Alpha Mom » Amalah parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:32:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Traveling With Toddlers Wed, 24 Jun 2015 18:32:39 +0000

Hi Amalah,

Been reading your writing for a decade, and this is my first time writing to you. Bit of a Hail Mary since it’s time-sensitive but I’m desperate so I’ll take my chances.

I have a 25 month old who we’ve never travelled with. For good reason, namely that he is pretty intense, hates the car seat, and we are also first-time neurotic parents. We have a wedding on July 4th weekend that will coincide with a bit of a family reunion and we have been feeling really anxious about several things namely:

A) The plane rides, four total spanning half a day (two there, two back). Will he stay put in his seat? How do we keep him entertained? What were we thinking?

B) Adjusting to a new environment, namely sleeping. He is such a creature of habit and has had the same routine and crib for his entire life. My parents (where we are staying) don’t have black out windows or a rocking chair or all the ‘tools’ we’ve employed to secure healthy bedtime habits. Like all kids, sufficient sleep is critical to his moods (and tantrum outlook) so this has me especially nervous.

Lastly, is this going to be fun? We’re staying out-of-town for four nights/five days and haven’t even begun to orient him to what’s about to occur. I suppose you deal with neurosis and anxiety every day (not personally, with us writers I mean) so any support you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

Here’s the honest truth about traveling babies and toddlers: It’s a total, utter crapshoot.

I’m sure you’ve been frantically Googling any all travel tips for toddlers, and yes! There are some very good tips! Make sure he has something to drink or suck on when your plane ascends and descends! Pack plenty of snacks, cheap-o toys/activities from the dollar store that he’s never seen before! Or just admit defeat and bring an iPad like 99.99999% of the traveling-with-kids population does these days!

I’ve traveled with three different kids at all kinds of different ages, via planes, trains and automobiles. We’ve stayed in hotels and houses of all levels of child-friendly-ness. I still never know what’s going to happen. I never know who is going to sleep or behave or whine or freak out or suddenly run away from me at the airport into a TSA-restricted area oh my God I’m so sorry I’m so sorry. 

The most important thing about traveling with kids is that sometimes you just have to do it, so you do it. Que sera, sera.

From the sound of things, I think this trip is going to be a very, very good thing. For YOU. Reject that self-label of first-time neurotic parent. He’s absolutely old enough to travel, and to understand that things are different when he’s not at home, and that’s okay. You could all benefit from a little flexibility and go-with-the-flow-ness, I bet. Once you’re back at home you’ll be exhausted, glad it’s all over with…and likely, SUPER proud of yourself and him for doing it. And hopefully get to planning the next great adventure.

You won’t be able to GUARANTEE that he won’t fight staying in his car seat on the airplane. So maybe you’ll hold him in your lap for some of it, or let him walk the aisles when the seatbelt sign is turned off. Or if the flight is turbulent and he won’t stay still in your lap, you keep him in his seat despite his protests and do your best to keep him happy and entertained. (Seriously, just bring movies/TV shows and a crapload of Goldfish.) Maybe you’ll get dirty looks from other passengers when he cries, maybe you’ll get nothing but sympathetic glances  and people who are happy to play peek-a-boo with him. I highly doubt whatever worst-case scenario you’re picturing is going to happen, but even if it does…who cares? No flight lasts forever, and you’ll likely never have to see any of those people again.

Deep breath. It’s going to be fine.

Same with all the worries you have about your parents’ house. Travel messes up kids’ routines. Accept that fact instead of fighting it with useless waves of anxiety, which will just beget more anxiety. People will understand if he’s cranky. People will understand that a 2 year old throws tantrums. Your parents might want to keep him up and mess up his routine simply out of excitement of seeing him and having them there — you’ll do your best to remind them that he needs to stick to SOMETHING resembling a food/sleep schedule but don’t freak out at grandparents just being typical grandparents.

This will be key to this trip being anything that resembles “fun.” Flexibility and non-control-freak-ness. And oh, do I speak from experience on this, since I also tend to stress out majorly while preparing for a trip — we must pack ALL THE THINGS! we must make all kinds of extra purchases because they will save us from…I DON’T EVEN KNOW!  And then I wind up tight like a coiled spring, ready to lose my mind at the first child who whines or asks for an inconvenient potty break. This is…not helpful. Traveling is much more pleasant when I take my own advice and just…roll with the crapshoot. Travel is essential. Travel is good! New places and people and a break from THE UNBREAKABLE ROUTINE! are good! Good for him, good for you as a family. You’ve been essentially grounded for 25 months. It’s time to get out and see the world. Or the inside of a wedding reception hall, just as a start.

Deep breath. It’s going to be fine. (And even at its most not-fine moments, it won’t last forever and you’ll be back home before you know it.)

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The Etiquette of Baby Shower Guest Lists Mon, 22 Jun 2015 16:24:53 +0000

Dear Amy,

I am trying to figure out how many baby showers I need to have. My husband and I have our first baby due early in fall. Early in my pregnancy, my mom and I had planned a small shower for close family and friends a little more than a month before the baby is due. When we discussed it with my mother-in-law, she asked if it would be alright to hold her own shower right after the baby is born. Mom and I have no problem with this idea, it’s Jewish tradition to wait until after the baby is born to have the shower and it’s not as though she and my mom have so many friends in common that there will be a problem with overlap. So, two showers and both seemed totally reasonable.

The problem is my husband. He’s in politics (local and not big name or money), and a lot of people have asked him (some have asked me as well) when the shower is happening. It would be hard to add a bunch of his friends and colleagues to the shower at my mother’s house — her house is rather small and she’s frankly not that interested hosting a bunch of people. My husband would like to invite those people to his mother’s shower; she would probably be less reluctant to host a bunch of people. The problem is, I really don’t want that. I’m a pretty anxious person and I don’t want a lot of people touching my newborn. Also, I really don’t want to feel obligated to entertain a lot of people right after I’ve given birth. To be honest, I am really opposed to this idea. I feel like it would be awful.

So, what should I do about my husband’s many friends? To be honest, I had assumed that people would be relieved not to be invited to a gift-giving party for someone they didn’t know very well, but it appears I was not correct. The ideal solution would be if someone from one of the organizations he works with would offer to host one, but nobody has offered so far (and I may have messed it up by saying my mother was hosting one, oops…). Should we try to host some sort of co-ed something? Do people asking when the shower is really want to be invited to a baby shower? How do we invite these people without seeming like we’re grasping for presents from them? What can I do to include these people and not make myself miserable?

You are under no obligation to invite anybody to anything. Think of this as no different than your wedding — did you simply invite every single person under the sun? Was anybody who found out you were engaged and politely asked about your wedding plans automatically added to the guest list? Of course not. Were there people who you had to cut for space/financial reasons who maybe still wished they’d been invited? Probably.

Same deal here. Unless your mom is willing to change venues for the first shower (like moving it from her home to a restaurant’s party room or other rental space), you’re going to have to limit the guest list for space. And your husband can tell his work connections the truth — your mom is hosting a very small shower with a very small guest list. If he feels like he can’t do that, he can pitch in on the shower planning and help find/pay for a larger venue. You could also approach another close friend/family member about co-hosting with your mom to help offset the stress of the larger-than-planned shower.

Note that it’s POSSIBLE all these people don’t really care about attending the actual shower, but are instead trying to awkwardly fish for registry details so they can get you guys something you actually need, or maybe even coordinate to have a larger group gift sent to the shower. (I attended a small shower where that exact thing happened — the husband’s “work friends” weren’t in attendance but all chipped in on buying a stroller. It was nice!)

What would make the most sense, like you mentioned, would be for the work colleagues to have their own little celebration right at the office. Maybe someone will step up and organize something like that once they’re told (honestly) that your “official” shower is going to be super small with a limited guest list. You said your mom would be hosting one but didn’t have the details then, so hey, turns out it’s just going to be at her very small house and mostly family and your best friends. Anyone with an ounce of social graces should understand that the mom-to-be’s close friends will take precedence over people who only know her through her husband (and even then, only through his work).

If moving the first shower is a no-go and your husband is weird/reluctant about sacking up and just telling all these people that he’s not in charge of the guest list and can’t force his MIL to pack guests into her house like sardines, then sure, host your own no-gifts co-ed party/open house thing. (If you feel up to it, that is.)

What’s NOT going to happen, though, is your husband pressuring you to add all these people to the post-birth shower. Your opposition to that idea is perfectly reasonable and the LAST THING ON EARTH you should be dreading or feel anxious about is your own baby shower. Even if he thinks your concerns are silly or you’ll change your mind and be fine with it later, WHATEVER. This is the part where this veers from the wedding comparison: You’re not being a bridezilla cutting your husband from the planning. You’re the pregnant lady and guess what! YOU GET TO HAVE THINGS YOUR WAY RIGHT NOW.

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What to Expect (From Your Infertile Friends) When You’re Expecting Fri, 19 Jun 2015 18:29:53 +0000


I came across your advice board and thought I would reach out and seek your help. I am 4 months pregnant. I have a close group of friends and we all got married around the same time and now, three years later we all have gotten on the baby train. However, one of my friends is having a very difficult time getting pregnant and has gone through some fertility treatments already, with no success. Ever since I announced my pregnancy to her, she has been distant, and it hurts. I know its hard for her because, everyone else around her is getting pregnant. I tried to give her some space first, but then I was worried and missed her. Then I reached out and have been trying to hang out with her and when we talk or see each other it seems fine, but it really isn’t. Finally, last night before parting ways, I called her out. I told her that I felt that she has been distant ever since my announcement and I wondered if I had said or did something wrong by her. I told her I missed her, felt hurt, and like I lost a friend. She denies everything and said, “Oh, no everything is fine.” I also told her that I noticed she seemed completely fine with our other friend’s pregnancy but not with mine. She said she is just going through a lot right now. I told her that I understood, but that I wished she felt like she could talk with me. I am not sure if this can be mended, will it be awkward now when we all get together. I feel like I need to move on, cause worrying about this is not healthy for me or my baby. Is there anything else I should do, or should I just move on. I appreciate any advice you have.

Thank you,
Seeking Closure

As difficult as it might sound/feel/be, I think you should 1) give your friend more emotional space and time, and 2) try not to take it personally in the meantime.

No, I’m not giving her a free pass on being a “bad friend,” but I do understand what she’s going through right now and can spot a depressive-type defense mechanism from a mile away. It sounds like she’s literally the last non-pregnant person in the group, or at least, the only one having active trouble conceiving and going through treatment. She feels isolated, left behind, and (if I may project my own feelings here for a second) fundamentally “broken” in some way.  No matter how hard she’s trying to be happy for you and all your friends, your growing bellies feel like salt in a wound right now. She’s also likely preparing herself in some way for the next phase of “left-behind-ness,” once the babies are here and friendships get even harder to maintain, particularly with non-parent friends. Which will be her, in her mind, while the rest of you have a built-in playgroup.

And I promise she IS trying. Her reaction to your calling her out is telling. She doesn’t want to open up to you because she’s afraid that her sadness and crushing monthly disappointment really WILL cause you to feel badly and worry. (Very similar to the reassurances you’ll get if you attempt to confront a clinically depressed person, by they way.) So she’s trying to convince you that no, no, no, everything is fine, fine, FINE. Her distance is protecting herself; her denial of said distance is her attempting to protect you.

You mention a sense that she was happier/better with all the other pregnancies, but I don’t know. Were you one of the last ones to announce a pregnancy? If so, it just could be a “straw that broke the camel’s back” sort of thing. She just got increasingly overwhelmed and has shut down, or maybe she’s full-on depressed about it in a way she wasn’t before. Maybe she was actively going through the fertility treatments before and felt more optimistic. Now that they’ve failed she’s feeling worse. (Not to mention that hormonal fertility treatments can do an absolutely BRUTAL number on your emotions and mess with your body for a long time afterwards.) But again, she doesn’t want to talk about it, or burden you with her problems.

You could also ask your fellow pregnant/recently pregnant friends if they noticed a distance/shift in their interactions with her. You might find out that while she put on a happy face for the group, they noticed the same weirdness when they hung out one-on-one.

Does giving her space mean I think you should write her off and dump her as a friend? NO. NOT EVEN. Continue to reach out and care and yes, hang out even though it feels “different.” Just recognize that she’s likely giving you as much as she can right now, so don’t push for more. And again, don’t take it personally. Being a concerned and unconditionally supportive friend — and yes, even a slightly worried friend — is not going to hurt you or your baby. Pregnancy doesn’t give us a free pass to check out of every emotionally fraught or difficult situation, as nice as that might be. Let her know that you love and miss her, and are there for her if she needs you, through thick and thin. If she needs some time, or just needs to check out from the belly bump party, that’s okay too.

I can’t promise that things will suddenly snap back to the “way they were before.” That’s honestly true for ANY friendship after a major life change, be it moving away, getting married, having a baby, having more than one baby, etc. Some friendships adapt and grow with the changes, others get strained, others just flat-out break. But I think you’d regret being the one who broke this one off right now. It’s not like she’s refusing to answer your phone calls and blocked you on Facebook — she’s still talking and hanging out with you, even if she’s not initiating it all that much. Of course it’s going to be different. You have the very thing she wants the most in the world right now, but at least it sounds like she’s TRYING to hide her jealousy and sadness and “be there” for you, even if it feels to you like she’s not really all “there.” It’s still  worth something.

Believe me, I’ve gotten enough letters from women like your friend who really ARE trying to not be bitter, jealous jerks to their pregnant friends while at the same time are throwing internal temper tantrums of IT’S NOT FAIR.  And they all sound a lot like your friend. They don’t want to open up and burden their friends, or they are just plain sick of pregnant friends trying to act “concerned” because it comes off more as “pity.” They put on happy faces at baby showers and then go home and cry for hours. So in this case, I really feel you both, and think this friendship is worth saving…even if you have to put it on a little extra life support for right now.

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The Frustrated Four Year Old Wed, 17 Jun 2015 14:57:13 +0000

Dear Amy,

Longtime reader here, since my oldest was born, and he’s a couple of months older than Ike. I’ve heavily used your advice columns in the past – thanks for being real and no-drama about, well, all the things.

My husband and I are a bit stumped lately, not to mention extremely tense, and we’re afraid our wonderful daycare teachers are nearing their wits’ end as well.

My just-turned-four year old has recently starting having problems with his frustration levels at daycare, and occasionally at home. It generally stems from him not being able to accomplish something he wants to do, or something didn’t go quite as he planned it. This is a very recent development – he’s generally pretty chill. He gets frustrated, but we just tell him to either calm down and ask for help/figure it out, or go take a break, and he does one or the other and it’s fine. In the past three weeks, however, he’s had incidents at school where his frustration escalates to levels of trying to bite his teachers, kicking, throwing chairs, screaming, and even slapping one of his classmates. Again – completely different from his standard reactions. We have a younger child as well, nearing 2, at home, but we only see this behavior at home rarely. It’s always in very (to us) small deal situations. This morning it was because the cheese didn’t come out of its wrapper correctly. Yesterday it’s because his teacher asked some of his classmates to step away from the play doh area, where he was playing but he wanted them to watch his creation. Last week it was that he was told not to climb up the slide, which is a long-standing rule.

So far, we’ve only found what doesn’t work. Touching him, trying to talk him down, only makes him react more strongly. Giving him consequences (no TV time, timeout in your room until dinner, no getting to do the fun family activity we had planned) seem to make him contrite, but not enough to actually change his behavior when he gets upset. We’ve had reward systems at school – a sticker for each area of the day he’s a good listener in, even a teacher-made racetrack that he gets to progress along when he makes it through certain sections of his day without incident. These work for about a week, usually, and then he decides he’s done a good job with that and its not worth behaving well to get that same kind of reward again. We’ve come into daycare during our work hours not because they asked us to, but to impress upon him the gravity of how he’s acting. He had another incident later that same day. Timeouts can work, but only if he chooses to listen and actually go to his room/the quiet area at school, since he often will ignore instruction and continue screaming and throwing things. We think it might be exacerbated at school because regulations dictate he can’t leave the room and be alone for three minutes to calm himself down and with 20 kids in it and 2/3 teachers, even the quiet area at school can be right in the middle of the other busy activities of his preschool. Whenever he does get into trouble, he can parrot back to us what he should never do (hit, scream, kick, bite), and that when he does get upset, he either needs to calm down and communicate, or take a break. And he is great at saying he’ll be a good listener from now on today, or tomorrow, or whatever, but he can’t seem to control himself in those moments. I know, he’s 4, but when it’s enough to have multiple parent/teacher meetings, we need to find some sort of way through.

We’re wracking our brains for possible causes. He could be waking up at night and we just don’t know it, hence he’s overtired. His teacher told me today that in that same time period, his naps have gone from a solid 1.5/2 hours to barely 45 minutes. He lays quietly and does eventually fall asleep, so he’s still resting.

So I’m really asking two questions: 1) advice for the suddenly arrived and violent frustrations? and 2) If he is transitioning out of naps, which is likely at his age, advice for how to make the rest of us survive it?


Not Above Solitary Confinement

Welcome to four years old! Remember all the times I complained about three years old? Yeah. Sadly there’s no magical overnight leap in maturity, and the behaviors you’re describing — an inability to handle frustration, outbursts suddenly turning aggressive, verbal skills going out the window when he’s actively upset — are really, really normal.

Of course, they are also totally crazy-making and deeply frustrating for us, the adults who have to deal with those behaviors. Because even though aggression is NORMAL at this age, it’s obviously not OKAY. But helping him navigate and control his emotions is a process. It will take time, patience and consistency. There likely isn’t a specific “cause” here, other than the simple developmental issue that little kids feel BIG emotions, but their brains simply aren’t mature enough to help them cope and logic their way through them. So even the world’s most verbal preschooler can still be prone to sudden violent tantrums over the slightest frustration. (“Use your words!” “NOOOOO I DON’T WANT TO USE MY WORDS!”)

I would guess that the reason his behavior is different at home vs. school is because he’s overstimulated there, sensory wise, so when a request/rule/restriction comes his way he’s already overwhelmed and thus more likely to amp it up to 11 in the span of a new second. Ask his teachers how much advanced notice they give him before transitions, and whether he could be given an extra heads up about any changes. He also needs his own real and true Quiet Area where he can calm down and get a sensory break. Something right in the middle of the room isn’t going to help anyone calm down and probably just makes a freaking-out kid feel worse and maybe even self-conscious. Any halfway decent school should be able to make a sensory break accommodation, by the way, so consider it a red flag if they refuse and yet continue to complain about his meltdowns. A floating teacher’s aide/school employee should be able to take him out in the hallway for a few minutes a couple times day for a break — a trip to a water fountain, a walk down a hallway and back, etc. — without it disrupting the child/teacher ratio. Or you could suggest a modification to the current Quiet Area, like having it be an enclosed tent/fort, or have noise-canceling earmuffs available. Also, going to the Quiet Area is NOT a time-out or punishment. Yes, he should be redirected there during a fit, but it should be done in a positive way. “I can tell you’re really angry/frustrated right now! It’s not okay to hit/bite/throw toys, but it IS okay to be angry! Let’s go be angry outside/over here.” Give him the words he can’t say. The idea is to offer the Quiet Area as a self-soothing/coping technique, so with time (A LOT OF TIME), he might actually begin to use it on his own BEFORE he hits the breaking point.

These are all things/techniques my oldest son DESPERATELY needed for his sensory issues, but are really, REALLY helpful for all little kids. Because all little kids can get overwhelmed by sensory input, especially in a big, bustling daycare full of sounds! Colors! Smells! Textures! People all UP in your personal space and adults making requests that totally aren’t your jam and KABOOM! The frustration builds and the logic centers shut down. It’s meltdown time.

I’m NOT saying your son has sensory “issues,” by the way, but the fact that you mentioned he can’t get a couple minutes to himself to calm down at school (and can at home and is successful at it) suggests that he would probably respond really well to a small sensory-break accommodation at school. The intersection of overtired and overstimulated is a terrible one, and while there’s not much you can do about the nap transition (other than bump bedtime earlier while it happens, 15 or 30 minutes), you can hopefully do something about the overstimulation. If you go back to his teachers and they are just straight-up “NOPE” on finding him a better Quiet Area alternative and the meltdowns continue, he might benefit from a smaller class somewhere, or even Montessori. (The classrooms are quiet and designed to prevent the kind of overstimulation that can occur in the typical STUFF EVERYWHERE!!! play-based rooms. Also mixed-age classrooms expose the younger kids to older children who HAVE learned to use their words, ask for help, etc.) I would definitely mimic the set-up at home, with the positive feeling language giving him words for what he’s feeling, and the Quiet Area as being a Nice Happy Place, rather than a naughty step or time-out stool.

But above all: This too shall pass. It’s a phase and it will pass. You are not raising a sociopathic little rage monster who is going to be expelled from kindergarten for biting/hitting/punching. He’s just a little body with big feelings right now, and he’s going to need help coping with those feelings for awhile. Reinforce whenever possible that it’s TOTALLY OKAY for him to have those feelings, and make sure you praise good behavior/reactions/problem solving as well. Comment on your own moods and feelings around him so he knows that grown-ups get frustrated or angry or sad too, and talking about it can help and feel better than getting in trouble over a tantrum.

And then, you know, look forward to five years old and all the weird stuff that it will bring.

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Fighting Cultural Food Wars Mon, 15 Jun 2015 18:43:50 +0000

Dear Amy,

I have been reading your blog and advice column since I found it while I was pregnant. Based on your recommendation we have been using the Satter method with my now 22 month old son. Although we are starting to go down the toddler pickiness road, I don’t short order cook and my son eats fairly balanced meals.

Except there is one major issue. I am American living aboard on an island in the Pacific where my husband is from. This country has one of the highest rates of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCD) in the world. It’s so bad that the governor has declared a state of emergency and formed a NCD task force. In addition most of the kids I know baby teeth rot before they get their adult teeth due to the amount of sugar they consume. While I believe in some cake at a birthday party and some ice cream as a special treat, I don’t believe gum, soda, candy and other junk food should be an everyday thing especially not for children under 2 and it should not be the only thing they eat for the day.

Family is huge here and we have family gatherings multiple times a week. I always bring healthy snacks for my son, but when every kid is running around with a cup of koolaid it’s hard. Twice a week my son spends the day with his grandfather and when I drop him off there is donuts and sweet buns with condensed milk for breakfast every day. Mostly my son is happy in the morning with his yogurt and fruit. I have made it very clear to my husband’s family that I don’t want my son eating sugar and fatty salty foods all the time and my husband is totally on board. Why my in-laws are also supportive my husbands extended family (includes his aunt who babysits at our house 3 days a week) and others think I’m being cruel to my son and should just let him have whatever he wants all the time. Also they don’t understand why I don’t want my son only eating rice and ramen or canned meat for a meal. Yet all of them have either heart disease, high cholesterol or diabetes and are sick all of the time and they know those foods are not good for them. My husband has changed his diet a lot, but he struggles and says he doesn’t feel full unless he has a huge plate of plain white rice because that is what he ate his whole life. I had to travel recently for work (and my husband was away too) and when I came back all my son wanted to eat was white rice with soy sauce. He now cries for rice at every meal. I don’t mind a little rice, but if I offer it that is all he will eat. If there is veggies and meat and no rice he with eat the veggies and meat no problem.

So what do we do when there is sugar and bad food options everywhere? How do I start teaching my son to make good food choices now? Can you even teach a toddler to make good food choices? My son is very independent and when he wants something that’s it. I know 2 years old is going to be hard and based on your column I hear 3 can be rough too but I don’t want every family event to become epic tantrums as I try to limit my son’s sugar intake.

-fighting the sugar war on daily basis

Yikes. Just reading this gave me sympathy hives.

This is a very tricky situation (DUH, AMY), because 1) you don’t want to demonize specific foods like sugar and rice as “bad”, 2) you don’t want to make those food super-duper “forbidden” and thus have your son go bonkers/overboard when he gets access to them, and 3) you don’t want him doing that wonderful thing toddlers do when they repeat your words in the most awkward/inelegant manner later. (“My mom said eating that will make you fat! That is probably why you’re fat! Are you going to get sick and die now?”)

Here’s what I’ve learned, as a mother who cares very deeply about my children’s diets and nutrition: Your “control” over what your child eats doesn’t really go very far or last very long. “Control” is an illusion. I do my very best to have good, healthy options in our home and prepare balanced, diverse meals to keep balance in check and pickiness at bay. But I simply cannot “control” what they eat when they are out of my care and offered things I would never serve at home. You, sadly, cannot achieve that kind of control either. It’s sort of good to accept that. It’s a pipe dream that will drive you insane…and probably drive a wedge between you and your in-laws, and create food battles with your son as he gets older and spends even more time around other kids/families.

But after relinquishing “control,” you embrace “influence.” Your influence over your child’s food choices CAN go very far, and last his whole life. You keep doing what you’re doing now: You provide healthy, balanced, diverse food choices at home. You and your husband model good eating habits. You introduce him to a wide variety of foods, textures and flavors. Food is love and joy and family and even rice/sugar/processed crap are not enemies in and of themselves. They are “sometimes” foods, and as your son gets older you choose your words very carefully and start educating him slowly on why a healthy diet matters.

Right now, for example, you can definitely start talking about the effects certain foods have on his teeth. Even toddlers can understand the concept of cavities and ugly germs and why it’s so important to brush their teeth. There’s also the vague idea that while certain foods are yummy, they alone are NOT enough to help him grow up “big and strong,” or give him enough energy to play or do [specific activity he loves].  I always try (though of course am by no means perfect) to choose POSITIVE words rather than negative ideas like “bad” or “fat.”

(From Satter: You can’t control how his body will turn out. My kids are all skinny rails with great metabolisms right now but I am not going to frame “fat” as some terrible scary boogeyman who is the Worst Thing Ever and is always a result of eating “bad” foods. That’s just not always true, and I’d like to raise empathetic non-jerk human beings.)

As my boys get older, I expand the discussion to why I don’t buy certain foods they want, like sugary cereals and a lot of the big name-brand snacks. My oldest really, REALLY should not have artificial food coloring due to ASD and ADHD. Again, I can’t control 100% that he doesn’t ever ingest some Red 40 at a birthday party or Halloween or because his social skills lunch bunch group always gives out Skittles. But I’ve talked to him about it, shown him how I check ingredient labels for it, and gently pointed out the effects it has on his body and behavior. Sometimes he still chooses the bright red candy, like just yesterday at an end-of-year party. He ate a lollipop, Doritos and a questionable juice pouch right in front me, then suffered all night from insomnia because he was so freaking amped up and anxious. We talked about what he’d eaten this morning and whether it might have been the reason for his sleep issues. It was a bit of a light bulb moment for him, like OH. OKAY. I GET IT NOW.

He’s a few months from 10 years old. So believe me when I say this whole ” teaching kids smart food decisions” thing is a really long process.

I can only imagine how frustrating it is knowing that your son’s caretakers are probably not following your diet requests, especially since he’s SO YOUNG and you’re TRYING SO HARD and the foods you’re describing go against EVERY EXPERT RECOMMENDATION EVER. When you get pushback, you can say that you’re not being cruel, you are literally just trying to follow the advice of your son’s pediatrician and dentist. It’s tough since I’m sure your in-laws see your choices as a judgement of theirs — the way they fed/feed their children — and likely judgement of their culture by an “outsider.” Would it help to have him eat something a little filling before you head to the family gatherings? So maybe he won’t be that interested in the junk food (and you can tell people who are trying to offer him stuff that oh, he woke up starving so he already ate)? Also! Does Sesame Street air where you live? They do a GREAT job of talking to toddlers/preschoolers about healthy foods and nutrition.

You sound like you already know this, but just for the sake of completeness, it’s probably best that you not go TOTAL rice/sugar control freak at home. He’s going to grow up surrounded by this stuff and you don’t want to make it all gloriously “special” and “forbidden”, and thus set yourself up for a food battle with him. (Because spoiler alert, you will lose.) Watch portion sizes on the rice and provide a very small one every now and then. Maybe experiment with other whole grains that kinda look “rice-y” to a kid, like brown rice, barley, millet, quinoa, etc. Splurge on the organic, low-sodium soy sauce. (If you can find them, of course. I’m guessing grocery shopping is a pretty different experience where you live.) Make homemade desserts to satisfy the sweet tooth while not going overboard on the sugar, or scour the stores until you can find brands/packaged foods that while maybe aren’t perfect, are at least somewhat better than the sea of even worse choices. My kids get commercially-made granola bars and other snacks in their lunches all the time, because dear God there are three of them. But I will only buy the options without the artificial dyes/flavors, HFCS, questionable preservatives, and strike a decent balance on the sugar/sweeteners. Yes, they cost more — thus my compulsion to make as much as I can from scratch with what little time I have — but to us it’s just a non-negotiable expense.

Good luck…while I’m usually opposed to any sort of food-related battles, in your case you really are fighting a good fight, and I wish you nothing but non-sugary success.


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Baby Name Turf Wars: Calling Dibs Before You’re Pregnant Fri, 12 Jun 2015 19:32:47 +0000

Hi Amy,

I need advice on how to handle a situation with my SIL-to-be. It’s a bit strange because I’m not yet having a baby, I’m actually not even married yet. But I have been in love with a baby name for years. Before I was even engaged, my fiancé and I talked baby names because the name I have loved works out to be a combination of his parents names and we thought it was so perfect.

After our engagement we went out with my fiancés brother and his wife. We had agreed to keep our name a surprise for when we were pregnant, but in his excitement at the cleverness of the name and being caught up in the baby talk, my fiancé shared the name with his brother. Now, 6 months later, my SIL-to-be is pregnant and just announced the name I have loved for years as their boy option because it’s a combination of my in-laws’ names.

They are waiting to find out the sex of the baby until the birth and I’m looking at a long next 6 months of praying they have a girl. My fiancé confronted his brother who didn’t remember the conversation and I don’t know how to, or if I should, try to talk to my SIL. I feel like an in-person, private conversation is the best approach but we live across the country and won’t see her until just she’s 7 months along. Any etiquette on handling this?

Thank you!

This sucks, but I’m afraid there’s really not much you can do. You can’t really call “dibs” on a name until you are pregnant and can actually announce that “hey, this is the name we’re going with.” Which is what has just happened, sort of.

(Although even after announcing your name selection, the concept of “dibs” is not anything ironclad and gets routinely ignored by friends and family. Another pregnant woman in the vicinity can still be like, “THAT’S PERFECT I LOVE IT,” or suddenly inform you that “OMG THAT’S OUR SECRET NAME AND I’M DUE FIRST SO GUESS WHAT I’M STILL USING IT.”)

Your fiancé messed up by sharing the name and putting it out there and in their minds. I mean, there was an entire Seinfeld episode with that plotline, with George Costanza throwing an I HAD DIBS temper tantrum over an actually-pregnant couple using “his” name for his hypothetical child. (Please don’t be George Costanza.) Your future brother-in-law claims to not even remember the conversation, so either they really do genuinely think they came up with the name themselves and feel zero obligation to change their plans as you guys retroactively attempt to claim dibs…or he is flat-out lying, remembers the conversation and knows they are deliberately poaching your name and they are using the “we got pregnant first, you’re not even married yet, so #sorrynotsorry” justification. Which I will agree is totally jerky, but what’s done is done. Bite your tongue around these people going forward, lesson harshly learned.

Sure, I suppose you try can talk to or email your SIL, but I would REALLY take a long, hard look at the situation and decide if this is REALLY worth causing possible offense/hurt feelings/confrontation over. She might have a girl and not even use the name. YOU might only have a girl and not even use the name. Not to mention that just because you’ve loved a name for “years and years” and it’s clever and meaningful to you NOW doesn’t actually mean you’ll still be in love with it by the time you’re pregnant.

My husband and I also had the PERFECT boy and girl names picked out long before I got pregnant, and never, ever used them. They were names we’d picked out for our someday hypothetical babies, and once I got pregnant with our ACTUAL babies, they suddenly felt not right,  like it was some other baby’s name. (Same with our “backup” names for each individual baby. Once a name — even a name we loved! — was passed over for one baby, that automatically disqualified it from future hand-me-down use.) This is totally not a universal experience, but I’m just sharing what happened because it really did surprise me how my “perfect” names that I loved for years suddenly felt off and wrong.

You might have similar feelings, but realize that by causing a stink in the past over the name with your in-laws, you’re boxed in and obligated to use it. Even if say, 1) the name skyrockets in popularity over the next few years and becomes tired and played out, 2)  you meet someone with the name who is a total freaking jerk and they kind of ruin it for you, 3) you have a big huge falling out with his parents and no longer want to honor them with the name, 4) the name makes national headlines because of a terrorist/serial killer/genocidal maniac/absolutely horrible Young Adult fiction protagonist, or 5) literally a million other possible scenarios that could cause you to fall out of love with a name.

If after reading all that, however, you feel just as strongly that you still want to talk to your SIL, I don’t really have much etiquette advice to offer. Personally, I would keep my mouth shut and my fingers crossed for a girl, although admittedly that sets you guys up for future conflict in case they get upset at you for using a name they feel entitled to keep in play for subsequent pregnancies. Your fiancé confronted his brother, who PROBABLY said something to his wife, and it clearly wasn’t enough to make her rethink the name choice. She more than likely knows you guys feel like they’re name poaching and doesn’t care. You can try a direct appeal as one last resort — I’d probably just email so it happens as early in the pregnancy as possible, and politely assure her this is the only time you’re going to bring it up and not going to hold a grudge — but just keep your expectations low and your emotional ties to this particular cluster of letters in check.


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Five Great Sunscreens for Sensitive Skin Wed, 10 Jun 2015 16:30:02 +0000

Dear Amy,

Got an old-school skin product question for you! I took accutane in high school and had very clear skin after that . . . until my son was born. Postpartum and nursing hormones took their toll and I have a real problem with red bumpy skin on the left side of my face, from my hairline to my jaw. I saw a dermatologist who diagnosed me with keratosis pilaris. I have it mostly under control via special lotion and the oil cleansing method. The hormonal stuff means that it gets worse around ovulation but I know how to deal with it for the most part.

But, sunscreen. Sunscreen makes it much much worse. And now that summer is approaching, we will be at the pool pretty much every day. I have a hat to wear but I really do want to have some sunscreen (more than just my foundation) on my face. I know you have sensitive skin, so do you have any product recommendations for face sunscreen?

Thank you!

Yes, yes. Perfect timing for this question. Summer is here and once again I’ve got to deal with our long family histories of skin cancer and a brood of super-pale kiddos with various skin weirdness/sensitivities. And also my own need to protect my skin AND my vanity, because SPF products tend to make me break out on my face and irritate my eczema on my arms. From what I’ve read about KP as well, sunscreen is an absolute MUST, and regular use should — in time, with the right product — actually help prevent future flare-ups. We just gotta get you set up with something that works.

After a LOT of trial and error and testing and buying and slathering, here are my personal top sunscreen recommendations for sensitive/breakout-prone skin:

Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, Sensitive formula: Once upon a time I heard EVERYBODY talking about this magically wonderful sunscreen…that was damn near impossible to actually find in stores. It’s now typically available at CVS and Walgreen’s, and also on Amazon and It is indeed a great choice for people who have issues with most other commercially-available sunscreens. My only quibble with it, however, is that is goes on CRAZY THICK. Hard to get it to fully absorb, so I tend to use it primarily when we’re at the pool or beach, rather than as an everyday sort of product.

California Baby, Pretty Much Take Your Pick: California Baby is just a great all-around brand for anyone with sensitive skin or super-picky about what ingredients you’re comfortable slathering on your skin. Their Super Sensitive sunscreen is great, as are the little sunblock sticks you can use for regular touch-ups on little cheeks and noses. (Or your own!) The big con here is price. We go through SO MUCH sunscreen around here that I can’t really afford to buy CB products exclusively. But if I had your skin I could totally justify buying it for my own damn self and using a cheaper alternative for less-sensitive family members.

Aveeno Active Naturals: Your mileage may vary given your KP diagnosis, but I’ve had terrific experiences with most of Aveeno’s sun protection products. I especially like their “Protect + Hydrate” broad spectrum sunscreen since my skin (though oily and zit-prone) tends to get dried out in the sun/using other sunscreens. This then makes it freak out, overcompensate and produce even more oil. A moisturizing sunscreen on my face (or using one of their regular moisturizers with SPF 30 protection built in), has really helped with that problem. (Not to mention my skin just generally looks better/younger when it’s thoroughly properly moisturized.)

L’Oreal Sublime Sunscreen Oil Spray: As you’ve learned via the oil cleansing method, there’s no reason to be scared of any and all oil products when you’re trying to avoid breakouts or clogged pores. My husband picked this stuff up last summer and it immediately became his all-time favorite. It’s SUPER easy to apply (no yucky white residue), absorbs quickly, and feels simply lovely and moisturizing on your skin. Can’t really think of another sunscreen that I’d describe that way. Con, of course: There’s no fragrance-free/unscented version that I know of. But weirdly enough, my husband is usually the MOST crazy sensitive to fragrance/perfumes in skin products, but he has absolutely zero issues with this stuff and doesn’t want to use anything else. So…I dunno. I give up.

Peter Thomas Roth Instant Mineral SPF: Oh, how I love this product. I don’t use it as my sole layer of SPF, but instead swap out my regular pressed powder with this on days I know I’m going to get sun exposure. (I also have SPF in my foundation, and will  use the Aveeno SPF underneath that on days when I need SERIOUS protection, like if we’re going to be outside all day.) It absorbs shine, too, and is handy for brushing on your hair’s part/exposed scalp, as it goes on kinda like a dry shampoo. If you have good luck with mineral foundations in general, this is a must-have for your purse/diaper bag. If the mineral makeups bug you though, check the ingredient list. (I’m allergic to bismuth, which is in many mineral makeups, but thankfully NOT in this.) It’s fragrance- and paraben-free, and really great for oily skin.

So those are my personal faves. Now let’s open up the comments and make everything confusing/contradictory all over again, yay!


Other Alpha Mom posts on sunscreen:
UVB, UVA, UV: RU Confused By Sunscreen?
Sunscreen Guide for Kids 2014 Edition (2015 update coming soon)

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The Public Domain Pregnant Belly Mon, 08 Jun 2015 13:12:22 +0000

Hello Amy,

I have a question of my own for you.

How do you recommend dealing with people who want to touch your pregnant belly? I certainly don’t mind when my husband does it, but I’ve had friends who try to do it, and assume it is ok. Amy – it’s not ok. I’m certain they wouldn’t touch me if I wasn’t pregnant, so why now? Why, just because I am pregnant, do they feel it is ok to rub or touch or try to kiss (yes, this happened) my stomach? I bet they wouldn’t be too happy if I touched their stomachs, so I’m not sure why they want to touch mine. I have tried to tell people that I am just not into being touched and would prefer they do not, but these people get offended, and say I’m just being grouchy. These are extended family members, and some friends. I’m just not ok with this and I need a polite way to tell them to back off!

Honestly? Screw polite.

If a straightforward “I’d really rather you didn’t touch me, thanks for your understanding.” gets ignored, or hurts people’s wittle feeeeeeelings, you don’t owe them any further consideration. It’s a perfectly reasonable request to ask that people respect your personal space. I don’t know why so many people suddenly feel entitled to get all up in a pregnant woman’s life — be it via unwanted touching, unsolicited advice, judgement over her choices — but THEY’RE the assholes in this situation, not you. You say whatever you damn well please.

I personally didn’t mind people touching my belly…albeit with permission, once the baby was moving/kicking so there was POINT to the touching. I was lucky, I suppose, because most of my friends would wait for permission, or at least ask if it was okay.

Strangers in the grocery store? Older relatives? Perhaps it’s a generational thing? Because seriously, what the hell are you doing? I would usually try to cross my arms, back away, say some nonsense about sensitive skin or the baby “sleeping.” If friends and family members did get too handsy, I would usually just be honest and say that I was feeling super uncomfortable that day and needed my space.

(Although with my first pregnancy, it happened just days before my due date and I was just too stunned/baffled while this little old lady murmured some blessing in a foreign language while laying both hands on my giant belly [OR MAYBE IT WAS A CURSE]. I just sort of stood there with my hands up, glancing around at other shoppers like, “Is this happening? This is really happening.” At least, in that case, I got a pretty funny story out of it because it SO FREAKING WEIRD.)

(Less funny story: The number of total strangers who tried to touch my belly at my FATHER’S FUNERAL.)

Most people understood when I backed away or expressed my discomfort. People that don’t understand…well, they’re really not your problem. It’s important to understand that. You don’t need to be some nice perfect pregnant lady on their behalf.

“I’d really rather you didn’t touch me, thanks for your understanding.”

“Aw, you’re just being grouchy.”

“Yeah, well, you’d be grouchy too if you felt the way I do right now. [Proceed to list all your symptoms in gross, excruciating detail until they walk away]”

If they get offended, still not your problem. No one is entitled to touch your body without your permission, preshus miracle of gestation going on or otherwise. Tell ‘em some no-name Internet advice columnist said so and also that they should back off.

I’ve read other articles on this topic and actually HAVE seen the suggestion to just reach over and start touching the offender’s stomach, which sounds DELICIOUS (especially since it’s a body part that 99% of the population feels self-conscious about), but I doubt I’d ever have the guts to try it. If you do, GODSPEED and you will definitely owe us an update on how THAT went over.


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When “SAHM” Stands For Stressed-Out Anxious Homebound Mom Fri, 05 Jun 2015 12:44:42 +0000

Dear Amy-

Boy, this is going to be long. My apologies from the start. I feel like I’m totally losing it in the mom, and overall general human being, department. I have a just-turned-3 year old boy and a 21 month old girl. Neither of my children has ever given a rats arse about toys and while that probably sounds wonderful to some sect of the population, I tell you it is not. My children expect me to entertain them every minute of the day. I have shown them how to play with toys (cars, Thomas train track stuff, play kitchen, balls, dolls, etc). We have done make believe play, which they do enjoy but won’t do a moment of it without me. We read books. We live in the country and have a good bit of space to play (no farm animals or anything, though) and so we do that. My son is sick of drawing/painting/coloring and my daughter doesn’t care to do it. I’ve done goopy activities and chores and cooking. But if I’m being honest, I cannot do all of those things every day and I know that they are bored to tears. We’ve been through a rough few months of being sick with something damn near all of the time so play dates and park trips have been pretty sparse. I stay at home with them and my husband works longish hours so it’s typical for me to have them the entire day myself. I can’t figure out how to keep everyone eternally entertained and stimulated. Maybe once a week my son will actually find something that captures his attention for an hour or so and does something by himself. My daughter might wander off for 10 minutes but is pretty soon hot on my heels to be picked up. I don’t know how to get them to engage in activities longer. I don’t know what people do with babies/toddlers 13-14 hours a day. I tried asking my mommy friends and got vague answers.

Second, my kids are driving me to crazy town. The fighting, the whining, the crying, the arguments. My daughter has very advanced verbal skills for her age (she’s been speaking in full sentences since 16-17 months), and this has super upped her independent streak. Because we live in a remote area, we must go everywhere by car. So now instead of pleading with just one kid to get in the car seat, I have to plead with two for every instance that we get in the car. This is giving me actual anxiety anytime I need to go somewhere because I don’t know if it’s going to take 5 minutes to get in the car or 20 minutes, especially because my daughter won’t get in her car seat unless I “count” or make threats. Contrary to what my children might believe, I hate having to play angry/bad mommy to get through the day.

And talk about angry mommy, I am wiped out of patience. Both of my kids want me to carry them around or hold them all day long and if I don’t they follow me around wailing. Simultaneously, too, because heaven forbid one is getting something that the other isn’t. And neither of them listen to “no, don’t do that” unless I’m yelling at them at the top of my lungs. I always start with niceties: “Please don’t yell at/hit the dog.” “Please stop slamming the door shut” “Please stop pinching your brother/sister” “Please stop throwing things at the tv”. By the fifth or sixth time I have to ask them to stop doing something, I turn into a scary mommy monster because it’s the only thing that yields any results. I spend a lot of time hating the parent that I am. I had a mean-mommy who yelled at me constantly about anything she could (and sometimes things she made up because she was literally crazy) and so when I have to yell, it eats at me. I went to a therapist to help with stress/anger management things and it was a big flop. After the first three sessions, I ended up needing to cancel the next four because 1) I couldn’t find someone to watch my kids 2)stomach bug 3) sitter canceled morning of and the therapist didn’t want me to bring my kids 4) my son woke up from his nap vomiting so now I couldn’t leave my kids with my friend and her son. All legitimate reasons but basically, I couldn’t make sessions and she wanted to give the slot to a patient who could be there.

To top it all off, my husband’s work schedule has become insane and is totally unpredictable, my social landscape is going through a complete overhaul as almost everyone has moved away and I got dumped by a friend (who it turns out is a serial friend dumper but it still hurts), and I just had two people close to me die very unexpectedly under different horrible circumstances. I don’t want to do anything but lay in bed and watch Netflix and eat junk food. And I never have the opportunity for that. We have no family where we live. I feel like if I get a sitter I need to go out of the house. My husband who is typically a great partner and parent is so overloaded at work that I can only depend on him helping out on the weekends. Just when I feel like it can’t get anymore stressful than it is, the ante gets upped. I told my husband that I feel like I’m on the verge of a nervous breakdown and his giving me a break from the kids lasted maybe a half day because there is always something to do around the house and he can’t leave it go. I feel like I spend my days in a fog. I’m not mentally present with the kids because I am depleted.

I feel like if I can actually get things in order with the kids, a huge amount of anxiety would go away. I just don’t know what to do.

Thank you so much for listening to all of that.

I. Have. Been. There. Right there, where you are now, which I think is technically known as “MY WIT’S END.”

And I’m completely serious. Swap out a few details here and there, but oh, I know all of the feelings you describe. The endless barrage of NEEEEEEDS and demands and whining and fighting. The boredom and ennui. The wanting to just…not be on duty some days, always hoping and waiting for a break that isn’t ever going to come. That realization that the last frayed edges of your temper are rapidly disintegrating and you’re going to yell and you should probably not yell but there’s no going back, your voice is loud and angry and mean and then next thing you know your child is profusely apologizing for trying to put on SOCKS when he didn’t NEED socks, he just needed to put Crocs on and get out the door because we’re already late GAAAHHHHHH.

True story. Socks. I lost my shit at my child because…socks. And being late to…something. That probably (no, DEFINITELY) wasn’t worth turning full-tilt Disney Villain at him.

I could make all kinds of excuses, add in the stressful side plots going on in my life around that time, but it was still a shameful moment. I was NEVER going to be that type of mother. And yet….

I certainly can’t say every mom has moments/cycles like that, but because nobody ever wants to talk about stuff like that, I do think it’s more of us than we realize.

But. Commiseration is not a solution. So let’s try to brainstorm some practical ideas.

First: It’s summer. The long winter doldrums and general cooped-up craziness are coming to an end. Get them a kiddie pool or  a sprinkler or water table. A pop-up tent with a tunnel. Beach balls, bubbles, whatever cheap outside/summer-y toys you can find at the store. (I hit the outside toy aisle at Target every year.) Also get yourself a chair with some shade and books and sit yourself down in it. Tell your kids that they are going to play outside for X amount of time. Stay seated and let them entertain themselves. Ignore the whining — not in a Mean Mommy way, but just a Zen Mommy who is not asking them to do anything unreasonable. You are there to keep them company/safe but you are not there to be a constant source of entertainment/attention.

Second: Kids who whine about being bored in the midst of copious entertainment options get put to work around the house. Yes, even a toddler is capable of helping you. They can put their plates in the dishwasher, sort and unload the silverware, put laundry back in drawers. A 3 year old can make his bed.  I would start setting these as expectations, not necessarily JUST punishments for whining. HOWEVER, if playtime dissolves into whining/fighting/chaos, it’s a sobering redirect and eventually they realize that maaaaaybe finding something else to do is preferable. Also, having your children CONTRIBUTE TO THE HOUSEHOLD is 1) really good for them in general, and 2) takes the edge off of your endless give-give-give to their take-take-take.

Third: You don’t mention any preschool plans for your son. He could totally go to preschool in the fall. Heck, I bet you could find a preschool or two that run summer camp programs for three year olds. (I mean, by the time I got to my third kid I enrolled him in a toddler program at 22 months old and had him in summer camp at age 2. Both for work- AND sanity-related reasons.) He’s bored, he’s craving more structure/activity/peer interaction. Preschool would be a perfect solution. If you’re not opposed to religious-based programs, Vacation Bible School typically takes kids of ALL ages and is super inexpensive. Sign them both up. Yes, you’ll need to get them both in the car. Just remember that you’re bigger than they are. Give them one chance to get in themselves, then simply pick them up and put them in and give them ZERO ATTENTION if they start shrieking/whining. (FYI I manually shoved shoes on my 4 year old’s feet this morning because he wouldn’t do it and I was DONE with asking and am still bigger.)

Fourth: On that note, work on striking a balance between Nice Pushover Mommy and Angry Mean Mommy. There’s a middle ground in there, somewhere between nicely requesting over and over that X behavior stop or please do Y and losing your temper because you’ve made the request six times. Physical altercations are zero tolerance and result in a time-out or loss of privilege. Other things (like putting on shoes, getting in the car) are a three warning/strike situation. Your kids see you more as a playmate/entertainment source, but for all of your sakes, it’s probably better if you get a little more Boss Like. They get your attention for positive behaviors. Negative behaviors should get as little acknowledgement as possible (NOT six or seven pleadingly nice requests, in other words) and swift but appropriate consequences. (Thrown toys get put away for the day, time-outs for hitting, etc.)

Fifth: If you do get a sitter or send them to summer camp or preschool or whatever…YOU DON’T NEED TO LEAVE THE HOUSE. Go to your room, close the door, watch your Netflix until you feel better. Tell the sitter you have “work” to do or whatever, and that she is in charge and the kids are NOT to come looking for you. (That sounds like it would be good for them in general, to have you “there” but not in a way that they can follow you around and beg to picked up, etc.) Do not feel guilty about spending money to give yourself a break. Reread your letter. You NEED a break. It’s okay. It’s really, really okay. (Also will your kids watch TV? I know that’s probably a GASP PEARL CLUTCHING bit of advice but at this point I’m gonna say your mental health takes precedence over 30 damn minutes of preschool programming a day, or even a little more. Don’t be so hard on yourself to be perfect. TV exists and can be a great thing and I have freaking used it as a babysitter and would do it again, because this is just modern life.) On the other hand, when your husband offers you a break, THAT’S when you should leave the house so you don’t get put back on duty because he gets distracted. Whatever, man. It’s all you, I’m out.

Sixth: I very recently went through a tremendously tough patch, anxiety-wise. I’m not 100% out of the woods but am doing much, much better. Everybody is different, but since I also share your inability to schedule and keep appointments with a therapist, here’s what helped me. Daily use of the Pacifica app to track and acknowledge my moods/stress levels, and following the daily breathing exercises/meditation prompts. Exercising, every day, for as long (or as little) as I could spare. (I’m weightlifting now. I have muscles! I feel amazing!) Getting outside the house for a walk every day, weather permitting. Take your kids on a nature walk with buckets to collect things while you breathe deeply and get some sun on your skin. You are important too, and it’s okay to prioritize your needs above theirs sometimes. (Particularly when their “needs” are really just “wants”.)

I’m sorry you’re going through all this. I’m sorry it’s so hard right now. And make no mistake it really IS hard. Your kids are at tough ages right now. Your life is not some SAHM dream of eating bon-bons all day while being the picture-perfect mother doing all the picture-perfect enriching activities in the picture-perfect Pinterest-y house. Because that life really doesn’t exist. Please take care of yourself — it’s the only way you’ll be able to take care of them, too.


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The When & How & Why of Crib Soothers Wed, 03 Jun 2015 13:03:43 +0000


I’ve been reading this column forever and got all my makeup and skincare advice in the past and now all my baby advice so thanks! I noticed that you have mentioned this “crib soother” many times. Maybe this is silly but how and when did you start to use it? I have a 7 week old with the usual sleep issues. I’m up 3-10 times a night. Wondering if he’s too young since I have yet to put him down the recommended “sleepy but drowsy.”

Also, any newborn sleep advice would be welcome! I feel like I’m drowning in contradictory information and also am too sleep deprived to make sense of it. At this point, I wonder how anyone has more than one child but you obviously did.


You can use a crib soother at any age. We had ours (an old-school Fisher Price Ocean Wonders crib aquarium, then I think some sort of jungle version?) loaded up with fresh batteries and secured to the crib railing before we even brought our babies home. They didn’t spend much time in the crib at first, of course, but any time I DID put them in the crib as a sort of general introduction to Where I Would Eventually Like You To Sleep, I would turn it on. Obviously a newborn is going to mostly ignore it, but I like to imagine that MAYBE having it around from the get-go was part of why it later became such a successful sleep cue for them.

Other good options are white noise machines or musical mobiles. But no matter what you try, just know that some babies like them, some babies NEED them, some babies could not give less of a crap about any of them.

We also owned a white noise machine and probably several different mobiles with different lights/music/dangly toy options. The white noise machine never really had much of an impact on any of my babies’ sleep, however I know many, many moms who SWEAR by them, especially if you’ve got a baby who doesn’t sleep very deeply and is easily awoken by noises. If you ever notice that sounds like the vacuum seem to lull your son to sleep, or he tends to nod off in loud restaurants, the white noise machine might be a good option. Bonus: they PLUG IN and can run all night, unlike the battery-operated soothers.

Mobiles can serve several useful purposes as well: They can keep a baby somewhat entertained if you just need to PUT THEM DOWN somewhere while you do something else (which is why so many swings and bouncy seats are also equipped with music/lights/things that move). They can also distract a baby who is about to protest over being put down drowsy-but-awake and allow you to creep away while they (in theory) zone out and fall asleep by the time the mobile cycle is over.

But. That right there is why the crib aquariums and similar soothers ultimately get my vote: At some point, my babies/toddlers could TURN THEM ON THEMSELVES. Unlike a mobile that required me to come back in and restart it, our crib soother could be activated by a simple kick of their foot. The button was large and easy for them to find and press. They LOVED the combo of water noises and soft music, which typically got slower and quieter towards the end of the cycle, the lights dimmed a little before turning off, etc. For younger babies, I noticed some of the new soother models also come with a remote so you can turn it back on while staying out of sight. Which: Damn! That’s awesome! What a world! Kids today, etc.

Now. Real talk though: None of these products are going to result in an overnight miracle, ESPECIALLY for a 7 week old. I would recommend giving them a try when you DO feel ready to start trying the sleepy/drowsy but awake technique. Which is really hard to do when they are that tiny and soooo prone to falling sound asleep before they’ve finished eating. (And they really, really need to finish eating.) But that is, ultimately, your goal and the solution to about a million different sleep problems. You (or your boobs, or your ability to make bottles in the middle of the night) should not be his sleep crutch, i.e. the thing that he absolutely requires in order to put himself back to sleep.

Personally, I found the crib soothers to be pretty useful/ultimately harmless, as sleep crutches go. My babies were always swaddled at night (another crutch, but it worked and Did Not Involve Me) until they outgrew the blankets; I really think having the crib aquarium eased that transition, because they quickly learned that freedom from the swaddle meant they could kick/activate the toy. The soothers ate through a ton of batteries (and we had to take them everywhere and figure out a way to attach them to other cribs/pack-n-plays), but my boys all naturally outgrew them, so it was never something we had to “take away” like a pacifier or nighttime bottle. They attach very securely onto the crib so I never had to worry about injury or loose toys/loveys in a crib with a very small baby. And in a sea of garish plastic crap that all lit up and made noise, the crib aquariums were the least annoying thing we owned.

Of course, your mileage (and baby) may vary. There’s no “right” age for one, and they aren’t an essential purchase that OMG you must buy or you will NEVER SLEEP AGAIN. They’re just another thing you can try, like any other piece of baby/nursery gear. Understand that the six/seven week mark is typically when sleep goes a little haywire, but it WILL pass, especially if you’re mindful about establishing good sleep habits (a regular routine, slowly working to establish a set bedtime) and avoiding not-so-good ones (always nursing/feeding to sleep, intervening too quickly before he has a chance to settle himself back to sleep, etc.). If you haven’t tried a Miracle Blanket, that’s another thing I found to be really, really useful at that age.

And for every mom like me (who loved the crib soothers, would recommend them), there’s another mom out there reading this and laughing her head off, thinking of the wasted money and the useless crib aquarium she ultimately sold on Craigslist for 10 bucks, because good riddance.

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