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A few days ago, my little grandson woke my daughter with a request for ‘ice-cream’. When she told him, “no, we don’t have ice-cream,” he said, “buy ice-cream, ice cream shop.” When this request was declined, the smart little rascal didn’t miss a beat, “Nanny, black car, ice cream shop.” Interpreted: “Nanny will take me to the shop to buy ice cream.”
I confess, I am a naughty nana! Although there is no way I would race over in my little black car and indulge my grandchild’s whims and fancies for ice-cream at 7 am, or intentionally undermine his parents’ boundaries, at just 21 months he already knows I am a soft touch. Look in my handbag and you will find little ‘treats’ – organic apple chippies and perhaps even a fruit bar or two. I can’t resist impossibly cute baby clothes and toys – I find it incredibly difficult to walk past a really sweet outfit without swiping the plastic if I can picture it on my gorgeous grand babies.
I try not to get too carried away and I do consider whether toys will be developmentally appropriate and environmentally sensitive (my daughter has requested ‘no plastics’ so I respect this). I also consult with my kids and their partners on the big items, but for me this spoiling is something special that I didn’t have the luxury of when my own kids were small. Without grandparents living close to support me, I didn’t have the resources I now have – time, money and sleep – to indulge my own children at this level. Nor would I have wanted to – as parents we have the ultimate responsibility of teaching and guiding our children and we do need to be firmer.
As parents, it can be difficult to be ‘vegetables and boundaries’ to our children while grandparents can be ‘ice-cream and fun’, especially if they were harsher on us, but if you are struggling with grandparents who indulge your kids, it can help to see things from your parents’ perspective: the grand-father who now pushes your child on the swings for hours (and you can’t even remember him taking you to the park), was probably stressed about earning enough to feed you when you were a child or he may have been driven to advance in his career to give his kids (you!) a good education. He may simply have mellowed in his old age, but does it really matter why he and your child enjoy each other’s company – it gives you a break, doesn’t it? ‘Spoiling’ can also be about connection. Although, for me, spending time with my grandchildren is the ultimate joy, buying gifts may be the only way some grandparents can feel connected to their grandchild. Many grandparents are separated from their grandchildren by distance and others simply don’t have the opportunity to spend time, often because of the parents’ (their own kids) busy lives, so feel left out.
I believe that a bit of spoiling is a rite of passage as well as a right that grandparents have earned. The relationship between us and our grandchildren is very precious however we express it. If you don’t approve, please tell us gently what you would like us to do. For instance, ‘Little Johnny gets a runny nose when he eats ice-cream but he loves apple chips’ or ‘Tilly has lots of pretty dresses, but she needs some toys for the sandpit.’ If you would rather your parents spent time with your child than buying gifts, try and facilitate this and reinforce it when it happens – tell them how much she enjoys feeding the ducks with them or listening to their stories. If you feel safety is an issue, discuss it or stay and quietly supervise. If you feel undermined, please say so rather than simmering with resentment or ‘punishing’ grandparents by keeping them at a distance.
Of course, it can be difficult to rein in indulgent grandparents – as one of my rebellious ‘nana’ friends recently said, “they are my grandchildren and it’s my money.” So, if you can’t curb grandparents’ enthusiasm, try to remember that a little spoiling really doesn’t hurt – even very small children quickly get to know that while Nanna or Granddad might be a soft touch, the boundaries are just that at home.
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Infant Massage instructor, mother of five and author. For information about Pinky’s books ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’ or ‘Toddler Tactics’ (Penguin), private consultations or classes for parents, visit www.pinkymckay.com.au
A father’s place can often feel as though it is ‘in the wrong’, especially if they bear the brunt of an over critical partner when they don’t do things just right. With a new baby though, this isn’t necessarily due to Dad being slap dash. Instead, it can be due to ‘mummy lioness’ hormonal effects that begin brewing even before baby arrives.
During the last trimester of pregnancy, women’s bodies begin to concoct a potent cocktail of hormones that includes oxytocin, the love hormone and prolactin which is often referred to as the ‘mothering hormone’ because it promotes maternal responsiveness. The effects of this ‘chemistry of attachment’ which is boosted by a natural birth and enhanced by breastfeeding, is so well recognised that scientists have labelled it as ‘the motherhood mindset’ or ‘maternal pre-occupation’.
Although this potent ‘mummy margarita’ and the all-consuming nurturing behaviour that it generates is designed for infant survival, it often results in super protective behaviour by mothers that can make fathers feel relegated to the rank of apprentice.
Simply being aware of your biological drive (or your partner’s, if you are a father reading this) to care for your baby, can be enough to help you share parenting without attacking each other or implying that the non-birth partner or other family members, such as grandparents, may somehow ‘mess things up’ if they share care, especially if they do things a little differently.
The downside of excluding fathers from baby care is that if a man feels less than competent, he will most likely disappear to a place where he does feel in charge, such as his workplace. Soon, working late becomes a legitimate excuse for him to avoid confrontation and so a vicious downward spiral of non-involvement with his child begins.
On the other hand, the more involved a father is with little ones, the more his confidence soars and the better his connection with them becomes. And, with a little encouragement and respect, he may even start to do some things ‘your way’.
Please tell us how you encourage your partner to ’share the care’ – or if you are a dad, let us know how you feel when she criticises – and what you do. The best three responses will each win a copy of Pinky’s Baby Massage DVD – or, if you have an older child, a copy of Toddler Tactics. Winners will be decided on Sunday – Happy Fathers Day!
For more about your amazing hormones and how they affect your responsiveness to your baby see Pinky’s book “Sleeping Like a Baby” at her website -www.pinkymckay.com.au
When I arrived at ‘Melanie’s’ house (not her real name), she and two week old baby Liam were crying. Melanie was exhausted and stressed about her low milk supply. She had been up three hourly during the night to feed then settle Liam so she could express around the clock. Since 6am she and her partner had been taking turns walking the floor with Liam. It was now midday and, guess what, Melanie hadn’t eaten a thing herself.
‘Melanie’ could be almost any mum that I have visited: I see many women ( both new and experienced mothers) who set themselves extreme standards of nurturing and housework yet completely neglect their own well-being. It seems to be a reflection of the pressure (either external or self-imposed) that now you have a child, you don’t matter. Of course a helpless baby needs to have his needs met but a hungry mum, affected by low blood sugar and exhaustion isn’t up to making good decisions or meeting her baby’s needs.
After asking Melanie, “when did you last eat?” I sent her to the kitchen to find something healthy. While she made herself a toasted sandwich, I suggested Melanie’s partner rocked little Liam to sleep in a sling. Dad was then able to eat and browse the weekend paper before walking to the shops (with Liam) to stock up on staples like bread and toilet paper, while Melanie went off to bed for some much needed rest.
After eating, Melanie’s tears subsided and she was able to think straight as together we made a simple plan of feed baby; feed mum; and rest while baby sleeps. We also discussed what support was available as her partner had to return to work in a couple of days.
Although asking for help is difficult for most of us, friends and family are usually very excited to be able to share the joy of a new baby, either by bringing food, hanging out (the endless) washing or simply holding a baby while you rest. One forward thinking mum I met had asked baby shower guests to pledge help instead of baby gifts. She said this helped her feel very supported and eliminated the awkwardness of having to ask for help when she was feeling vulnerable and overwhelmed.
Of course, many new mums don’t live near their own parents and have a very small (if any) community of potential helpers. In these cases it is worth prioritising a portion of your baby bonus to hiring extra help – a cleaner, a doula (a Greek word for ‘mother’s servant’, and this is exactly her role), a gardener or even dog walker – whatever will be useful to help lighten your load.
Taking care of you
· If you want help from your partner, say so and be specific about what you need. Being a parent won’t suddenly bless him with mind reading powers and simmering with resentment won’t get the washing out.
· Have a shower early – pop baby in a rocker in the bathroom if she is likely to yell. If you are dressed, you feel more in control if things go ‘pear shaped’ later. Also if you are dressed you can go for a walk –exercise will boost endorphins (feel good hormones) and getting out can help alleviate that ‘trapped’ feeling.
· Stock up on nutritious foods that are easily prepared and eaten with one hand – bananas, boiled eggs, cans of tuna, yoghurt, wholegrain bread, cereals – and use cooking appliances that make life easy (a slow cooker, a sandwich toaster and a blender for smoothies).
· Accept all offers of help. If you are expecting visitors (or hear them pull up unexpectedly) leave vegetables and chopping board on the bench. You may need to mention, “I was just starting dinner when the baby woke.” Only the most unhelpful person wouldn’t feel obliged to prepare your vegetables for you.
· Make feeding time a ‘rest break’ for you. Fill a ‘feeding basket’ with snacks, water bottle, book, phone and remote control and while baby feeds, put your feet up and RELAX.
For more practical advice from Pinky, go to www.pinkymckay.com.au
I had taken a family – mum dad and baby – to an antenatal class to demonstrate baby massage to the pregnant parents. As this gorgeous little three month old chuckled with glee, holding out her tiny leg for a massage, one of the expectant fathers asked, “does this mean she will be ‘high maintenance’ later on?”
Although I jokingly deflected his question, I realized a few comments later that there was already a fear among the group about creating bad habits and ‘spoiling’ babies by giving them too much attention. Sadly, I also meet many new parents who feel they need to justify their actions or seek approval because their babies need help to settle or love to be held lots. For many parents, it seems that this fear of ‘bad habits’ is clouding the joy of being with their babies.
There is a lot of pressure to have a ‘good baby’ – a baby who will self settle and sleep for hours or at least a baby who doesn’t demand attention. The truth is, there is no such person as a ‘good’ baby: babies are just like the rest of us with legitimate emotional needs as well as the more obvious physical needs to be clean and fed. Some little people are more sensitive and some are more social than others. Also, just like us, some days they need extra cuddles (as do their mothers on these high need days!).
When we consider the baby’s perspective and how profound the sensory changes are from womb to room, is it any wonder that a tiny helpless being with limited communication and cognitive skills needs to be held close against a comforting heartbeat and rocked to feel secure and calm? To expect anything less of a newborn would be as unreasonable as expecting a little baby to dress or feed herself – learning to settle without cuddles is a developmental process that can’t be hurried without a lot of angst for both baby and mum, in many cases.
The good news is that your loving attention can make your baby smarter: neuroscientists and clinicians have documented that loving interactions that are sensitive to a child’s needs influence the way the brain grows and can increase the number of connections between nerve cells. Other research shows that rather than becoming ‘high maintenance’, babies whose needs are responded to in the first six months of life are less demanding toddlers. Erik Erikson, a classic researcher of child development, labels the first year of an infant’s life “Trust vs. Mistrust,” and describes it as the development of the ego. This means that if the baby’s needs are met, he feels worthy and develops into a confident, independent person.
So, rather than letting guilt or concern that you may be creating ‘bad habits’ or extra work in the long run by giving your baby ‘too much’ attention, why not relax and enjoy every sweet cuddle and coo. There will be plenty of time later on to change any habit ‘gradually with love’ and, whether you want to stop rocking your baby to sleep or encourage him to amuse himself on the floor, transitions will be easier when your child is developmentally ready. Meanwhile, ignore the critics who caution that you will spoil your little one as you consider the words of American paediatric nurse specialist Kittie Frantz who advises, “you’re not managing an inconvenience, you’re raising a human being.”
Pinky’s books Sleeping Like a Baby, 100 Ways to Calm the Crying and Toddler Tactics encourage gentle parenting – see these at her website www.pinkymckay.com.au
Last week at playgroup with grandbaby Griffin, one of the mums was rather upset. Over dinner the night before, a supposedly close friend – single and childless – had seriously put her down by saying, “you wouldn’t know the stress of working full time.” The dinner guest also went on to berate parents at her company for not taking their ‘work’ seriously because, “they are racing out the door at 5.30pm.”
The playgroup mum has two small children and has put aside a corporate career to be a home maker and mother. She works part time around her little ones in a home based business but is frustrated at the lack of respect for the job she is doing raising two happy, healthy children and running a home. She says, if I mention my part time business, even my family ask, “so how much are you making?” They don’t value what I do because they can’t see the dollar signs.
It is sad that the role of being a mother, especially a full-time mother, doesn’t convey much acknowledgement, let alone respect, but I often wonder if this is our own fault to some extent – would others have more respect for our mothering role if we command this with confidence?
A few years ago, I was at a business lunch. People introduced themselves around the table then chat turned to the inevitable, “and what do you do?” Responses were diverse: Doctor, lawyer, accountant, publicist, actor… until, across the table a vivacious woman said, “I am a happy housewife.” (she had come with her husband). Although the woman didn’t mention her mothering role (much more appealing then ‘housewife’ to me), because she had dared to be completely honest (and described herself as ‘happy’), with no embellishment (“domestic engineer”) or apology (“I am just a mum”), she commanded as much respect as any of the ‘high fliers’ at the table.
Gaining respect from others starts with self-respect, especially valuing our own role as mothers. Admittedly this can take a while to come to grips with when you are used to defining yourself by what you do. Being ‘just a mother’ can add another layer of the inevitable identity crisis as you adjust to the ‘real change of life’ that having a baby entails. There is also pressure on mothers from many angles that if they aren’t in the paid workforce they are either failing to contribute (to the family budget or to society at large) or they are wasting their education.
The skills acquired from being a mother (and those required to be a mother) – from extreme patience under stress and dealing with difficult people, to multi- tasking – can be valuable attributes to society at large as well as any future career path. Mothering involves amazing creativity and is probably the most intense personal development course available. It also requires initiative that can lead on to new opportunities in business or personal life and it is entirely compatible with further study if this suits you.
If you are feeling pressured about your choices to take ‘time out’ to nurture your little ones, remind yourself that many of your critics (like the woman who put the playgroup mum down) wouldn’t understand the definition of ‘full-time’ as you know it. Also, hold your head up high as you tell yourself (often!!), the world will wait while you do the wonderful, worthwhile work of raising happy little human beings. If you understand the significance of your nurturing role to your child, to your own identity and to the wider community, you will be open to the delights of being a mother however you choose to work this out.
Pinky McKay is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, infant massage instructor, mother of five and author of five books including ‘Sleeping Like a Baby’, 100 Ways to calm the Crying, and Toddler Tactics(Penguin). Visit her website http://www.pinkymckay.com.au
I often find myself explaining to confused mothers asking ‘what am I doing wrong?” (as they try to follow the book on their coffee table), that books that seem reasonable before you have a child are at odds with how you feel when you meet your little being.
I have just been reminded of this as I read a beautiful article in a baby magazine ( My Child) by Antonella Gambotto-Burke – ‘Raising Bethesda’ – about how she had planned ‘pre-baby’ to follow the Contented Little Baby book by Gina ford. But, as happens so often, Gambotta Burke says, “But then I heard Bethesdas voice and the world changed.”
You see, nature is powerful and when she has her way, mothers discover, as Gambotta-Burke did, that mother and baby are designed to be close to each other and feel at odds when separation is enforced by rules.
Snuggling together with baby is natural and nourishing to both parent and child and clocks and strict schedules have no part of this connection as mother and baby become exquisitely attuned to each other. Non-verbal cues are easily shared so that as baby becomes slightly uncomfortable or just a wee bit hungry or thirsty, mother intuitively attends to her child. This connection is like a dance with partners becoming more and more competent at the steps as they practice – soon there are no concerns about ‘which cry is this?’ Instead there is an inner knowing by that mother of her individual baby’s own unique language.
This is not simply an ’emotional’ bond ( although of course there is a deep emotional connection and it is vital) but a blueprint for survival that is physical and biological. Hormonal changes that begin during pregnancy and are heightened after the birth of our babies are designed to help us become more intuitive and responsive to them. MRIs have shown that certain parts of a mother’s brain light up when her own baby cries; other studies show that circulation to a mother’s breasts increases when she hears her child’s cry. Fathers too can have altered levels of hormones that aid their responsivity and these are enhanced by close contact with their child.
This is why I feel angry when I hear childless ‘celebunannies’ – to use Antonella Gambotta’s term – calling babies ‘MY babies’ or claiming that they have special powers to interpret babies’ cries. Some claim they have had these ‘special powers’ since they were children. Der… ? These women are part of the human race (aren’t they) – I would like to believe that every child has enough empathy to know when a fellow human feels distressed, especially a vulnerable baby. However, I feel cross that mothers are being undermined and second guessing their own babies’ behaviour as they listen to ‘outsiders’ telling them to ‘leave the baby to cry’ or that is ‘just’ an angry cry ( anger is a legitimate emotion when distress and helplessness prevail) .
This lack of confidence is detrimental to the mother- infant connection as it interrupts bonding between the person who really does know the baby best – the mother of that child. Besides, despite the outrageous claims that anybody but you – the parents – could interpret your babies cries better than you, research actually shows that babies have individual cry prints, just as we all have individual fingerprints. So although there may be a similarity between babies cries, there will also be nuances that are characteristic to YOUR baby. By holding your wee one close and doing some baby watching – not packing her away in a dark room and avoiding eye contact – you will get to know what kind of cry is this? You will also get to know your baby’s pre-cry language and you will intuitively respond appropriately.
I have a wonderful quote that I love to share from The Continuum Concept, a book written in the seventies by Jean Leidloff, an American woman who lived for a time with the Yequana Indians,
“I would be ashamed to admit to the Indians that where I come from the women do not feel themselves capable of raising children until they have read the instructions written by a strange man”
As Antonella Gamnbotto- Burke says, describing her feelings, the night her baby announced “I sleep in my own bed” , “Gina Ford and her fellow ‘celebunannies’ can never know what I felt in that moment for Bethesda. That throat-constricting love, as limitless as the horizon.The confrontation of my baby’s conscious individuation. And the understanding that allowing her to evolve at her own pace was a gift: in yielding to our babies, a reverence for life itself.”
Love, laugh, enjoy – and please, be as gentle to yourself and your beloved as you are to your child. You ARE the expert about YOUR baby!
Every day I see wonderful mothers doing a lovely job nurturing their little ones but so many of these women doubt themselves as they face criticism for their parenting choices, especially if they happen to have a high needs baby.
Even though – or perhaps, especially when – it seems that you are the only person whose baby only sleeps for moments, or cries when he isn’t being held, or isn’t easily soothed or is easily over-stimulated, take heart: you really aren’t the only person who is having a difficult time. Sadly though, there is a conspiracy of silence around what babies REALLY do and how mothers REALLy feel – very stressed, often isolated and much of the time, inadequate.
This is why it really is important to find yourself a support group or at least a few likeminded people who will tell you that you are doing a fabulous job and that you WILL survive.
Just yesterday I spoke to a mother on the phone who was feeling totally undermined by advice from family, friends and virtual strangers, including her mothers’ group. I reassured this mum – who was doing a wonderful job with a high needs/ reflux baby that she hadnt ‘created bad habits’ and wouldn’t have a child with ‘behaviour problems’ ( her wee one is only 3 months old so hardly on the road to delinquincy!) because she was holding him too much/ not leaving him to cry to ‘teach’ him to sleep ( as though crying teaches anybody anything other than to ‘give up’!). I also suggested that this mum desperately needed to find a cheering squad – others who would support her parenting choices or, at the very least,mind their own business. I told her, as I tell all mothers, “if they aren’t bringing casseroles or offering to do an ‘overnighter’, then they have no right to criticise. And you have no obligation to listen to them.” One place I suggested this mum might find support was the Australian Breastfeeding Association. This seemed fairly daunting because she is a country mum with quite a distance to tarvel to her nearest group meeting.
But, today this mum emailed me and here is a part of what she wrote:
“We spoke on the phone yesterday evening about my little bub and her sleep. Your encouragement and reassurance was just the tonic I needed, and I ended up changing my plans today so that I could go to the ABA meeting for the first time. It was fantastic and there were several women with high-needs bubs with very similar stories to mine (their kids are a bit older than XXX and they survived!) who share the same compassionate philosophy – as you said they would. I made friends with some lovely ladies who live just around the corner (a big thing when living in a relatively isolated area) – and have been told to pop in for a cuppa anytime. I’ve taken comfort from yours and their experiences and can fully relax in the knowledge that things will happen in their own time. I cannot tell you what a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders in the past 24 hours. I feel like I can just enjoy XXXX now, trust my instincts and go for it!
So, to all you mums sitting at home feeling as though you are ‘the only one’ holding and rocking and soothing a high needs baby or, in fact, any baby (becoming a mother is a HUGE life change!), please come out of your closet and find your cheering squad. I promise, it will boost your confidence and your sense of self. Go on, pick up the phone and get out there ‘face to face’ with other people who will support you.
Love, laugh enjoy and, above all be as kind to yourself and your beloved as you are to your baby,