Parenting Looks Nothing Like What the Experts Say

Everyone’s winging it, but that’s not a bad thing.Harvey Karp makes soothing babies look like a cinch. In the video that accompanies his best-selling book The Happiest Baby on the Block, he holds one screaming infant after another, deftly rolls them on their side, and bam!—the crying stops. “Side position” is just one of the techniques to calm a baby in Karp’s repertoire. He also uses swaddling, shushing, swinging, and sucking. Bleary-eyed parents ooh and aah over how Karp can instantly activate a baby’s calming reflex, or “automatic shut-off switch,” using his trademark “five S’s.”

However, Karp himself has never raised an infant. I imagine if he had, he’d be intimately familiar with the sixth S: straight out of luck.

I discovered the sixth S shortly after having my daughter nine years ago. A childbirth injury had left me bedridden with chronic pelvic pain, and for two months I lived on an air mattress in my living room because I couldn’t make it upstairs to my bedroom. I couldn’t sit in a comfortable position to nurse; I couldn’t stand to change my baby’s diaper or squat to bathe her; I couldn’t bounce her to calm her down. My husband stepped up, handling most things baby-related while I healed.

But one night, my husband was passed out on the couch with a fever, and I was left to handle the nighttime madness on my own. It was 2 o’clock in the morning and the baby was screaming, clearly hungry. I had struggled with milk production, but the books had been adamant: Breast is best. But my daughter wouldn’t latch, so I didn’t really have a choice. My baby would have to settle for second-rate food: formula. Well, when I brought it to her, she wouldn’t take that either.

As she arched her back and screamed, I thought back to when she was born and how everything might have been different if I’d just gotten one more massage from my midwife instead of opting for drugs. The natural-birth books had all warned against drugs and surgery; why had I been so weak? Why hadn’t I just endured the pain and tried to turn the birth experience blissful, like all the women in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth?

In a fit of anger, I nearly threw the baby across the room. It’s the scariest feeling I’ve ever had, and I quickly put her in her bassinet, went back to my air mattress, and let her cry while I sulked. I was only weeks into being a parent, but according to the books, I had managed to fail at the three most important things so far—childbirth, breastfeeding, and soothing.

I’m not alone in my self-blame. Research shows that parenting books can be damaging to new parents, adding to mothers’ stress and heightening their chances of developing postpartum depression. The you’ve-already-failed messaging in these manuals is pervasive. Missed breastfeeding your newborns in the “golden” first hour of their life? Too late, your bond is irreparably harmed. Still using a pacifier after six months? Too late. Allowed your toddler to play with your phone? Not potty-trained by 3? Yelled at your kid? Too late, too late, too late.

Parenting is as high stakes as it gets—another person’s life is in your hands. And many of us look to gurus for easy step-by-step instructions on how to do it right. Don’t get me wrong, tips and tricks are great. But what the “experts” are telling us doesn’t always work. They don’t account for the fact that raising other humans is a messy endeavor. That each child and each parent is an individual with unique experiences and needs and quirks.

After almost a decade of raising a kid and talking to parents for my podcast, The Longest Shortest Time, I’ve realized something: We’re all winging it. We are master improvisers, managing our kids’ daily curveballs with a mix of random ideas, physical comedy, and whatever tools just happen to be at our fingertips.

Through trial and error, I discovered some techniques that really did make things easier with my daughter. For soothing, blowing on her eyelids and stroking the top of her nose worked. For breastfeeding, I sat her upright and facing me, as if seated in an invisible chair—a position that nobody mentions in breastfeeding books.

I asked the listeners of my podcast to send in their own tricks. It turned out that to get their kids to stop crying, some parents were snorting like pigs in their infant’s ear. Others were fake sneezing, sprinting around the house, wagging their butt in the baby’s face, or writing with a finger on the kiddo’s back: S-L-E-E-P. Yes, this was the stuff. This was what parenting actually looks like. I kept asking for these strategies on my podcast and website, and they poured in by the hundreds. They were hilarious; they were spontaneous; they were weird. And they were nothing like the lofty ideals promoted in parenting bibles.

Take the perennial question of how to get little ones to eat their broccoli. Recipe books such as Feeding the Whole FamilyLittle FoodieThe Big Book of Organic Baby Food, and Little Bento will have you believe that any child can become a healthy and adventurous eater if you just make food delicious and cute enough. But the 8-year-old son of Jillian St. Charles, who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, wouldn’t have it: He had an eagle eye for veggies mixed into his muffins. So Jillian started throwing “fancy dinners”—breaking out the china and the crystal goblets, then shutting off the lights and burning some candles. Her son loved the drama of the low lighting, and had no clue that there was spinach in his marinara.

Screen time is one of the biggest things that parents fret about these days. The Tech-Wise Family, for example, advocates for no screens before 10 a.m. and while kids are in the car; Simplicity Parenting encourages no television or computers at all before the age of 7. But screens aren’t always evil and sometimes even come to the rescue—and not just on road trips. After a screaming match with her eighth grader over a book he had to read for school, Kate Kerr in Lyons, Colorado, decided to download an audio version of the book that her son listened to while playing video games. Years later, he is a computer programmer who listens to podcasts while working.

These strategies are born out of desperation—they are a far cry from the aspirational methods you’ll find in the books by experts. Often I wonder, Is there even such a thing as an expert in parenting? Anyone advocating a one-size-fits-all solution for raising kids is certainly not doing parents any favors. In reality, we’re figuring out what works moment by moment—and what works today might not work tomorrow; what works on one child might not work on her sibling. Often, the best we can do is accept each challenge as a given and go weird. Do something completely unexpected or absurd, kind of like the “Yes, and” principle in improv comedy, where performers build on one another’s ideas.

Yes, the toddler twins are tearing each other’s hair out and the 6-year-old is whining that she’s bored and the preteen is yelling that I’m the worst for taking away her phone … And let’s grab hands, turn our faces to the sky, and get it all out with a family scream.

Yes, the teenage stepdaughter wants nothing to do with me and refuses to speak a word in my presence … And I will write her a thoughtful letter, leave it on her bed, and invite her to write back.

The trial-and-error route is realistic and it’s custom-made. The experts are trying to squeeze parenting into a rigid plan for the masses, but there’s something to be said for just making it up as you go.

First moon. Menarche. Moon time!

Oooh!  In  honour of a girl’s first period here are some more ideas for planning her celebration:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.moontimes.co.uk/product/daughters-in-flower-oracle-cards/

https://www.moontimes.co.uk/2016/07/womens-wisdom-girls/?fbclid=IwAR3FSEm1m3apRU6_m7wSCQBElT7hA49topJwA5Wib2FOoApisIP3QKatJlA

https://www.journeyofyoungwomen.org/menarche-preparing-for-her-first-moon/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2016/10/28/to-celebrate-my-daughters-coming-of-age-we-had-a-first-moon-party/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.11e285d6a4b6

https://mooncyclenutrition.com/first-moon-period/

http://www.unitariancongregation.org/ceremonies/menarche-or-red-tent-party-to-celebrate-a-girl-becoming-a-woman/

https://nypost.com/2018/07/16/parents-are-throwing-their-daughters-period-parties/

http://greenpathherbschool.com/celebrating-first-menstruation/

https://www.mother.ly/parenting/honoring-the-sacredness-of-your-daughters-first-period

https://thegreenparent.co.uk/articles/read/making-menarche-special

https://www.realsimple.com/work-life/throwing-first-period-parties-for-menstruation

https://www.drnorthrup.com/celebrating-a-girls-first-period/

https://priestessyourlife.com/honouring-menarche/

BOOKS:

https://www.moontimes.co.uk/2011/08/recommended-books-for-menarche/

https://www.amazon.com/Malias-Magnificent-Moontime-Menstrual-Self-Care/dp/0692656022

https://www.amazon.com/First-Moon-Celebration-Support-Growing-Up/dp/1577314891

https://www.amazon.com/Time-Celebrate-Celebration-Menstrual-Period/dp/0974630454

https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=11614

https://sexedrescue.com/books-about-menstruation/

GIFT SUGGESTIONS:

https://www.theadventurouswriter.com/blogbaby/gifts-for-girls-first-period-menstrual-cycles/

Tips for a smooth pregnancy and blissful birth

Hi folks! Here are my recommendations:

  1. Trust and nurture yourself and your baby. Visualize the pregnancy and birth you want on a regular basis.
  2. Talk to a few women who’ve had positive (aka non-traumatic) experiences with birth.
  3. Relax, eat a decent diet (don’t stress about every little thing you put in your mouth) and enjoy the ride. Walk lots. Squats and yoga too.
  4. Watch a few youtube videos of Black women birthing naturally. If you’re planning to birth at home make homebirthing videos and films (on dvd etc) a priority. If you have a partner watch them with that individual.  https://inloveconsulting.wordpress.com/?s=homebirth&submit=Search
  5. Get a doula and a midwife a.s.a.p. Ask solid questions like http://birthwithoutfearblog.com/2013/01/01/44-questions-for-your-midwife/ before you make any final decisions. Meet with doula (at least 3Xs during pregnancy) and midwife (every month) regularly. Choose wisely by ensuring that you really connect with them. If you’re planning to freebirth that’s cool too. P.S.-  The person you use as a doula can be a close friend or relative. The main thing is that it’s someone you really vibe with. It’s critical that they trust you, your body and birth itself. If finances are an issue consider having people contribute to your doula and midwife costs in lieu of purchasing items for your baby.
  6. If you’re planning a homebirth be very mindful of who is in on your birth plans. The less people who know the better. Stay away from naysayers.
  7. Don’t entertain vaccines. Point blank. Period. Yes, you’ll be offered them during pregnancy. Refuse them then and once your baby arrives.
  8. Have a simple game plan to deal with people who want to  tell you all about their difficult pregnancies and traumatic births. Don’t hesitate to cut in early and gently let them know that pregnancy is not the time to hear such things. Walk away if they continue. P.S.- Feel free to listen to these sorts of stories long after you’ve birthed.
  9.  Ask a close friend or relative to plan a mama blessing (aka blessingway) for you.
  10. Go easy on getting goods for your baby. They need very little things so go green (if you’r not already on that path). If you have a baby shower consider including your partner and their “people” (aka friends and family).
  11. Take a whole food prenatal throughout the pregnancy.  Keep in mind that many prenatals on the market are seen to be toxic by some holistic practitioners. These are phenomenal:  http://www.djehutymaatraherbs.com/pregnancy-kit-capsules/  http://www.djehutymaatraherbs.com/pre-natal-formula-100-capsules/    http://www.djehutymaatraherbs.com/pre-natal-formula-extract-2oz/
  12. Know that you are not obliged to take any prenatal or postnatal tests, procedures or ultrasounds. Educate yourself about all of them and make informed decisions.  http://www.forharriet.com/2016/08/how-doctors-traumatize-pregnant-women.html  NOTE: There are risks involved with all such things. Most are totally unnecessary and cause stress for any mama-to-be (even when we don’t realize it).
  13. If possible read 2-3 of the following books. Don’t read too much.   https://www.amazon.com/Mothering-Magazines-Having-Baby-Naturally/dp/0743439635    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/12490277-holistic-parenting-from-the-pan-afrikan-perspective  https://www.amazon.com/Ina-Mays-Guide-Childbirth-Gaskin/dp/0553381156        https://www.amazon.com/Thinking-Womans-Guide-Better-Birth/dp/0399525173  https://www.amazon.com/Breastfeeding-Book-Everything-Nursing-Through/dp/0316779245  https://www.amazon.com/BLACK-WOMANS-GUIDE-HOME-BIRTH-ebook/dp/B07JZH8YL9   https://www.amazon.com/Gentle-Birth-Choices-Barbara-Harper/dp/1594770670    https://www.amazon.com/Everything-Vegan-Pregnancy-Book-pregnancy/dp/144052551X      NOTE: I’m not a fan of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”
  14. Affirm yourself (in mirror) and your baby often. Talk and read to your child on a regular.
  15. Journal whenever you feel to. Pay close attention to your moods, energy level, dreams, your senses etc. These will give you insight on the child you’re carrying.
  16. Create a birth plan. During your last trimester present it to your midwife/doctor and doula.
  17. Keep anybody or experience that causes you stress at bay.
  18. Order birth and homeopathic (specifically for childbirth) kits.
  19. Have birth plans (one for home and one for hospital) in the hands of midwife, doula and doctor at least six weeks prior to birth.
  20. Play music that moves and soothes you. Positive lyrics please.
  21. Distance yourself from anyone who is fearful of natural pregnancy (ie.vegan, void of common tests/ultrasounds) and/or birth (especially homebirth).
  22. Have a postpartum plan. You will need help. No shame. Ask others to prepare meals for you. Freeze them before baby arrives.  Arrange in-home help via family and friends at least for the first two months. If not hire someone if you can.
  23. Be home-based with your child for as long as possible. When considering childcare (outside of yourself) choose someone that is similar in philosophy and lifestyle.
  24. Build your village. Intentionally. Truly. You will need it for childcare and more.
  25. Take a natural childbirth course if you feel to. Follow your intuition on that. If you don’t take one that’s perfectly fine. As with all things trust yourself.

 

Note: These are the films I found useful when I was pregnant:

https://www.orgasmicbirth.com/products/films-soundtrack/

http://itsmybodymybabymybirth.com/Home.html

https://www.amazon.com/Gentle-Birth-Choices-DVD/dp/B01I05LRWG

“Birth Day” from http://www.lovedelivers.org/shop/

http://www.thebusinessofbeingborn.com/