Alpha Mom » Amalah parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Wed, 22 Oct 2014 01:49:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Holidays and Other People’s Kids Mon, 20 Oct 2014 15:52:46 +0000

Good morning!

I really need some advice on how to handle my sister-in-law’s children at Christmas. I just had a baby in August, and rather than do the normal dance of visiting 4 houses Christmas day (don’t ask), this year my husband and I want to host Christmas dinner ourselves so we don’t have to go anywhere with an infant. Unfortunately my niece and nephew are completely undisciplined, and I don’t know how to handle them when they are in my house.

My sister-in-law has 2 children – a 3 year old son and an 8 year old daughter. My sister-in-law and her husband do nothing to try to control their kids unless they are bugging them specifically. For example we had Thanksgiving dinner at my mother-in-law’s house last week. The younger boy sat at the table for about 10 minutes before he slid out of his chair and started running around the table grabbing at everyone’s napkin holders and glasses. Then he started jumping around on the sofa, and running up and down through the hall. The 8 year old was the families’s first grandchild, so she expects everyone to always pay attention to her – no matter what we are doing. All through dinner she yelled any time she wanted something (GIVE ME GRAVY!), if she didn’t like something she demanded that someone remove it from her plate (TAKE IT OFF MY PLATE! IT’S YUCKY!), and when her brother started jumping on the couch she stood on her chair – still at the table- and shouted at him to stop. Not once did either parent try to stop this behavior. My mother-in-law only tried to intervene when the son was jumping on her couch. Oh, and my daughter was sleeping in a pack-n-play and both kids ran up to it and started poking it and yelling at her until she woke up. I was pissed.

Now in my family that kind of behavior is completely unacceptable. Unfortunately we don’t feel that we can intervene because they are not our kids. There is also the issue that my in-laws start “cold war” fights all the time – no actual physical fighting, but lots of back biting and mean gossip and lies. We are pretty sure that if we tried to intervene my SIL would start a fight with us and the family over it. (She started a fight with my husband in the NICU at the hospital because we didn’t let her and her children visit the hour after my daughter was born. She was 5 weeks early, and hooked up to a bunch a machines, of course the nurses and I did not want people bugging her.)

To be honest, before my baby was born we did not see much of my husband’s family. We don’t like the drama, the never ending yelling/noise and constant infighting. However we feel that our daughter should have the opportunity to know her family.

But I digress. Is it okay for me to discipline my niece and nephew when they are at OUR house? I expect them to stay seated at the table during dinner, speak not shout, and say please and thank you. I don’t think it’s too much to ask of them. I am concerned that if they are given free range they will end up hurting themselves, breaking something or purposely waking the baby again. I kind of want to say ‘my house, my rules’, but I don’t know if that is acceptable or not.

Any advice you can throw my way would be awesome,
Thank you!

Ah, yes. I can tell it’s That Time of Year Again, when the holidays are right around the corner and the Smackdown queue fills up with questions like this one. Mostly variations on How Do I Not Lose My Everloving Mind Around My Family This Year?

And your situation is a tough one, albeit very common, I imagine: There’s what’s generally considered okay, or at least what most reasonable people would consider okay…and then there’s what will likely be considered okay by the people sitting around your dining table. As usual, there probably isn’t a whole heapload of overlap here.

In general, yeah, I am all for expecting young guests to follow basic house rules for behavior, once it’s been explained to them. This is not to say I explicitly “discipline” other people’s children in my house, unless I am the sole adult who has been explicitly put in charge.  I will SAY SOMETHING in a calm, firm voice to a child who is doing something dangerous or just plain asshole-y (like WAKING MY SLEEPING BABY). I will tell the child that we’re not allowed to do or say X, Y or Z in our house, but no, I will not send that child to a time-out or yell or anything like that when their parent is present. In most cases — and ESPECIALLY in this case, given your SIL’s hair-trigger ability to get offended and bent out of shape — a friendly-yet-firm “no thank you, sweetie, I need my silverware, could you go please sit down now?” is about as far as I personally feel comfortable taking a rebuke. Once I’ve made it clear that I prefer the child to not do or touch or play with something, I expect the parents to take it from there. If the child repeats the behavior, I’ll usually direct my next attempt at the parent — “Hey, sorry, but I really need him to not do that right now, it’s dangerous/fragile/whatever.”

Yes, it’s your house, but those aren’t your kids. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk, but as irritating as you may find your niece and nephew’s behavior, you MUST be mindful that you’re not sending out the signal to your SIL that you think she’s a lousy parent. (Even though you clearly think she’s a lousy parent.) Pick your dealbreaker behaviors — screaming while the baby is sleeping, anything dangerous — and try your best to tune out the low-level annoyances like table manners or whining. It just sounds like the more you step on her (useless) toes over her kids’ behavior, the more likely this visit will end with offense and hurt feelings and silent treatment over HOW DARE SHE SAY THAT TO OUR CHILDREN.

If I may play Devil’s Advocate here, but your daughter is still a baby, so it will be criminally easy for your SIL to simply view you and your attempts to correct her children as stuff coming someone who just doesn’t “understand” what it’s like to have older kids, or to have more than one child, or who hasn’t yet had the humbling experience of a kid with behavior delays or issues. Or what it’s like to have a kid who just melts down at big family gatherings after a long car trip and new surroundings and food they don’t like and boredom, while YOU just want to sit at the table with a glass of wine and pick your damn battles with them already. I’m not saying any of these things are actually reality-based reasons for the kids’ behavior and the parents’ lack of involvement, just loading up the most obvious ammunition your SIL might hurl back at you once the next cold war starts.

Beyond the “to discipline/not to discipline” issue, remember to plan the holiday gathering WITH THOSE CHILDREN IN MIND. They are small, hyper, rambunctious children who just lived through the highs and lows of Christmas morning. A big turkey dinner and lots of sitting around chatting (in a house that only has baby toys) is just not going to be their jam, especially if they can’t spend time outside. Make sure there are age-appropriate toys for them. Encourage your SIL to bring the kids’ scooters or skateboards or buy a big thing of sidewalk chalk, should the weather allow for it. If they are going to be housebound, have a WHOLD BUNCH of kids’ movies for them to watch and let them marathon the crap out of them, if it keeps them entertained and still. Ask your SIL if there are any specific side dishes you could make that the kids would like. Basically, if you want these kids to be good guests, go the extra mile to ensure that you’re being a good hostess to them, and not simply expecting them to be perfect little mini-adults. Because good lord, we all know how easy it is for grown-ass adults to act like jackasses at holiday family gatherings. Kids are sadly, not much different.

Cropped Image from Norman Rockwell’ Freedom From Want.

]]> 25
Pregnancy & the Flu Fri, 17 Oct 2014 20:38:53 +0000

Hi Amy,

I am currently 20 weeks pregnant and enjoy reading your pregnancy calendar articles every week to track my baby’s progress. I love your no BS sense of humor and bluntness in the articles. This week I have been faced with the great debate of the Flu Shot. I normally do get the flu shot except for maybe the few years I have forgotten. I have been asking my family and friends on whether it is safe and smart to get the flu shot while pregnant or if I should just skip it. I am finding that now a days a lot of people “don’t believe in” the flu shot. One of those people being my husband. Coming from a family that generally got out flu shots every year due to the “better be safe than sorry rule”, it’s a little unsettling to think this might always be a debate in my own household. I didn’t get the flu shot last year and got a terrible bout of the flu as a consequence. I have also read that chances of hospitalization, extreme dehydration and pregnancy complications go up a lot if you catch the flu while pregnant. Is it all just a bunch of scare tactics or is the flu shot a good health investment in general?

Mom Against the Flu

Okay, so USUALLY I stay far, far away from any and all questions that veer anywhere close to area of “medical advice.” Because that is not advice that I am qualified to give, at all, entertainment purposes only blah blah disclaimer disclaimer disclaimer-cakes.


The American Pregnancy Association wants you to get a flu shot. The Mayo Clinic wants you to get a flu shot. The CDC (which I know is probably no one’s favorite or most trusted agency at this point) wants you to get a flu shot.

Please get a flu shot.

Look, I know there are naysayers about every and all types of vaccines, and bitter disagreement about the timing and safety of said vaccines. You’ve already talked to some of them, it sounds like.

Now you’re talking to me, and I say: Please get a flu shot.

I don’t give a crap about whether or not someone “believes” in a specific vaccine or not. We’re not talking about Santa Claus or unicorns here. Anyone who continues to underestimate the safety and strength we all gain from vaccines is clearly not paying attention to the fact that whooping cough and measles are coming back and harming innocent, vulnerable people: newborns, babies, the immunocompromised, pregnant women.

“Oh, come on. We’re just talking about the flu! So it sucks for awhile but then you’re fine! It’s not like the damn polio vaccine!”

Yes, there’s a difference between the flu shot and the MMR or something, but for a pregnant woman, the flu DOES pose a bigger risk than for the non-pregnant among us. And it’s a risk you can mitigate with a flu shot.

I was never a huge “omg I gotta go get a flu shot” person. I got one in college and felt sick and crappy afterwards (probably with that patented college blend of COLD + HANGOVER + BEING A HUGE BABY) but of course convinced myself that the shot was to blame and that it “gave me the flu” and I swore off the shot for years. I never got the flu, ergo, I was right and the flu vaccine was a crock of useless crap.

Once I started having children, though, I got over myself and obeyed my doctors’ recommendation that everyone in our household get the flu shot for the safety of the baby. My first two pregnancies managed to begin and end outside of peak flu season, however, so I never had to really deal with the decision to get the shot while pregnant. I’d either get the shot before I was pregnant or not long after giving birth.

And then there was my third pregnancy. Which began right as the flu shot clinic signs started going up. And yet for some reason I kept putting off getting a shot, thinking I’d get it from my OB’s office and then forgetting to ask for it, while my husband took the older kids to get their shots (and his), while I probably hung out on the bathroom floor trying not to barf. At some point I said, screw it, the rest of my family is vaccinated and I work from home and never go anywhere; I’LL BE FINE.

Yeah, I got the flu while pregnant.

It. Was. Awful. I was so sick, for so long. And it was terrifying, because I just couldn’t get better and couldn’t stop wondering what the hell have I done to my baby?

I consider myself, very, very lucky that I wasn’t hospitalized. I was very close, due to dehydration and fever. I consider myself lucky that my pregnancy continued safely and that Ike did not suffer any obvious complications.

I also consider myself very, very stupid for not just getting that stupid shot in the first place.

Here’s where I get brutally honest: During my illness, I brilliantly happened to Google a few studies that linked flu during a mother’s pregnancy to adult-onset schizophrenia. I just. Oh my God. I can’t even read about it. I just keep foolishly hoping that the link will be disproven or downplayed at some point.  The fear and guilt I feel when even thinking about that is infinitely worse than any of the fear/nervousness I might have had about getting a vaccine while pregnant.

Why didn’t I get the shot? I don’t know. Because I thought the flu wasn’t a big deal. Because I thought I was the sort of person who never got the flu. Because I never thought getting the flu while pregnant would happen to me, until it did.

Please get a flu shot.

]]> 42
To Honor, Love & Name the Baby Mon, 13 Oct 2014 15:27:13 +0000

Dear Amy,

I don’t know if you’ve answered this before and I’m sorry if you have, I’ve been reading your blog for the past 7 months since I got pregnant and stumbled upon it.

My older brother died 3 years ago and all of my siblings and I decided we would name the first child one of us had after him. He has a gender neutral name that I’ve heard used for both sexes several times so naturally when my husband and I got pregnant I told him I would like to name our child that, also she’s due on my brother’s birthday which just makes me want to name her that even more. He agreed for a boy but told me it sounded weird for a girl and didn’t like it. He’s very passive so he never really fought me on it before we knew the sex so I didn’t know how much he disliked it. We found out we are having a girl, so he started calling her by her middle name, I knew he didn’t really like the name but he never really said how much.

My entire family and his entire family LOVE the name and have already started getting stuff with her name on it. Until about a week ago that is, when my mom changed her mind and came out that she thinks it’s wrong for me to name my daughter after my brother and I need to save the name for a boy. This made my husband jump at the opportunity to try to get me to change my mind because apparently he REALLY hates the name. He said it’s too much of a boy name.

I don’t want my husband to hate our daughter’s name or upset my mom, but if I changed my mind a few people would flip because we made that deal and they have already bought stuff. I loved my brother and he was my best friend and really would love having a girl named after him plus I don’t know if I’ll ever have a boy.

Should I change it for my husband or just tell him to suck it up and he can name the next kid?

Yours truly,

So there’s a lot going on here. A veritable tug-of-war of pre-existing plans, expectations, emotions running high, differing opinions on the proper way to honor a prematurely lost loved one, topped off with a growing stash of personalized gifts and thus MONEY.

(Which: Not always the best idea in general, given that 1) parents can always change their minds, 2) parents should always have the freedom to change their minds without fretting over the $75 wall bunting Aunt Betsy bought them on Etsy, and 3) ultrasounds can be wrong, yo. Save the personalized onesie orders until the baby is here and the birth certificate is filled out, just to be on the safe side.)

I completely understand why this name means so much to you and why it would feel downright painful to let it go, either for your hypothetical next child or to a hypothetical nephew. I’m sure it’s a lovely name.


It’d be one thing if the person or people objecting to the name were like, a sibling who just really hoped to one day use the name too (despite a pre-existing agreement among you all), or someone other extended family member or in-law thinking it was weird or morbid or whatever. The fact that it’s your HUSBAND and your MOTHER who are explicitly asking/begging you to not use the name…well. I feel like those opinions carry a bit more weight.

Personally, I can’t imagine telling my husband “too bad, suck it up” and forcing him to go with a name that he hated. Sure, it sucks to hear that he literally hates a name you love more than anything (many of us have been there, during baby naming discussions with our partners). And he absolutely should have been more direct from the get-go that he was not onboard with this name if you had a girl, but I guess I can see where he’s coming from — no need to make a big deal over it until the ultrasound, because if it’s a boy, cool, no problem. And despite it slowly dawning on you that he didn’t really like it (i.e. using the middle name), perhaps a real, direct conversation was in order rather than an announcement to the rest of the family that yep, here’s the name, let’s all get shoppy!

That didn’t happen, though, alas. Now your mother has stepped up and asked you not to use her deceased son’s name for your daughter. Yikes. That’s ANOTHER one I’d personally have a tough time saying, “Sorry Mom, suck it up.”

Do you really think people will flip out at you for acquiescing to your mom’s (and husband’s) wishes? Is the pile of personalized gifts really that enormously huge at this point? Or is that really more of an excuse because you have your heart beyond set on this name?

Which is fine if you do! The whole due date/brother’s birthday thing is very touching (though due dates are rarely that exact, of course), and I’m sure it feels terribly unfair to feel expected to compromise on a name you’ve been set on since before you even got pregnant.

But someone here is going to have to compromise. I don’t like the idea of your mom and husband ganging up on you, but I guess I do get why your husband seized on the opportunity to go, “SEE?” once she voiced her disapproval. He really, really hates the name. Your mother has changed her mind about how she’d like to see her son’s memory honored.

Your choices basically boil down to 1) go against their wishes, 2) keep talking about it hope they change their minds again, or 3) find some kind of compromise. Is there a less gender neutral version of the name? Would you be okay swapping it to the middle name? (Which certainly doesn’t preclude you using the name again for a possible boy. We have a few family names that have been used repeatedly across the grandkids as both first and middle names.) What was your brother’s middle name and is there a girl-version possibility there?

I’m sorry my response isn’t really providing any sort of sure-fire specific solution or HERE’S EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD DO. I’m genuinely sympathetic to all sides here. But one last bit of advice I think you should all keep in mind: The original name agreement was not JUST about a name. It was intended to honor your brother’s memory. Allowing the name and agreement to become a bit, fraught point of family contention is probably not the best way to honor that memory.

]]> 33
When Autism Runs in the Family Fri, 10 Oct 2014 20:11:11 +0000

Dear Amalah,

I love, love, love your blog and your smackdowns! I’m a long time reader and I really value your advice. I’ve some questions about preparing for a potentially autistic child.

I’m 26, my BF (of 7 years) is 27. We’re both students and finishing up our computer science doctoral studies. Once we’re done, we’re going to do the getting jobs, getting married and starting a family thing.

It’s the family thing that has me writing today.

My BF was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was in his early teens. Most people wouldn’t know it today – he’s “grown out of it”. By that I mean that his coping skills are excellent, he’s capable of avoiding situations that would overwhelm him and he presents externally as a professional, polite, quiet, funny young man. I’m very much in love. Awwww. I see some of the other side at home, with bits of anxiety, social stress, and texture & food issues. But he’s awesome and more than coping with any challenges he faces day to day.

BF’s dad (60 years old) has never been assessed, but I’d place a huge wager on him gaining a diagnosis. He’s far more Aspergers-y than BF. The same with BF’s granddad. There appears to be a lineage going on here.

So, I’m in the position of almost expecting some/all our kids to have difficulties. I’m okay with that ethically – my BF is great and happy and I’d love to have kids that are like him.

My question is one of preparation. What should I be doing to get ready for these aspects of my kids and to give them the best start I can? How early are the earliest interventions?

What should I read now? Are there any books on babies (rather than toddlers) with autism?
And what should I do with a babe in arms? Extended eye contact from day one? A big focus on sensory play?

I’m not actually panicking at the moment. I know we’ll muddle though, have wonderful successes and make dire mistakes regardless. I know I’m over analyzing the situation, and it may not happen. I like to prepare, and for me, this is like reading up about cloth diapers (love your stuff on cloth by the way!) or baby sleep. Just being prepared, you know?

Thanks so much!
PreBump Prepareer

Okay, so on the one hand, I want to thank you for NOT thinking that having a child with Autism is some horrible, terrible, scary outcome that must be avoided at all costs. (Including, like, our herd immunity. Arrrrrghdon’tgetmestartedontheantivaxxers.) Thank you for seeing that it’s not a death sentence, it’s just a difference.

On the other hand, I would really want to caution you about pre-diagnosing your babies before they even exist. Or pre-diagnosing your children before they are old enough to be really properly assessed. Autism can run in families and Autism can NOT run in families, and both families can end up with children on and off the Spectrum. But a diagnosis takes time and patience and you MUST allow a wide berth for your children’s natural pace of development and their individual quirks/personalities. An Autism diagnosis can open a lot of opportunities for support and intervention, but at the same time it’s not necessarily something you want to slap on a newborn right from the get-go because his or her eyes aren’t focusing on your face yet.

Not long after my oldest was diagnosed (initially with just Sensory Processing Disorder), I had my second baby. And of course I’d completely forgotten how long it takes babies to do…well, ANYTHING, and got myself convinced that since my first baby did X and Y and Z and turned out to be “different,” any time my second baby did X or Y or Z, it meant we were CLEARLY headed down the exact same quirky, sensory, developmentally delayed path.

We were not, at all. Other than really, really hating the dentist and an impressive ability to ignore me asking him to put on his shoes, Ezra has absolutely no sensory or social issues.

And then I had a third baby and did the same damn thing all over again. To the point of Googling whether or not you could “tell” if a newborn has Autism.

Spoiler alert: No, you cannot. In fact, if I did learn anything from my sleep-deprived, neurotic web surfing, is that a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) made when the child is TOO YOUNG should be treated with measured caution, and the child should be reassessed when they are older to account for normal lags and jags in early childhood development.

In retrospect, sure. There were “things” my oldest son as a baby did that maaaayyyybeee were a sign that he’d eventually land on the Spectrum? Things his brothers didn’t really do? But then each of them also had their own unique set of baby quirks too. All of my toddlers lined up their toys. My youngest toe-walked a little bit, as did my oldest. So who could possibly have known that he alone had Autism? We certainly didn’t, and I don’t regret that or feel like we missed some crucial intervention or opportunity because we waited until he was two years old and had a documented speech delay, would freak out if his trains weren’t lined up perfectly, and had a pronounced toe-walking habit. I’m actually glad I never thought to stress out over his fascination with ceiling fans as an infant, because WTF would we have even done at that point? The baby likes ceiling fans, let him stare at ceiling fans.

But just as ASD/Asperger’s is a part of who my son simply IS, I’m going to guess that being a VERY VERY WELL-PREPARED PLANNING TO PLAN person is simply who YOU are, and nothing I say here is going to remove the urge to read/research All of The Things. So…maybe just reframe this. Instead of trying to find resources on “babies with Autism,” I suggest you read and research more about Asperger’s/ASD in general, across any age. It will help you understand what your husband experiences, and maybe shed light on how he achieved such a great outcome. (Despite not being officially diagnosed until his teens!)

I’m a big fan of the guys from Asperger Experts — they both have Asperger’s, and are able to very clearly explain and articulate what day-to-day life is like for them, and how I as a parent can make day-to-day life better and easier for my child. They also have videos and coaching materials aimed at older teens and adults, which I imagine my son will find useful at some point.

And if and when you do have a baby, please…just enjoy him or her. Love him or her. Let him or her simply be PERFECT for as long as you can. Try not to constantly scan his or her face for “signs” or view your job as a parent to include being an occupational therapist and psychiatrist and developmental pediatrician all rolled into one. Even if you do have a child on the Autism Spectrum (and hey, technically we’re ALL on the Spectrum), you’ll clearly be a capable, educated person who knows what Early Intervention IS and can probably track down the phone number on your county’s website. They’ll be there if and when you need them.

And BONUS: Don’t forget you’ll be co-parenting with a living success story and a bona fide expert in life on the Spectrum.


]]> 14
Dealing with Pushy, Touchy Grandparents-to-Be Wed, 08 Oct 2014 23:25:27 +0000

Hi Amy,

I’ve recently started reading your advice column and would really appreciate some of your straight talking advice.

I have a great relationship with my mother-in-law and the rest of my husband’s family. They all live very close together and are very close and involved in each others live. This took a bit of getting used to as, even though I have a lovely supportive family, we are generally very private people. This has not caused a problem before but now I am pregnant (20 weeks) and I’m starting to feel a little bit overwhelmed.

Now I don’t want to seem ungrateful or rude but I am getting a bit tired of feeling like public property.

I have had to deal with my mother-in-law pretty much begging to be in the delivery room when I give birth. I only want my husband there and if I was to have another person surely my own mother would be the first choice. There is also the tummy touching every time I see her without her asking first. I don’t particularly like being touched which is a separate issue but one that I can usually deal with as it didn’t used to happen often. I wouldn’t mind so much if she asked first but I get no warning at all.

The most recent issue is the sex of the baby. I’ve still not decided if I want to find out and if we do find out, I don’t know if I want to tell everyone. But my mother-in-law TOLD us this weekend that we would find out and would tell her straight away.

I have mentioned these things to my husband but he has said that bringing anything up will just upset her and he won’t say anything unless I feel that her behavior is really upsetting me.

Do I just put up with this behavior for the sake of a good mother-in-law relationship? Or do I get my husband to have a word and risk causing upset? So far I have just been biting my tongue and ignoring comments about her being in the delivery room as that is not up for debate. But I really don’t know if pregnancy hormones will let me bite my tongue, especially about the bump touching much longer.

Yours hopefully,
Trying to be a good daughter-in-law

“I have mentioned these things to my husband but he has said that bringing anything up will just upset her and he won’t say anything unless I feel that her behavior is really upsetting me.”

Soooooo….I may be projecting here, but I think once an issue has escalated to “writing to an online advice column for help,” it’s PRETTY SAFE to assume that her behavior IS really upsetting you. Ergo, tell your husband to (lovingly, nicely, respectfully) tell his mother to back the eff up.

Look, we all have different boundaries. You don’t need to rank or rate YOUR personal boundaries against anyone else’s. You don’t need some neutral third party to tell you whether you’re being unreasonable…though for the record, you got exactly that, because you’re not being unreasonable. Your MIL does not get to invite herself into the delivery room or make demands about personal pregnancy decisions. And no one has the right to put their hands on your body if you don’t want their hands on your body.

So maybe we can give your MIL the benefit of the doubt on that one — perhaps she simply doesn’t know or realize that you’re uncomfortable with people touching you in general, and that her unexpected/continued intrusion of your personal space is a Thing.

You’d be perfectly within your rights to say, next time, “Hey, I’m really sorry I didn’t say something earlier but I’d really, really prefer if you didn’t touch my belly without asking me first. I have a thing about being touched when I’m not expecting it and I guess being pregnant has made it worse. Thanks.”

You’d also be perfectly within your rights to make your husband have that conversation with her in private, however, to spare you any and all uncomfy-ness. Tell him to think of this as Supportive Pregnancy Partner Job #1: Deal with his mother’s overstepping so you don’t have to.

As for the delivery room and sex reveal thing, well, WHATEVER. He needs to shut that talk down now. Both are decisions that only you and your husband get to make. Full stop. The end. Back off.

It’s important to remember, though, during these crazy-making moments, to take a deep breath and recognize that all this stuff IS coming from a loving, excited place. It’s just that her way of expressing said love and excitement is…well. Yeah. Not really your jam. AND THAT’S OKAY.

]]> 31
Bedtime & the Terrible Threes Mon, 06 Oct 2014 16:25:55 +0000

Dear Amy,

First, thank you for your advice about potty rewards. We more or less followed your advice, and he has been totally potty trained for what feels like forever. In fact, he didn’t even regress when the baby came.

Here’s the new thing. There’s always something, right?

He had been a great sleeper since he night-weaned around one. As in, he slept for 11-12 hours straight without waking literally Every Single Night for two years. We transitioned to the big boy bed last spring, no issues. He gave up pacifiers soon after the baby came, no issues. He’d never had a tantrum that lasted longer than, I dunno, 30 seconds.

And then he turned three (he’s just a tiny bit younger than Ike).

By the time he had been three for two weeks, I was calling friends crying about how three was so much worse than two. Button pushing, boundary defying, starting to ask for extra stories or cups of water at nap time, etc etc. While on vacation later in the summer he woke up in the middle of the night a couple times and needed a hug, but we were in a strange place and it seemed reasonable.

And then he started preschool. He LOVES preschool. He loves his teachers, he loves his friends, he loves his carpool home. But he’s spending much less time at home with his familiar things (me, babysitter, baby, dogs, toys).

We expected some acting out. But bedtime has turned into WAR. His first week of school, my husband and I had weird–unfortunate and unavoidable–schedules, with the result that there was only 1 day when we were both there at bedtime (usually I start his bedtime routine, then switch and go to the baby and my husband finishes up). Then the next week my husband was traveling. And the third week I had two late work events. You get the idea–new routines, new experiences, too much change, not enough consistency. Plus the baby started cruising, which means the play area is baby-optimized and some of his things are less prominent (though still visible! We’re not total idiots).

Last night was the worst yet. There was screaming, hitting (from the kid, not from us!), kicking (ditto!), holding a door closed (that one is on us), and lots of pathetic protest. I think — though I’m a little fuzzy – that it started because we wouldn’t let him crash the baby’s story time. But then there was something that led to a time out, except he refused the time out, which meant we said no bedtime story. Because, you know, you can’t REFUSE a time out with no consequences. I mean, you can imagine. Oh, and a huge dose of “I want Mommy, not Daddy”.

I’ve never seen anything like it, though I’ve read about it on many a blog, so I know I’m not alone. Eventually he calmed down, started using words instead of screams, asked politely if he could be put to bed, and my husband tucked him in with a kiss an hour after his normal bedtime. He was asleep approximately 5 seconds later and more or less didn’t move (per the video monitor) until it was time to wake up.

I think some of this is because the preschool schedule has cut naptime short, so he’s overtired (it’s half day school, but then there’s a lot of things he wants to sneak into the mid-day/afternoon at home). I’m going to prioritize fixing naps so that he’s not so tired. But also, he doesn’t eat at dinner. I won’t short order cook. I make a dinner that everyone should be able to eat (no super weird ingredients, if the “real” version is spicy his is less so, always something on the plate that he likes), and then it’s up to him. If he doesn’t eat…he doesn’t eat. But of course that exacerbates this – in the past it didn’t matter, as we eat close to bedtime so we can have family dinner – he’d fall asleep quickly at bedtime, wake up cranky in the morning but not be expected to do anything before breakfast. So we ignored it when he claimed not to like spaghetti (untrue) or some other food that he’d inhaled thirds of two days earlier.

Do I put string cheese on his plate every night until we’re past this? Do we buy a lock for his door and let him scream (the baby doesn’t seem to notice)? Do we just give in to his whims given how volatile things have been?

(We have a star chart. While that is sufficiently motivating for things like sharing toys with his sister and brushing his teeth, it is not at all effective for this. He gets out of control).

-dreading bedtime.

Welcome to three! IT’S OFFICIALLY THE WORST.

So first of all: Deep breath. You’ll get through this. You’ve correctly identified all the swirling whirling reasons behind the recent meltdowns — too much change, not enough consistency, an overtired, hungry, jealous-of-new-baby child who just wants to EXERT HIS WILL ON THE WORLD.

Off the top of my head, because I’m guessing you aren’t in the mood to hear my long, rambling Deep Thoughts on all the individual issues in play here, but would rather just get to the damn action items already:

1) Move bedtime earlier. Even just 15 minutes. Half hour. He’s exhausted and that’s not helping. Fixing naps is a good start, A slightly earlier bedtime won’t immediately solve the tantrum issues, but it at least means the tantrums aren’t significantly cutting into his established, much-needed sleep time.

2) Combine bedtime routines. He sounds very jealous. He sounds like he is very much not a fan of you leaving mid-bedtime routine and handing things over to Dad while the baby gets your attention. So try to combine what you can. This is probably the most appropriate area to seek a compromise on, since a combined bedtime routine isn’t a “bad habit” you’ll regret later. In fact, you’ll probably appreciate having steps combined down the road. Read bedtime stories all together. Nurse or bottle feed the baby in his room while you read aloud. Hold and rock both of them. You obviously don’t want to screw up the baby’s routine, but if she’s pretty chill and ignores his screaming, try to find a way to merge their routines so everybody stays together with him, up until final lights out in everybody’s respective rooms.

3) Stay consistent at dinner. This one, on the other hand, is where I am a Big Old Mean. But! Believe me, you will regret caving at dinner to get through the terrible threes and it will become a Whole Big Thing later and it will SUCK. BALLS. Don’t do it. We’re going through fairly regular dinner strikes with our three year old right now too. (Seriously, children, stop lying about not liking spaghetti. EVERYBODY LIKES SPAGHETTI.) Ike had a bad habit of filling up on milk or juice before (or during) dinner, so now he drinks water with dinner, just like his brothers. This. Is. An. Outrage. He pitches a fit over this several times a week, and for some reason STILL thinks that by refusing to eat, we’ll cave and get him the milk or juice he’s screeching for. It’s a power struggle, plain and simple, and has nothing to do with the food in front of him.

Unfortunately for our three year old, he’s our THIRD three year old and this ain’t our first dinner strike rodeo. No one’s going to make you eat. Whatever. No one’s getting you milk in the sippy cup you’ve completely outgrown, especially since I know you’ve gotten more than enough milk for one day already. No one’s going to give you string cheese and Goldfish crackers because you’ve decided chicken is unacceptable. But know this: You don’t eat dinner, you go to bed earlier. Not even as a punishment, but more because I want to get you to breakfast as soon as humanly possible, and to get you to sleep before you realize that oh. Yeah. Eating probably would have been a good idea. Usually bedtime around here is 8/8:30. If Ike refuses to eat dinner, it’s more like 7/7:30 for him, which also means he misses their one nightly cartoon. Some nights a reminder of this consequence will get him to eat. Some nights it doesn’t. I try focus on not giving a crap and letting him make his choice.

I sense there’s a direct tie between Ike’s dinner-strike antics and whether or not he napped at preschool. He goes to the Nap Room every after day after lunch, but his teacher reports Actual Sleep only happens about 50% of the time. This makes me feel less guilty about sending him to bed early on those nights, if that makes sense. It feels like a punishment to him, but I see it more as making the Mom Call to prioritize his needs. And he clearly needs sleep more than an extra 30 minutes of TV time.

I’m going to guess your son is acting out for negative attention, which is tied to the new-ish sibling jealousy, combined with a lot of change, the physical demands of school, and being thrown by some unavoidable scheduling hiccups that kept you guys away from him. Don’t prod or remind him to eat. Don’t scold no matter how irritating it is. Make sure the baby isn’t sucking up all your attention, and praise him for literally WHATEVER you can think of.  Sure, he’s not eating, but is he sitting up in his chair? Generally demonstrating some kind of nice table manners? AWESOME GOOD JOB.

(This is so much easier said than done, I know, especially at the end of a long day of button pushing and irrational three-year old behavior. It is damn effective, however, to counteract negative-attention-seeking behaviors with a steady stream of positive attention.)

If he still tantrums and behaves unacceptably at bedtime, well, that’s probably up to you on how to handle it. I tend to avoid time-outs for bad behavior at bedtime, personally, because I sense my kids catch quickly catch on that they can use them as a stalling tactic, and act out accordingly. Usually, tantrums or hitting or whatever just means you go to bed IMMEDIATELY, do not pass go, do not collect your 300 stuffed animals you need in your bed. I have taken away the bedtime story as well. But again, everybody’s discipline methods are their own, and it sounds like the eventual time out did its job and calmed your son down.

We generally respond to bedtime misbehavior by doing our very, very best to stay calm and not let them see that they are driving us over the edge. We say goodnight, turn out the lights, and close the door, even if they’re still mid-freak-out over God-knows-what and standing in the middle of the room. This usually startles them out of the tantrum because wait! Come back! They’ll come out, and then we guide them back in for calm tucking in and kisses. Rinse and repeat as necessary. For you guys, focus on tips 1) and 2) the most — kick off the routine a little earlier tonight, and try to switch up the half-mom/half-dad duties so your son doesn’t feel like you’re ditching him mid-routine. Try to drastically up the amount of positive attention you give him during the day — not just stuff he does at your request, but just anything good/pleasant you “catch” him doing that isn’t button-pushing or boundary-pushing.

And once he’s in bed, go back to the kitchen and pour yourself some wine, and remember that they’re only three for one year, and it’ll be a least another couple years before you have another three year old and get to go through this ALL OVER AGAIN.

]]> 14
Nighttime Potty Training Woes Fri, 03 Oct 2014 22:16:41 +0000

Hi Amy,

My four-year-old has been happily out of diapers during the day since she was two-and-a-half but we cannot get her out of diapers at night. She desperately wants to be completely diaper-free and I know most of her friends have been dry at night for a long time but I’m really struggling to know how to help her.

The problem is she just doesn’t wake up if she needs to go. For pooping (not that she does it very often at night) she can wake up and go to the bathroom and put herself back to bed no problem, but for peeing her body just stays asleep. We tried going cold-turkey on diapers a few months ago but after three or four nights of having to change sheets at 3am I gave up and put her back in a diaper.

I would probably be OK with just waiting it out and keeping her in diapers indefinitely, but she is really upset about this and aware that her friends don’t need diapers anymore so I thought I’d ask if you have any advice.


We’ve touched on this topic before, and so there’s probably a huuuuuge wealth of advice and helpful suggestions back in the comment sections of older posts, but I think it’s worth going over again.

Staying dry at night is a completely separate, whole other “thing” than potty training during the day. For the majority of children, the ability to stay dry at night comes later. “Later” can be a couple weeks, months… or years. It’s not a question of practice or motivation. It’s a physiological development — the brain and the bladder finally sync up and wake the rest of the body up in time to get to the bathroom. If she’s a naturally deep sleeper, this task is even more difficult.

Many, many children struggle with enuresis (bedwetting) long, long after potty training. And it’s just…one of those things. You don’t know whether it will stop next weekend or next month or next year. Most kids outgrow it, and it’s up to the parents to stay calm and collected about it — no yelling or scolding, recognize that this is something she CANNOT help or control, and let her know that she is normal and wonderful and this is really okay and not forever.

Usually, yeah, some kind of absorbent pant at night is the easiest solution, while you wait for your daughter’s body to make the development leap. I can guarantee she’s NOT the only four year old on the playground who isn’t staying dry yet, no matter what the unofficial peer pressure survey suggests. (It’s so common that most doctors and experts don’t even classify it as a problem worth dealing with until the child is six or older. Under five? Keep ‘em in diapers and give ‘em more time. No shame, no biggie. So normal.)

But since she’s sensitive, yes, you definitely want to keep this positive and make sure she’s not feeling shame or sadness about it. Does she view Pull-Ups as something that’s not quite a diaper? Could you make a switch in brand or color and simply present them as “bedtime pants” rather than a “diaper” that she wore as a baby?

If that still bothers her, invest in a bedwetting alarm. I have heard very, very good things about them and they seem to work for the majority of kids who use them. (Commenters? Specific brand/model recommendations?)

Other things that can factor into bedwetting (beyond an immature bladder), are constipation and too much to drink too close to bedtime. Keep an eye on the poops and see your doctor for a laxative recommendation if needed — constipation puts pressure on the urinary tract so it’s very common for constipated (chronically or one-time) kids to have accidents at night. Watch her liquid intake during and after dinner and try to scale back on a lot of drinks of water right at bedtime. (And obviously, one final good pee right before bed is a MUST.) The longer her bladder takes to fill, the more likely she’ll be further along in her sleep cycle and able to make it until morning until she has to go again.

Good luck!

]]> 20
Potty Training: Fear of the Auto-Flush Toilet Wed, 01 Oct 2014 18:22:17 +0000

A different twist on potty training troubles confronts us, and I thought of you as maybe you have dealt with our situation:

Our 3 year old daughter was doing very well with potty training, initiating it on her own a month before her third birthday, and usually only day accidents when we weren’t encouraging her enough to stop playing and visit the potty.  Still a diaper at night, but the hint of going back to a “cloth diaper” was enough to motivate her during the day.

So 2 weeks ago we took a little family vacation, renting a condo on the beach in NC.  We put a diaper on her for the plane flight just ’cause, which she kept dry and was very proud to use the airport potties.  We did acceptably well at varied restaurants and stores until we did a ferry ride (she wanted to ride a boat and this was $1/adult/trip, so 4 bucks to ride a boat for an hour. . . equals win!) and the bathroom on the other end of the ride had auto flushing toilets.  Very sensitive auto flushing toilets, as they flushed on me 3 times mid stream, when I was demonstrating how these were “nice potties”  So now my daughter is scared of industrial toilets.   She’s cool with our home toilet, the one at day care, and the one in the child care center at my gym, but otherwise it’s a no go.

How do we get past the fear of the auto flusher?  She can’t really tell that it is an auto flusher (I’ve tried on many potties, only to get a clingy kid saying “I;m scared”  She was doing SOOO well prior, so any hints on moving past this hurdle, or do we just have to wait it out?

Fear of the auto flush

Yep! Yep yep yep. I have indeed been there, flushed that. None of my children were ever exactly fans of the auto-flushing toilets (it’s startling and SO LOUD, and the sensors have issues detecting their small bodies and movements). But one in particular was JUST like your daughter — he so traumatized by his first encounter with one that it did temporarily derail our ability to take potty training “on the road,” so to speak, since he adamantly refused to go into a public restroom after that.

And Imma have to credit a blog commenter with our eventual solution: Always enter a public restroom with something to cover a toilet’s sensor with. For sensors attached to the toilet’s plumbing, drape a heavy burp rag, prefold cloth diaper, t-shirt or something similar over it. For sensors on the wall, keep a pad of dark-colored Post-Its in your bag and cover it up with one.

I carried both options around for at least a few months — eventually the fear subsided. (Or maybe he just got big enough for the sensor to really register his presence and it stopped flushing repeatedly mid-pee out of confusion.)

The next time you need to take her to a public restroom, tell her you’ve solved the flushing problem or have a special magic trick to show her. Show her what you’re doing and tell her that the toilet WILL NOT FLUSH until she’s ready. At first you might want to wait to let the toilet flush until she’s fully dressed and outside the stall. Give her a heads up if she wants to cover her ears, and then remove your cloth or Post-It. After a few encounters, let her do the covering/uncovering, but DON’T FORCE HER. Just focus on keeping it all as easy and stress-free as possible for her.

I think I used the cloth diaper over the toilet handle on ALL public toilets for awhile, since my little guy was scared of ALL of them and like your daughter, couldn’t really tell the difference between auto-flush and manual. (I think the volume/echo were also problems, so even the ones he could flush himself were unnerving.) Eventually he learned to ask me which kind of toilet it was — the scary kind or the okay kind — and at some point the whole fear/issue kinda faded away with time and public restrooms were no longer any big thing.


]]> 16
Breastfeeding & the NICU Mon, 29 Sep 2014 16:39:36 +0000

Dearest Amalah,

Let’s just start by stating that you are my mom hero. I stumbled upon your pregnancy calendar and got hooked on the advice column. Later, I found your blog. You are highly entertaining and uplifting. I know you don’t have any first hand knowledge of this, but I am way too exhausted to do any research and I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction.

I had my sweet baby boy at 32 weeks. He is currently in the NICU and is expected to have no long term complications. He receives all of his nutrition through a feeding tube. Our hospital has a donor breast milk program and he receives my breast milk supplemented with the donor milk through the feeding tube. Although the NICU has a few “boarder rooms” available, they make a pay by the hour motel room look like the Ritz and it is highly discouraged by staff to stay there for mom’s sanity.

My problem is milk production. My milk came in quickly, but hasn’t kept up with the baby’s feedings. In the last week, I have not seen an increase in milk production. I can only pump until next week, when my baby may be able to take in some milk orally while still being able to gain weight. I just started supplements and got the “mother’s milk” tea. I pump for 15 minutes at a time, every three hours. I only get a solid milk “flow” for the first 6 minutes or so.

So my question is, what advice do you have on how to increase milk production when you can only pump? When the baby comes home, will my milk production naturally increase?

Yours truly,


So believe it or not, I think it sounds like your pumping is actually going pretty well! It’s really important to remember that no matter how great of a pump you’re using, your boobs can tell the difference, and will behave accordingly. Thus, the amount of milk you’re able to pump will generally be less than you’ll produce when your baby is nursing directly from the breast.

So I would advise you to keep doing what you’re doing, with the goal of keeping your supply stable in the interim, rather than hoping and expecting a steady increase via just the pump. As long as you’re not seeing a DECREASE in milk production, you’re in good shape, I’d say.

I always found pumping was easier if I had something that smelled like my baby, so if you can snag one of his little hats from the hospital, keep that with you to sniff and see if it triggers a more forceful let-down or keeps the milk flow going a tad longer. (Looking at photos helps too.)  Give the supplements and mother’s milk tea time to start working, and try to not freak out over your output quite yet. Once your baby is able to latch on and nurse directly, your supply should naturally increase. Not sure if you’re able to hold him yet, but once you’re able to do direct skin-on-skin contact with him against your chest, do it as often as the nurses will let you, then pump immediately afterwards. Naked baby skin and head nuzzling kicks boobs into overdrive like nothing else.

At the same time, give yourself a heapload of credit for any and all milk you are able to produce, in the face of an obviously less-than-ideal situation. The donor milk program is a great, awesome thing and you’re both very fortunate to have it, so please please please don’t look at needing to supplement now or down the road as a bad thing, or a failure on your part. You’re doing GREAT, REALLY GREAT. And it sounds like your baby is too! And that’s what’s most important.

Commenters? Any other breastfeeding in the NICU tips/advice/experience to share?


]]> 37
Bedtime Battles: Lost Lovey Edition Thu, 25 Sep 2014 13:34:03 +0000

Hi Amy,

I think you have likely experienced this problem before, and I am hoping you could share some insight.

In the past couple months my son has become very attached to one particular stuffed animal. It goes most places with him. Which means, inevitably, that he forgets about it sometimes, and then at bedtime it becomes a frantic, tear-filled search for a goddamn stuffed bird.

My feeling is that this is not my bird, not my problem. If you want to cart your stuffed animal all over creation, you need to take some responsibility and keep track of it. I’m not gonna look for it. This stance often ends in tears (by my son) because he can’t find his stuffed bird. Quite frankly, he sucks at looking.

He is five. Is keeping track of his own stuffed animal too much to ask?

Not Bloon and Bubby, But Almost as Bad

Here’s the thing: All five year olds suck at looking. And so do plenty of six, seven and eight year olds. My oldest turns nine soon and you know, I’m STILL not holding out much hope that this will be the year that we can add “IS GOOD AT LOOKING FOR THINGS” to the milestone list.

“Where are your shoes?”

“I dunno.”

“Well, go look for them!”

/10 minutes of aimless wandering and inexplicably staring at the ceiling, just in case his shoes are dangling from a light fixture

“I still dunno.”

/please note that shoes are out in full view in the middle of the foyer this whole time, less than five feet from our dedicated shoe rack

/head explodes

So while I sympathize with your desire to take a hard line stance on teaching responsibility here, this might be a time to pick your battles, at least when it happens around bedtime. The more upset and panicked he gets, the worse his ability to really “look” will become — he’ll wander around in circles, revisit the same possible hiding spot over and over again, and generally be even more useless and unable to problem solve.

And it is a form of genuine panic — five years old is old enough to understand and comprehend the potential for a real, permanent loss, and these stuffed animal/lovey attachments come with their own form of separation anxiety. All these swirling emotions crowd out his ability to think critically about where his toy is, to remember where he last had it and/or to realize that HEY, BRAINIAC, WHY DON’T YOU TRY LOOKING UNDER OR BEHIND THINGS, LIKE OH MY GOD THERE’S A BLOON-AND-BUBBY-SHAPED LUMP UNDER THAT BLANKET RIGHT THERE THAT YOU’VE WALKED BY SEVENTEEN TIMES ALREADY.

For the nightly bedtime meltdown, try this: About 15 minutes before you’d typically start the bedtime process, start the “looking for birdie” process. Try to keep your patience/temper in check and model what it actually means to “look.” We retrace our steps, we look under, over, around and through. You look in your bedroom, I’ll look in the kitchen. You can set a time limit on how long the looking can go on — especially on days when you suspect the bird might have been left behind at a friend’s house and cannot be retrieved until the next day.

During the day, I do look at the toys as MOSTLY Ezra’s responsibility…but still kind of a shared responsibility, for our collective sanity. When Bloon and Bubby come out with us, I do try to ask Ezra if he’s got them prior to transitioning locations. I encourage him to leave them behind in a safe place as often as possible, or suggest that he bring his backpack or doll stroller along. Having a backpack or a little stroller with him seems to help keep this babies’ presence in the forefront of his mind, rather than an afterthought.

Playing hide and seek with your son can also really help with the whole “looking for things in creative/not obvious places” skill. You can also practice playing the game with his stuffed bird. You “hide” the toy in a place he’s likely to leave it behind and send him off to hunt for it, in a more fun/relaxed situation. Get him a special bag or something to keep the bird in during any location change/transition, or I don’t know, some kind of leash or clip or way to the toy to his clothing. Read the Knuffle Bunny books as both a cautionary tale about taking care of your toys and what can happen if you take them out of the house. (Though note that the parents in those books go above and beyond to reunite their child with her lost toy, which might make you feel a bit Grinchy because HELL NO, I’m not racing across town at 2 in the morning to swap a hunk of polyester with another parent, are you kidding me? GO BACK TO BED.)

]]> 23