Finding Yourself without Losing Baby

Kj painting 1Mothering is a challenge.  One of the biggest struggles described by women is the challenge to find time for self, or to not lose some earlier version of self during the mothering years. Some days, the mundane tasks of keeping Babies fed, happy and alive seem to engulf the former being.  Where is the “me” I used to be?  This can be especially difficult for moms who have put aside active professional careers to pick up the new vocation of chasing chocolate-fingered, squishy-cheeked bundles of energy.

I propose that the unique you is not relegated to a dusty trunk in the attic for the duration of child rearing.  You are way more creative than that.  Yes, if you want to practice something that looks like attachment parenting, or simply do not wish to use day care, you can find ways of reminding yourself of your humanhood.

I discovered this myself many years ago.  I married and had children before attaining a college degree, so there was no career to leave. There was, however, a career in my mind – art teacher.  There was a burning for exploration and a push for expanding my horizons.  I found an avenue for growth through becoming a La Leche League Leader.  This is a volunteer breastfeeding counselor.  I attended training sessions in therapeutic communication, and of course, all things babies and breastfeeding.  Every class, every conference was exciting and fulfilling for me and others.  I rose to a leadership position and found many more development opportunities.   And the best part – the organization expected us to bring our Babies to every class and every meeting!  As a bonus, I received a built-in support group of young mothers.  As a further bonus when I did go back to college, I didn’t have to pay attention during the communication classes. KJ paints 1

Later, as the mother of the grammar and middle school-aged set, I found a niche largely untouched by others – teaching children how to paint with oils.   NO sane person wants to get kids in close proximity to oil-based paints.  So, my garage became a studio and my children, along with other children in the neighborhood who were old enough to not eat the paint, created masterpieces.  I was sort of a “working” mother – but still could have my children close.

I had a conversation not long ago with a mother of two young ones who was bemoaning how much pressure she was feeling from her young-mother peers to leave her babies on a regular basis so she could “take care of herself.”  She was reminded how she had an obligation to not “neglect herself” and how she should go to the gym and leave the babies in day care each day.  She described being uncomfortable with this proposition as her Babies were very young.  I said something fairly banal in support of her decision and you would have thought I had handed her a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.  But maybe I did just that.  It is freeing to find support for those gut-level mother instincts.

But back to the premise that moms do need creative outlets and growth opportunities.  Children’s activities can provide interesting avenues into adult activities.  If your child is learning, you may be learning also.  Every violin or piano lesson you sit through is providing you with knowledge to apply to your own study of the instrument.  Every art lesson they receive – you receive also.  Those dearly missed opportunities to apply your professional skills – take them into your child’s classroom.  Stagnation is not necessary.  And before long, the Babies are tall and you have that precious “me” time is again available – although not without the pull of the mother strings that bind you forever to those children.

Find your outlets, ply your crafts, pursue your education and fulfill those needs.  But keep the Babies nearby.

Nao plays violin

Church Babies – CTRs (Choose the Right-ers)

IMG_3099 One Sunday, I was driving home from church with a precocious five-year-old as my back-seat passenger.  She had just attended her church class where she learned that we should always choose the right – meaning choose what is correct. We even sang the song “Choose the Right.” To further reinforce her new status, she had received a little ring with the green shield of CTR stamped on it – Choose the Right was on her finger.  She had seriously internalized the concept and was very impressed with the entire “CTR” business.  I was impressed with her quick mind and how she had absorbed the concept.  Proud.

My understanding was about to be corrected.

We came to a stop light and she observed that my turn signal indicated I was going to turn left – toward home.

“Grandma!  Turn right – don’t turn left!”

She then strongly and carefully instructed me how important it was to choose the right and therefore I needed to turn right, not left.  “We need to turn right.  We should NEVER turn left because we always should Choose The Right! ”

That is when I discovered to check for understanding when five-year-olds are introduced to “Choose the Right.”

A five-year-old is smack dab in the middle of the developmental period coined by Piaget as “pre operational.”  Piaget noted that children in this stage are not yet able to consistently reason with logic and generally have difficulty transferring information from one situation to another – that comes next after age seven.  The interesting thing is that while these are hallmarks, any individual child may be leaping ahead toward the school-age concrete stage, or lingering in the prior stage of sensorimotor where they touch and manipulate everything.  My CTR Baby had learned her right from her left and was firm in that concept.  So when someone says “Choose the Right” – it was truly a directional edict.

My mind raced – I wondered how I could every get home with only right turns.

As I tried to explain that the word “right” had more than one meaning, I got the impression that she was tolerating my attempts, but she was standing firm in her definition.  I finally assuaged her concerns about left turns with the reason that sometimes left turns are OK if we are trying to get home.  Whew – disaster averted with lightening-fast pre-operational thinking.

At age five, the concept of making correct choices in light of personal responsibility is threaded through the church curriculum – increasing in sophistication through classes for six and seven-year-olds.  Sunday Primary classes provide children wonderful, developmentally appropriate instruction in the gospel of Christ. They receive that good news line upon line and precept upon precept at the level of their understanding.

All is in preparation for acceptance and choice of baptism at the age of eight.  And yes, they do get a choice.   The eighth year is when “the age of accountability” is reached – and also the age of reason and logic according to developmental scientists.  It is a part of our church doctrine that children before the age of eight are innocent, and cannot sin. Baptism at eight includes the gift of the Holy Ghost, the comforter who is available to guide them in their choices as they develop and grow to adulthood and full accountability.  After eight, teaching of correct actions (choosing the right) continues through liberal illustrations from real lives and scripture stories

The great Developmental Biologist in Heaven know how children think and it is comforting that the developmental principles discovered by man are a not in conflict.

ctr-ring_original

I love my church.

http://www.mormon.org

Marriage is Good for Babies

09I am assuming that welcoming a Baby into your life is a consideration.

If you are not thinking of Babies and Marriage –  Hey Young People: Now’s the Time to Get Married and Have Kids

Perhaps you are among the increasingly marriage-phobic, up and coming generation that desires children, but are satisfied with less than the full commitment of marriage.

Baby has some news for you:   Babies do not care whether you are “ready” for marriage or not – in fact, they don’t care if you were ready for them.

Babies do not care about politics…about adult desires…adult angst…adult stupidity. They only want a mom and dad. Yes, folks, studies show they do better with two parents – one from each gender (1, 2).  You may find studies that show it does not make any difference, but I will match your study with one of mine and up you one.

We all have a sliding scale of femaleness and maleness. To develop to full potential, we need to bounce those hardwired traits off two kinds of parents – a mom that is female and a dad that is male.

Furthermore, Baby wants the male and the female who made them to stay together.   Forever. Not just until the first BIG disappointment comes along. Not just until each partner finds out the true shortcomings of the other. Not just until Baby finishes college.

Forever.

Exception: Baby won’t care if you leave a person who beats you. Baby will congratulate you later.

Divorce is hard on babies at any age. In the absence of abuse, a majority of people are glad they stayed together even if they were at one time on the brink of divorce. Yes, it is reported in a study.

007Marriage is civilized. It has moved civilization forward. It says, we are so committed to each other, we are making it a legal deal. This has provided babies with that extra security that civilized societies honor. As a bonus, parents can make it a religious covenant, which says that we are not only making our promise to society, but to God.

Marriage improves physical and mental health (3).  Married parents produce children who end up better educated with higher incomes.  Studies also have tried to separate out what makes children of married parents more successful in education and finance.  Some findings suggest that the very qualities that make for a good marriage – commitment and patience – also make for good parenting.  Greater time for nurturing seems to also be a factor in the case for married parents.  And, the secrets of a long-term marital happiness hinge on two traits:  compassion and kindness (4).

Compassion and kindness are appreciated by Babies, also.

But, you may say, life got messy and I got divorced.  Or, I never got married.  Or…  Welcome to the less than ideal world that many of us inhabit.  Just because your life does not meet the gold standard, does not mean that you don’t still have the gold standard to contend with.  We do the best we can with the choices we have made and the cards that life deals us.  We encourage others to do better than us.  We support those who suffer misfortunes.

Then we seek to capitalize on our strengths – always.

That is the way to move forward.  Espouse the truth.  There is always another generation to teach.  There are always people searching for true and good ways to live.  So go out and shout it from the roof tops – get married.  Be truly radical.  Don’t get a tattoo – get a baby!  Get several – always one more than you think you can afford.  Rather than pierce your belly button – pierce your heart with love and commitment.  Have a marvelous, messy, married and baby-filled life.

Don’t let babies down. Get married. Stay married.

 [1] Mark Regnerus, “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” Social Science Research Vol 41, Issue 4 (July 2012), pp. 752-770; online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049089X12000610

[2] Loren Marks, “Same-sex parenting and children’s outcomes: A closer examination of the American Psychological Association’s brief on lesbian and gay parenting,” Social Science Research Vol 41, Issue 4 (July 2012), pp. 735-751; online at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0049089X12000580

[3]. David Gallacher and John Gallacher. Are relationships good for you? BMJ, January 27, 2011

[4].  Emily Esfahai Smith, “Masters of love.”  The Atlantic.  June 12, 2013.   http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573/?single_page=true

 

Birthing Babies – Athletic Event?

Runner womanBook (written by anesthesiologist) promotes epidurals for birth as soon labor starts – and suggests women who don’t take an epidural are foolish and may even cause harm to the baby. What time machine did I step into? Comparing the pain of childbirth to root canals and appendicitis? Am I back in the middle of the 20th century again? My memory is long, and the sell-job of epidurals and the put-down of “natural” childbirth has just donned new clothing.

Most bothersome about the reports from the baby-birthing industry is a lack of progress toward women owning it. Why can we not make bearing a child with as little intervention as possible the norm and not the butt of political ridicule from the “let’s save women from the burdens of women” camp. You see, when you relinquish all the uniqueness of the female of gender, you lose. Children lose. Family loses. Society loses.

I could do a lengthy academic paper, with pages of citations, on the effects of epidurals and analgesia on labor and breastfeeding. There would be studies that come down on different sides of the issue. Logic dictates, however, the fact that drugs that numb or depress the nervous system have negative effects on babies. Those drugs in anyone’s bloodstream, depress thought, breathing, can lower blood pressure and prolong labor. Babies don’t talk, so we can’t measure their thought, but when they aren’t very interested in breastfeeding the first day, we might surmise they are sleeping off the drugs. But forces with agendas can also determine study results. One fact is certain: all drugs carry side effects. It is a risk versus benefit decision. Always.

An unmedicated birth, when labor is uncomplicated, is within the capability of every healthy woman. This should be the default method – with other plans coming in as necessary. Instead, medical professionals present the contingencies as the norm and the unmedicated birth as the exception. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists came out with a statement that no laboring woman should have to endure any pain.

“Labor causes severe pain for many women. There is no other circumstance where it is considered acceptable for an individual to experience untreated severe pain, amenable to safe intervention, while under a physician’s care. In the absence of a medical contraindication, maternal request is a sufficient medical indication for pain relief during labor. Pain management should be provided whenever medically indicated.”

http://www.acog.org/Resources-And-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Obstetric-Practice/Pain-Relief-During-Labor

How confusing. WhatEveliaI7 does that mean? Has a baby ever been born with no pain? No one should have to experience pain, but pain management should be provided “whenever medically indicated.” If labor is a normal physiological process, how can labor be a “medical indication?” How is a drug or intervention determined to be “safe?” For any individual mother and baby, the only way to determine safety is in retrospect – if there was no harm caused. Otherwise, there is a risk to every drug and every intervention.

ACOG has lumped in the pain of labor with the pain of surgery – or the pain of broken bones. I can tell you first hand that I would do all of my five labors – back to back – without drugs – rather than go through the pain of one traumatic shoulder dislocation. The two hours with my shoulder out of its socket is when I found out about real pain.

Each semester I give my students an assignment: Interview six women – three who had unmedicated births and three who had medication. The students then ask a series of questions about the mothers’ experiences, pain levels and attitudes. The students are always surprised when so many women who birthed unmedicated report birth as a less painful experience than those who had medication/epidurals. One midwife I worked with explained it thus: If you have pain medication, you get stuck in the pain you had right before you were medicated. The push-out is a big eraser, and you aren’t stuck with the pain.

I have witnessed motivated and prepared mothers in hospitals, determined to walk through the labor without drugs, falter under the parade of doctors and nurses, meds in hand, saying, “Honey, you REALLY don’t have to be in pain. You don’t have to PROVE anything.” Talk about demoralizing – the very people who are supposed to be your advocates and minions, undermining one of the most important events of your life.

Sadly, I have seen a laboring woman at seven centimeters who had said in Spanish, “No Drugs!” receive narcotics IV from a nurse (who knew better than the mother, of course) while the doctor stood between her legs lecturing the resident at his side – not even knowing her name. They wanted her to be quiet. Good Nurse stopped her voice with some morphine so Doctor would not be disturbed. Labor and birth are not quiet. I will never forget that scene.

What If…

What if we look at labor and delivery as an athletic event?

What if woErikanursing25minmen conceptualized labor as a marathon, or mountain climb – worthy of their time and effort to prepare physically and mentally.

What if the mother put all of her efforts into learning about the labor marathon, training for the race and employing all of the techniques that will allow her to endure to the end?

What if accomplishing labor and birth through the body’s amazing capacity was the priority rather than calling for drugs to eliminate any discomfort that comes during the race.

What if we had a medical community committed to educating women toward natural birth, but also equipped to support them if it does not work out that way.

What if, at every doctor’s appointment, a mother receives education and messages about how well her body works and how it was likely to do a superb job when labor comes rather than shaming her selfish and silly desires to reject drugs.

Nine months is an adequate amount of time to learn about and train for labor and birth. While a marathon yields immense sense of accomplishment and maybe a ribbon or medal, the end point of labor is the biggest prize of all – a baby. And, as a bonus, the woman knows she trained, worked with the forces of her body and did not run away from the process. No one seeking marathon completion calls for a taxi at the starting line. She is anxious to apply training and knowledge to meet the biggest physical event of her life.

How can medical professionals responsibly practice in childbirth and neglect to guide the education of the mother on childbirth – unless they assume that she will be drugged and safely on the sidelines and therefore won’t need any education on how to “run the marathon.”

The pain of labor is informative. It tells you where you are. You get breaks from the forces of labor – which allows a woman to regroup for the next wave. Yes, during that last part will be tough, but generations of women have stayed the course and pushed through the burn of those last (centi)meters of the marathon.

What does an unmedicated birth provide to a woman? Power. Confidence. Strength. Knowledge. There are cases where medication assists a baby to be born safely. That is when we need medication. But uncomplicated birth? No. Mothers who encounter complications that necessitate drugs or surgical deliveries know they did their best and nature dictated a different course. They usually do not feel defeated if they know nature took the choice out of their hands.

Mothers will always dEmiliatwinso their best with the knowledge they have. If they choose medications and epidurals, they should be supported during the labor. No one can get inside another’s body or head. Women should be kind to other women. My primary concern is that mothers hear accurate information and receive greatest support from their medical professionals and encouragement towards the healthy body responses rather than a one-sided – don’t-you-worry-we’ll-take-care-of-you approach.

Respect mothers and give them the knowledge with which to make an informed choice.

Birth is holy – the mother is the center, father and friends there to protect her and the child – and to keep intruders at bay – no matter who they are.

Teen Babies – Brain Launch

img577

Teenagers.

I could end with that word and many knowing parent heads would bob up and down with understanding and reminiscence. In contrast, the heads of Baby parents are stock-still, eyes unblinking. They know about adolescence in theory, but not in practice – therefore they don’t really think it will happen to them. Endless hours of careful schooling, cajoling, disciplining, refining, exposing and pacing, will steel their child from the ravages of erratic teen behavior. Their Baby will be immune to those teen traits that they hear about. Their Baby will sail through the teen years and with every challenge, will hearken back to a parent’s wise counsel. Teenbaby will then follow said parental counsel and correct choices will prevail.

Allow me to explain why this is an unlikely scenario.

Brain development happens like body development with periods of quiescence mingled with intense growth. One of the most intense periods happens during puberty – especially in the 15-16-year-old age range. While the study of neurological underpinnings of the Teenbaby crazies yields something new every year, I will pass on what is currently believed by science.

Starting with the end of middle childhood and continuing into the twenties, the brain undergoes significant remodeling. There is a flurry of activity to reconfigure the child into the adult thinker. Some of the things going on in their noggin are:

Weeding the Garden, or Synaptic Pruning

Babies are born with about a hundred billion brain cells or neurons. The size of the brain reaches 90% of an adult at age six. Each neuron looks like a tree with a very long trunk and all the branches connect with other branches making a synapse – a tiny gap where the signal jumps across. As Baby grows and experiences the world, some of those connections are used frequently and others are not – and may begin to waste. Pruning eliminates unused pathways and allows for the well-used ones to become stronger. In addition, the brain greases up (provides a special coating) the well-used pathways so thoughts can run along them at lightening speed.

img578

The Bloom of Seeking Novelty and Taking Risks

Adolescence is when the brain is most sensitive to the substance dopamine, a neurotransmitter that directly influences reward and pleasure. We used to think that Teenbaby did not realize he was mortal, but now we know better. They have more “eye on the prize” and are willing to accept greater risk in return for a reward. Adults, not so much. Ultimately, this trait enables Teenbaby to leave the parents and home in search of independence but also renders them more vulnerable to harmful consequences in the mean time. Unfortunately, it is this reward chemical, dopamine, that is affected with illicit drug and alcohol use. The remodel can be permanently affected and the resulting structure lacking sense and order.

Building the Fences – Control through Executive Function Development

Where are we without a leader? Without someone to hold workers accountable, everyone just does what they want when they want. Bosses serve useful purposes. They remind every one of their specific duty and with the big picture in mind, corral the workers so the business runs for maximum output. The prefrontal cortex is the boss – and it is what makes us human. We have the ability to bite our tongue, control our anger and defer a pleasure because this area of the brain filters and directs – and suppresses those centers that would have us respond with raw rage. With teens, the Executive function development lags behind those busy independence and novelty-seeking parts of the brain. You get the picture.

“Let’s go get our ____ tattooed .” “Let’s see what happens if we ______.” “I’ll bet you can’t ____. “

With Executive Function out on an extended lunch, Novelty Seeker wins much of the time. Parental reminders, expectations and checks are essential to Teenbaby survival.

So think about what a house looks like during a remodel. Demolition – walls are coming down, dust is flying and the place is a mess.  However, amid the chaos, new and improved structures are appearing with updated wiring that allows faster and more comprehensive communication between rooms. That is why those Teenbabies can seem so very together one day and a disorganized mess the next. They are not comfortable in their own in-process brains.

“Should I do X or y or Z,” says Teenbaby brain. Or, should I do A like my mother wants me to?

img579Teenbaby brain has all channels wide open, with choice A being the least attractive because Teenbaby brain says that it is “other” generated and not “self” generated. Also, it is not a “new” or “unique” avenue so it is much less desirable. Teenbaby brain is searching for launch. So, Teenbaby brain will choose X, Y, or Z over A almost every time. Or, it will choose X on Monday, Y on Tuesday and Z on Wednesday. Think about how many persona’s a teen tries out during those years.

So we have conflict. Teenbaby is following the new options. Conflict is set up. Conflict is necessary to separate from the parent. In its extreme state, this conflict requires that Parent forcibly eject Teenbaby. There we go – Baby Launched.

The more likely scenario, however is for a multitude of lesser conflicts to arise – with both parties realizing that Teenbaby must leave Parent. And that if Parent has done a superb job, Teenbaby will leave and establish an independent life. Executive function takes over and an independent adult is born. Eventually, in an ideal world, all are happy with this situation. Parents are happy that the conflict is over, launch has occurred and Teenbaby is independent Adultbaby and deciding that Parents may have had a point after all.

Sometime after 25, (which, by the way, the average time the remodel job is finished) they get back together in a new and improved relationship. But the transition is hell. And almost no one is immune – because of developmental neurobiology, of course. And the human condition.

 

141_4153

Babies and Trouble

IMG_7022There are many ways to lose a child. One of the most devastating, I think, is losing a Baby to Trouble. Trouble comes when your baby makes a poor choice. The wrath of the universe or legal system is brought down upon them.

Some babies are Trouble almost from the beginning. They seem to need to apply all of life’s most difficult dilemmas directly to themselves – they need to learn about Trouble in the first person. Second person accounts do not seem to hold sway on them. They cannot relate to the horror stories you parade before them about the consequences of their choices.

What is dearly hoped-for is that the Baby who insists on walking with Trouble, grows up. Growing up seems to hold the secret to leaving Trouble behind for many Babies. After a certain age they part ways with Trouble and avoiding it forever more. You hold your breath and wait.

In studying brain development, I have seen some of the roots of trouble decisions and then the decision to leave it.  Adolescents seem to have the most temptation to walk with Trouble. The capacity of the adolescent judgment center lags behind the ability of the brain’s novelty and adventure centers. Thus, some crazy ideas that seem brilliant are sent to the brain’s hobbled judgment center where approval for action is given, and you guessed it: Trouble.

So what about when they are no longer adolescent Babies and they still choose Trouble. Unfortunately for some, that judgment center needs perhaps 10, 20, even 30 more years to catch up through the pummeling of all the Trouble that is generated. Using alcohol and certain drugs dampens the ability for the judgment center to catch up.  Some drugs damage it profoundly.  Certain psychological conditions render a person permanently Troubled – personality disorders, substance use and alcohol addiction.  For the parent, it is easy to ask “Why?” or “Where did I go wrong?”   Get in line – your numbers are legion.

Trouble is born of free agency. You just hope that in the exercise of free agency, no permanent harm is done. You pray for that. But what if they seem to be determined to engage in all things harmful. While they are still alive and breathing, they are your Baby. Often, when they walk with Trouble, they whittle away at the number of human beings that can show them love. You may even struggle to show them love because, with some kinds of Trouble, comes lying, stealing, cheating and betrayal.  Now for a brief tale of codependency.

Co-dependency and Boat Rowing or “What Happened to My Boat?”

N5 Woman rowing

Once there was a person who was rowing her own boat up a river – we will call her Mom (you can also call the person Dad, Wife, Husband, Boyfriend – anything that suits your story).  It was going to be a long and difficult journey, but by staying on task, the destination would be worth it.

Mom happened to look to the left, and saw another person attempting to row his boat.  His arms were not coordinating and the oars barely touched water resulting in little headway.  We will call him Trouble (you can also call him… well, you pick it).   So, Mom starts giving instructions for effective boat-rowing to Trouble.  Trouble nods in agreement, but then just keeps up the uncoordinated attempts and is going nowhere.  Mom then rows over to Trouble (she is sure he probably cannot hear her correctly) and proceeds to give even better instructions.  Trouble just keeps flailing.

Now, this is where Mom starts to think that Trouble needs a more up-close-and-personal rowing lesson.  She pulls her boat alongside, and jumps into Trouble’s boat – issuing rowing directions and demonstrating with arms pumping and voice raising ever higher and louder.  Trouble seems to not hear, and now Trouble’s boat is drifting farther away from the correct course.

Mom then grabs the oars and now starts to row, feeling certain that this is the only way to save Trouble’s trip up the river from being a disaster.  Trouble now seems to be paying attention and begins to comment – on how Mom is not rowing the boat correctly and who invited her into his boat anyway.  Mom is aghast as Trouble suddenly jumps ship, swims to the shore and terminates his trip.

Mom wonders what has happened to her own boat.

Some Babies are determined to stay off course.  You, as a parent, cannot lose your own boat to try to avert their purposeful sabotage of progress.  You then have nothing left to preserve your own journey – and your example of a purposeful journey is one of the most valuable gifts to offer to a trouble-prone Baby.  Your prayers and steadfast adherence to standards and beliefs may be the lighthouse that they eventually use to return to a healthy life.

At times, all that is left is love. You give that Baby love and tell them to get up and try again. You won’t help them walk with Trouble. But you will love them. That is why Trouble Babies have parents. Kick in the rear. Call to accountability – again. You protect yourself from them. You let them fall and fail because they choose to not learn by any other method.

You may be the only one that can see the spark in them that will allow them to leave Trouble forever. So you show them that spark. You ask them to tap into it. Again and again.  And you keep rowing your own boat.

Dinner with Babies

IMG_3282Dinner.   Or Supper. It is the time, usually the last meal of day, when families sit down and eat together. Together is the operative word and you know this instinctively if you came from a family where good food was combined with good family conversation. If you did not have this experience growing up, then you will need to research the phenomenon and become familiar with the concept – because studies tell us that the family dinner is vital to the health of the family (3).

This is where palpable family bonding takes place. Communication channels are abuzz with daily happenings and future planning. That is as long as there isn’t a stinker at the table. A stinker shuts down the conversation – more about that later.

Research has revealed that the more often a family sits down and eats together, the less likely children will succumb to addictions and other dysfunctional behaviors. Your child may be 35% less likely to engage in disordered eating, 24% more likely to eat healthier foods and 12% less likely to be overweight (2).   How do you go about giving your family this treasure that will yield rewards throughout generations?

First – you must personally commit to the principle of eating together as a family.

If you are serious, your family knows it. You will get much less push back and fewer requests to eat dinner in front of a favorite TV show if you have conviction.   Children have radar that detects whether the parents are really committed to a principle or action. Think about how you speak and act if you really don’t care if Baby touches the vase on the coffee table. But note the difference in your actions and intent as Baby heads for the plate-glass window with a rock in hand. There is no doubt whether you are committed to action. Babies – and everyone else since the internal differences in a person who is half-committed and one who is fully committed.

Second – make the time sacred. That’s right, no exceptions. This is a challenge in this activity-charged world. Decide what is doable. If it is a family of many Teen Babies with many activities, you may need to make fewer than seven times a week sacred. Ideally, at least one weekend plus one week day should be immovable gathering times for everyone. Frequency of family dinners correlates with children making good choices later (2).

Third – Involve every family member in the process. It is essential that all family members participate and have a part in the meal. Menu planning, shopping, table setting, clearing and clean up are all a part of a successful family meal.  Obviously, if the habit of a meal together is started when the Babies are little, it is not so difficult.  Nevertheless, the time to start the dinner tradition that builds family cohesion is now.

Mia helps bake cake May 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What are some of the rituals that can enhance your chances of successful family meal times?

The Food

Plan the eats ahead of time. Plan menus a month at a time. This saves money and time spent shopping. Get your crock pot out of storage and explore slow cook recipes.   Investigate those prepare-ahead meals that freeze and involve moms getting together to make a month’s worth –  but they really are having a party. If you are excited about the food your family will be also. Check out foodie blogs like Mommy’s Kitchen for inspiration:  http://www.mommyskitchen.net/2013/01/february-dinner-menu-monthly-menu-plan.html

Most important, even if you stop by your favorite fast food and bring home dinner in a sack, is to sit down all together and follow the rules of engagement.

The Table

What does the table look like? You might have Aunt Tillie’s old china that has decorated your buffet forever. Get it out and use it at regular intervals. Use chargers. Have a tablecloth that reflects the season. Take pictures.  Everyone learns how to set and clear tables. You may want a series of dinners where each family member gets to serve the food to other family members.

IMG_5455

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teach table setting. Do you remember how to set a table? If not, Ikea has some great placemats.

Ikea Placemats“Spoon and knife – on the right

And then the fork is left”

Because most people are right-handed, the spoon and the knife sit at the right of the plate and the fork is on the left side. Where the salad plate and glasses go depends upon which side of the world you hail from.  What holds in America changes in Europe. Decide what is “proper” for your family table.

 

The Rules of (Dinner) Engagement

The opportunity to sit together and create memories should be carefully protected. First, no electronics are allowed. Television off – conversation on. You may want to establish a pattern of each family member reporting the best thing about the day.   Keep it positive.   Establish a firm rule – no negatives or personal attacks while at the dinner table. No stinkers. You may need to have a special sit-down if you have a stinker in your family and give special instructions and consequences for bringing up negatives at the dinner table. Code is established for giving the stinker the “stink-eye” should he or she stray from the established “no stink thrown during dinner” rules. There is plenty of time outside of that golden dinner hour to deal with negative feelings and events.

The Reward

What does this do for a Baby’s development? It yields patterns and forms and expectations of pleasant times at dinner. Manners, etiquette, food creativity and critique, and the art of conversation are learned skills through the vehicle of a family dinner. Babies have a template for how to conduct the business of dinner throughout their future lives.

It is never too late to make dinner with family a warm and positive event.

andycook3

1. CASA. (2010). The importance of family dinners VI. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University. Retrieved from http://www.casacolumbia.org/templates/publications_reports.aspx

2. Fiese, B. & Hammons, A. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 127, 1565-1574.

3. Musick, K. & Meier, A. (2012). Assessing Causality and persistence in associations between family dinners and adolescent well-being. Journal of Marriage and Family.

Why Babies?

DSC_1096e1

Photo Credit: Valeri Anderson https://www.facebook.com/vandersenphotography

This should be the first entry into this weblog – why bother with babies at all?

First, there is the primeval, brain, heart, hormone and DNA-based urge to have children in most (not all) people. We are members of humanity and we value each other. We have, in reality, a short time here on earth to make a life and make a difference. Most want the full menu of human experience, including the bearing and raising of children. It is visceral.

In past times, having plenty of children meant survival. Children were contributors to the family and provided hands in the fields and in the home. With disease and accident claiming lives, it was necessary to have more Babies than now. Babies were so often lost that it was customary to give a new baby the same name as the last baby that had passed on before – a phenomenon that makes genealogy very interesting.   In addition, there were few reliable ways of preventing them within the marital relationship.  Family history records often show a two to three-year interval for the births of children.  That is because breastfeeding provided some natural child spacing for many families.  More on that later.

The desire for family is basic – and Babies are nice additions to families. Family is the primary unit of a civilized society. Each family is, in miniature, a society – hopefully civilized. The form may vary, but the ideal function is to provide a protective environment that creates security and opportunities for the members of that family. In short, having a Baby means having a future – for both society and the family. Babies are a manifestation of all who came before you.

Children are future adults, and future makers of families. If a moderately happy family exists, then we want to pass that on. Some cultures are intent with creating resources that allow future generations a better financial and educational platform on which to build. That way, success increases for each successive generation of Babies – as long as you have also passed along a strong work ethic.  Otherwise, it is the three-generation trust fund kid story – first generation makes it, second builds it and spends it on the kids, third generation just spends it.

Even if you are in the No Babies group, I recommend Babies – some time and in some form. Find them within your family, or find them in places where there is not family to hold and guide them. Your capacity for love will grow to heights not possible without Babies. But so will your capacity for sorrow be deepened, as your heart will then be vulnerable to the law of commensurate highs and lows.

In spite of the risks, Babies are worth the trouble. If you have the choice, have a bunch of them. Let your heart rule on this one and have at least one more than you think you can afford. They actually cost less than the estimates in magazines report. Give them the best you have to offer and let them benefit from your mistakes – but stand back and let them make some of their own. Learn how Babies think and develop because that creates an opening to a tiny world of innocence and pure encounter that grounds the adult in life essentials. A reminder of life’s meaning becomes crystal clear when viewed through the eyes of a child.

Babies live life at its fullest and drag you along with them. Look them straight in the eye as often as you can. They will stare right back at you – complete strangers though you may be. They are not afraid, preoccupied, embarrassed, or locked down. They are open to the world. Having even one Baby in your life provides a ride you really don’t want to miss.

144_4423 (2)

No Babies

IMG_7016Babies or No Babies – Do we get to decide?  How do we decide?  Do we decide and then something else happens anyway?  Do they come to us, but are taken away?   Sometimes the final result is that we are in the No Baby land.  What is that?

Choice: No Babies

We live in a wonderful land where we have been given the freedom to choose our life and lifestyle. – mostly. This means that most have the choice to marry and whether to bring children into the marriage. Some married couples make the purposeful choice to not have babies. The rationales are many and varied. For some, it is a political or societal belief system that they hold closely that includes not bringing more human beings into the world to populate the planet. For some, it is less about population and more about chosen lifestyles where children would not fit. Others may have family history of a disease, genetic disability, or mental disorders and decide not to chance passing these things on. I’m certain there are others and certainly variations on the ones I have mentioned.

The most unfortunate thing I see transpiring between the Babies by Choice and the No Babies by Choice groups is a lack of compassion toward each other. We do not walk in each other’s shoes. We walk in our own. This is an enormous life decision for each group and there is no room for cluck-clucking or derision – as in the Baby-full crowd bemoaning all the fine experiences missed by the No Baby crowd – or, the No Baby crowd calling the Baby-full crowd “breeders.” Please. Let us be respectful of our fellow life-travelers.

No Choice – No Babies

This is a tough one. Those who would choose to have Babies, but through the vagaries of life, were denied that request. Perhaps their life partner failed to show up in a timely manner. Or, as a married couple, no babies came after years of trying. Sometimes, pregnancies occur, but, as a friend of mine explained, “they just keep falling out too early,” which was her way to apply humor to her series of early miscarriages. Whatever the reason, the result is the same: no children of our own in this life. Adopted Babies come into the lives of some – but not all. Many are still without Babies.

Double Rainbow 0307

There is usually a grief process to slog through when the final curtain falls and there is certainty that no babies are coming. Profound losses deserve grief time. And, as with anyone walking with grief, a time comes when a new direction is required – a reconstruction of the former life plan – a reconnoitering and mobilization. I have witnessed this process with a variety of people and they are among some of the most-admired people I know.

When denied babies of their own in this life, some go find themselves some Babies in other places. One especially grand lady I know explained to me that while she and her husband planned “to have a dozen,” nature would say no to them. She had many siblings who had children and she found that as the childless aunt, she had both the resources to fill in for their physical needs and the available ear and understanding heart to care for Babies in need or crisis. She was able to place bicycles under Christmas trees when otherwise there would have been none. She has been consulted on many occasions in the role of confidant that sometimes the Parent cannot fill.

I have two other wonderful people in my life who have shown me how this is done with style, skill, and phenomenal grace. No babies of their own, they have entered the lives of nieces and nephews and provided shoulders, ears, transportation and cheering section. The resources, examples, bonding, support and parenting they have provided will hold sway with those children forever. I have seen mothering and fathering at its finest in these so-called “childless” people. One never knows when and how Babies can come into a life. It is best to have a channel always open for when they come.

If your arms are aching for Babies, somewhere there are Babies aching for your arms. Impacting the next generation – no matter whose body they come from, is a noble calling indeed.

 

february06 205