Alpha Mom » Amalah parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Fri, 31 Oct 2014 15:30:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In-Law Appreciation Day Fri, 31 Oct 2014 15:30:01 +0000

Hi Amy,

I have a five month old and have devoured your previous advice columns (happily cloth diapering with GMD prefolds and flip covers, thanks!). I read the columns about crazy in-laws with amusement and sympathy, but find myself with somewhat of the opposite problem. Maybe answering a question about a great in-law relationship will be something different to think about?

My mother-in-law takes care of my son once a week, driving an hour each way to our house. The arrangement lets my husband be a stay at home dad four days a week while still working part time as I work full time at a job I love. It’s a perfect setup for my husband and me both personally and professionally, and I have no idea how we would be able to replicate it without her. I worried that we would have problems with parenting preferences but she has been incredibly respectful of our wishes and (not surprisingly) fantastic with our son.

So what can I do to thank her for being so great and make her time taking care of my son easier? Her birthday is coming up and I’m trying to figure out what we can do to show our appreciation and also anything we could do to make taking care of the baby more fun. When he gets older we look forward to getting tickets for them to museums or the zoo or other fun trips, but he’s 5 months old. We’ve offered to buy any food/snacks she wants and the only thing she’s asked for in the house is diet soda. Somehow supplying two cans of diet soda per week doesn’t seem adequate… So do you or the other readers have any tips for what would make a care-givers day?


Wow. What a breath of fresh air through the in-law zone of the question queue! Look, everybody! It CAN happen! It CAN work! It DOES exist! Let’s all ooh and ahh over the mythical unicorn-in-law.

I bet your mother-in-law already thinks her current schedule and time with the baby is pretty fun. Outings will be nice down the road, but right now, a whole solid day of sweet, squishy baby time is probably her jam. Goodness, I just officially said goodbye to the baby stage of parenting like, five minutes ago and I’m already itching to get my hands on somebody else’s baby for a fix. (A temporary fix. That I can hand back after a couple hours. And then go home and sleeeeeeeeep.)

That’s not to say a nice show of appreciation isn’t in order, or anything. She’s obviously more than happy to help out and spend time with her delicious grandson, but you certainly don’t want her feel like you’re taking the arrangement for granted. Which again, I bet she doesn’t. Your letter is clearly aware of how lucky you are and dripping with a need to let her know how much it all means to you. I bet real life reads like that too, in more subtle ways. Like nice cold Diet Cokes.

Here are my top grandparent/caregiver appreciation ideas, and then I’m pitching this one right into the comments for further brainstorming.

1) Photo books. A customized “Grandma and Me” photo book would be a very sweet memento of their time together, particularly if she takes photos of your son during her day with him that you could include. Get those photos off the phones and memory cards and into a book, complete with text or a dedication where you and your husband can express how thankful you are. (Plus a photo book can be displayed if she wants, or tucked away on a shelf if she’s not one for “clutter,” unlike a framed photo or wall collage that she might not really have space for.) (Editor’s note: we have reviewed some custom photo book options herehere and here.)

2) Personalized jewelry. Spend some time on Etsy and you’ll be amazed by all the cool and creative jewelry ideas you can find for grandparents. Lockets, photo pendants, charm bracelets, initials, birthstones, — even lines from her favorite baby book or lullaby — you name it, you can find something that fits her style and will perfectly commemorate her special relationship with your son. (Just be warned that a lot of jewelry on Etsy now uses an overly loose interpretation of “handmade,” so research the shop a bit to make sure you’re not just buying something mass-produced overseas with a ridiculous markup. Personalized or custom-made products tend to avoid this problem, though.) (Editor’s note: Our friends at Cool Mom Picks have written about some of the most unique jewelry for moms.  We recommend looking through their archives.)

3) A letter. Oh, write it down! Tell her! Even if all you get her for her birthday is a nice sweater or Amazon gift card, whip out some nice stationery and crib from your letter above. Thank you for driving an hour each way. Thank you for providing the perfect setup for my husband and I both personally and professionally. I have no idea how we would be able to replicate it without you. Thank you for being respectful of our parenting wishes and thank you for being so (not surprisingly) fantastic with our son. 

Another suggestion for general relationship strengthening, from my personal experience, is to remember that just because she’s a grandparent doesn’t mean she’s stopped being a mother. A mother who also wants to spend quality time with her child. Make sure your husband stays mindful of this and doesn’t let his relationship with her devolve into a employer/hired caregiver arrangement where he simply relieves her of duty at the end of the day, or doesn’t really have any interaction with her beyond her babysitting duties. Maybe he could drive out her way and take her out for a special birthday dinner, just the two of them, or some other mother/son outing he thinks she’d enjoy. I think that would be a lovely way to both thank her for being an amazing grandmother, and also for being a great mom.

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When Daddy Leaves Mon, 27 Oct 2014 18:08:37 +0000

Hi Amy,

I am the proud mama of a beautiful 5 month old little girl who is the light of my life and the joy of my days. I never thought I would get to be a mother and now that I am, I can’t believe how right it feels. Every aspect of my life is made brighter by her presence in it. And yet (and you knew that ‘and yet’ was coming because you are the Alpha Mom). I have a problem that I just cannot solve on my own. That problem is baby’s father. I am not married, Amy, and to my great distress, baby’s father left us about two months ago. He is younger than I am and baby was a big surprise to us both. This is not the first time he has left- when I found out I was pregnant, he left for three months. Left far enough that I didn’t know where he was. He came back when I was six months pregnant and I was so relieved. I was so grateful and relieved and elated at having him back, at having his support through what turned into a very difficult pregnancy that I didn’t listen to that small voice in my heart that said ‘be careful!’ and ‘you were broken when he left you last time, can you handle it again if he does it to both you AND baby?’ Amy, I wish I had listened to that voice and been more guarded. I love him. I love him so much. But those last few weeks we were together, I was miserable because he stopped talking to me. He stopped joking and laughing and playing with our precious daughter. And I told him to leave. I told him to walk away if that was what he was thinking, if he no longer wanted to work at us. I never thought he’d leave. I really didn’t. He left that morning. And that voice was right. I am broken again. And I have a bright-eyed, joyous little girl who can’t understand where her daddy went.

All of that is awful and heartbreaking and sad but my problem, Amy, is I don’t know how to move on. He is over all the time to see baby. He wants us to do things together as a family so baby gets to spend time with both of us. He hugs me tight and offers to help me out. And it’s killing me. He is the kind of love that, once it ends, I need not to see anymore. I need not to have contact with. Because I do still love him. I do still wish we could work it out and be a family- a real family- together with our beautiful daughter. I feel like I am living in this limbo where I almost have my relationship but in fact, I don’t. I don’t want to be angry and contentious and make baby having a relationship with him hard, I want him to spend time with her and to be a huge part of her life. But I also want him back…and if I can’t have him back (I shouldn’t have him back), I need him to be gone. How do I do both? How do I move on and heal and hopefully someday find someone who does want us both, who wants to be my partner (maybe even my husband?) and who wants to be baby’s full time dad? How do I stop wanting the ex when he is always around? How do I stop loving the father of my child? I want to be strong in this, for me and for baby. How do I be strong in the face of overwhelming and helpless, hopeless love?


My dear, I am so sorry. I can’t even imagine.

This man is not your love. He never was. He never will be. Your great, true love — the one who deserves you — would never, ever abandon you during your pregnancy, and then come back only to rinse-and-repeat the process again when you have a newborn. No. He is not your love, his is not your future.

This man is, however, the father of your child and thankfully appears to be making an effort to remain in her life. Which means — while he is not your future — you cannot cut him out of your present. For your daughter’s sake, you will need to find another way to deal with the heartbreak. A way that DOESN’T involve removing him from your lives or pushing him away (for THIRD TIME, Jesus).

You know all this, of course. I can tell that you do, in between your sad, heartbroken sentences about helpless, hopeless love.

You are not helpless. Or hopeless. And again: This man is not your love. He deserves access to his daughter and I suppose your respect over his ability to sack up and take responsibility for her (in the face of what was a pretty huge freakout over impending fatherhood). He does not deserve to take up space in your heart and head and dreams of the future and make you feel rooted to a dead, dysfunctional relationship.

Start by arranging father-daughter time that does not involve you, that doesn’t conjure up painful fantasies about what Might Have Been. He can spend time with her — there’s no reason why you should feel like you need to do things all “together,” so he gets to play house and while simultaneously torturing you. Since I’m guessing he KNOWS how you feel and KNOWS that every family outing is giving you hope and keeping you emotionally tethered to him. Is he punishing you for calling his bluff and telling him to leave? Is he just a jerk who enjoys toying with you? I don’t know. I sense there might be some mind games going on with this “He wants us to do things together as a family so baby gets to spend time with both of us. He hugs me tight and offers to help me out.” stuff and I don’t like it. I’m not sure I trust this man’s motives. He wants to spend time with baby, that’s awesome. He can do that without you around. You guys are officially no longer a 2-for-1 deal.

The next time he comes by and wants to spend time with his daughter, instead of accepting a hug, hand him the diaper bag and tell him you have to run to an appointment. Preferably, I would like the appointment to be with a therapist who can help you talk through all of this. Because you would benefit very, very much from therapy right now, both to deal with the crushing rollercoaster of a year you’ve had and your (still raging, postpartum) emotions. You need a safe space where you can grieve and be sad and also totally freaking ANGRY at him. Rage and yell and cry and talk, then leave it all there behind on the couch so you can go home and be civil to him and bid him “goodbye” without feeling crushed by the sight of him leaving again, always with the leaving.

If you need more time to find a therapist, however, make that first appointment with your hairdresser, or get a manicure. Just get out of the house and away from him and the invasive fantasies about “oh, maybe he’ll change his mind and it can be like this all the time.”

No, it can’t. He probably wont change his mind, but EVEN IF HE DID…gurl. No. There will be no third strike here. No more times for him to prove to you that his default setting for “THIS IS HARD AND I DON’T IT” is to simply pack up and walk out the door. If anything, he should still be on your watchlist: He needs to prove to you that his recent dedication to fatherhood isn’t temporary and he won’t get bored/antsy and start flaking on your precious little girl. You are now, unfortunately and unavoidably, the guardian of her heart. You will not let him break hers too.

I also recommend getting some legal advice in regards to an official custody and visitation schedule, as well as financial child support. Here’s a brief overview of the some of the issues to think about when unmarried parents break up but both retain legal rights to the child. Not only would having something official and in writing simply be a smart thing to do for your daughter’s sake (especially given his flakey track record), but it will hopefully help you reframe the relationship with him and bring some closure to the romantic side that is no more.

You are strong. You can do this. Your future and your great, true love are out there. And you will, with time and help from a good therapist, be able to see that you can find that future even with this man there in the present. On the periphery, the co-parent sidelines.

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Potty Training Realism Fri, 24 Oct 2014 18:53:57 +0000

Hi Amy,

Stumbled across your blog and I love all the advice and antidotes. Here is my problem:

My daughter, 20 months, is two weeks out from potty training ‘boot camp’ I’d say for the most part she is doing great. She can tell me when she needs to go and after the initial 3 days we have been fairly accident free. I say fairly because we might go 2-3 days accident free and then have 4-5 days in a row with an accident a day. Usually the accident is poop, but we have the occasional pee (with no signs of caring/noticing she had an accident) Also so far every accident has been at home and not while out. So, are we on the right track? Does it indeed take several weeks/months to ‘fine tune’ or did I train too early? I have tried googling and I have gotten many horror stories about regression, training too young leads to dysfunctional bladder and frequent accidents mean they just aren’t ready. If she is indeed not ready, do you just walk away from the toilet completely or do you put them back in diapers and still take them if they tell you too? As a first time mom surrounded by other first time moms I just don’t know what is a realistic expectation. Any advice is welcomed.

Thank you!

Every kid is different and every potty training story/situation is different, but yes, I think you are on the right track. This is all quite unremarkably normal. I’m sure there ARE toddlers out there who complete the “potty train in less than a day” or “potty train in three days” boot camps and absolutely never, ever have an accident again or any regression/backsliding/issues-with-poop-but-not-pee-or-vice-versa, but I really think most toddlers continue to need practice, and continue to have accidents due to forgetfulness/distraction/old diaper habits.

Real Mom Talk: I potty trained three boys using the three-day method. It usually ended up more like five days before we had a for-real “breakthrough,” and HOLY GOD YES, we dealt with the occasional accident for WEEKS and MONTHS afterwards. My last kid completely faked us out after the first week, then went a solid damn MONTH without a single success before snapping out of it. (And yet that still wasn’t the End of All Potty Accidents. Two and three year olds like to keep you on your toes, sometimes. Usually right when you’ve stopped carrying around a change of pants and underwear in your purse.)

Basically, the fact that your daughter is “fairly” accident free means that she’s “mostly” there, which is about all one can usually hope for two weeks out from the initial breakthrough day. Particularly when we’re talking about kids on the younger side, and kids who did not just magically wake up one morning determined to self train. So no, I don’t think you need to put her back in diapers or stress about training her too early. You just need to adjust your expectations about how independent she’ll be regarding the potty for a few more months. Probably three to six more months before you can really and truly backburner the potty issue, given her age.

(And for all the early potty training terror articles out there, the main concern is that we adults tend to forget how tiny a toddler’s bladder is, and hold them to an unrealistic toilet schedule. We tell them to “hold it” because it’s inconvenient for us to drag an 18-month-old to the potty every 20 minutes, even though an 18-month-old simply HAS to use the potty every 20 minutes because her bladder is small and her muscles aren’t fully developed yet. The problems develop when that 18-month-old learns to hold it past what her body is ready for, and then ends up with a urinary tract infection. I’m not a huge proponent of super-early training in general — mostly because it’s so much more about the parents being trained than the kid, and I’ve yet to read any real benefits of it, particularly for the child — but at 20 months I think your daughter can avoid any of the scary things you read about as long as you 1) don’t expect her to hold it, 2) don’t push for staying dry at night or long car trips, and 3) continue to praise her success while not shaming/losing patience over the occasional accident.)

Since she’s having accidents at home and not while she’s out, that suggests she’s simply forgetting or getting distracted. She’s remembering while she’s out because it’s important to her to NOT have an accident while she’s out, and/or it’s more important to YOU so you’re probably being more proactive about making sure she has frequent potty breaks and opportunities. So on days when she’s just chilling at home, have a potty timer. It goes off, you remind her, or if it has been awhile since she went, just insist she sit and try to go. I would probably set it for every hour or so, and if a couple hours go by without peeing, start setting it for every 30 minutes instead.

As for the poop, well. That’s one of those things. The Halfway There Kid, is what we usually call them around here, and it’s super duper common. Kids master the pee before the poop. Since she’s doing relatively well on the pee (and will likely only continue to improve with more time and practice), discontinue any rewards you’re giving her for that, and them implement an incentive program focused just on pooping on the potty. Watch for any sort of timing or schedule (and for those telltale Poop Faces, or anytime she suddenly runs behind furniture) and ABOVE ALL, make sure she isn’t holding it in or getting constipated. A constipated, potty-training kid will drag the Halfway There process out for AGES. So. You know. Make sure she’s getting lots of fiber.

Don’t worry! She’ll get there. Eventually. It’s a process. A very messy, damp process.

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Goodbye, Pacifier, Goodbye Wed, 22 Oct 2014 19:14:42 +0000

Hi Amy,

I’ve enjoyed reading your column and pregnancy calendar since before my son was born, and I’m hoping you have some sage advice in how to wean my very-nearly-3 year old of his pacifier. You’d think it would be relatively simple, but I’m seriously dreading it.

He’s used them since he was a week old. As a baby he was a terrible sleeper that wouldn’t sleep through the night until almost a year. In that time, the sleep deprivation turned me into such a monster, I could barely recognize myself. So even now that he’s 3, I’m wary of changing anything that might interrupt his (and my) sleep. He needs the pacifier to fall asleep at nap time, bedtime, or if we’re in the car for a long time. Without it, he won’t fall asleep at all, or he’ll cry. With it, he falls asleep almost immediately, but might wake up once a night if it’s fallen out of his mouth and he can’t find it. (This happened at 5 AM today, and when I couldn’t find it for him, he pretty much stayed awake talking to himself and keeping us up in the process.)

Other excuses I have for letting the pacifier usage continue: we just moved 1,000 miles away from the only home he knew and all his friends, immediately after which we immediately went on a 2 week trip, and then he started preschool. It didn’t seem fair to take away one of his major sources for comfort during all that upheaval.

But now he’s going to be 3 in a month, and it’s time. At the moment, I’ve pledged not to buy any more pacifiers (we’re down to 1 functional one anyway), and I’m hoping to finally get to taking it away by his birthday. I predict there are going to be lots and lots of tears and lost sleep for us all. I don’t want him to become distraught (seriously, you should see the face he makes when we mention a future without them. It’s the saddest thing ever) and I don’t want to become an overtired monster again (I’m currently pregnant with #2 so I’m already feeling a bit exhausted and grouchy anyway). Do you have any recommendations on making the process any easier for both of us?

Many many thanks,
Pacifier? I hardly know ‘er.

Cue my not-so-silent relief that none of my babies ever gave a rat’s ass about pacifiers past their first few weeks of life. The period of time when pacifiers are an objectively good, useful thing seems annoyingly short, as they quickly go from “yaaaayyy, he’s not crying anymore” to “I’m getting up to retrieve and reinsert a lost pacifier 10 times at night” to “crap, my kid has a lot of teeth and a wicked binky habit, NOW WHAT?”

You’re not alone, of course. Lots of parents have had to deal with a 3, 4 or even 5 year old who just never weaned from the habit on their own, like we all sort of dream and hope and assume will happen, much like the mythical self-potty-training toddler or the kid who just enjoys putting his toys away without being asked. You are also correct, of course, in that it is time for him to say goodbye to the pacifier.

Despite never having to tackle this particular problem myself (though I did have one blankie/thumbsucker type and utilized some of the tactics I’ll cover below), I have done a not-small amount of research and reading on the topic and can offer you a few of the most “popular” pacifier-weaning options:

This article from details two different plans, a “3 Day Plan” and a more gradual, baby-step approach.

The three day plan basically accelerates your current  warnings that the paci is indeed going away and gives your child a set countdown. This allows him to be emotionally and psychologically prepared for the separation, without drawing it out the way you’re (unintentionally) doing now, as a vague threat of “someday your pacifier is going away forever but you have no idea when, so CLING TO IT WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT, CHILD!” If you decide to do this one, I would recommend: 1) dropping all pacifier weaning talk until you are actually ready to begin the weaning process, and 2) timing it so the “goodbye” day lands on something awesome and positive, like his birthday or birthday party day or special family outing that will keep him from feeling sad about it.

The gradual approach is similar to steps we took to minimize our son’s thumb sucking and blankie attachment. The pacifier DOES NOT leave his bed. It DOES NOT leave his room. No pacifier while watching TV or post-preschool calm-down period, no pacifier in the car, etc. etc.

This still doesn’t solve the issue of when to make the final, brutal leap to no pacifier, though there are plenty of creative ideas for that: The Binkie Fairy comes like the Tooth Fairy and trades toys for pacifiers. Santa or the dentist need big kids to give their old pacifiers to new babies, and if he donates his he’ll get a special treat or toy. Or take the pacifier to Build-A-Bear and have it sewn into the stuffing of a cuddly toy he can sleep with at night.

There are also plenty of books that talk about giving up the pacifier: The Paci Fairy, Bea Gives Up Her Pacifier, No More Pacifier For Piggy, and many, many more. There’s a Sesame Street/Elmo video on this as well. I do think, though, once you start presenting the idea that a pacifier is going away, it’s a good idea to have a set timeline that’s not overly prolonged or too abstract for your son to comprehend. Otherwise it just becomes this vague sense of existential terror that SOMEDAY SOMEONE is going to take his precious paci away and YOU NEVER KNOW WHEN. Either do the three-day plan or have a visual calendar/sticker chart for him to use.

The fact that you’ll soon have a new baby in the house will be an excellent opportunity to reframe the pacifier as a Baby Thing, but I completely understand if you’d rather have the pacifier problem over and done with before the new baby arrives and you run the risk of sibling jealousy/regression. But having the baby around might reassure him that giving up the pacifier was a good, big boy thing that he should feel proud about.

(For the record, if you do give the new baby a pacifier, aim to take it away no later than 12 months, basically the same time the bottle should go away. Developmentally, this is an optimal time to help a baby find other self-soothing options as they no longer NEED to suck for comfort or food. Behaviorally, a one year old is way, way easier to deal with than the stubborn, all-knowing rage of a three year old. I’ve heard of parents who snip the very tip off of pacifiers so it feels “wrong” to the baby and gets rejected somewhat naturally.  I’m guessing your son is old enough to know that new pacifiers come from the store, however, and the snipped one can be replaced.)

No matter what you do, however, recognize that he is probably going to cry. There will probably be a few rough nights. It’s basically sleep training him all over again, as he learns to fall asleep without his crutch. It’s probably going to suck and make you feel very sad and guilty and all that. But DO NOT GIVE IN. DO NOT TURN BACK. You CAN do this, and so can he.

Photo source: Cesar Astudillo

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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