Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Getting all fired up!

A couple of hotly debated parenting topics have been bombarding the web in the last couple weeks, first it was breastfeeding last week and now it is spanking. These also happen to be two issues that I feel pretty darn strongly about (as do a lot of people based on the responses on-line to the recent studies released about these topics). As I have mentioned before, my decision to become a parent did not come lightly, mainly because I believe that children should be born into a family, and since I happen to define ‘family’ pretty broadly I will say for this purpose, a family is at least 1 person willing to make the necessary commitment, sacrifices and prioritization to that a child or children (which I discuss in more detail in my post, Accountability) to be the best parent they can be. Throughout my career I have focused on strengthening families in an effort to make children’s lives better and now that I am a parent I am trying to implement a lot of the lessons I learned in my education and professional life to be the best parent I can be.

I had a brief stint working in the foster care system in Detroit (a true eye-opener to the struggles families are faced with) and as with any human service job, I had to go through regular trainings on a range of topics related to parenting, child development, etc. One of the trainings I attended discussed different discipline methods and the merits and shortcomings of each. The training specifically discussed how many parents still resort to corporal punishment or spanking their children, for a lot of reasons but mainly because that’s how they were raised. In fact a good portion of the training had to do with debunking the many excuses people use to justify spanking their children, from religious and cultural beliefs to the all too familiar “I was spanked and turned out ok” excuse. To the latter, the presenter pointed to children’s resilience to overcome many horrific circumstances and experiences to become well-adjusted, productive adults and reasoned that if you were spanked and ‘turned out ok’ it was IN SPITE OF spanking NOT because of spanking.

This makes so much sense when you think about it. It especially gives explanation to all the people that are currently trying to point out all the exceptions to the recent study linking spanking to aggressive behaviors in children. The fact of the matter is that each child is a unique individual with their own personality, reactions to different stimuli and temperament and that doesn’t even take into account the differences in their external environments. So, of course not ALL children who are spanked will end up being aggressive bullies, some will retreat within themselves and begin to question their worth, some will resort to numbing their feelings later in life with any number of addictions, some will become victims within their future relationships and still some will turn out “OK.” But to use those that turn out ok as an excuse to hit is like pointing to those of us that were abused in other types of ways that are clearly unacceptable in our society and saying that it’s ok to abuse children because some of them turn out ‘ok.’


Now, I came from a family that spanked and even though I was probably spanked fewer than a handful of times, my brothers were no strangers to being spanked and I can tell you how horrifying it is to have to listen to a sibling being spanked, so I can only assume the amount of emotional and physical pain as well as humiliation the victim is going through. Probably because of this in addition to my education in child development and chosen career path within children’s services, I have always been opposed to spanking. I have always known in my heart of hearts that this was not the way to discipline a child. Through my education, I learned what I always knew to be true, spanking only teaches children that it’s ok to hit. There has been more than one anecdotal report where a parent is asked why they are spanking only to hear the reply “to teach them not to fight/hit.” So, given the clear absurdity of that statement, I find it truly baffling that still, 90% of parents believe it is ok to spank.

The real issue comes down to figuring out a way to discipline our children that doesn’t have the possibility of disrupting their development or sending mixed messages about love, authority and discipline. It comes down to putting forth the effort in raising our children that doesn’t resort to heat of the moment reactions and violence. It is time to invest the time and energy to educate ourselves in being better parents, which includes the job of disciplining our children. Because I have yet to run across a study that points out the negative repercussions of time-out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Breastfeeding Debate Heats Up

The blogosphere has been lit up this past week due to the recent report in the Journal of Pediatrics, highlighted in this CNN article http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/04/05/breastfeeding.costs/?hpt=T2, which discusses the possible implications of not breastfeeding. One blog post that I found exceptional was The Feminist Breeder’s http://thefeministbreeder.com/when-it-comes-to-breastfeeding-we-cant-handle-the-truth/. In it, she points the finger at the severely lacking support system and misinformation in this country for women who attempt to breastfeed, causing many to turn to formula. What I found astounding was that even though she made it very clear that the current state of breastfeeding affairs is not the fault of the women who try and give up but the system and culture of the US, there were still quite a few women who voiced their displeasure with her post. A lot of the issues have to do with feelings of guilt that these women feel that yet another piece of research is saying what all of us with half a brain already knew…breast is best. I saw that a lot of women instead of embracing the Feminist Breeder’s point that a shift needs to happen within our maternity care system and the support available to new mothers wishing to breastfeed, they were trying to come up with anything to prove that her statement that MOST women are able to breastfeed with the right support wrong. From cancer diagnoses to antidepressant medications, women were trying to come up with all the different reasons women CAN’T breastfeed. I’m not saying that these issues would certainly add a whole other obstacle to breastfeeding but it seems like women are trying to find a way to agree with the mantra that our bodies are flawed by pointing to the very rare cases.

I have chronicled my own struggles with breastfeeding in spite of being pretty darn educated and how I overcame them even with a less than stellar Lactation Consultant (LC) experience. I feel pretty confident that I can not only empathize with those women that struggle in the beginning to breastfeed but also speak to the Feminist Breeder’s points in her post, which a lot of women, I think are still not getting. There were so many times in a very short period of time where I felt like giving up would have been so much easier on my self, my daughter, my husband and our family. I was even told by more than a few well-meaning people that said I had given it more than most women and there would be no shame in giving up or just giving formula until I worked it out. But instead of giving up I pushed through severe pain, extreme doubt and sought out the necessary support to ultimately succeed in my desire to breastfeed my daughter well past her first year of life and that was with four weeks where I only had one viable breast. Was it easy, absolutely not. Does this make me a better person/mom than those women that are overcome with the doubt and end up questioning whether they are doing the right thing for their babies, I don’t think so. I think it just indicates how stubborn I really am, but more to the point, it proves that even obstacles that seem insurmountable can be overcome.

Since the onslaught of the formula companies taking over the feeding of our newborns and infants, we are losing valuable resources that other countries have…a group of women in our immediate circle that have direct experience breastfeeding; a normalization of breastfeeding if you will. A friend of mine who gave birth to her children in Sweden over 30 years ago, told me that ‘you know, you just don’t hear about all the problems (not producing enough milk, being ‘unable’ to breastfeed, etc.) women have with breastfeeding that you hear in the US, women in Europe breastfeed and there’s very little discussion about it.’ This really got me thinking about the huge paradigm shift that must happen in this country in order for more women to be able to succeed in breastfeeding their children. Part of that paradigm is how women’s bodies are viewed (literally and figuratively). The Feminist Breeder points out that it is easy for women to believe a doctor, or who ever is telling them that they just can’t make enough milk because we as women have become accustomed to believing our bodies are flawed in some way.

I am truly baffled that in a country that supports a multi-billion dollar porn industry, the true repugnance that you hear and see when it comes to women breastfeeding. From stories of women being kicked out of retail stores or told to feed their babies in the restroom to nasty comments being made on public transportation when a breastfed baby, heaven forbid, gets hungry. I have even heard people refer to breastfeeding as disgusting. It seems that with the overload of nudity, sex and porn available to most Americans we have lost sight of what these breasts are really intended for, to nourish and sustain a growing baby, breasts are in fact, quite amazing when you think about it. A woman’s breasts produce the exact formula (pardon the pun) of nutrients her baby needs, adjusting the recipe as her baby grows and their needs change while also providing valuable antibodies that will protect her baby from illnesses and will boost their immunity more than any vaccine or over the counter remedy. So, I think the focus needs to be on how important women are to not only be able to grow a human being from a couple cells but to then be able to nourish that child completely for their first year of life and beyond if necessary. The paradigm shift needs to be within our culture of degrading women to believe that they are somehow less than or not valuable if their tits don’t stand up on their own, it needs to be within our men’s view of women’s bodies and what they are capable of and above all it needs to be within my fellow women’s minds and bodies. We need to take back the beauty, the miracle and incredible abilities we posses as our own and believe that our bodies are perfect the way they are and STOP believing the doctors, nurses and anyone else that tell us differently.

I think breastfeeding is a good analogy to parenting. In order to do it well, it takes educating yourself, putting forth the effort even when it isn’t a lot of fun and finding the necessary support when you need it. If someone chooses not to breastfeed for their own personal reasons in spite of all the common knowledge indicating its importance, they should feel comfortable with that decision and not require validation. For those that really tried and were made to feel like they couldn’t succeed, I truly am sorry, I hope you have made peace with it and can move on knowing that a lot of us were formula fed babies and turned out ok and whatever you gave your baby in those first few days/weeks/months were beneficial. But for those of you looking for an excuse to give up, I understand, I truly do, unfortunately the decision to give up is just that, a decision that you need to make based on all the information you have. Seek out the support you need be it through a lactation consultant (although, I highly recommend getting a recommendation from someone and lining this person up BEFORE you give birth), La Leche League International (
www.llli.org) or other breastfeeding support group in your area, because I am here to tell you, you CAN do it, it DOES get easier and it is SO worth it!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The SAHD Conundrum

As I have mentioned before, our family is a tad non-traditional, for instance, currently I am working full-time (outside of the home) while my husband is staying home with our daughter during the day and is a full-time student during the evenings. Adjusting our lives to live on one income and some financial aid has certainly been a challenge but I am finding the emotions tied to this role reversal more of an issue for us, or at least me.

First of all, our current situation was born out of necessity and mainly my own emotional baggage. Even before I knew I wanted kids I knew that there was no way I would be able to hand over my three-month old to a stranger and be done with being the person they spent the majority of their time with, so when I became pregnant we were faced with quite the predicament. What the hell were we going to do after my maternity leave was up? We discussed several options but neither of us really made enough to support our current rate of expenses and needless to say neither one of us were enthused by the possibility of bargain shopping for child care either. The husband never finished college and had always wanted to even though he has been rather resourceful in finding pretty good employment that paid well (most of the time more than the jobs I had after earning two degrees!) and so the motivation was always lacking. At one point in our many discussions of what to do he said off-handedly “I can always go back to school and stay home with the baby during the day.” I went into full research mode to find out the possibilities. Neither one of us ever took out real student loans before, but when I needed a few thousand dollars to finish my masters program I was offered way more than I needed so I figured it was worth finding out more. Long story short, we decided after much deliberation, that it was worth the sacrifices that would have to be made in order to have one of us home with our child during their first year or so and it would put him in a better station in life working towards a career he was actually interested in with more earning potential in the long run (of course hoping that it would be enough to support all of us while I stayed home with the little one while bringing in a small income doing my own thing).

So, here we are in a situation born out of necessity that neither of us really envisioned ever really happening. Mostly, it has been a good thing, our daughter gets the love and security of being home with one of her parents every day and we have created quite the family unit. On the other hand, I’d be lying if I said it hasn’t created its own set of challenges. To begin with, other than some babysitting jobs in his late teens, the husband didn’t really have a whole lot of experience with kids and especially babies (in fact, I don’t know if he ever held a newborn before his own), but we both felt that we were both fairly educated people and even with his limited first-hand knowledge, would do a much better job than a lot of the people out there parenting. And, let’s face it he isn’t the only male in our group of friends I’ve heard say “I’ll gladly be the one to stay home with the kids while the wife goes out and earns the dough,” obviously oblivious to the overwhelmingly difficult task they are ‘signing up’ for. This has led to more than one misinterpreted recommendation or comment about how he spends his days with our daughter, which in turn has led to myself feeling more than a bit resentful, left out or disregarded.

Then there is the usual frustrations that I’m sure many stay-at-home moms have but because the majority of husbands in those situations aren’t feeling like their missing out on much shrug it off as the usual mommy gripes and there are plenty of blogs, mommy groups and such where similar mommies with similar gripes can commiserate. I find these gripes coming from the husband more than a little frustrating…first of all, one or both of us must have done something right in our lives to deserve this child from most accounts seems pretty darn close to perfect. Secondly, given some of the working environments (and bosses) he has had to deal with in his life, being in the comfort of our home with the cutest 1 year old around bossing him around, how bad can your day really be? Finally, the resentment that I want to be the one home with her watching her grow and develop and being the main contributor to that development is sometimes too much for me to handle when I hear him ‘complain’ about how she wanted to be held all day or wouldn’t let him out of her sight or wouldn’t let him cook dinner in peace.

Then there’s the reality that in spite of the fact that he does a lot and WAY more than most men, he still tends to spend her nap time on the couch watching TV or taking a nap (and this is after sleeping in until 8-9 am in the morning because oh yea, our perfect little one sleeps a good 13-14 hours/night). While, on the weekends when I am home, the TV would never come on during the day if it were up to me and I rarely take a nap (even though I am currently 7 months pregnant and always tired), mainly because there is always some pressing chore that hasn’t gotten done (yes, in my opinion), laundry, sweeping/mopping/vacuuming, bathroom cleaning, meal planning, etc. So, in my limited time at home it seems that a lot more would get done around the house if I were the one at home…again, resentment rears its ugly head.

So, when the husband came down with the flu last week, resulting in me staying home for a few days to take care of things, I expected to be overcome with the gripes of SAHMs or those that I have heard him voice. I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t exhausting, from 9 am to nearly 9pm every day I was not sitting still, there was always something that needed to be done, but instead of feeling exhausted at the end of the day like I normally do after ‘working’ all day, I felt invigorated. Spending all day with my daughter uninterrupted was like a dream, even in spite of figuring out a way of cooking a meal with a toddler tugging at my leg and wanting to be picked up, cleaning up after meals, moving along the laundry, running errands and maintaining some type of order during the day all while taking time to keep her engaged and entertained and then at the end of the day cleaning up. I’m sure what most SAHMs would say would be yea, you did it for a few days, give it a month and see how you feel. Besides taking a shower in the evening instead of the morning (which was my choosing by the way, if I had gotten up at 8am, instead of waiting for her to wake up around 9am, I would’ve had plenty of time to shower and get ready for the day) and realizing that my eyebrows were in some serious need of tweezing by the end of the 4th day, there was little discomfort in my days with her. This realization is yet another glaring illustration of how the one job I was meant to do with my life is be a mom. Even when I hear myself type that it sounds absurd given the majority of my adulthood I didn’t even think I wanted kids of my own, but since the moment I saw her perfect little face, I knew it in my bones to be the truth and at the same time I felt my heart breaking with the realization that it wouldn’t be reality any time soon.

So, here I am supporting my dearest while he goes to school to gain the knowledge to pursue a career that I hope will fulfill him and provide for our family, while I wait patiently to be the one at home with our child (or I guess by then it will be children!) and using this time to study, learn, practice and prepare to do my own thing. Photography has always been a passion of mine given that I was raised by a father who was equally obsessed and gifted with a photographer’s eye, so it seems fitting that my life has come full circle and I have realized that being a photographer would fulfill many of my enduring dreams. I say to myself and my husband that our daughter was a true gift in so many ways, she has been the catalyst for us to live better lives and be better people but more importantly she has lit the fire under us to get off the proverbial and literal couch and follow our dreams to a better life for ourselves and our family and for that I will be eternally grateful.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Our addiction to sugar

After watching Food, Inc., I expected to be more moved than I was. Although I did learn a lot and listening to farmers’ stories was a perspective I had never gotten before, most of the information, I already knew. There were several things that stood out to me though, one statistic in particular “1 in 3 of those born after 2000 will develop early on-set diabetes.” Another piece of this statistic is the fact that this is the first generation who will not live as long as their parents…now if that isn’t something that gets you thinking, I don’t know what will. That is truly frightening to me, probably more than all the horrific details that go into our meat centered eating, which may sound strange but let me explain.

First of all, because of my optimism and belief that knowledge is power, I believe that the shift to us eating less meat and more people realizing the economical, environmental, animal welfare and health benefits of a veggie or low-meat lifestyle will be inevitable. It just makes too much sense for it not to become more and more normal, and maybe part of it is because I live in Austin, Texas where there are quite a few veggie friendly restaurants and grocers and many people living what is currently called ‘alternative lifestyles’ when it comes to food. So, although I agree with the message of Food, Inc., I think the scariest of all the information had to do with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s), namely the obscene uses of corn and our addiction to sugar.

The reason I feel like sugar is one of our biggest issues is that it truly is an addiction that once on that hamster wheel it is extremely difficult to get off of. The fact that sugar can be found in almost all prepackaged foods in one form or another, whether it’s high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), dextrose, fructose, cane sugar, etc. and don’t even get me started on all the sugar substitutes that hide in just about anything and everything, makes it nearly impossible to avoid. Because, as it’s mentioned in Food, Inc., we are programmed to respond to three tastes (salt, fat and sweet), manufacturers put either loads of salt and/or sugar/sweetener in their foods (especially if they are billed as low-fat/fat free) making them appeal to our need for these tastes.

As I’ve mentioned before, some of our parenting choices are looked at as a bit kooky, even by our well-meaning, supportive and loving parents. After reading Sarah Kamrath’s article,
http://www.mothering.com/food/my-sugar-free-son, I was struck by her statement that she felt little resistance to avoiding refined sugar with her five-year-old son. Although our friends probably think we go overboard with the whole sugar restriction, the biggest surprise for me is the overwhelming need of our daughter’s grandparents to push sugary treats on her in spite of our desire to limit them. She did not have any refined sugar before her first birthday and I was delighted to see her more interested in destroying her birthday cake than actually eating it. This in fact was my intent when I decided that we would be limiting her sugar intake, with less exposure you have less desire for these tastes. But feeding her some sugary treat was like a mad mission of her grandparents when they would visit.

Given the fact that we have diabetes on both sides of our family, I am further amazed that our parents do not fully respect our decision to limit her sugar intake more. Unfortunately, it seems in our country, sugary treats are seen as an expectation of growing up and who doesn’t want to see a child’s eyes light up with excitement when they taste something sweet? I guess I just can’t see that light in her eyes without feeling a sickening in the pit of my stomach that here I am with the power (currently, because I am not naive enough to believe I will always be able to control what she puts in her mouth) to control what she eats and I am allowing her to acquire a taste for something that literally could lead to serious illness and early death. I understand the addiction to sugar, I grew up loving the taste of candy, cookies and cake (as well as the other 2 tastes of salt and fat) and still struggle with resisting those urges, and because of it have struggled myself with excess weight and consequently gestational diabetes, so why wouldn’t I want to help shield my daughter from this struggle by preventing or at least curbing the desire for these tastes from the beginning.

The fact of the matter is that most sweet cravings can be satiated with a juicy orange, a crunchy apple or even a carrot. True, you shouldn’t over do it on fruit either but I would much rather have my daughter begging for another piece of fruit, the sugar of which is easily digested and absorbed by our bodies, than a sugary piece of candy or cake that will cause a blood sugar spike and ensuing melt down. I am all for having a treat here and there but in order for it to be considered a treat and not a normal event, it must happen rarely. I like to think that our daughter has improved our life in many ways, one of which is strengthening our desire to live a healthier lifestyle, which includes eating less meat, less sugar and a more varied diet of veggies.

With the holiday weekend upon us I find myself filled with dread as I will yet again be the only parent at a gathering concerned with limiting the sugar intake of my child. I have to become the police, always with a watchful eye on either another child or worse, another parent, slipping her some candy without my knowledge or consent. It makes for a stressful time especially considering that she will want to have what the other kids are eating so enthusiastically and once she has one taste the games begin with her begging for more and me either giving in ‘just one more time’ or having to continue to say no and having an even closer watchful eye that she doesn’t go to someone else for it. It’s no picnic to feel like I’m alone on this island and being criticized for my limits and even though my dearest does support me, he is much more willing to give in to the whole ‘it’s a party’ or ‘it’s a holiday’ excuse to give her more. So, this weekend when you are approached by someone else’s child who wants some candy, try checking with their parents first and don’t assume the answer is going to be yes. I’m fine with being the bad guy in this instance because I feel like it is my job, my duty to protect my child from all the dangers in the world, even if it is disguised as a bright pink pillowy soft bunny covered in sparkly sugar.