Monday, March 3, 2014

Life with Four Kids/ Why I Had a Grip a Kids On Purpose!

I'm not sure when it happened but for as long as I can remember I've wanted four kids. Maybe I knew intuitively that five or more would successfully land me in a mental ward somewhere. Four kids is definitely enough. My hard earned gray hairs tell me so. Well, that and the weird looks from strangers. Not unlike my pregnant stomach over the past seven years, my patience is usually stretched to it's limits. I'm tired. Washing dishes uninterrupted is a true vacation. I've lost the few social skills I once had and since we have only one TV I know my alphabet and how to use the potty way too well. Am I a shell of the woman I once was? Well, I wouldn't go that far. Okay, I guess it depends on the day you ask.

Yes. The reality of four kids has officially sunk in and I'm realizing now more than ever that my natural strengths do NOT lend themselves to caring for miniature humans. It's hard, dirty and outrageously frustrating. Even the most demanding seasons of my life never came close to the grinding challenge of raising my own kids.

So why have I done this to myself? And how the hell am I even writing this blog post right now? Answer: One-handed, in the eye of the storm, nursing a 3 month old. But for all the one-handed-labor-intensive-gray-hair-making-moments there are four beautiful, vulnerable, precious humans that I have the privilege of loving and enjoying for the rest of my life. I am now blessed with life-long, un-replicable, invaluable relationships. While that's also true with one or two kids, from my experience there is an inherent variety, comradery and unpredictability that is nearly impossible to replicate outside of a large family and I so look forward to a limitless supply of grand babies at big family gatherings.

For me four kids is a massive part of my big picture. It's a long-term investment in the joy and growth I want to experience in this life. My hope is to grow old knowing that I raised four people that make life a little better for everyone around them. What more worth-while thing could I do with myself, my time, my resources than give it to them? Part of that (for their own good and mine) is empowering them to become self-reliant, independent team players. No wonder I feel guilty too often as a parent. Those things are NOT easy to instill. It's a conscious effort, every minute. I can't say I don't look forward to the day I can give them room to spread their wings a little more. And I'm not gonna lie, I'm excited to get my own career in full swing, but for now here I am, challenged to cherish every moment with my four tiny, dependent people. And as hard as "today" is I know an even more difficult day is coming. The day I look back at sweet baby pictures and ache to have that again, if only for a moment.

This little people phase is painfully short. I'm trying so hard to enjoy it but it's also super exhausting. I guess that's the pinch. That's the challenge. To savor this transient, beautiful mind-blowingly difficult season of my life. And trust me, I have no delusions that my relationships with these guys will get easier as they get older, but I do believe they'll grow into stages I'm more naturally gifted to contribute to. So for now they'll have to deal with a mom who is right-handed, trying to parent FOUR kids with her left, so to speak. Sorry Chase clan. I'm doing my best. I'll get better with time and because there are four of you I'll get lots of practice. Grow old with me.

Yours Truly,
Desi (One-Kid-Shy-of-the-Loony-Bin) Chase

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How to Get Your Kid Out of Your Bed: No Tears Required

Whether you plan to sleep with your wee-one or not chances are your kid has ended up in your bed at some point. Studies show that 75% of expecting parents have absolutely zero intention of sharing a bed with their baby. Only ten weeks post birth 76% of all parents re-interviewed were doing so on a regular basis for several hours each night!

I would like to repeat -from the last post- that co-sleeping can be very dangerous when done improperly. There are parental weight limits, bedding and sobriety to consider. I'll try and write another post on safe co-sleeping soon but for now, back to the point at hand.


So how do we get them out? Even if you're into the whole Attachment Parenting thing, all parents have one thing in common... sooner or later we want out little heat-seekers out of our freakin' beds.

I start this process with my babies right around 18 months. By this time they understand that even though I'm in another room, I still exist. The whole object-permanence thing is in full swing.

So here's how the Chase's do it (a technique recommended by Dr. William Sears, ever-so-slightly modified by Desi Chase):

STEP 1-Lay in baby's bed with him/her. We use a toddler bed or a matress on the floor. Ummm... hopefully you're not using a crib. If you are please send me a picture of you following step one. Oh, the mental picture is glorious! Okay, stop distracting me.

Stay in bed with baby until he is asleep, then escape. When baby wakes up for a midnight cuddle grab your phone/alarm clock and join them back in THEIR bed until one or both of you fall asleep. If you hate this idea, put a blanket and pillow on the ground next to your bed and let them crash there. Remember this a weaning process. Baby steps are still progress.

STEP 2- After about a week or so sit at the end of baby's bed until they fall asleep. If they protest this change, so be it. You're still very close and they can tough it out a bit. If they seem legitimately devastated then consider giving it a bit more time. At this stage I recommend bringing a book and flash light or a laptop, basically anything to keep you from getting wicked bored. This is actually a really great time to read, meditate or pray.

STEP 3- Once baby seems comfortable with that, move to the doorway or a chair in baby's room.

STEP 4- Move to the hallway so baby can only see part of you.

STEP 5- Hang out in a near-by bedroom or meander around the doorway. If baby seems uncomfortable or scared tell him you'll be back in a few minutes to check on him and then go do a quick chore eat a brownie or whatever and then go check on him... no empty promises. They'll only make baby more clingy.

STEP 6- Enjoy your freedom. You did it and no one had to suffer! Hurray!

STEP 7- Tailor it to you and your kid. This method is not a science or a perfect formula. My daughter did not want to let us pass the "doorway step" so once we got sick of sitting in the doorway we told her if she was scared SHE could lay in the doorway and she did! She's 3 and has bad dreams from time to time so we do the blanket/pillow thing next to our bed if she gets scared or lonely.

Remember to be flexible, they're only little for so long and will NOT want you at night forever. Excluding illness, I can't even remember the last time our five year old woke us up in the middle of the night or needed us to help him fall asleep. I believe that since he was given so much reassurance as a tiny-tot, he has positive associations with bed time and is secure in his little man-ness to handle night time on his own... aka he is "securely attached" for you psychology buffs.

The gentle approach to night time independence really does make a lot of sense. Think about it. We humans (young and old alike) resort to two dysfunctional ways of relating when we feel insecure.

One, we get all needy and clingy or two, we get all weird, stand off-ish and isolate. Healthy relationships are built on trust, empathy and responsiveness. So why on earth would we subtract ourselves from our kids' night time world cold-turkey and ignore their cries? I'm just sayin'.

Friday, September 7, 2012

SLEEP for PARENTS. SLEEP for BABY. Your Guide to Minimize Drama and Maximize SLEEP

Oh man. I know I'm stepping on controversial turf here. I mean who would've ever thought that sleeping styles would be such a ferocious topic of debate. Even the academic community practically resorts to name calling when it comes to the issue of healthy infant sleep habits. The only reason I dare throw my two cents out on the topic is because I feel strangely compelled to share my synthesized version of the information I gathered from qualified researchers.

So here it goes, in a nutshell the best sleep environment to promote healthy bonding and maximize sleep for all parties involved. Basically psychologists are split down the middle when it comes to the topic of co-sleeping... that is sharing a bed/room with baby. Some experts say it promotes healthy psychological attachment because it helps baby to feel more secure in their bond with parents. Opponents argue that co-sleeping can cause marital distance and a baby that is over-dependent on parents.

BTW, there are very safe and very unsafe ways to co-sleep and if you EVER sleep with your baby, even for-an-hour-by-accident-every-now-and-then-when-baby-is-sick then please buy the book Sleeping with Your Baby by Dr. James McKenna. The book gives you the details on baby safe bedding, weight limits and other extremely important precautions.

Okay, with that little PSA out of the way I can move on.

So which experts do you listen to, if any? Well, I say listen to your guts and then get advice from the experts that confirm what your guts are telling you. What I mean by that is, go back to biology.

Basically babies that nurse, eat more often than their bottle fed counter parts. That's one of the many reasons babies have a biological drive to be close to mom. That's also why it's so hard to get them to sleep in a crib in a room down the hall. Every natural drive in a baby says "stay close to mommy" and every natural drive in a loving parent says "comfort crying baby".

There are way too many misleading books and theories that villainize the infant, as if the baby has a maniacal plot to ruin the sex and sleep life of said parents. I could really go on and on about how and why that is so twisted but I'll spare you the rant for now.

Basically, there are hundreds of different, healthy ways to nurture your little heat seeker's desire for closeness with you. Since I'm not writing a book and you don't have all day, I'll be brief.

Big picture? It's not healthy to let your baby "cry it out". If a parent is sensitive and attentive during the day, why should that change at night? A lot of kids recover from the stress of the cry it out approach because many of the parents that employ that method of sleep training are doing their best and make up for sad nights with happier days. Thank God for that. There really are many awesome parents that use the cry it out method... many that I have a lot of respect for in fact but it still doesn't mean they've made the strongest call when it comes to this issue.

While I do agree that "people have to find a way that works for them" and "every family and child is different" I also believe that these statements are only true to an extent. When it comes to sleeping arrangements there does exist a better, best, good, fair and terrible way to treat a child at night.

The best case scenario for most babies is to sleep in mommy and daddy's room or in a baby-safe-adult-bed with two parents that sincerely enjoy the arrangement. If parents resent the baby for taking up real estate on the pillow top then this is no longer the best case scenario. No one likes to get stink eye and yes, babies pick up on your bad attitude, so if you hate it don't do it. It's all about perception but if the thought of this arrangement is unappealing I'd encourage you to work on your perception if possible.

Why? SIDS rates are lowest in countries where co-sleeping is the norm. No one is sure why this is true but one theory is that the sound of adult breathing helps to regulate infant breathing. Even though the exact reason is still unconfirmed most sleep experts agree there is some biological reason for this life saving health benefit. So why is it that we've gone to such great lengths to get those little suckers to sleep far away from us?

For a thousand different reasons, in the west, we've made it weird for baby to join mommy and daddy for zzzzz's. I suggest that we're weird for making it weird! There's nothing more natural than to nurse your sweet baby to sleep. Don't let anyone tell you that's unhealthy because that's simply not true.

I think I know what the next questions are:
--If I let my baby sleep in my bed how will I ever get him out!
--How will my spouse and I uh hem...*wink*.
--Won't I role over on the kid in my sleep?

These concerns are very common and actually pretty easy to answer. If any of you care to hear my take on those issues I'd be happy to create a separate post. And I get it bed-sharing isn't for everyone. The real moral of the story is "PICK UP YOUR CRYING BABY!". Comfort them, nurture them at night, just like you do during the day.

Be aware that long crying spells raise your baby's stress hormone (cortisol) unnecessarily. Elevated cortisol levels have negative effects on health at all ages. Again, this is another massive topic I'm only brushing passed. I encourage you to research the consequences of stress on the body. Your baby doesn't understand that you're just in the next room. They can't comprehend that "they're perfectly safe". They only know that it's dark, they're alone and their only means of communication is being ignored. It's scary for them so trust your instincts and go comfort them! They won't want you at night forever. This too shall pass.

For me it passes around 18 months. By then they're weaned and starting to do those deadly sleep ninja moves. The transition is gentle and sensitive to the ninja's feelings :).

Believe it or not, three kids into it and I've honestly never been through sleepless nights with newborns. My missing zzz's come from illness, nightmares and the occasional bed-wetting but that's what we sign up for as parents right?

p.s. Feel free to share this blog post with any and all parents if you're so inclined. I'd love to open a larger discussion.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Quick Update on: A Daring Experiment

Okay. I have not forgotten about this zany idea of abandoning punishments and rewards in parenting. The truth is this pregnancy has wiped me out and the little energy I have left for writing has gone to building my very own freelance commercial writing business. Excuses out of the way, here we go...

p.s. if you haven't read the original blog post entitled " A Daring Experiment" than you've got to go back and read it or this post won't make sense.

I've been thinking a lot about Alfie Kohn's ideas and I've decided his philosophy is sound but not practical. Although the man is educated in some social sciences he is not a psychologist, and this is definitely a psychological theory. Basically I think he's out of his realm of expertise. In spite of this short coming, I think he's definitely on to something here. Something that cannot be ignored, the greatest good.

In a perfect world we would do the right things out of the goodness of our hearts, always. The inherent "rightness" of things like generosity, cooperation and charity would be enough motivation in and of themselves. I believe this ought to be our ultimate goal as parents, to help foster deeply compassionate hearts in our children. But here's the reality check. Sometimes rewards and punishments are the right kinds of signals to help get us on this high road. Kohn would disagree with this logic but the Bible doesn't, and for good reason. Of course God's primary goal is the same as Kohn's but at certain times God uses rewards and punishments in scripture to help promote nobility in the hearts of His children. For those who are not fans of the Bible or God, even natural laws themselves promote traditional morality. For instance, if one is promiscuous that one is very likely to catch a nasty disease. Another clear example; when we over-indulge in just about anything our bodies dysfunction. These natural consequences are excellent motivators for behavior change. They are warning signs begging us to do something differently.

Some of Kohn's solutions to misbehavior in children are less restriction and more teaching. The problem is my four and two year old understand very little about the inherent goodness of charity and cooperation. These abstract ideas do not show them the kind of tangible lessons they need at this stage of their development. Therefore, in my opinion it's better to implement natural consequences, which again, Kohn scoffs at. An example of a natural consequence in our house goes something like this: Josiah has fifteen minutes at the end of the night to put his toys away. If he takes longer it cuts into his story time. Not that he loses stories as a punishment for not cleaning up his toys fast enough but instead, this is the result of lolli-gagging. He has a set bedtime and if his lack of focus cuts into story time that is the natural consequence of his behavior. No power struggles, no nagging. Kohn would say this is not a truly natural consequence but I disagree. This is how the real world works. If you're late for the bus, you miss the bus!

Here comes the pinch... the part where I live up to the "Unfiltered" part of Mother Mouth. We have resorted to too many rewards and punishments to control our kids. I too often give Josiah dessert for eating vegetables. I threaten to (and often do)take away his Lego's for hitting his sister. There is nothing natural about these consequences, it's pure "carrot on a stick" technique which I need to break myself from. I don't want to raise kids that cooperate only to avoid punishment or kids that are kind only for a piece of cake, God forbid.

So, Alfie Kohn, if you dare to read my humble blog, three fourths of me agrees with you. I only disagree that we should completely do away with rewards, punishments, incentives and praise. I think these should be tools used minimally, with discretion. Unfortunately I let these things become too dominant in how I have dealt with my kids. Therefore I will still go forward with "The Daring Experiment" as a kind of detox from over dependence on rewards and punishments. So for thirty days I will parent Kohn's way as a way to reset myself and sharpen some higher level skills of parenting. It's been a while since I read Kohn's book so I'm giving myself a few weeks to brush up on my Alfie-isms so that I do his methods justice. At that time I will launch into my month long parenting detox and blog at the end of each purifying day. Wish me luck. I'll be in touch.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Blog Worthy Moment

My neighbor came over this morning and ripped me a new one. She and her middle aged roommate were livid that my children filled the air with laughter on a Saturday morning. As soon as I heard the loud pound on the door I knew who'd be on the other side, Lorraine the angry, pot growing hippy from next door. As she literally trembled with rage she barked "This is ridiculous. I'm so tired of this shit. You have no idea how much we have to put up with your noise". She went on along these lines for another minute or so at which time I asked "Are you done?" She gasped indignantly, I said "good bye" and calmly closed the door. I would have engaged in conversation with her if she wasn't so hostile and aggressive. I knew the wiser move, given her demeanor, involved few words and better timing. I've got to confess though, I was pretty irritated and did the oh-so-common "I shoulda said this or that kind of thing". Let's just say I was ruminating on my next move when low and behold, guess who shows up at my house again!

This time she was much calmer and her bark had regressed to more of a lecture. I listened to her for a few minutes and then unleashed my own best monologue. This is what I said, please keep in mind my tone was very gentle all the way through even though my words were very direct. "Please don't come to my house again if you're going to approach me with the kind of disrespect I saw this morning. You should have come to me a long time ago, before you were livid if my kids laughing and playing was so bothersome to you. I honestly didn't realize children's laughter could be so infuriating. You clearly have a low tolerance for noise. If children laughing makes you so mad, then do you hate puppies and rainbows and kitty cats too? Have you noticed that you have conflicts with all the neighbor's? Everyone else seems to get along fine but I heard you and the other neighbor screaming obscenities from over the fence just the other day. It seems like the common problem is you. But that's not the point. My big question is what do you want from us? I'm happy to keep my kids quieter if that's what you need, but I don't know what you consider loud. I don't know the times to keep them quiet. When?" She says, half laughing at herself "Twenty-four seven". "Ok" I say "We both know that's not realistic. How about you tell me (she works from home as a new age astrologer) when you're going to meditate or do your guided imagery and I'll make sure to have the kids in the house for an hour or two. I only ask that you speak to me with respect and well before you're about to rip someones head off". "Ok" she says, "I'll do that". At one point in the conversation she did acknowledge that she should have approached us about the noise before she was livid and that that was something she is working on. I appreciated her humility on that one point and I think my willingness to work with her schedule disarmed her a bit as well. Overall the conversation ended ok. It was definitely a spicy one though! I'm just glad we're moving.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Josiah's Imaginary World

"Mom, there's a shark at the backdoor! Sharks can't get me right? They're under the table right now!"
"Mom, I have Star Wars on my shirt see?". (Josiah's explanation of the juice stains on his shirt)
Stomping on the carpet, heavy footed and with great authority, "I'm stepping on all the Veggie Tales and crushing their cars".
"Mom, let's jump into the computer, just use some magic!".

My funny little four year old always has a running fairy tale in his mind. Sometimes he's a giant and talks in a low voice about how huge he is, other times he's Iron Man with fierce shooters that launch from his wrist bands. Lately he likes to pretend he's marrying me or his sister and says things like "I'm a good dad", while clutching his sisters baby doll. Other times, his imagination overwhelms him. Yesterday as Josiah played with a friend he was overrun with fear. As his friend pretended she was a snake, chasing him around the trail, Josiah ran to me in a slight panic on the verge of tears saying "She's a snake! Is she really a snake mom?", as if borrowing my perspective on reality because he knew his might not be quite right.

I remember the power of my own toddler imagination. My dear and unfortunate Josiah must have inherited my almost hallucinogenic imagination. In fact my waking dreams are extremely clear from about 2 or 3 years old. I vividly remember chasing tiny egg people all over the carpet and trying to capture them in a jar. I pretended I was Gargamel from the Smurfs and the tiny running egg people were my prey. I took about 7 or 8 of those little suckers hostage in my jar. I wanted to prove to someone that they were real. After, catching them I ran to show them to my mom. As I held up the evidence, to my dismay, the little egg people were gone! BLAST! Foiled again!

But that's not all, I also remember seeing an alien curled up in the top of my closet, in the fetal position... creepy. It may sound weird but I'm so glad I still have those memories. I can totally relate with my son and his lively little world. When he sees a shadow in his room and is scared, I totally get it. I'm not sure I've even outgrown that yet :/

His world is so fun and so scary sometimes. Josiah's reality reminds me of The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe. Things that seem ordinary, like a wardrobe are actually entry ways into new and exciting and dangerous world's where animals talk and great enemies await to be defeated. My hope is to never forget what it's like to be a little kid. To remember the things that confused and frustrated me about the adults around me is becoming more and more important the older my son gets. It's so easy to cuddle a baby and teach a toddler to walk and talk. These things just seem to happen, but I have to really try and remember and deliberately choose to enter my four year old's world. When I do, it is a gift to him and myself, but it's so hard to do sometimes. My own agenda robs me of this too often and I need real empowerment to be able to ditch a little of the adult world, so I decided to consult an expert for advice.

I asked Josiah recently, "what can I do to be a better mom for you?" He thought for a minute and said "Play, ummm and be nice and PLAY!" I get it son. Maybe more play would do us both some good. I think my imagination still works... I can see the egg people now ;)

Monday, January 31, 2011

A Daring Experiment

Allow me to set the stage. In our house if my four year old, Josiah, doesn't finish his dinner, he gets no other snacks for the rest of the night. If my two year old hits her brother she sits in time out. If toys are left out after I've asked for them to be cleaned up, those toys are put on a shelf out of reach until they are earned back. My son is now a master negotiator, even a lawyer of sorts. "Mom, if I eat five more bites can I have a piece of gum? Mom, since I was good at school today can I watch an extra movie? Will you give me ____ if I do ____?". Part of me doesn't mind the negotiations. In fact part me feels that negotiating is an important life skill, still there are some reservations. Do I really want my kid to be good at school because he'll get toys back if he is? Do I want my children wondering "what's in it for me if I help someone else?". Is this really what I want them to learn? These are the thoughts that sparked my willingness to experiment with a very different approach to child rearing.

The whole scheme was conceived while reading a book called "Punished by Rewards" by Alfie Kohn. His premise is that rewards and punishments don't teach children what we really want them to learn. This "carrot on a stick" approach to behavior management only serves to teach our children to do the "right" things so an outside authority will either indulge or not punish them in some way, according to Kohn. He argues that what most parents want is for children to learn the intrinsic value in education, courtesy to others and generosity. He concludes that the use of rewards and punishments undermines our ultimate goal to produce adults that do good for goodness sake, rather than for a tax break or approval seeking. These are very strong points, but is it a realistic endeavor with... let's say, toddlers. And how is it practically done on a day to day basis? I am determined to find out, hence my nutty little experiment.

I'm terrified simply at the thought of what I am about to undertake. Surrender my most powerful mom arsenal? Parent a whole month, using no rewards, incentives, stars or other bribes. Not only that. No timeouts, no loss of privileges for "bad" behavior and no parent imposed "natural" consequences. Most of me is thinking "have I totally lost it? Is this some kind of hell month torture where I toss myself into the battle like a lamb to the slaughter?". But thankfully my darling creatures are not out to slaughter me (I don't think) and this isn't a war, it's child rearing... right? So there shouldn't be any casualties, except maybe my sense of control. So why am I shaking in my boots? Is this really a good idea?

I've got to be honest. I am approaching this with some cynicism. Kohn's book seems very extreme and contradicts some of my personal beliefs about how people change behavior. After all isn't our whole society built around rewards and consequences? And isn't all the money the author made off his book a kind of reward and incentive? I've got to give him credit though, he does address this in his book. He believes employees/professionals should be able to earn a living for the work they accomplish and by his definitions this would not qualify as a reward. He also highlights that the majority of psychological experiments testing the effects of rewards supports his idea that they do not teach children the inherent value of generosity, obedience or work ethics. His arguments were sound enough that I have decided to give him a month of our lives to prove that this way of parenting is even slightly practical. My next feat before my experiment can begin is to get my husband Mike on board. We've officially entered the heated discussion phase of negotiations. Let's just say he's not a huge fan of the experiment at this point, or as he says it he "has some reservations". In typical tomboy fashion I'll just have to arm wrestle him for it.

The major problem I see with Kohn's theory is that he offers little to take the place of rewards and punishments. Each time he goes to answer the dilemma of "what instead" he just rips on all the parenting philosophies that utilize these methods. This is frustrating as a reader because he almost persuades me that he has some good points but never delivers an alternative, so I've been pushed to derive my own alternatives. My plan is to use a a lot of redirection and short but effective explanations for why it's wrong to sit on your sister's head and bite your brother's big toe and the such. We'll see how it goes.

signing off with fear and trembling,
Desi Chase