Why I’m trying to let go of the mommy guilt & focus on myself & my marriage

Tomorrow I am dropping off my son Julian at his first day of preschool. He’s not even 3 yet – he’ll be 2 until the end of November. Sigh.

Although my heart wants to home school or unschool Ava, I’m not giving in and instead am leaving her in public school for kindergarten (in a class of 25 kids) this year. Sigh.

Why am I doing these things and going against my heart instead of following it? Because my head tells me they are the right things to do – for now.

I’ve spent the past five-plus years of my life pouring myself into my kids. They have been my world. Although intellectually I knew having balance in my life was important, I always seemed to neglect the idea. Instead of taking care myself or my marriage (things that would have required a good deal of effort), I distracted myself with my children. That’s not to say I regret putting my kids first because I don’t, but I wish that I would’ve found a way to make myself and my marriage a priority during this time too. My mental health has suffered. My marriage has suffered.

Many of you know I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder earlier this year. I’ve been going to individual therapy for months, as well as on a low dose of Zoloft. My husband Jody and I have also been going to couple’s therapy off and on for a few months. We both have a lot of work to do, and while I’ve doubted in the past whether or not we can make it, I’m feeling more confident that we can. It’s not going to be easy, but the things worth fighting for never are.

All of this to say that I’ve decided, after talking to my psychiatrist and doing some serious soul searching, that it’s time for me to stop focusing only on my children and time for me to focus on myself too. That means Ava will stay in public school this year and Julian will attend preschool (the same Waldorf home-based preschool Ava attended) one day a week. It will give me a little time to myself. I know the temptation to catch up on housework or waste the day away sitting on the computer will be great, but I hope to use some of that time every Wednesday to nurture myself (as well as volunteer in Ava’s classroom for two hours every other week – see, I can’t give up focusing on my kids that easily).

While this might not be exactly what I wanted or envisioned, it is what I believe will work best for us – for now. I will try to put my mommy guilt aside and focus instead on getting myself healthy and my marriage to a better place – both of which will benefit myself AND my children in the long run.

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To spank or not to spank? Study says early spankings make for aggressive toddlers

Photo credit: Stock Exchange

A new study of 2,500 white, Mexican American and black children from low-income families suggests that early spankings make for aggressive toddlers. According to the study, which is published in the journal Child Development, “Children who are spanked as 1-year-olds are more likely to behave aggressively and perform worse on cognitive tests as toddlers than children who are spared the punishment, new research shows.”

“Age 1 is a key time for establishing the quality of the parenting and the relationship between parent and the child,” said study author Lisa J. Berlin, a research scientist at the Center for Child and Family Policy at Duke University. “Spanking at age 1 reflects a negative dynamic, and increases children’s aggression at age 2.”

“The study also found that mothers who said their children were ‘fussy’ babies were more likely to spank them at ages 1, 2 and 3. But children who were more aggressive at 2 were not more likely to get spanked.

‘The implication or the suggestion in past arguments is that some kids who are more aggressive or difficult to control might elicit more spanking, but that’s not what we found,’ Berlin said.”

The average number of spankings for 1-year-olds in this study was 2.6 per week.

I am by no means a perfect parent (if such a thing even exists) and I’ve definitely felt the urge to spank my kids on occasion. I’ve raised my voice and not always parented the way I planned to but I cannot imagine a situation where I’d ever conceive spanking a 1-year-old – especially more than twice per week on average!

Alma from Always on the Verge


Why are we spanking one year olds? My next question is, why are we spanking one year olds almost 3 times a week? What are they doing that deserves physical punishment?

I wish they would have told us that in the article because I cannot for the life of me understand what a one year old does that requires physical punishment. This goes back to something that I preach a great deal about.

Forcing unrealistic expectations on children.

I have heard reasons as to why people spank their young children and they range from not wanting to eat, not wanting to sit in a carseat for extended periods of time, and not wanting to go to sleep when the parents want them to. All of these common reasons are things that children should not be really expected to do…. but our society has said that they are. What needs to change here? The kids or the expectations?

Alma also notes that this is certainly not the first time a study has showed the negative effects spanking has on a child. CNN posted Spanking Kids Leads to Long-Term Bad Behavior more than 10 years ago.

On the Attachment Parenting Blog API Speaks, Sarah wrote about the one and only time her now 7-year-old son was spanked (back when he was 18 months old and by the hand of her mother-in-law) in her post His Only Spank.

Carina spanked her 3.5 yr old son after he made a colossal mess of her living room (don’t believe me? check this out) and said in the comments:

I have mixed feelings about the spanking (don’t we all?). I have tried a lot of alternate disciplinary tactics. Today was the first day that we did a bare-bum and open hand spanking. The good thing is that I was not angry, it was not a release, it was done calmly. Afterwards I made him sit on my lap and talk about it. I probably wouldn’t have done it, except that he poured out most of the chocolate syrup on the carpet yesterday, after which he lost TV privileges and had a long time out. With the escalation today, I felt like we needed to step up the discipline.

Carina also told me, “It’s rare that we use it [spanking] as a discipline (hate using it when there is any other alternative). We’d tried everything else and nothing else was working. I think I come down on the side of ‘if it’s rare and appropriate.'”

LilSugar wrote Did Your View on Spanking Change Once You Became a Mom? and confesses that her’s did.

I was adamant that I would use spanking as a method of punishment in our home… before I became a mother. When it came time for me to teach my daughter right from wrong, I popped her tush a couple of times and found it completely ineffective. She actually enjoyed the quick tap and giggled her way to more mischief. Eager to try a new plan, I gave her a time out in a not so fun part of the house — the dark guest room. In 60 seconds, I discovered that the new system was more compelling than making physical contact.

A commenter MissSushi said:

I will probably spank, but only for very severe things. Sometimes you need the shock of it as a wake up call. We hardly ever got spanked as kids, but the few times it happened because of severe and usually dangerous transgressions, it really made an impact. I got slapped across the face as a teenager when i was totally going over the line and it shut me up and kept me from doing it ever again. I needed the reality check to realize how god awful I was behaving. None of my siblings and I really ever misbehaved, and anywhere we went people raved over how well behaved we were. My mother used consistency, manual labor, spanking when necessary, removal of privileges and taking away our toys/electronics. Taking our things away worked for us because she didn’t give them back. We weren’t allowed outside, and we weren’t allowed to play with anything. A few weeks of trying her patience out staring at the walls when you aren’t scrubbing the floors and doing laundry for a six-person household was miserable. I will be using a similar method.

Debs from Muddy Bare Feet said:

My opinion on the matter is very clear – children should never be hit because they are people, just like adults, and have the same human rights (or should have) not to get hit anytime they do something “wrong”. On the list [message board she is a part of] I gave the example of an adult who was doing something “wrong” (I do not believe that a child’s behaviour is ever “wrong” but that’s another discussion), or who refused to do what you wanted them to – would you hit them? Of course not, so why is it seen as okay by some people to hit a child? Hitting out of anger, i.e. not in a premeditated way, is loss of control on the part of the parent and not the child’s fault, yet they become the victim of it. Premeditated hitting, counting down, saying, “If you do that again, you’ll get a smack” is just plain cruel to me. I cannot imagine doing that to another human being.

She references some websites and books about “nonviolent parenting,” such as Children are Unbeatable. (Speaking of nonviolent parenting, I found it interesting to learn that in Sweden it is against the law to spank a child.)

Debs then goes on to say:

I hope it doesn’t sound too stupid, but I’m kind of hyper-aware that this is the only chance I’ve got to get it right. This is the only childhood R will ever have, and I keep having a little panic that I’m going to mess it up for him! I’m also very aware that, as we can’t have any more children, this is my one chance to do this parenting thing right. :)

Annie at PhDinParenting notes that one of the 10 things all new parents should know is “Discipline means teach.”

New parents worry that they need to ‘discipline’ their child. But often when they say discipline, they mean spanking or punishing. However, the word discipline means to teach. That is what parents need to do. They need to guide and teach their children. In the same way that we do not expect a first grader to learn calculus, it is important to understand what age appropriate behaviour is and to shape your expectations of your child and your discipline (teaching) according to what a child can reasonably be expected to understand at any given age.

Annie also has a lot of information for parents who want to find other methods of disciplining their child in her Best Anti-Spanking Resources post.

In a post from April, Summer from Wired for Noise raises awareness about SpankOut Day. “SpankOut Day USA was initiated in 1998 to give widespread attention to the need to end corporal punishment of children and to promote non-violent ways of teaching children appropriate behavior.”

Summer is against spanking as a form of punishment.

Despite the cute names people may like to use taking your hand to another human being is hitting. Hitting. Children should not be hit.

I’ve written before my thoughts that spanking does not equal discipline. Some people have the mistaken idea that a parent who does not spank simple lets their kids run wild without correcting or guiding them. This black and white, one way or the other type thought often prevents them from seeing the benefits of choosing not to hit my children, and the dangers of them choosing to hit theirs. I believe in disciplining children, not punishing.”

Commenter Susan of Lil Mom That Could admits that she used to spank, but doesn’t anymore. “Okay I hate to say this but I have proof that spanking does not work. I will admit it I spanked- hold my head in shame. Moreso because I was spanked – a learned trait – I didn’t work. Yes I got the behavior to stop for that minute but never for good. Now I have been giving my son a stern voice and a time-out. This has done more for him and me – he respects me more – we resolve our problems verbally, work out why he was being naughty.”

A few commenters on the Strollerderby post, They Say: Spanking Makes Your Kid Mean, a Bit Dumb, question how scientific this study was and if other variables could have played a role in the aggressiveness of the children.

Another commenter (Manjari) from the Strollerderby post said, “Whether or not the study is sound, I don’t think children should be spanked. I don’t want anyone to hit me, and I think kids should have the same protection from violence that I do.”

What do I think about all of this? (I know you want me to chime in.) My thoughts are that a very occasional spanking is not likely to cause a child any permanent harm (though I still can’t imagine or condone spanking a 1 year old). That doesn’t mean I believe in spanking for my children, because I do not. However, I know that even parents with the very best of intentions sometimes do things they regret. What should a parent do if that happens? I think explaining to the child why he/she (the parent) acted the way they did and apologizing to the child and telling them you love them is a good course of action.

I think that children who are spanked are more likely to grow up into adults that spank because of the argument, “I got spanked and I turned out OK.” But the cycle of spanking – hitting another human being – violence begetting violence – continues. How is that a good thing to teach?

I read a lot today about the argument (in favor of spanking) that kids today are out of control and disrespectful and I think the vast majority of that comes down to how they were raised in the early years. Were they treated with love and respect? Were boundaries firmly established? Were they given consistent and loving care? Resorting to spanking at a later age seems like what parents do when they’ve lost all control. I think, however, that if we are raising our children with empathy from the very beginning, starting with birth, we are less likely to get to the point of no return and have to resort to spanking. I could go on, but that could be another whole post entirely.

Additional resources:
Gentle Christian Mothers
Best Anti-Spanking Resources (it’s worth repeating down here)
From API Speaks, there are several post about how to Practice Positive Discipline
From the American Academy of Pediatrics: What is the best way to discipline my child?
From CNN: Spanking detrimental to children, study says

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Breastfeeding doll Bebé Glotón causes a stir

There’s a new doll on the market that has many parents up in arms. It cries, it makes sounds when it eats, it burps when patted. Sounds reasonable so far, right? So what’s the big issue with this doll? Apparently the fact that instead of coming with a bottle to feed it, this baby doll comes with a nursing bra-like halter top and is, indeed, meant to be “breast-fed” by children.

Spanish toy maker Berjuan has created Bebé Glotón (which, despite the literal translation of “Baby Glutton,” is actually a term of endearment in Spanish culture), a doll specifically designed for young children to breastfeed. The doll, which is not yet available in the United States, makes suckling sounds and motions when placed on the pasty-like flowers on the halter top that represent nipples. You can see a Bebé Glotón demonstration here.

Bebé Glotón by Berjuan Credit: Berjuan.com

There have been a mix of reactions to this doll by bloggers across the ‘net. Some see it as a positive thing, helping to normalize breastfeeding and combat the ubiquitous inclusion of bottles with dolls, while others think the doll is stifling creativity and simply not necessary. Still others think a breastfeeding doll is exposing young children to too much, too soon.

Cate, a self-professed lactivist who writes at Eco Child’s Play, says she doesn’t believe that “setting aside creative, imaginative free play for an instructional doll is the best for kids. The silly doll is simply encouraging parents to buy more ‘stuff,’ and plastic stuff at that. Let your kid put her own favorite baby doll up her shirt and ‘breastfeed.'”

On the other hand, Catherine from Their Bad Mother believes, “marketing dolls as nursing dolls is necessary, I would argue, because it counters the dominance of dollies-with-bottles. Children can pretend to breastfeed any old doll, but they don’t, and they don’t, arguably, because pretty much all of those dolls come with what are more or less express instructions to bottle feed this baby, dammit.”

Beth at The Natural Mommy said when she first heard about the breastfeeding doll, she thought, “Finally!,” but the more she learned the more she thought Bebé Glotón “was a bit much.”

It includes a vest that the girl has to wear with appropriately placed flowers for the baby to nurse on. But wait a minute? Isn’t the biggest convenience of breastfeeding the lack of required materials? I mean, really, all you need is a baby that roots around and sucks on whatever you place near his mouth as soon as you hold him in a horizontal position. That’s pretty darn realistic, if you ask me. I just don’t think we’re clearing up any confusion by having little girls put on special vests to breastfeed.

Plus, without the vest, you get rid of all critics raising an eyebrow at the ‘appropriately placed flowers.’

But then the same people will be telling little girls to please use a nursing blanket or go the restroom to feed their baby dolls.

And then the baby doll nurse-ins will begin.


Julia at Parent Dish believes there is a benefit to the doll. “Anything that encourages breast-feeding and empowers young girls to embrace the natural side of womanhood is a good thing.”

Melissa at Rock and Drool, however, is adamantly against the doll stating there is “no way in HELL” she would ever buy this doll for her daughters and goes so far as to call it “ridiculous,” “stupid,” and “moronic.” Melissa, who points out that she breastfed her three children, said, “Are you freaking kidding me? A DOLL to promote breastfeeding? In children? WHY??? I fail to see the notion of how a doll is going to promote something like breastfeeding. And I don’t understand why it’s necessary! Quite frankly, I can’t even voice why this doll disturbs me on so many levels. It does. It’s just…WRONG.”

Julie from Julie’s Health Club on the Chicago Tribune asks, “if it’s OK for children to mimic bottle feeding a baby, why shouldn’t they be encouraged to breastfeed a baby?

But in the U.S., breastfeeding is often seen as a sexual act, rather than vital nourishment. And despite the popularity of those tarty Bratz dolls, many parents are concerned that a breastfeeding doll is too much too soon. What’s next? Playing house and pretending to make the baby?”

A commenter on Julie’s Health Club reacted strongly by saying, “This is a sad, stupid, ignorant, very untasteful way to raise a child. Let a child be a child! Stop trying to fill their minds with things they should not even know about until they are of age to know. If United States lets this doll come in, we will see more children abused, sexually, and they will be led to doing things grown ups do before they are 5 years old even. America!!!!!!!!!!! Wake Up!!!!!!!!!”

Bloggers aren’t the only ones talking about Bebé Glotón. Fox News chimed in on the “controversial” doll, by linking (probably not surprisingly) breastfeeding with sex.

Dr. Manny Alvarez, managing health editor of FOXNews.com, said although he supports the idea of breast-feeding, he sees how his own daughter plays with dolls and wonders if Bebe Gloton might speed up maternal urges in the little girls who play it.

“Pregnancy has to entail maturity and understanding,” Alvarez said. “It’s like introducing sex education in first grade instead of seventh or eighth grade. Or, it could inadvertently lead little girls to become traumatized. You never know the effects this could have until she’s older.”

Sommer at Mama 2 Mama Tips said, “I have to wonder if Dr. Manny Alvarez is ignorant on history, does he think breasts have always been about sex and selling beer? Most likely he is projecting his ideas about sex and breasts onto children. To a child there is nothing sexual or inappropriate about pretending to breastfeed a doll. Because there is nothing sexual to young children, period. Certainly not feeding a baby doll, whether it be bottle or breast.”

As for my opinion, I believe children imitate what they see. If they see mom, auntie, or mom’s friend regularly breastfeeding a baby, chances are they at some point will try to do the same. I can’t count the number of times my daughter Ava tucked a baby doll under her shirt to “nurse” it, just like she saw her mama nursing her brother Julian. And while to my knowledge my younger son Julian has not nursed any dolls himself, he has brought me dolls, stuffed animals, Legos, etc. for me to “nurse” and I know of many little boys who have nursed their dolls. There has never been anything sexual about my kids nursing dolls nor have either of them expressed interest in having a baby of their own. I mean, c’mon, does this look sexual to you?

I think Bebé Glotón is a bit gimmicky and I am not in favor of toys that are made to perform a certain function and stifle creativity (or ones that are battery-operated). I also don’t believe having a special breastfeeding doll is necessary. However, I do think it’s good to have another option available on the market besides all of the dollies with a bottle. If a well-meaning friend or relative wanted to buy my child a doll and knew that we did not formula-feed, I’d like to think she’d have the option of buying a breastfeeding doll like Bebé Glotón. I wouldn’t seek out the doll myself for reasons already stated, but if we were to receive it as a gift, that would be fine by me. For the record, Ava saw the YouTube video of the doll and said she wants one. I’m not getting her one, but still, this doll obviously has some appeal to little girls. Julian, on the other hand, after watching it just kept imitating the doll’s burps. ;)

What do you think about Bebé Glotón?

Related posts:
From The Unnecesarean: Spanish Toy Maker Introduces World’s First Breastfeeding Doll
From Alpha Mommy: The Doll that Breastfeeds
From Feministing: Breastfeeding doll will lead to horny 5 year olds, pregnancy
From MotherLode: A Doll That Breast-feeds

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Lookout BlogHer, here I…tiptoe (an intro to me)

BlogHer '09 In Real Life

Tomorrow afternoon I will embark on an adventure unlike any I’ve had before. I will kiss my kids and husband goodbye and travel alone (for the first time in more than five years) to the windy city of Chicago. I will arrive at the Sheraton hotel and likely not know what hit me as I join 1,500 other women bloggers for the sold-out Fifth Annual BlogHer Conference. There will be general sessions and break-out sessions, the community keynote, hugging, swag, friendships forming, more swag, networking, and more parties than you can shake a stick at.

I had been feeling really overwhelmed and anxious about it all, but honestly right now I am mostly just excited. This definitely isn’t something I do everyday and I’m excited to be a part of it all – to learn and grow as a blogger and to meet sooooo many women who, up until this point, I’ve known only virtually.

Yes, I will still be nervous and will be keeping my bottle of Xanax on hand just in case, but I am hoping I can push through the anxiety and turn it into an unforgettable experience.

Over at BlogHer, Denise recently suggested folks write a blogging primer on themselves as a pre-BlogHer get-to-know-you kind of post and here’s my go at it:

My name is Amy. I live in Colorado with my husband Jody (yes, he’s a guy) and our two kids Ava (5) and Julian (2.5). I’m currently a stay-at-home mom (hence the “Domestic” part of my blog name) and I also write as a contributing editor for BlogHer. I love finding new ways to “green” the way we live (hence the “Crunchy” party of my blog name) – from organic gardening to composting to cloth diapering to biking to using environmentally-safe non-toxic cleaners to making my own yogurt and granola (the best!) and much, much more. I like to post the occasional Green Challenge to motivate others (as well as myself) to live a more eco-friendly lifestyle.

I try to raise my kids using the Attachment Parenting philosophy, though I admit most of what I do is just parenting by instinct. I sometimes make mistakes though and am thankful that tomorrow is another day.

In addition to writing about parenting and eco-friendly living, I also enjoy writing about maternal health. I am a big believer in the power of a woman’s body (both to give birth and to nourish her baby) and I had my son at home with the help of my midwives.

I also consider myself an activist and most recently was involved in campaigning for Barack Obama and trying to get my city to allow backyard chickens. (I finally got the OK to get a permit!)

I grew up in an alcoholic family which is something that, after years of repressing, I am tackling head-on now. I kind of felt like I had no choice after I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder at the beginning of 2009. There are a lot of things in my life I am tackling head-on now (thanks to therapy) to help myself be a mentally and emotionally healthier person.

I sometimes struggle with how much information to share on my blog. There is a lot that I want to share that I don’t feel that I can out of respect for others who are involved. However, I often find myself sharing quite a bit anyway (things about myself and my anxiety disorder) and feel comfortable doing so as long as it’s not going to harm anyone.

Anyway, I bring up the alcoholism in my family’s past because growing up in those kind of conditions definitely shaped who I am today – which is a mostly quiet, reserved person, at least until you get to know me (or I have a glass of wine *wink*). Sometimes people thing I am just being snobby or stuck-up because I don’t talk much (especially in larger groups), but I’m just shy like that. I prefer one-on-one or small group conversations to those with several people. I feel more comfortable that way.

I love to write and am also a photography nut (and did portrait photography professionally for a while), though I haven’t picked up my SLR in months. I imagine that I will get back into again someday soon. I consider myself kind of crafty, but just don’t have the time to do much. However, after Jody recently suggested I make my own business card holder for BlogHer because “it would be the ultimate crunchy thing to do,” I had to take him up on the challenge. I sewed that by hand last night with some fabric I had and I cut a button off an old shirt. ;) It’s not perfect, but, provided it doesn’t fall apart, should work just fine.

My favorite quotes are, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world” – Gandhi (I had that printed on some stickers I will be passing out at BlogHer) and “Knowledge is power.” I try to live by both of those mottos.

I’m looking forward to meeting many of you at BlogHer (tomorrow, eeep!!!). Please remember that if I don’t immediately jump into a conversation or run up and introduce myself to you, it’s not because I’m stuck-up, I just move at my own pace (though would welcome you running up to me to introduce *yourself*). ;) If you have time, write up a “getting to know you” post of your own and then link to it over on BlogHer and leave me a comment here with the link too so I can read about you before I meet you. :)

And if you aren’t going to BlogHer (I will miss you!), but want to know what I’m up to (hiding in a corner? sneaking away for a nap? eating some Chicago-style pizza? partying with my roomie PhDinParenting?), I plan on tweeting while there so be sure to Follow me on Twitter. You can also search flickr for photos tagged “Blogher09” – maybe I’ll turn up in some. :)

Lastly, a big THANK YOU to my sponsor Stonyfield Farm for helping me with my trip expenses. If you are interested in trying some of Stonyfield Farm’s new organic Oikos Greek Yogurt, track me down at BlogHer and I’ll give you a coupon for a free container of it. :)

Like. Dislike*. Love.

I dislike that I resort to putting my daughter in front of the TV whenever I’m trying to get my son down for a nap.

I dislike being around smokers when I have my kids in tow.

I dislike muddy paw prints in my house.

I dislike that I haven’t been the blogger that I want to be lately.

I like the smell of autumn.

I like the sound of a gentle rain.

I love seeing and hearing my kids laugh hysterically at each other.

I dislike it when I yell at my kids.

I love growing food in my backyard.

I dislike that my backyard doesn’t get enough sun to have a big garden.

I like that my backyard has so much shade I don’t have to worry about my kids getting sunburned.

I love the looks on my kids’ faces when they discover something for the first time.

I like the feeling of sand between my toes.

I like that now (after more than 11 years) I have a bike to ride again.

I dislike that sometimes marriage seems like so much work.

I dislike not having the answers to all of my questions.

I love living in Colorado.

I love Michigan (my home state), but only in the summer and fall.

I love that my sister and I have such a close relationship.

I dislike that talking to my parents isn’t easy.

I like that my parents and I are slowly but surely working on our relationships.

I like that I know how to make my kids laugh.

I like educating others.

I like writing.

I dislike that I don’t always feel motivated to write.

I dislike blatant consumerism.

I love watching my kids play.

I dislike early mornings.

I love to sleep.

I love that I’ve been able to breastfeed both of my kids.

I dislike ignorance.

I dislike that sometimes I am ignorant.

*I dislike the word hate, which is why I used “dislike” instead of it.

I love that my husband believes in parenting the same way that I do.

I love that my husband is a wonderful father.

I dislike my cluttered house.

I dislike addiction.

I love feeling like I’ve made a difference.

I love that I have a supportive group of friends.

I dislike that there’s so much suffering in the world.

I love that my children willingly eat so many foods that I was never exposed to until I was an adult.

I like that I’m allowing myself to feel for the first time in a while.

I dislike the way that those feelings sometimes make me feel.

I dislike fear.

I love that I’m learning to overcome my fears.

And I love that my kids make everything that seems difficult, or even impossible, worth the effort.

This feels rather meme-like, so I invite you to feel free to do this on your own blog if you feel so inclined. I found it to be a very enlightening, fun, and educational exercise. It’s especially interesting to see how many likes, dislikes and loves you come up with at the end. If you do this on your blog and want to link back to me, I’d appreciate it, but please don’t feel obligated. :)

Reducing BlogHer separation anxiety for mom and kids

After taking part in a recent discussion on Twitter with @NTFFC, @feelslikehome and @phdinparenting regarding the fact that we all were experiencing various degrees of separation anxiety about leaving our kids to go to BlogHer, I felt certain that we weren’t the only moms feeling this way. Moms and children alike have dealt with separation in the past, but I began wondering what ways there were to get through it that would make it easier on everyone involved.

I should first note that I’m writing this article from the perspective of a mom who practices Attachment Parenting (AP) with her children. It’s what I know, it’s what I do, so it makes the most sense that I write from that angle. That said, every mom knows their child’s and their own needs better than anyone else. I’m not trying to tell anyone how to parent, just offer suggestions for those who are looking for help.

Although I really wanted to go to BlogHer last year, I didn’t feel the timing was right. My youngest, Julian, was a little over a year old at the time I would’ve needed to commit to the conference. He was still nursing (and never took a bottle), and I knew that several days apart wouldn’t go well for either of us. Although I whined about it plenty on Twitter, I knew I made the right decision for us to stay home. As it was I was still able to virtually attend BlogHer in Second Life from my own house, where I met some new people and had a great time. Not the same thing, but it allowed me to experience a small bit of the awesomeness that is BlogHer.

Fast-forward to this year. Julian is a year older, night weaned (though still nursing during the day), no longer co-sleeping (with me, though he shares a room with his sister Ava), will go to sleep for someone other than me (if I’m not home), and can comprehend that mommy is leaving for a few days (just like daddy sometimes does for work) and that I will be back. I feel it will go much more smoothly. And so, after four and a half years of blogging, I am attending my very first BlogHer(!!) and leaving my kids for an extended period of time for the very first time as well. The only other time I’ve been away overnight from my kids in five years (yes, five years!) was when my husband and I went to Boulder for a night away two weeks ago while the kids were with my parents and my sister. My kids (ages 2.5 and 5) did really well, but we were gone for less than 24 hours. My BlogHer Chicago trip will require me to be gone for three nights and yes, I’m a little nervous about it.

However, I was much more nervous about it before Jody and I had our night away. I think of that getaway as kind of a trial run for the kids. They did great with my parents and sis here and I feel quite confident that they will do just as well, if not better, when it is daddy taking care of them while I’m away. I’m sure I will be OK too, but I have a feeling that for me and many other moms it will be harder on us to be away from our kids than it will for our kids to be away from us.

Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt
Photo courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt

That said, I believe that there are ways to make the separation easier on the children and, if they are old enough to comprehend what’s going on, they should be prepared in advance for mom’s departure. I also believe that moms know their children best and can likely tell if leaving them in the care of another for a few days will be minimally disruptive to them or if it will cause more difficulty than its worth. If the separation would be too much, there’s also always the option of bringing little ones with you either to keep with you (in a sling or carrier) during the conference (perhaps have a relative or friend stay with you to allow you some time sans child or, if your child is up for it, take advantage of BlogHer’s childcare option) or bringing the whole family and letting your partner and the kids enjoy a little vacation too, but still have the opportunity to hook up with you during the conference as needed.

Annie at PhdinParenting (who will be my BlogHer roomie) has some great suggestions for minimizing the separation anxiety for the children and for mom.

  • Having an attached dad helps. If your partner is more than just a “babysitter” then the kids will feel comfortable with him.
  • Waiting until the kids are old enough to understand that Mommy is going away for a few days and will be back soon (rather than just being distressed that she isn’t there). My first time away from my son was when he was almost 2 years old. I wouldn’t have considered it before that. My daughter is now over 2 years old and I think she is ready.
  • Getting help while you are away from another relative or friend that the kids trust to take some of the stress/pressure off of your partner. My mother-in-law will be here while I’m away at BlogHer, so my husband will have help and the kids will be distracted by her being there.
  • Take photos with you to look at and show others.
  • Set up a time to call your kids and check in with them. Having a time set in advance ensures that you are both available and there for the call and no one is disappointed.
  • Give them something to look forward to. Promise a special gift from your trip or a special activity upon your return.
  • Have your partner plan some fun activities while you are away. Special outings or play dates or special foods.

Alison at GreenMe jokingly said that mommy BlogHers should update their kids via Twitter and perhaps do some Skyped bedtime stories during their absence, but is that really that far off the mark? Others don’t seem to think so. Even Alison admits that her friend Skyped her 18-month-old every night when she was away for a recent trip and the child barely noticed mom was gone!

Maria from A Piece of my Mind said when she has to leave her son for an extended period of time, “I talk to my son about my leaving, how long I will be gone, if he will visit, what I am doing, etc. I also call/video conference with him.”

Ally from In the Middle of Somewhere said the longest she’s been away from her one-year-old daughter is five hours and they were “not easy” on her. Her daughter, on the other hand, didn’t notice she was gone until she returned. Ally said taking a picture of her daughter with her would’ve helped her separation anxiety and if she was gone longer than five hours she thinks Skype would have come in very handy.

Sandy from Between Lightning suggests making some recordings of you reading their favorite books. And for babies, “I’ve also heard it helps to give them your shirt for scent.”

Bits of Myself, who is currently battling cancer for the second time, offered up what she does for her daughter when they have to be apart. “When Nugget (age 2) and I have to be apart for chemo or hospitalization, we talk about what will happen, what she can expect, visiting, who will be helping to care for her, etc. We also make a special Build-a-Bear together for her to hold when mama’s away.”

Lynn from Organic Mania has this AP approach:

Explain to them that you’re taking a trip, show them on the map where you are going, talk to them about the plane (so fascinating!), promise to call from the plane, tell them what type of plane, call when you land, call every night for night-night routine, and promise to bring back a present (eco-friendly, of course). Begin talking to them about a week prior…then remind them the day before, tell them when you’ll be back, what you’ll do….I think the message here, as with Attachment Parenting, is that you want them to KNOW what you are doing, and to be ENGAGED and INVOLVED. NO hiding. No sneaking around.

Angela from Breastfeeding 1-2-3 suggested some tips she gleamed from a friend.

When a friend of mine needed to be apart from her children for several days while she recovered from a planned surgery, she made a book of photographs for each of her children. That could be done like a scrapbook or photo album, but she used an online photo site to print and bind an actual book. The book included photos of the child, the mother, and the family, and it was meant to be read both before and during the separation.

It could also help to have a calendar — possibly made together as a craft — to count down the days apart. Another idea is to make a construction paper chain to count down the days, just like many children do before Christmas. The mother could take the idea one step further and write a little note on each of the ‘rings’ so that there would be a special message from Mom for the child to read each day.

Lisa from Crazy Adventures in Parenting said:

When I went to Disney Mom Bloggers Mixer two months ago, only bringing my breastfeeding infant, I called throughout the day to my husband and children, and they were told to call me if they missed me. I had the phone on me constantly. We had good practice with mommy being away with the birth of our youngest, luckily she latched to sleeping with just hubby pretty well while I was in the hospital delivering. My toddler is definitely more of a daddy’s girl now. We reiterated his putting her to sleep just before we left, and now it’s his job because, as I said, she’s a daddy’s girl and she loves him and prefers him now! My older children coped well because I called a lot and emailed them pictures.

Books are a good thing to turn to when you need help with a new situation. One that is great for kids who are facing an upcoming separation from mom is “The Kissing Hand” which was recommended both by my mom and by Angela from mommy bytes in her post Separation Anxiety and Mommy Guilt. Another helpful book is Mama Always Comes Home recommended by Katherine.

Amy at Resourceful Mommy offers up a good reminder that we need to take care of our own needs as well as those of our children, and she views attending BlogHer as a way of recharging her batteries. “Breathing new life into ourselves will leave us ready to face the challenges of caring for our children.”

So what am I personally going to do to make this separation easier on all of us? I think a little bit of everything. I plan to:

  • Talk to my kids about my trip about a week before I go, and then remind them a few more times as the day gets closer.
  • Leave them some special notes to find while I am gone. (I will likely have my husband place a few around the house each day.)
  • Call them at least once a day and tell them they can call me too.
  • Email them pictures and ask them to email me pics of them too (with daddy’s help).
  • Help my husband plan out their days with a few special activities before I go so the kids have some things to look forward to.
  • Get the book “The Kissing Hand” to read before I go.
  • Bring them both home a present.
  • And I will definitely have some pictures of my kids with me.

Do you have any suggestions on how you have or will reduce separation anxiety for your children or yourself? Leave a comment and share your tips.

Cross-posted on BlogHer.