How Can I Be A Different Parent Than My Parents Were?

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I’m about to have my first child and I’m worried that I won’t be a “Fun” parent.

MOLLY: This came from a reader based in Washington, DC, and she added that she wants to build a “fun, active, creative, easy-going household, not one based on strict discipline and chores.” She also mentioned that she was an only child and didn’t remember “having a lot of good, creative FUN” during her childhood.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom):  It’s certainly common to be anxious before having that first child and to wonder about what kind of a parent you’ll be.

This mom feels that her own childhood was lacking in fun experiences because of her disciplinarian parents and now she worries that she’ll need to focus on the responsibility of being a parent and either she won’t have the time to play with her child or she won’t be able to because she didn’t have that role model in her parents.

I have to reassure her that she is now an adult and soon will even be a mother, too. This means that she is free to create her own definition of a household and is not tied to replicating the one her parents envisioned. If she wants to create a fun, active, creative environment for her kids, that is completely within her power to do so.

Awareness is always the first step when you want to change a pattern. If she’s aware of what she did and didn’t like about the way her own parents addressed parenting and running a household, then she can consciously choose what to emulate and what she wants to do differently with her own kids. It can help to talk this through with a spouse or a therapist in order to see things clearly without emotional filters.

As for the execution of her plan, she can enjoy moments of fun and play with the baby even in the beginning when babies take a lot of work. Joining a baby group will help her meet other new mothers and see how they interact with their babies while launching her new parenting model of doing activities together with her child.

MOLLY: It seems like in my world, the dads spend more time simply playing with the kids while the moms are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day grind of chores, meals,  homework…

DR. RUTHERFORD: It’s true that even in our modern society many families still depend on the mother to take care of all the basic necessities while the father comes home and provides play time and entertainment for the child. Parents can work together to change this division of labor by identifying how they can share more of the chores in order to share more of the fun times.

But, this mom can also take everyday tasks and make them fun. For instance, she can make the daily, routine activities such as getting meals ready, bath time, and reading a book together at bedtime, more fun for both her and her child by simply approaching them with a joyful and playful attitude and a smile on her face. Life is as fun and playful as you make it for yourself and those around you.

MOLLY: She did mention that she was an only child and doesn’t remember having a lot of fun because of chores and discipline.

DR. RUTHERFORD: I think she can succeed in creating a different world for her child than she had for herself as a child because she’s so conscious of it. The key is to be conscious of what she wants to create for her family because then she won’t unconsciously repeat the parenting from her own childhood.

Things to Consider When You Hire a Nanny

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What should I look for when hiring a nanny?

MOLLY: This question came from a reader in upstate New York who has been frustrated by the process of finding the right nanny.

We reached out to Nathaniel Hammons, an attorney based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and also an Adjunct Professor at Marquette University Law School. Nathan provides expert legal counseling to parents interested in hiring a nanny at  MyNannyContract.com.

MOLLY: Nathan, what is your Top 5 list for hiring a nanny and what legalalities should people watch out for?

NATHAN: Finding a nanny is a difficult task because you are inviting a stranger to care for your child. Even with safeguards and organizations in place, it’s important that you gain a full understanding of the type of person you will be bringing into your home. Building trust and understanding begins during the interview process and doesn’t end until the day your child is ready to care for himself.

1. Personality
It’s important that the nanny you hire has a personality that you can relate to. A charming nanny with a sense of humor is a delight to work with and will provide a healthy environment for your child to learn and grow. A reserved nanny with a temper may ignore needs or denigrate a child when nobody is around. It is recommended that you hire a nanny that is like yourself because the child will be more likely to warm up to them. Additionally, this type of nanny will perform more like you when making decisions.

2. Chemistry
The child should always have a say in who will be their caretaker. During the age before a child can speak, the only way they can display their feelings is through emotion and body language. Keep a close eye on these qualities when the nanny candidate interacts with your child. This does not mean you should throw a nanny out of your home if the baby cries when being held, but use their body language to gauge some understanding of how the baby feels about the nanny compared to other candidates.

3. Duties
A prospective nanny must be willing to perform all the tasks required of them. Be clear and concise when presenting the nanny with the duties they must complete on a timely basis. If certain tasks must be completed on a daily or weekly basis, it should be clearly stated in a contract or during the interview process in writing. Legally you may enter a gray area if there is a task you require of the nanny but you have not specifically mentioned it in the contract. Additionally, because nobody is perfect, it is wise to include a stipulation within the contract to allow you to add duties at a later date. Adding this kind of language may require you to also give something extra whether it be bonus pay or some other benefit.

4. Pay
Many parents who find the perfect nanny find that she may be willing to lower her salary to meet their needs but this person is much more likely to leave prematurely from the position. Additionally, when creating a budget, don’t forget that if you plan on having the nanny work for greater than 40 hours, she is entitled to overtime pay. It is important to write explicitly the number of hours the nanny will be expected to work and the hourly wage so that overtime can be easily calculated if necessary.

5. Legal Protection
Mentioned already were tips when writing a contract to protect the working relationship with the nanny. Historically, lawsuits and sometimes criminal investigations have arisen for several reasons including requiring a nanny to work longer hours than her contract stated, discriminating against  certain races or sexual orientations during the hiring process, hiring a nanny that is not legally an American citizen, and refusing to pay overtime. Keep these legal issues in mind while working with a nanny.

MOLLY: Thanks for some great advice Nathan! To learn more about writing contracts for nanny’s you can visit Nathan at MyNannyContract.com.

How Do I Get My Baby To Sleep In The Crib Rather Than In My Bed?

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How do I reverse the mistake I made by bringing my baby into bed with me?

MOLLY: This came from a reader in Putnam, Connecticut. She added that her baby is three-and-a-half months old and  started sleeping “7 hours straight at 4 days old but would take forever to get to sleep and usually didn’t go to bed until 1 am.” The baby would fall asleep nursing and wake up as soon as she put her down so she started bringing her into bed with her. Now the baby wakes every three to four hours to eat and won’t fall asleep unless she’s snuggling next to her mom. Her mom is worried that by bringing her into bed with her she’s created a bad situation because her baby can’t sleep without her.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (Molly’s Mom): I can see the problem, though the baby is very young at three-and-a-half months old. Because of the baby’s age and that she still needs to be fed frequently, we might suggest something different than we would suggest for an older child who is in the same boat.

She should remember that the longer stretches that the baby was sleeping in the first four days of life were likely due to residual exhaustion from the birthing process and is not what should be expected of newborns. Newborns need to eat frequently –every few hours– because of the small size of their stomachs and the easy digestibility of breast milk/formula.

This mom will have to, in a sense, start over and not allow her child sleep in the same bed with her. The baby will probably be upset about this because she’s gotten used to it and children form habits very quickly, but she needs to move her into a crib. She’ll probably cry and need comfort (without waiting very long to give it), but the baby has to get used to sleeping in her own bed.

MOLLY: I think it’s important that she put the crib in a different room, too.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Right, she’ll want to put the crib in a different room while being sure she can hear her very clearly or else have a monitor.  She should go in and comfort the baby very quickly when she cries and not delay. She should change her, if needed, and feed her, if needed, but put her back down in the crib to sleep rather than bringing her into her bed. It might take three or four nights for the baby to get used to being in a crib and in a different room. She’s probably not going to like it because it’s a change of pattern.

Otherwise, if she keeps the baby in bed with her at night, the baby will continue to wake up multiple times a night because she’s trained her body to do this.

Many moms are so tired during these early months that it seems easier to breast feed a newborn in bed so that both can quickly fall back asleep safely. But, really, in the long run it’s better for everyone if kids sleep in their own bed rather than their parents’ bed.

MOLLY: And, I’ve heard that when you’re all in the same room babies can smell the mother’s milk, making it almost impossible for them to sleep once they’ve awakened.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, they can smell the milk too. That’s a good point.

MOLLY: I don’t think what happened to her is unusual:  that babies start sleeping through the night and then stop sleeping through the night.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Yes, that’s very common.

MOLLY: I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t think her routine messed that up. I think she just needs to start getting the baby used to her own crib.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Right, if they keep that baby in bed, let’s say for 18 months, that baby will continue to wake up every night every few hours to be fed… well after they need to be fed that often.

MOLLY: One piece of advice that really helped me when I was at that stage with my little ones is to start putting the baby down awake for naps during the day. That was super helpful for us.

DR. RUTHERFORD: Right. She can soothe the baby before she puts her down by holding her, feeding her and making sure she is clean and dry, but then, when the baby is sleepy, she should put the baby down in her crib to sleep. It’s going to take a little time to help with that. The key is that the baby is very young and you want sto be sure to react quickly to their cries.  “Crying it out” will only shake the foundation of secure feelings that her mom is building with her.

MOLLY: When I say awake, I mean not nursing her to sleep. The sleep-training book I used and liked is called The Sleepeasy Solution by Jennifer Waldburger talks a lot about the importance of naps and how they determine the night sleep patterns.

DR. RUTHERFORD: So, she should be prepared for a difficult week or two but then it will straighten itself out.

Why Babies Like Routines

How can I keep a routine going for my kid when I can’t maintain one for myself?@photos.com_Pixland

MOLLY: This came from a reader located in Washington D.C. She added that she is pregnant with her first child, a boy and has always been the type to change it up everyday, always striving for some sort of routine but never managing to create one that she can stick to over a period of time.  “If I can’t do it for me, how will I set a good example and/or create a successful routine for my child?” She also mentioned that although she may look organized from the outside, inside she really struggles with it.

Dr. Susan Rutherford (MOM):  Let me restate this: she’s asking if she needs to set a routine for her child and she’s quite conflicted about it because she struggles herself in following a regular routine. It may appear like she manages just fine from the outside, but as she says, she struggles on the inside about it. And now she’s about to become a mother and she wants to do things right by her child.

As far as a routine, children do love routines but it’s like everything else in that she’ll want to take it in moderation. I don’t believe in setting up a rigid schedule for newborns for eating and that kind of thing (like some baby books advocate), but she will want to have some kind of routine so that when the infant wakes, she knows what to do to take care of the baby, and the the baby learns what to expect.

MOLLY: There’s a book I read when I was pregnant that talked about scheduling your time with a newborn. It gave an acronym of EASY : Eat (feed the baby), Activiity, Sleep, and then You time (meaning the mom). I thought it was really helpful to have some sort of idea of a little structure.

The book is The Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg (I recommend it).

MOM: Yes, I remember you and your sister doing that with my grandbabies, and that might be something this mom could read and find helpful.

Some routine is very helpful for a child as it is comforting to know what’s going to happen next and to have some sense of that, even as an infant. I like that sort of routine that focuses on what to do to take care of your baby when they are awake, but I’m not a fan of the idea that newborns should be put on a rigid schedule of arbitrary times for eating, waking, and sleeping. I think babies do best when they follow their own rhythms as much as possible.

The issue is more to be there for the baby so that he develops a sense of security… and a routine of some sort creates a sense of security.

Having a new child to care for may seem overwhelming when you’re pregnant and wondering what it will be like, but creating routines with your child is fairly simple when it comes to eating, playing, bathing, and sleeping. With newborns, once you take care of the basic biological needs of keeping him clean, well-fed, and happy, just remember not to overlook his psychological needs by holding him and comforting him when he cries.

MOLLY: I think routines are really good for little kids, especially at bedtime. My kids (6 and 2) really love and look forward to their bedtime routines.

MOM: I would not change up routines very much for little kids because it disrupts their world. She’ll have a happier, less anxious child if the child knows some things will always be the same. So you want to create the least amount of anxiety for the child and one way to do it is to have these patterns.

MOLLY: What could the results be if you don’t have any sort of routine in your household?

MOM: I think fear of the unknown makes children anxious because they never know what’s going to happen next, (I don’t mean an infant but even a toddler that isn’t talking will behave in a way that tells you he’s anxious.) I think it can cause anxiety and I think that people carry over the need for a routine into their adult lives. Not in a rigid sort of way, but in the way we get up in the morning and brush our teeth. That sort of routine.