Just When You Think You’ve Got the Hang of It

One of the many wondrous, challenging and surprising parts of having a baby is how adept they (quickly) become at keeping you on your toes. In fact, it feels like I’ve spent so much time on my toes as a new Mum that I could moonlight as a prima ballerina – except of course for the general (and somewhat overwhelming) lack of grace, poise and elegance.

Sometimes it seems like there’s an in-built sensor that monitors just how comfortable you are as a parent and as soon as it looks like you’re getting a bit too confident an alarm sounds that brings with it a subtle (or not so subtle) change to the status quo as if to say

‘Don’t relax too much, we wouldn’t want you snoozing on the job now!’

Or perhaps there’s some sort of internal feedback system that monitors your progress so that when you’ve ‘mastered’ one task it triggers the next? And yes, that is a tongue-in-cheek use of the term mastered!

Either way, whenever it happens it throws me just a little bit and I wonder whether I have what it takes to adapt and meet the new suite of needs. OK, so it actually throws me into a tail spin complete with shallow breathing, wakeful nights and incessant mulling over what’s caused the latest change (and whether there was something that I had done, could have done differently, should be doing now etc, etc, etc), but then again I have always been a little bit drama-prone!

Seriously though, ad-libbing is not one of my strengths. I’m the queen of arriving at the perfect response 3 days after the event when I’ve had plenty of time to weigh up all the pros and cons, run the worse-case scenario, talk it to death with anyone in earshot and then changing my mind about 14 times before settling (usually quite comfortably) with the chosen course of action. Complicated and a touch unnecessary for sure but it works for me.

On the up side though:

I’ve survived and lived to tell the tale and what’s even better is that he’s survived too! So far….

In case it wasn’t obvious, this week has been one of those weeks and, just like all the other times before it, things are settling down and the confidence is returning. For at least another day or two anyway 🙂

But it does feel good to get it off my chest!

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Advertisements

Motherhood and the Various Shades of Grey

It’s a constant source of surprise and amusement when I look back on strongly held beliefs I had about being a parent before I had actually become one. Things seemed so straight forward and, in hindsight, so black and white…I’ll never use a dummy, of course I’ll be able to breastfeed and it goes without saying that I’ll be a beacon of patience and inner light. I mean really, how hard could this ‘yummy mummy’ thing be? Ha!

I reminisce on what I now recognise as delusions and chuckle. How naive I was. Now that I’m a Mum I realise how few things about being a parent are straightforward – ‘duh’ you might say but a lesson learnt it’s been. Instead of what used to seem like clear-cut, obvious ‘right or wrong’ choices, there are now about 1,000,001 shades of grey on pretty much any parenting topic you could possibly think of.

I remember how easy being a parent seemed when you didn’t actually have to be one

It was so easy to judge parents with crying babies who were sitting at cafes. Why weren’t they doing whatever it took to keep their baby calm and content? It never dawned on me that perhaps that was exactly what they were doing. Now I know that sometimes the only way I get to eat lunch is to suffer through a few grizzles because, until the human race evolves with mothers who have four arms, I can’t make a sandwich, eat it, drink a cup of coffee and cuddle my baby at the same time.  I also know that a cranky Mummy resulting from food deprivation and caffeine withdrawal is not a good outcome for anyone. Cranky Mummies certainly don’t make an appearance in the ‘yummy mummy’ paradigm!

It was so easy to view dummies as the ‘lazy option’ or the demise of the amazing communication prowess of an infant. Now I think “if it helps and makes life that little bit easier” then why wouldn’t you make use of it? At times the only thing that brings comfort to my son is to suck and that, if given the chance, he would spend the better part of a day permanently attached to my breasts achieving said comfort if it was on offer. Now while, for the most part, his needs do come before mine there are inevitable limits. And for me, a happy and content baby makes for a relaxed mummy. Cranky babies also don’t generally feature in the ‘yummy mummy’ montage.

But then this is just what works for me, and what works for me may not work for any other parent but that doesn’t make it better or worse…just another shade of parenting.

The biggest lesson I’ve learnt as a parent is that nothing is ever as it seems

I realise now just how much the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ applies to parenting. I’ve loved exploring the various shades of grey in the big and small decisions so far and look forward with anticipation to all that lies ahead….

This, of course, doesn’t mean that I still don’t have my opinions (and I certainly do) but at least nowadays I feel like they come with some perspective and they generally appear in the context of my own experience…but that’s a topic for another day.

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too…

Among other things, one of the things I love most about finishing a semester of study is being able to get my thoughts back to myself. No longer is my mental capacity maxed out by trying to recall the diagnostic criteria for various personality disorders or distinguishing between mood, anxiety and eating disorders – riveting stuff I know! In all fairness this semester was pretty engaging for me but it does take its toll.

For the next few weeks I get to focus on my family, read for pleasure (for the few minutes of bedtime reading that I get before passing out) and generally just enjoy the lack of pressure and deadlines that come with assignments and exams. Bliss!

On reflecting what it was like for the past 4-5 months juggling study with a newborn I can’t help coming back to the old adage of having one’s cake and eating it too.

For the most part, I really can “have it all”.

I have a wonderful husband and son which make for a very rewarding family life, I’m fortunate to be able to be a stay-at-home-Mum, I’m finishing my psych degree so  that I can open up a range of new work opportunities for my future and I’m starting to think about what sort of work from home I might be able to do later in the year to bring in a few extra dollars. Clearly I have no complaints!

Credit where credit’s due, I’m lucky enough to have amazing family support which is the only reason I’ve survived this semester of study. Without it there’s certainly no way I would be sitting in my lounge room on the evening after an exam feeling cool, calm and collected. It’s because of their generosity of time and energy that I’ve managed to avoid turning into a bug-eyed monster propped up by caffeine running off of vapours (not a pretty picture let me tell you).

As I start to mull over potential work ventures, it dawns on me that for every new thing I take on, there’s at least one guaranteed consequence – I keep getting spread thinner and thinner. Unfortunately, these grand undertakings don’t come inbuilt with an extra store of attentional capacity so it stands to reason that the more I take on, the more I split my focus. Sure, that’s the juggling act we all manage on a day-to-day basis, but for the first time I have an extra variable that I haven’t had to deal with before: What impact does all this have on my son?

Don’t get me wrong he’s not being neglected or suffering in any way. Quite the opposite in fact. His grandparents have been more than happy to spend as much time as they can get with their grandson and there are plenty of arguments to be made about the long-term benefits of all this for my son but the question remains: Where do I draw the line?

Sure I can have my cake and eat it too but should I?

I don’t have all the answers yet but it’s certainly given me pause for thought.

Image courtesy of Microsoft ClipArt

Do Parents = Technological Dinosaurs?

Well it’s finally happened, I’ve crossed over from being the ‘young’ generation to being one of the ‘older’ generations.

Alright, in all fairness that probably happened a little while ago but not having spent a lot of time around young people I’ve been able to live in blissful ignorance. That is until I started living with one full-time.

I’ve come to realise that, in time, my son is going to have the same type of reactions to my stories of ‘days gone by’ that I had to my parent’s stories which I’m sure is the same reaction they had to their parent’s stories and so forth and so forth.

You know the rolling of the eyes and bemused facial expressions that roughly translate to ‘Good on ya Mum’

It strikes me that, as is usually the case, the stories that are going to elicit the strongest reactions and make me seem ‘so old‘ to my son are those that involve technology.

We chuckle about the fact that the technology that our son is going to come to take for granted hasn’t even hit the mainstream yet and I don’t mind telling you that’s just a little bit weird. My husband and I are both reasonably technologically savvy (my husband probably a little bit more than me) and like to keep up-to-date with new technologies but it’s an inescapable truth that at some stage, in the not so distant future, our son is going to far surpass our understanding of technology and the student will inevitably become the teacher. Hopefully that day is still a little way away but like it or not it is coming.

There’s no denying you’ve moved up the generational ladder when you start reminiscing about ‘how things were in your day’ and when you start looking at the kids of today thinking to yourself ‘we were never like that’.  When I see kids who look like they’re about 7 pulling out the latest smart phones I can’t help but be a little bit amazed.  Never mind the kid I saw recently in the doctor’s surgery who couldn’t have been more than 4 asking her Mummy for her iPhone.  I know I didn’t get my first mobile phone until I was 19 and let me tell you, there was nothing overly smart about it and I really only had it for emergencies.  I had limited credit, calls were so expensive and there was no such thing as SMS conversations (this is the part where you’d expect the eye rolling to start).

There’s no denying how far technology has come in the short time since I was that age (well shortish anyway).

Not to mention the wonderful world of computers. I smile to myself thinking of my childhood when I used to get excited about playing the Commodore 64 on the weekends and the hours of fun during my teen years that were spent playing games like Carmen San Diego and the various Quests (Kings, Police and Space). It’s strange to think that my son is not going to understand a world where you don’t have constant access to some form of personal computer 24/7. He’s most likely going to laugh when we tell him about our first computer lessons in primary school where, once a week, you’d all file into the computer lab where there were maybe 10 Apple Macs that were to be shared amongst a class of 25-30. A world where word processing was innovation, email didn’t exist and the internet was only used by intelligence agencies is going to seem positively ancient.

So in the spirit of embracing the harsh realities of life (yes, the ageing process will continue despite these miraculous technological advances) I’m enjoying the strolls down memory lane as I start to catalogue the golden oldies that I’m going to be able to pull out to tell my son.  While I’m in no particular hurry to get there, I do think I’m going to enjoy imparting my little snapshot of history and hopefully, just because I continue to age,  it doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll turn into a technological dinosaur in the process.

We’ll see!

Image courtesy of Microsoft ClipArt & FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Baby ‘Experts’: Sage, Saboteur or Something In-Between?

6 SLEEP MISTAKES PARENTS MAKE AND HOW TO AVOID THEM!

This was the subject line that jumped out at me from my inbox last week and it got me thinking….how much stock do I put into the so-called baby experts out there?  I’m all for seeking out as much information as I can find, but is it always helpful, especially when it’s at the expense of intuition and personal experience?

As a newly pregnant woman I feverishly signed up to all sorts of baby forums and newsletters. After all this was entirely new territory and, at the time, aside from knowing where babies come from and how they come out, I felt hugely lacking when it came to understanding babies, parenting and motherhood. So I figured it couldn’t hurt to get as much help as I could get. As it turned out, I knew far less about the ‘how they come out’ part than I’d originally thought, but that’s another story.

I happily read the books, websites and emails when I’m caught unawares and have no idea where I am or what I’m doing. Where’s the wisdom in ignoring the experiences of people who have already gone through this and are willing to share?  But when I reflect on emails like the one above and, more importantly, my reaction to said emails, I realise that they also need to be taken with a grain of salt sometimes.

I’m not so naive, I understand that the emotionally charged titles are aimed at getting the readers in (and I’ve probably done something very similar with the title of this post) and topics like sleep and babies are at the forefront of many-a-parents mind.  Understandably, sleep and babies is a hot topic when it comes to parenting.

Well-rested babies are happy babies, happy babies make for happy Mummies and I’d much prefer to be a happy Mummy than a woman all-too-closely resembling a swamp creature.

Plus that precious sleep time provides some much-needed and coveted ‘free time’ which allows for endeavours such as this!

So, I can’t help but get sucked in by the lure of sleep advice from the numerous experts out there.  There hasn’t been a single book that I’ve picked up that doesn’t talk about sleep in one way or another and of course there are entire books devoted to teaching the art of getting these gorgeous babies to sleep and keeping them that way.

Even though our son has beautiful sleeping habits (and he is treating us exceptionally well), I can’t help but feel it’s a little like a deck of cards that might come crashing down at the slightest change to the bedtime routine (or at least that’s my fear).  So, in spite of myself, I read emails like the one above and I read through all the books just to make sure I’m not inadvertently doing something that might all of sudden transform our sleeping angel into a waking wonder who will never again know the pleasures of deep, uninterrupted sleep. I do know that this is slightly over-top but I’m not taking anything for granted!

In line with all the advice I’d read, I decided it was time to start teaching my son to ‘self’-settle’. No longer would I rock or sing my baby to sleep (because that sets up bad habits), it was time to start putting him down, tired but awake, and letting him learn how to put himself to sleep.

For this is what a parent with a baby of a certain age should be doing, or so I’d read.

Morning after morning for about a week, I listened just outside his door as he grizzled and tossed and turned before he would eventually fall asleep, probably out of sheer exhaustion.  Then, some 10 minutes later, he would awake either looking for food or just some company. But I thought to myself “that’s ok”, because he’s learning a valuable skill here and it doesn’t really matter if he’s not getting as much shut-eye as before because I was doing the ‘right thing’.

And then, all of a sudden, I stopped and laughed at myself. What was I doing? I had taken an approach that was working perfectly well for both of us, thrown it out the window and replaced it with one that was actually resulting in less sleep for him and more anxiety for me…and for what? So that I could proudly profess that my son self-settles? Never mind the irony that this whole approach was supposed to result in less stress for me and a more peaceful baby. It took me a little while to realise that, in fact, the opposite was happening!

This isn’t to say that there isn’t some merit behind the approach. I understand completely the desire and need to teach good sleeping habits and this approach may well suit some babies perfectly, but I’ve finally realised that this just isn’t the case for us. And that’s ok. To my mind, reducing the amount of comfort in the hope of producing better sleeping outcomes seems a bit counterintuitive, which is probably why it didn’t work for me.

So much of the advice that I’ve read recently warns about the dangers of techniques such as rocking and singing because you could wind up with a baby who will find it impossible to sleep without an intricate bedtime song and dance routine. Now don’t get me wrong,

I don’t particularly want an 18-year-old who needs his Mum to sing ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’ before he can get to sleep,

but the more I think about it, the more I realise that the chances of that happening are probably slim to none. What I do know though, is that my baby has never slept more soundly during the day (or for longer) than when his Grandpa rocks him gently, singing in French with patience and persistence to get through the early tired grizzles.  From what I can see, it’s wisdom born from experience and why on earth would I want to mess with that?

So, I’ve decided to trust my instincts, return to the approach that not only has been working well but also provides some beautiful bonding time and of course continue to keep my finger on the pulse of the expert advice.  But from now on, it will have to fit in with what works for us, not the other way around.

So far so good!

Image courtesy of Microsoft Office ClipArt & FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Finding Joy in the Most Unexpected of Places

The highlight of my week has been watching my little man finding immense joy in the smallest and most random of things. I can’t describe how deeply satisfying it was to watch him laugh with hysterics (complete with squeals of delight) at the sound of his Dad reading words from the ever-exciting ‘My Big Farm Book’. It was one of those moments that you couldn’t create even if you tried. There was just the right combination of intonation, colourful pictures and mood which made words like ‘combine harvester’, ‘horse’ and ‘pumpkin’ (to name a few) absolutely hysterical! And the sound, there’s no other word but heavenly (not that I’m biased or anything).  I’ve always been one to enjoy the odd giggle or two (or ten) and admittedly I too often find humour where others perhaps do not. So it’s at times like this that there is no denying that this is my son, not that there was really any doubt.

I was so excited when we hit the 5-6 week mark and all the books informed me that the first smiles were on their way.  I wholeheartedly threw myself into doing my best Bert and Ernie giggle after, well, pretty much everything from ‘This Little Piggie’ to ‘Round and Round the Garden’.  It was while giggling after one such episode that it dawned on me that I was in fact teaching my son to smile and to laugh. It was the first time I had actually felt that I was deliberately imparting something onto my child. Hopefully it wasn’t the last!

Children learn to smile from their parents ~ Shinichi Suzuki

Now, thanks to my son, we’re discovering all the hidden nooks and crannies where there are giggles to be had. From watching ‘Mummy wobbling her head around like a dashboard ornament’ (as my husband so aptly described it) to the ever-amusing game of ‘A-Tissue’ (with real or fake sneezes). It’s been absolutely delightful to see the wonders of the world through my sons eyes and so much fun helping him find joy in the most unexpected of places.

Images from Microsoft Office Images

To Educate or Not to Educate: Could Parents Be Better Off Not Knowing the Benefits of Breastfeeding?

A good friend of mine posted a blog on her site about a new voice in the ongoing breastfeeding debate suggesting that there should be less promotion and education about breastfeeding because it’s making mothers who choose not to breastfeed feel guilty.

Now I’m always a bit wary about how involved I get in the breastfeeding debate because, as I’ve come to realise, the choice of whether to breastfeed or not is one that has as many different sides as there are voices to express them. There are certainly indisputable facts about breastfeeding but there is also no ‘one size fits all approach’ and I think that this sometimes gets forgotten in the heat of debate. Having said that, this particular argument has weaseled its way into my head, nestled itself quite firmly and as this is a blog for the musings of a new Mum, here goes….

I find the argument suggesting that less education will lead to better outcomes mildly alarming. To suggest that new developments in any field should be kept hidden away in the dark recesses of the laboratories in which they were discovered baffles me somewhat. After all,

What’s the point of research if the findings aren’t going to be shared?

I admit that my decision to breastfeed started out as a largely uneducated decision in the sense that I didn’t go out purposefully seeking the ‘pros and cons’ so that I could make a balanced decision.  In actual fact, I didn’t really think about it all, I just assumed that I would.  As I progressed through my pregnancy and started to come across more information about breastfeeding, my position became: Of course I’ll breastfeed if I can.

And there are a myriad of different reasons why breastfeeding is just not a reality for some Mums. I’ve met Mums whose babies couldn’t latch successfully, Mums who have suffered through cracked and bleeding nipples to a point where they just couldn’t bear it any longer, Mums who have had to return to work and their supply has only lasted for so long, Mums who were losing so much weight through breastfeeding it was posing other health concerns (for real!) and Mums who just preferred not to. These are all individual choices that have been made in the context of individual experience – and what’s wrong with that? Absolutely nothing!

How and what to feed our children is a decision that all parents have the right to make for themselves

But the suggestion that promoting the benefits of breastfeeding could cause harm is a little hard for me to get my head around. While breastfeeding may not be everyone’s decision (by choice or by circumstance) there’s no disputing that breast milk is the No.1 source of nutrition for babies. Or at least I didn’t think this was disputed.  I was surprised when I read an article in The Australian last year that revealed that 26% of the 28,000 parents who completed the 2010 Australian National Infant Feeding Survey believed that formula was just as good for their baby as breast milk. And it was because of this belief that these parents had either decided to discontinue breastfeeding or to not start in the first place.  To my mind, this finding suggests that there is certainly a place for the promotion of breastfeeding, but that’s just me.

My breastfeeding education started in our antenatal classes and for me it not only solidified my decision but it also drove home to me how amazing the human body is.  Of all the weird and wonderful tidbits that I learnt throughout my pregnancy, the benefits of breastfeeding were some of the most intriguing and interesting.  I would have thought that even if breastfeeding wasn’t an option there would still be room for appreciation. In that spirit, here are my Top 5 things I’ve learned about breastfeeding and why I personally think breast milk is just a little bit magical:

  1. Squeezing breast milk into an infant’s eye can clear up conjunctivitis.  Of course, anyone who’s actually tried to squirt breast milk with any kind of aim or accuracy knows just how unlikely it is that much would actually make it into the eye but amazing nonetheless.
  2. A mother passes her immunity to her baby through her breast milk. So for the first 3 months, when a baby has no immunity of their own, they’re protected against whatever their mother is immune to – come on that’s a little bit like magic right?
  3. Breast milk supply will naturally adjust to the needs of the baby from one feed to the next. So in the height of summer when bub is extra thirsty there will be higher levels of water in the milk to quench their thirst and likewise, when they’re feeling especially ravenous there will be a higher fat content to dull those nasty hunger pains. This is definitely one of my favourites!
  4. The skin on skin contact a baby experiences with its mother during breastfeeding acts as a temperature control device.  If bub is feeling cold the mother will warm them up and vice versa if they’re feeling hot the mother will cool them down.  What’s really nice about this one is that it also works with Dad, although obviously not during breastfeeding!
  5. Breast milk is custom-made to meet the exact and ever changing needs of the individual baby and these changes just happen naturally without needing to ask.

At the end of the day, no matter what decision you might come to, surely having access to all the facts has got to be more help than hindrance?

But what do you think – to educate or not to educate?

If you’re interested in reading one woman’s thoughts on the effects of media on the modern-day mother check out MUMmedia

Image(s): FreeDigitalPhotos.net