Category Archives: parenting

Best decisions – Baby-led Weaning

It’s been ages since my son was a baby, but there’s one thing we did with him that I’m really glad we did but have never written up. It’s still not entirely common but is gaining more traction all the time.  It’s the idea of baby led weaning!

You’ll also see it called child-led feeding, baby-led feeding, baby-led weaning, BLW, etc. but it basically amounts to letting baby self feed solids instead of doing it for them, and keeping the solids in solid form rather than mashing or turning it into purees.  Skip the mushy cereals and go straight to things like bananas, avocado and steamed sweet potatoes.

It just made so much sense to me the more I learned about it. Just how the child has controlled their intake when breastfeeding, they control their intake of solids. They can’t accidentally ingest anything their body isn’t really ready for (e.g. can’t handle things like beans until they’ve got the pincer grip and precision to pick things up, can’t take bites until they have teeth, etc.). Plus, you want the baby to learn to manipulate the food in their mouth and chew, not just suck it down.

Baby gets to experience new textures, shapes, etc. along with just the colors and tastes. They get to feel like a part of the family, eating things that look like what everyone else is eating, which may make a difference in how much/well they eat. They may not consume a lot, but that’s not important in the beginning anyway. It’s really all about trusting the baby’s instincts!

The Baby Led Weaning Wikipedia page is great for explaining the basic concepts, but one of my best sources throughout was Kenniscentrum Borstvoeding (don’t worry, it’s in English). They have a chart on the site that explains what to introduce and when, put together by a nutritionist. The person that is known in the Western world for introducing the technique is Gill Rapley. She has books, a DVD, and more on her site that are also good.

My best tip, that I still remember after all these years, is to use a crinkle cutter when cutting things like vegetables (we got ours through Pampered Chef) as the edge it produces makes it easier for baby to hang onto things once they get all slobbery. 🙂

All in all, BLW was a great experience for us and I believe it made a big difference in our son’s good appetite, variety of foods eaten, and early mastery of a regular cup and utensils.

Cats, dogs, & allergies. Oh my!

As I was growing up there were a lot of pets around, cats in particular. While I wasn’t allowed to have a pet at our house (other than a few brief forays into fish ownership) I had near daily interaction with cats and kittens at my grandparent’s house. I also kept ducks for a while and sometimes helped with the chickens.

When I got a bit older, I started volunteering for the local animal rescue group. I managed their website and Petfinder listings, took pictures, and occasionally transported animals. I was even the group’s Vice President for a short while. My husband and I permanently adopted four cats and moved them with us from house to house. We even made our home purchasing decisions in part on having a suitable space for the cats to play and enjoy the sun while we were away at work.

Our son came along and the cats became slightly less important in our lives but were still a part of the family. We saw them through some major illnesses and eventually one of the four died, succumbing to a lifetime of respiratory problems.

And then our son developed pet-induced asthma.

It was miserable to contemplate giving up our companions of 10+ years, but even more miserable what the pet exposure was doing to him. We had to visit the ER and give him medicine for the first time. He fought the inhaler with all of his strength, pretty traumatic on everyone. Our luck was no better with the nebulizer. We quickly made the the tough decision to seek new homes for our cats. Finding the right places was hard, giving them up was harder still. Around the same time we also found out that our son gets massive hives when dogs lick him, making dogs something we were then trying to avoid too.

Over time I noticed my opinions about cats and dogs starting to change. I still felt passionate about animal rights issues and helping animals find forever homes, but began to see most companion animals as a nuisance. I got irritated when there were dogs in public places (even places where they should be allowed) because it meant we had to safeguard my son from getting licked. The fact that family members had cats (included that same grandparent’s house from my childhood) was a major hassle and at times made visiting them near impossible. He could no longer stay over night at his grandma’s house. We now needed to check in advance if friends had pets. Etc. Etc.

I’ve now realized the pendulum may have swung a bit too far in the anti-pet direction. This really hit home earlier this week when my son told me he is somewhat afraid of dogs. He said he thinks they don’t like him. 🙁 Is it any wonder given we’ve spent so much effort trying to avoid them? We clearly need to find a better way, some balance. His allergies are not extremely severe and do not need to be treated as such. We can probably take more liberal precautions and still avoid bad reactions.

I’d love for my son to grow up with an appreciation and love for animals like I have, in part because I believe it to be a foundational piece for veganism. Understanding that animals are sentient beings that feel pain, love and other human emotions makes it easier to extend them compassion. People that have empathy for animals are less likely to eat/wear/hunt/use them. Will this love still manifest if he has no animal interactions? Perhaps. But I’d like to hedge the bets.

Not back to school

If our son were a school-going kid, today would be his first day of Kindergarten. Instead, it’s our first official “Not Back to School” day.

Overall, today looks like any other to him, and this is just how it should be. He’s following his interests, learning as he goes along, just like he’s done since he was born.

It’s a little different for me since I’m still de-schooling myself. I’m fighting the urge to do something to mark the event, like having him pose for an official first day picture.

We’ve talked a bit about the fact that other kids have to go to school now and so far he’s not expressed any interest in going too. Maybe he remembers his disastrous few weeks of preschool (before we looked into homeschooling) or perhaps it’s that we’ve got such a good thing going on at home that it hasn’t even crossed his mind.

Screen time

It seems that one area where many natural-minded parents break ranks is on the topic of “screen time”. Some consider it a badge of honor that they don’t have a TV or limit their child’s computer time. They quote articles about how damaging it can be and how it ruins a child’s concentration. Some even send their kids to preschools such as Waldorf that forbid it!

We’ve taken a different approach. In our house, visual media is a just another activity choice. We have a TV, but without cable. It really only gets PBS channels plus one or two others. Some days our son watches many programs in a row, other days not so much. He rarely chooses the TV because he can’t watch what he wants, when he wants it, and will usually opt for a DVD or something from the computer so that he can fast forward/rewind, pause, repeat or skip parts as he chooses.

The majority of the time he’s doing one or more other things while he views a show, but sometimes he’s watching intently. Sometimes he even abandons the program or forgets it’s on. Often the choice is to play games, type or draw on the computer instead, still forms of screen time though. In getting his shows from the Internet he has so much to choose from!

Full episodes of nearly any show or movie, from many different countries, can be found on YouTube (though sometimes you have to be cautious about what you get). Almost every kids show has a web site with games, educational or otherwise, filled with fun activities.

I watch with him and pick up on what he’s most interest in to try and bring more about those topics into our lives. I can’t even count the number of things he’s learned about via watching or playing that I wouldn’t have thought to introduce or that wouldn’t have interested him in the same way.

He likely wouldn’t have been building oar fish out of Legos or telling Grandpa about the Midnight Zone this early in life without the Octonauts! And he wouldn’t have been using gestures he learned from Curious George to help him get his point across as he was learning to talk. We’ve had numerous interesting conversations featuring things that have come up on Spongebob. Plus he’s learned a lot of complex language concepts from the Alphablocks (it’s fun to hear him explain how “silent e” transforms vowel sounds). And you should see him laugh hysterically at the antics that Garfield gets up to with John and Odie! 🙂

Whether to allow TV and other forms of “screen time” into your child’s life is a highly personal decision and depends in large part on your parenting world view. For some additional reading on the topic of TV and Videos that I found interesting, including commentary on whether to forbit or limit access, check out some of the articles and shared experiences on Sandra Dodd’s TV page.

McD’s and the mom bloggers

I have to admit, this NPR story made me bristle when I heard it. And not because McDonald’s is using social media to it’s advantage (because any smart company is these days), or even because their so-called healthy improvements are not really that grand (a few less french fries, peeled apple slices and cow’s milk). It’s that they’re courting bloggers with high readership and specifically that those bloggers are responding positively.

Many good bloggers cultivate an intimate relationship with their followers. They share their lives in great detail so the reader really gets to know, like and trust them. Of course this is exactly what makes them useful to McDonald’s. They know that their followers will likely place great stock in what the bloggers say about their company. As the McD’s spokesperson says in the piece, “Moms listen to other moms more than they listen to other folks”.

It made me wonder, are followers of mom blogs, or blog readers in general, really that gullible? Do readers not notice, or not care that this is basically a paid endorsement? After all, bloggers are obligated to say when they’re being compensated.

I know that on at least one blog I frequent (not a mom blog), many participants eagerly emulate the site owners, clamor for their advice, and buy things they recommend. So it’s not a stretch for me to see that all those things could be true for mom bloggers too, but why? Why are people so willing to trust the advice of strangers, just because they’re similar to them in some way? Is it because they feel like they know them?

At a gut level, I think what bothers me is that it seems the bloggers are selling out. I wonder what motivates them to participate. Are the perks and/or pay really that good? Are they just curious? Do some think they can maintain their objectivity and perhaps even stick it to McDs? It seems like it could destroy their credibility, that they’d have more to lose than to gain. But maybe it depends on why they’re blogging in the first place.

Also wondering, does this really work out that well for McDonald’s? I’m thinking it must do if they’re picking up steam on the program and are event touting their efforts to a nationwide radio audience. I know pay per post/review is a growing industry, with lots of businesses (large and small) hopping on board and reporting good results, so the ROI must be there.

That mom

I ran across a spontaneous blog carnival from last year and have been so inspired by the posts that I just had to write about it, because I want to be That Mom, too.

I want to spend my every waking moment with our kid, living life. I want to experience all the crazy things he did today, not just on the weekends. I want to spend my time supporting his interests and catering to his whims, whether that’s making chocolate chip muffins, creating mud puddles in the yard or looking up slime eels on the Internet.

I’m doing as much I can right now within the confines of my current work arrangement, and generally everything is going quite well. We’ve managed to keep him at home and pretty happy. But our limited time together is just not enough- for him, for me, or even for my husband. I want that life so bad I can taste it. And I’m going to make it happen!

And in the meantime, I’m That Mom on the weekends and after work. The mom that takes her kid out for Indian food wearing Thomas PJs and carrying his large Lego Robot Krabs creation. That mom that knows all his favorite shows as well as he does in order to act out the scenes together, sing any theme tune or understand a random reference. The one still breastfeeding well past the socially acceptable norm because it’s what he wants and I trust he means it when he says he needs it. The kind that stays up until 11:00 PM on a work night playing whether it’s because he’s eager to spend more time with me, or just not ready to sleep yet.

I’m that mom that strives to trust and partner with her son as he steps his way through to adulthood and beyond.

Kids are people too (crazy, eh?)

Lately I’ve been noticing something more and more and it’s really starting to bother me. Many people don’t seen to think of young children, even their own kids, as people! You know, human beings with their own feelings, views and desires?

I think this awareness has grown out of my participation in the online unschooling community and has been emphasized by recent interactions I’ve had with other parents on Facebook. Now I’m seeing it everywhere I look!

Children are often treated like some lesser, second class. Their opinions and desires are ignored. Their behavior is seen as unacceptable even when the same thing done by an adult is OK. They’re criticized for things beyond their control. Things they say are dismissed out of hand as childish or silly. Their motivations for acting as they are aren’t even contemplated, let alone seriously considered. Sincere attempts are laughed at and mocked as cute.

I see it in the those who trivialize and/or dismiss a kid’s feelings. The ones that use their size advantage to physically control or intimidate a child into doing what they want or to punish them for doing what they don’t. Those that pull rank and demand they be respected as authority solely due to their age.  It’s pervasive in our culture and many people do these things all the time, and without question.

As mentioned in past posts, children reflect the behavior they receive. So what does it tell our kids when we treat others this way, especially those closest to us? That it’s OK ignore, dismiss or bully others when we feel superior?

Where’s the understanding?  Is it really that much of a stretch to put yourself in a kid’s shoes, think about whether they might be having a bad day, wonder if there’s a reason why they’re crying, consider that they could be in pain or that their motivation is not malicious?  Where’s the tolerance for those who are just starting to experiment and learn about the world? Largely non-existent.

In my head this extends beyond paternalism or a general intolerance of children. In part, it’s due to a lack of empathy, something that seems to be deficient in our society as a whole. For some it’s just habit, do what you know. But there’s also a cultural aspect at play that I can’t really explain.

I am certainly not claiming to be a perfect parent, nor am I saying kids should be treated as if they were exactly like adults. I don’t always treat my son as a partner. I sometimes put my needs before his, or insist that we do things my way despite his protests or try to convince him of my point of view. But it’s really no different than how I’d interact with my husband or sister. Sometimes experience wins out.

Fundamentally though, I respect that our kid is a person with his own interests, thoughts and motivations, and accept that they may not always match my own. From what I’ve observed in others lately, this perspective does not seem to be the norm. I feel lucky I was afforded this respect  growing up and  can see it extended to my son.

Free preschool

Turnover in the last state election, combined with the recession, means our legislature is struggling with some tough financing decisions lately. One big item on the chopping block is free preschool for 4-year-olds.

I can see why people think that is a good thing, and some of my Facebook friends have posted about how they find it so incredibly important that they can send their kids to these programs.

No matter what you think about the value of early childhood education though, what had me immediately scratching my head was the perceived list of benefits gained from the program to date.

The spokesperson for the faction fighting to save free preschool lauded the program for making marked improvement in kids’ readiness for Kindergarten. In her speech, examples given included that the children showed measurable improvement in the areas of listening to authority, lining up and doing what they were told.

Thing is, I don’t see how these are truly related to than the actual academic progress of a student!  Do these skills really give them a leg up when they learn to read or add numbers? Doubtful. Does it speak to classroom control and make things easier for the Kindergarten teacher and get students ready to spend their whole days doing something other than playing? Yes, absolutely.

And while I’m sure those things play a roll in how effective the learning environment is, and how likely a student is to succeed in that environment, it also speaks to a much deeper issue with our education system. The purpose of school these days seems not really to be for kids to learn, as much as it is to train them to function in our bureaucratic system!  It’s more important for them to fall into line than it is to think critically or acquire knowledge.

We tried our lad in preschool last year, and it didn’t work out well. We pulled him out with few regrets. And now I’m actually glad things turned out this way. Due to some of our other life plans, we’re most likely going to be homeschooling. Not sure how this will play out yet, but I’ve been doing a lot of reading and have some ideas. What exactly will his education look like? Not sure, but I know some things that it will not encompass.

Are we worried he won’t learn the aforementioned critical life skills? Well, he can learn to stand in a queue at the grocery store; to listen to non-parental authority at his swimming class; to socialize with others (of a much more diverse age group!) at the library.  Nope. not worried.

Not invincible

It’s a tough lesson, learning that your child is not invincible. When they’re young you’re told that if you live a natural lifestyle, do everything right, they’ll experience superior health. And it works, to a point.

But no matter how holistically you live, what kind of organic food you feed them, how long you breastfeed, it won’t necessarily be enough to cure all their ills.  Sometimes you may have no choice but to do something you’d hoped to avoid, to consider mainstream medical treatment, perhaps even on a regular or long-term basis.

Our son had been a very healthy kid, with no major illnesses to speak of in his almost four years.  Then earlier this fall, he had an allergic reaction to some pets at a friend’s house. It manifested innocently enough, at first as a runny nose, then quickly followed by coughing, eventually turning into wheezing. We should have left quickly, but didn’t quite know what was happening at the time.

We’d experienced wheezing once or twice before with colds, but this was different. We dealt with it as best we could, but eventually had to go to the urgent care, who sent us on to the ER. It’s a horrible thing, watching your child struggle to breathe properly.

They gave him some nebulizer treatments and sent us home with an inhaler/spacer and a follow up visit to our primary care doctor. We didn’t have to give him the inhaler that day or the next, so we hoped the worst was over and figured it wouldn’t happen again.

But then we had a similar episode, and several more have followed since. And now I’m finally come to the realization that this may not be something we can avoid or fix without meds. It’s quite possible our son may have asthma, and it might even be something that follows him his whole life.

Looking around for advice, while still trying to keep the treatment at bay, I found lots of mothers in a similar situation- most feeling like they’d failed, perplexed that they’d done everything right and still somehow this had happened to them and their kids.

It’s nothing but a positive thing to encourage good health, to get people taking actions that will help their families lives. However, I think we do people a disservice by promoting the idea that taking any particular action will guarantee a certain outcome.

Things happen. It’s not necessarily anyone’s fault and might not have been preventable. This is something I keep telling myself as we deal with yet another wheezing incident and I contemplate giving our son a “maintenance” medication. Sometimes breastfeeding just isn’t enough.

No greater failure

Awhile ago I came across some information that just floored me because I find it so repulsive I want to scream. The topic is a book called To Train Up a Child, written by Michael and Debi Pearl. It’s supposedly popular with religious homeschoolers, and most people that interact with homeschoolers say they know someone that uses the book’s methods or advocate for it. Indeed, this is how it ended up the focus of an article in a secular homeschooling magazine that I happened to read online.

As the author outlines in her piece, at times the book reads more like a primer in brainwashing, torture or animal training than it does parenting advice. The majority of the tactics are repulsive. I found myself repeatedly cringing and sometimes near tears as I thought about the children that are being subjected to these methods.

Examples of the Pearl’s advice:

Dealing with an angry child

“A proper spanking leaves children without breath to complain. If he should tell you that the spanking makes him madder, spank him again.” … “If a child flees, don’t chase him. Wait and allow time for the tension to go out of the air. Slowly pursue him, explaining that he cannot win. If it takes a long time, that’s fine. Go to his hiding place and laugh at his frail attempts.”

On breastfeeding and biting

“My wife did not waste time finding a cure. When the baby bit, she pulled hair (an alternative has to be sought for bald-headed babies).”

Attitude training

“Use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him, then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he has surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring, and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender — no compromise.”

Water safety

“On a warm spring day I followed the first set of wobbly legs to the inviting water. She played around the edge until she found a way to get down the bank to the water. I stood close by as she bent over, reaching into the mirror of shining color. Splash! In she went. I restrained my anxiety long enough for her to right herself in the cold water and show some recognition of her inability to breathe. When panic set in…I pulled her out and scolded her for getting close to the pond.”

The book’s authors advocate pushing in children that are too cautious or coordinated to fall in on their own, and a similar technique can be used for fire safety!  Whipping, beating, and bullying are recommended to obtain obedience by kids of any age. Children should be battered into submission to the point that they recognize there is no chance of escape and stop trying.  And sadly, I am not exaggerating in the slightest. They really do advocate doing these things and openly label them that way.

I can think of no other description for their methods than disgusting. Absolutely and utterly revolting. Any yet, the people commenting on their online articles praise them and thank them profusely for their helpful advice. How can this be?? Are people that interested in having an excuse to beat their children into compliance? Using their religion (spare the rod) as an excuse? Simply lazy and can’t come up with a better way to handle their children??  I just do not get it.  The closest I can come to understanding is to speculate that people would appreciate the compliance it creates in their children. After all, I’m sure it easier to deal with them when you don’t have all that pesky childhood exuberance to deal with.

The article’s author gives examples of deaths that have happened with parents accidentally taking the Pearl’s techniques to extremes. She attributes it to the parents being unable or unwilling to think for themselves and in their inability to realize that they have taken things too far in letting someone else tell them what to do, often far past their personal comfort zone.

I think that speaks to a major area of concern with the Pearl’s approach. In addition to physical abuse, the book’s authors are out to make sure that people do not think for themselves, including the parents following their methods. There is no mercy, no discretion allowed. You must be unwavering in your position and recognize their  approach as the only way to do things.

The focus of the Pearl’s instruction is to create reliance on them (the authors) and only them as the single authority on parenting. They advocate that you extend this control into your parenting, creating this same level of dependence in your children, and suggest taking elaborate measures to make sure that kids are not exposed to outside influence.  This is where homeschooling comes in for them, but also the avoidance of media, close friends/family, and any others that don’t share your views. This includes making sure that the kids do not even have the personal time to contemplate an alternate position.

“[Your children] should always sit with you, never with their friends. If they go out to the bathroom, go with them. Never allow them to spend the night with friends or cousins. Slumber parties are sin parties. Never allow them to listen to music through headphones. Three-minute phone conversations, no chat rooms, no surfing the web for any reason. Parents should make it physically impossible for them to even access the web. We didn’t allow our children to spend time in their bedrooms unless they were working on a project or reading. Bedroom doors were always kept open, except for two minutes while dressing.”

And so it goes, on and on and on.

Reading about these types of things helps to solidify for me what I do and don’t want to do as a parent, forces me to think about how we want to raise our son. To be honest, I don’t want absolute compliance from him, especially not when it’s gained through fear.  I want him to be able to think for himself, to develop problem solving techniques, and question authority – up to and including the things  we ask him to do.  I don’t want to beat back his spirit with control techniques, ridicule him, or teach him lessons by injuring him. I want to guide him as best we can towards becoming an independent and self reliant person.

Where are the compassion, empathy and understanding for others in the Pearl’s approach? Isn’t that one of the principles of their faith?  If the parents following this advice don’t show compassion for their own children, and are willing to inflict this physical and mental pain on them, then what hope is there for their children to learn these skills?  I want our kiddo to develop into a person that has compassion for others, a man that would not use physical violence or coercion to get what he wants.  I want him to question his own decisions too, realize that it’s OK to rethink your position sometimes (and especially in situations that endanger others), and know that there is no absolute truth that should guide your thinking.

The article made me wonder, as the magazine article’s author did, What can I do about this?  Just like she, I decided to try to make others aware of these people and their repulsive work. I’ve also checked to see if our local libraries stock the book (they do not) and am prepared to discuss it should it come up with anyone I talk to in future. In a way I hope it never does.