a child in my arms?

About that time, my sister introduced me to the world of baby-wearing by handing me a carrier she’d received, saying, “Here, maybe this will help.” Did it ever! Suddenly, I could do things a bit more easily with my son cradled against me, my arms freer to do whatever needed to be done.

It’s been five years since then, and as I neared my daughter’s due date this past June, I looked forward to wearing her, too. This time, though, I would give the carrier more thought. As I looked at the old one, I began to recall its drawbacks. It was a one shoulder pouch sling – great for ease of use, not so great for security. I recall that every time I bent over even slightly when my son was in it, my arms couldn’t be totally free. Any slight bend risked him tumbling to the floor.

So, I spent the months before my daughter’s birth testing out other options in baby-wearing. Here, I share how things changed, even as they stayed the same.

The Sling

Interestingly, in the five years since my son was born, basic pouch slings have become quite hard to find in stores, at least in my area. When I questioned a sales clerk about their disappearance, I discovered that many of the slings they carried were recalled due to suffocation and fall hazards.  Hmm . . . exactly what I worried about when I wore my son in the sling I used to use.

pouch sling

Michaelyn with her newborn son in a pouch sling

Still, some updated slings were available, mainly the ring sling. Unlike my rigid yet basic sling from half a decade ago, the ring sling is typically made of soft, stretchy fabric that allows the wearer to adjust to fit the baby as needed. And, friends who swear by their ring slings rave about how easy it is to breastfeed in them. Though they were around five years ago, ring slings have certainly gained popularity – and style – over the years. I found myself drawn to them because between the various ring colors, vast choices in patterns, and flowing fabric “tail”, they were just so pretty.

Zolowear Ring Sling

Zolowear Ring Sling

Some popular ring slings: Zolowear, Sleeping Baby, Sakura Bloom, Kalea Baby

Buckle Carriers

Gone are the days of Baby Bjorn reigning as the “in” carrier, as it did when I was pregnant with my son. It’s the one I registered for and received as a gift . . . and the one I never used. Why? Personally, I found all the clips and buckles too cumbersome. Still, buckle carriers have a devoted following, and for good reason. They’re super secure and dads seem to like them best. On the surface, the Ergobaby Carrier (the one that was quite prevalent in each store I recently checked) resembled my Baby Bjorn, but with many improvements. Its seated positioning is better for babies, the waist belt keeps Mom or Dad from an aching back, and it comes with pockets and a “hat” to protect your baby from the sun. Still, since I had a summer baby, I wasn’t fond of the heavy weight of the material. I imagined my baby and I both getting sweaty pretty quickly! As we head into cooler weather, however, I may just need to give this one another chance!

ErgoBaby buckle carrier

Ergobaby buckle carrier

Some popular buckle carriers: ErgoBaby, Tula, Beco, Boba

The Wrap

Not the popular carrier the year my son was born, the wrap has since gained attention for good reason. The soft material is comfortable and giving – and free of buckles. It allows full control of how loose or tight the wearer needs the carrier to be. Also, the baby is fully secured, easing nerves about the baby’s safety or his dislike of anything getting between him and Mommy or Daddy! Some are turned off by the fiasco it can be to get the wrap on in the first place. To combat that problem, some brands, like Infantino, have made “wraps” you can pull on like a t-shirt, or you could actually buy a pocket wrap shirt that you can tuck your little one safely inside of. Still, once the traditional wrap is on, I haven’t found a better carrier for allowing both my hands complete freedom while my baby nestles securely against me. Bonus: some wraps are now made with built-in UV protection, so you can enjoy the rays while your baby’s skin stays safe.

Moby Wrap

Moby Wrap

Some popular wraps: Baby K’Tan, Moby, Wrapsody, NuRoo

While none of these types or brands is exactly new, where all these carriers have made great strides is in their fabric and style options. From tie-dyed to paisley, organic cotton to linen to silk, there is sure to be one carrier to fit every parent’s taste, not to mention outfit! And despite the differences in carrier types, I have found one common theme in baby-wearing: a parent’s preference in carrier is as unique as the many carriers themselves these days.

So, get out there and try some on! Then, enjoy both the closeness and freedom – and new, chic look – your purchase affords you. Don’t worry – there will still be time to snuggle on the couch with your baby and a good book…while the washing machine is cleaning your pretty, well-worn carrier.