Stress of Parenthood: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. I asked for help and my tribe answered my call, so for a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post is from Nancy Massotto, the founder and executive director of the Holistic Moms Network.

Stress of Parenthood

You startle awake in the middle of a deep sleep. Your heart pounds. You listen closely. You hear motion, coughing, maybe a cry for help. Or nothing at all, but your body is on alert. Perhaps you listen for your teen arriving home safely. Your mind races. Anxiety attack? Insomnia? No, just another night of parenthood. Yes, parenthood. Ever notice how parenting can put your body into a state of stress or crisis? Perhaps the noise volume in your home leads to a tension headache. Sleepless nights provoke adrenal overdrive. A tantrum-prone two year old leads to seriously frayed nerves.

Being a parent is no easy job. In fact, having a baby has been ranked as high as sixth out of 102 stressful life events (Dohrenwend et al. 1978). And it can make you feel like you’re in state of crisis. It can provoke a physiological stress response that throws your body out of equilibrium, physically and emotionally. Chronic parenthood stress differs from acute traumatic stress from sudden disasters, accidents, or crimes but impacts the body in powerful ways nonetheless.

As Melanie Merola O’Donnell of the National Organization for Victim Assistance explains, “Chronic stress is one that occurs over and over again – each time pushing the individual toward the edge of his or her state of equilibrium, or beyond.” Scientists have long believed that when your body experiences stress, you react with a “Flight-or-Flight” response designed to mobilize your body into actions. During this time, your adrenalin pumps, your physical senses become more acute, your heart rate increases, and your breathing patterns may change. If this stress is prolonged, exhaustion and burnout are inevitable.

Interestingly, though, newer research shows that men and women tend to experience stress responses differently. The classic “Flight-or-Fight” response appears to be prevalent among men, while women react to stress with what researcher Shelly Taylor et.al. of UCLA describes as a “tend-and-befriend” response. As Taylor states, “Tending involves nurturant activities designed to protect the self and offspring that promote safety and reduce distress; befriending is the creation and maintenance of social networks that may aid in this process.” As such, women gravitate towards social support, characterized by tending to young children and allying with those around them to increase their likelihood of survival and success in stressful situations.

The benefits of social support are huge, both for those experiencing acute, ongoing stress and those in traumatic crises. Having a strong social support network can help you through the difficult times, as well as strengthening your day-to-day coping mechanisms that empower you to manage routine challenges. In addition to building emotional support, love, trust, and understanding, social support groups embrace communication and create a space where people can share experiences and ideas on a personal level and can begin to integrate them. Social support networks, like the Holistic Moms Network, can offer emotional, informational, and instrumental support, and can open up an opportunity for reassurance and to make awareness raising more sustainable – ideas are reinforced and validated. Participation in social support is – in and of itself – also linked to lower rates of depression and psychological distress.

Social connection, both formally and informally, can create physiological well-being and enhance our quality of life. The more diverse one’s social networks, the greater the benefits. Social support can range from an impromptu coffee break with a friend to a formal meeting of a social group or hobby club that you participate in. Connecting on many levels, with friends, co-workers, family members, and individuals who share a specific cause or passion, increases your well-being and reduces stress. Making such connections a priority will help stave off long-term chronic stress exhaustion and help you to regain your equilibrium.

Our guest post today is by Nancy Massotto, the Founder and Executive Director of the Holistic Moms Network, and mother to two boys. She holds three graduate degrees, including a Ph.D. in political science, specializing in gender studies and feminist theory.  Before founding the Holistic Moms Network, Dr. Massotto spent several years working for non-profit research institutes, including the Women’s Research and Education Institute (WREI) and the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), while residing in the Washington, D.C. area.  She is passionate about empowering women, supporting mothers, and raising her two sons as naturally and sustainably as she can.

Photo credit: Flickr English106

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“The 10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make” – Seriously? Seriously?!!

If I had to make a list of the things that I’m most intolerant of, I’d put fear mongering up there near the top. I’m not a fan of advertisements, public service announcements, campaigns, TV shows, articles or blog posts that use fear to push their agenda. Which is why when I read the Lifescript post Top 10 Mistakes Even Smart Moms Make, I was more than a little upset. Don’t get me wrong, there are some things on this list I definitely agree with, but when it starts out with number one saying it’s a mistake to share a bed with your baby, you can bet that I’m going to take the whole list with a grain of salt.

Here are what Lifescript calls the “10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make:”

  1. Sharing a bed with baby.
  2. Putting your child to bed with milk or juice.
  3. Buying second-hand toys or baby furniture.
  4. Showing your child “smart baby” DVDs.
  5. Putting kids in the basket of a shopping cart.
  6. Sharing utensils with your child.
  7. Delaying or avoiding vaccines.
  8. Leaving your child alone in the car “just for a minute.”
  9. Skipping helmets on tricycle rides.
  10. Leaving your child alone in the bath or shower.

These are the “10 biggest mistakes parents make?” The biggest? Really?

If I had to grade myself as a parent based on this list I think I would get a big, fat “F” as I’ve done 9 out of 10 of these things at least once and about half of them on a regular basis. How about you? How would you rate?

It feels as though the author of this article assumes that none of us have any common sense whatsoever, yet it’s directed at “smart” moms. It’s also a slap in the face to any mother who’s made educated and thoughtful decisions about things like co-sleeping and vaccinations.

I co-slept with both of my children as babies. It is a practice that is as old as time and can be beneficial to both mother and baby if it is done safely. Annie at PhDinParenting has put together a great list of the dos and don’ts of co-sleeping safety. I don’t believe a blanket statement telling people not to co-sleep is the answer. I think giving them guidelines to follow to make it a safe environment is much more productive which I wrote about in this post about a surprising Fox News report regarding co-sleeping.

Julia wrote about why she co-slept with her children and Lactating Girl wrote her reasons for co-sleeping as well.

In the Lifescript article they say, “In 2008, when the U.S. experienced its largest measles outbreak in a decade, nearly half the 131 sickened kids were unvaccinated.” Does that not translate into more than half of the sickened kids WERE vaccinated? That doesn’t seem like the best argument in favor of vaccinations to me and I’m pretty sure that the “smart” moms will see through the data presented. I’m not saying vaccinations are good or bad, but I think parents should be allowed to make the choices that are best for their children.

After her oldest son began having terrible seizures, Steph of Adventures in Babywearing did a lot of research before she decided vaccinations were not right for her family. She feels, “This is an area that is not ‘one size fits all.'”

On Raising My Boychick’s Naked Pictures of Faceless People – a series of guest posts from diverse anonymous bloggers – one blogger shared about her decision not to vaccinate her children. She believes:

People need to step back, take a deep breath and do what is right for them without expecting everyone to come to the same conclusion. Alarmist propaganda is never ok and neither is demonizing an entire group of people for a personal decision. We trust parents to drive their children around in cars, to make other healthcare decisions, to guide their children’s dietary choices. This is no different.

Colleen wrote about why she chooses to delay vaccinations and said:

I know that doctors believe in supporting the AAP and the status quo. I know they believe that administering vaccines is in the best interest of our children and of all children. But I hope our doctor also understands that by educating myself about vaccines, by researching them and, yes, even by questioning the schedule and the ingredients in them that I am doing what is in the best interest of my child. No parent should be faulted for that.

Moving right along. I totally understand the “leaving your child alone” in either a car or the bath tub business. Those, rightfully, should be on the list. However, don’t put your child in the basket of a shopping cart because they will tip it over? Um, what about that handy little strap-like thing in there called a seat belt? I’m pretty sure that if the child is seat-belted in, they will not tip the cart. I’ve been pushing kids around in shopping carts for nearly 6 years and nobody has fallen out yet, although my son did drop a large container of yogurt out of the cart basket which exploded all over the floor. Turns out giving him the yogurt to hold was a big parenting mistake.

I could pick apart the rest of the list, but I’ll leave that for you to do. I think the bottom line is take everything you read with a grain of salt, do your own research, trust your instincts, and make the choices that work best for your child and your family.

Photo used with permission from Adventures in Babywearing

Cross-posted on BlogHer where a great discussion is already underway.

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Health Care Reform Lends Support to Breastfeeding Moms, But Is It Enough?

If we’ve heard “breast is best” once, we’ve heard it a thousand times. Health experts agree the benefits of breastfeeding for both the baby and the mother are numerous. A study published earlier this week by the journal Pediatrics points out just how valuable breastfeeding can be. “If 90 percent of new moms in the United States breastfed their babies exclusively for the first six months, researchers estimate that as many as 900 more infants would survive each year, and the country would save about $13 billion in health care costs annually.”

It seems that while everyone gives lip service to the importance of breastfeeding, there isn’t a lot of support for women once they make the decision to breastfeed. Women have been asked to cover up or leave restaurants, water parks, airplanes, and stores when they try to give their baby what’s “best.” Maternity leave in the United States is, at best, 12 weeks. Women who work outside the home have often been forced to pump their breast milk in bathroom stalls, hide under a desk, or sit in their car just to get a little bit of privacy because rooms for nursing/pumping mothers just don’t exist. So yes, breast might be best for baby, but until there are more regulations in place that allow moms to breastfeed without so many roadblocks, how can breast be “best” for moms?

There is, however, a bit of good news on the horizon. Health Care Reform is lending some support to breastfeeding moms with the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law.

  • Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Health Care Reform), states that employers shall provide breastfeeding employees with “reasonable break time” and a private, non-bathroom place to express breast milk during the workday, up until the child’s first birthday.
  • Employers are not required to pay for time spent expressing milk, and employers of less than 50 employees shall not be required to provide the breaks if doing so would cause “undue hardship” to their business.

Tanya from The Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog thinks this is a step in the right direction. “I’m not thrilled that it extends the right for only up to 1 year (I pumped longer for my son), but what a huge difference this would make for mothers in the many states, mine included, that do not extend this right under state law!”

Currently, only 24 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia have legislation related to breastfeeding in the workplace. Yet women now comprise half the U.S. workforce, and are the primary breadwinner in nearly 4 out of 10 American families. The fastest growing segment of the workforce is women with children under age three.

Doula-ing is excited about the new law and calls it “a giant leap forward for mother’s who want to continue to breastfeed their babies once they return to work.”

Kim Hoppes, who doesn’t appear to be a fan of Health Care Reform is, however, pleased with this change. “Well, something good came out of the health care reform nightmare. Places now have to give breaks to nursing moms so they can pump.”

Lylah from Boston.com Moms seems to think the new law is not enough and asks, “How can we expect 90 percent of new moms to breastfeed without support in the workplace?”

One thing seems pretty clear: If it’s in the country’s best interests to have new moms nurse their infants exclusively for at least six months — and the billions of dollars in health care savings indicates that it may be — then new moms should get at least six months of paid leave in which they can do so. The United States and Australia are the only two industrialized countries in the world that do not offer paid maternity leave. And moms in the Outback have a sweeter deal than we do: In Australia, your job is protected for a year, but in the United States new working moms only get that guarantee for 12 weeks.

What do you think about the Reasonable Break Time for Nursing Mothers law? Is it too much? Not enough? Just right? None of the government’s business?

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/tundakov/2550864384/

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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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.