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You're OK - Be a Better Mom Without Doing Anything!

toddler girl

One year old Maya was taking her first steps when she abruptly face-planted, startling herself and bumping her head. Her daddy scooped her up and snuggled her in.

"You're OK! You're OK. You didn't hurt yourself. You are fine. You did it! You walked!"

To his surprise, she just cried harder. He started to bounce her and chant, "What's wrong? You aren't hurt. It's just a little bump. You are OK. All Better! See? Just a little bump. Nothing to cry about."

Her response was to scream and thrash her legs wiggling out of his arms. She slid down his leg onto the floor and continued sobbing.

Her daddy stopped. He looked at her. While a goose egg was forming on her forehead, big tears ran down her face. She was sobbing deep sobs and had refused his comfort. It seemed way out of proportion to the fall she had taken.

And it was. The bump hurt, but not badly. The suddenness of the fall frightened her and that hurt more, so she cried in fear.

But what hurt most was her daddy's dismissal of her fright. In her mind, her protector had failed to protect her and was now dismissing her fears as unimportant. In other words, he was dismissing one of her basic needs.

We can't always protect our baby or child from harm. Things happen that we have no control over. Toddlers trip and topple over. We have car accidents and children get sick.

On some level your child understands this but still has a basic need for you to protect them from bad things. When that need isn't met, because we can't possibly catch every fall and prevent every bruise, something else has to take it's place.

That something else is empathy and compassion.

Compassion is when you understand that a person has their own reasons for behaving in a curious way. Compassion forgives their inexplicable behavior and lets you be kind to them. We offer reassurance. We have patience with babies and children as we do when someone is handicapped. We don't expect a person with a broken leg to run. We don't expect a baby or toddler to be smiling all the time.

Empathy is relating with someone from their perspective. We all know or have heard of a baby who was terrified of Santa. We don't understand it from our perspective. Why would any child be scared of Santa Claus? But if we look at it from a toddler's perspective, things look really different. A toddler might think:

"This person is a stranger! I've never seen such a big beard. He acts like he knows me but I don't know him. He's loud and too close. If I could take my time and meet him, I might want to know him more, but I don't know what he'll do to me. Better to be safe and stay with Mama. She will protect me."
 
When you are empathetic and compassionate, you look and listen to your child and try to figure out what is wrong from their point of view. You listen and make an educated guess based on their age and development. You acknowledge their feelings, instead of shushing them, which helps them calm themselves.

Sometimes there is nothing we can do. A baby who is colicky and crying causes feelings of helplessness and hopelessness in us and there isn't much you can do. When your baby cries like that, you would do anything to make them stop. But telling them that they are OK, that there's nothing wrong and telling them that they are fine isn't true. What is true is that you don't know what is wrong and you can't do anything more than hold them until they feel better.

If you have ever been upset, you can understand this. It's a universal experience to have a family member tell us to be quiet, that there's nothing wrong with us and certainly nothing to be upset about! But inside, we know there is something wrong. Others don't have to fix anything or hurry us through our problem. All they need to do is witness our unhappiness so we don't have to face it alone. When someone takes time to sit with us in our pain, that action, in itself, eases the pain.

Why is this important? We are human beings with emotions. When we are encouraged to feel all our emotions, and that all of our feelings, good and bad, are OK, we can feel normal! We learn to have a healthy respect for ourselves and our powers of perception. We can trust that if we hurt, there's something wrong and we can ask for help!  If our baby's emotional needs are not allowed to be expressed and develop, they can not be empathetic to others. They may fail to form family relationships and friendships that nourish them. When you are empathetic and compassionate to your baby and toddler, you model ideal human behavior that they can use with their siblings and friends.

By contrast, when the all-powerful, all-knowing parent tells a baby that “You are crying over nothing.” “You should be ashamed of yourself for not being a big girl.” “Suck it up! Be a man.” “Don't be a cry baby!” The child mistrusts what they are experiencing. They may find themselves in a situation wondering if something bad is really good because they have lost touch with that inner guidance that was in place when they were babies.

Each developmental stage has its own developmental needs which requires parents to respond differently as their baby grows. What is universal is the need  for babies and children to be listened to and receive empathy and compassion.

If you would like to learn to be more compassionate and empathetic as a parent, please read more about my Parenting Repatterning.

 

At the end of your rope

P028 ZP9299 What do you do when you are at the end of your rope?

You know, the point where you can't take it any more and lash out at your baby or child. And then, feel terrible because, your child is only a child, doing childish things, and doesn't deserve to be the object of your anger.

There are unlimited opportunities to lose your cool. Babies and children need a lot of attention. They require regular feeding, clean clothes, a roof over their head and medical attention on a regular basis. As a parent, you are the one who does all this for them.

And to make things worse, because kids need so much attention, they will also demand it from you. Even if it's for negative attention, your kids will dig into the tenderest places under your skin just to get your undivided attention. Even though you know this is why it is happening, you may not stop yourself.

Anger is a sign that something needs to shift. It's powerful and effective when used to set limits and boundaries in a clear and kind way.

When you lose it, though, you have to be the one who stops it. You have to recognize the signs that you are getting overwhelmed, nearing the end of your patience and take a timeout, get help or calm yourself before you say something hurtful

Your kids don't make you angry. You get overwhelmed and let yourself get angry.

What causes overwhelm, and more importantly, how can we reduce or minimize it?

Four biggest contributors of overwhelm are in the acronym, H.E.L.P. Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired.

Hunger. It may seem impossible to believe that in a world where you are making food for your little one a bajillion times a day, that you could be hungry. It happens!

Anger is easier to understand because babies and children are needy, not very articulate and meltdown in hysterics when you don't understand them. This triggers many people's anger. You may want to explode, but rage worsens every situation. It hurts other's feelings and makes babies and children feel scared and hurt. Many of us were raised in families where anger was used to control others. It creates families where people are walking on eggshells to avoid another blast.

Loneliness. Who has never felt lonely in their life? Whether you are going hours or days without being able to share your feelings or talk to another adult, you can go a little lulu. Most moms feel overwhelmed when they have to listen, problem solve and entertain babies and children at the child's level without any adult interaction. We all need friendship.

Tired is part of parenting. Even if you have a wonderful sleeper for a baby or child, they get sick, they have nightmares, you can't sleep, you worry and so on. Even if you sleep enough, you can feel mentally tired from endless laundry, endless crying and whining and repetitive rounds of "Why?" and "Mom-mom-mom!"

So, sometimes...you can't take it anymore. You are exhausted. Maybe hungry? You don't have anyone to vent to and something in you snaps! You find yourself yelling the same dumb things your mother said to you.

And, you feel ashamed. And, you don't know what to do about it or how to stop yelling at your poor child. As much as you thought they deserved it in the moment, you can remember what it was like be yelled at and feel guilty because you want better for your child.

The solution to overwhelm.

When overwhelm happens, there is a time crunch involved. When we remove the deadline, often the overwhelm goes away. In the heat of the moment, ask yourself, "What will happen if there's no deadline? What if we take more time to do this? What if we stop and try again another time?" If that's not possible, close your eyes, breathe deeply, count to 10 and rephrase what you were about to say. Getting angry takes way more time than we realize.

  • When you are always angry, it's a sign that you need help. Not necessarily mental help, although that is helpful. You need some domestic help. Someone to help do chores and take care of the kids so you can sleep, shower alone, go to yoga, walk or just sit in peace to recharge your energy. If you haven't yet, give your partner a list and tell them you need time off to recharge. (Buying groceries alone doesn't really qualify as 'time off.') Sometimes chronic anger means that we are not good with setting clear limits on our time, good nature or responsibilities. We give too much physically, mentally or emotionally without refueling.
  • Moms need friends, dad need friends, and kids need friends. A friend is someone who can see our life as we see it, listen to our stories and offer support and empathy. Before kids, you may have been happy with having casual acquaintances and your partner. You also had time to pursue your hobbies and other enjoyable things. Now, your kids are your work, your hobby and your everything. Without friends, you may feel like you are in a deep funk.  When we feel connected, we don't feel lonely. Friends can be found at Café Mama, the playground, the park, and the library. Be a friend. Ask to exchange phone numbers! You need a friend with kids. You can hang out at each other's houses and watch each other's kids for an hour or two.
  • If you are hungry, eat or drink something. Think of 3 or 4 foods that you can eat any time or anywhere and keep them stashed in your car, purse and at home. Emergency food doesn't have to be terribly nutritious. Its purpose is to get you over a hump until you can have a real meal. Granola bars, nuts, chips, powdered energy shakes, fruit, cheese sticks, crackers, even a candy bar will buy you some time and calm the hangries.
  • Routine is a positive word for monotony and there is a sweet spot between the two. Having routines makes your children's life predictable for them and easier for you, giving you more time to pay attention to them. Variety is the spice of life and routine is the meat and potatoes. One or the other is exhausting. Eating chicken nuggets four nights in a row makes me want to snap but I appreciate the simplicity of shaking ready to eat pieces onto a tray so that we can still eat at 6:00
  • Simplify. Your kids don't need so many activities or possessions. They need your attention. Owning toys is a responsibility that contributes significantly to overwhem. It's a bargain we make with our kids. "If I buy you this, will you leave me in peace?" At the moment of purchase or giving, the child has your undivided attention. It's a sweet moment. But they don't want the toy as much as they want that sweet moment of YOU and them and the toy together, forever. Activities whether for enrichment or fun can also contribute to overwhelm. You need some, but you don't need some every day. Create a home that's about relaxing, recharging and connecting with each other rather than a place to change clothes and grab a snack before heading out to your next activity.

Anger is a force for cleansing and creating powerful change. It is also a hurtful, damaging force when used incorrectly. Overcoming unhealthy anger habits requires new skills that you can learn through being mindful, in therapy and in anger management classes. Anger management classes are offered for free through places like your county health department and through Café Mama. They aren't just for people with anger problems, they are for anyone wanting to live a more positive, fulfilling life through a positive use of anger.

My love to you and your family....

I've got boob on the brain

August is Breastfeeding Awareness month and I’ve got boob on the brain! My baby girl, Rita Cassidy was born 3 summers ago, in August of 2011. We are about to celebrate her 3rd birthday later this week! It is truly amazing how quickly little ones grow!

I cannot put very many accomplishments above watching my daughter’s growth in those first 8 months during which she was exclusively breastfed! I remember moments of pride that couldn’t be contained after well-visits with the pediatrician confirmed our belief that our daughter was thriving on her mama’s milk.

There are few relationships in life that are as basic, primal, and intrinsic as that of the newborn baby and mother: an exclusive, yet mutually beneficial symbiotic partnership!

I remember there were moments during pregnancy where I found it difficult to visualize what my days would be like with a new baby in our home: what would it be like to breastfeed? Would my breasts meet their required duties? Would they leak like a dripping faucet? All of these questions whirled through my mind as Rita’s expected arrival in the world drew nearer…

I told myself, time and again during pregnancy, when it came to breastfeeding, "Just take it day by day." I had faith in my body, but the breastfeeding class I had participated in left me with doubts! In my last trimester I came to the realization that I had done enough breastfeeding homework. I felt like the only way to learn breastfeeding, was to have my baby at my breast!

12 days after her expected due date, Rita arrived right on time! One hour after she was born, she successfully latched and nursed on both sides. My heart was full. There are no words to describe the emotions which new parents go through in the first few days after welcoming a new baby to the world. It is a feeling I will cherish forever. What I find so remarkable is that although my baby and I had never exchanged glances before, this was not the beginning of our journey.

The journey together for mother and baby begins with conception, peaks at birth and then is nurtured through breastfeeding! After coming home from the hospital with our daughter I was surprised how quickly we were able to find our own rhythms. At the heart of our daily rhythm was breastfeeding.  

Finding our way to a happy nursing relationship facilitated my ability to create daily patterns that kept both me and Rita content! Our first waking moments together each morning were shared during breastfeeding. Nursing led to Rita’s naps and helped her transition back to wakefulness from rest. Finally, nursing was how would say good night to each other at the end of each day!  

We weaned when she was 25 months. These days my breasts still hold a special place in Rita’s heart! Looking back it almost seems the weaning period was more difficult for me than her, emotionally speaking! Every once in a while she will catch an exposed breast and attempt a lightning fast latch on! But, to our surprise she has forgotten how to latch properly and we both start to giggle!

She recently told me “I want big boobs!” I laughed and asked her what she would do with them?” She responded “I would let Mama nurse on them!”  

Pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding empowered me as a woman! Through these experiences I became passionate about autonomy in birth, lactivism and family wellness! I want to dedicate some of my time to fostering a way of societal thinking that promotes holistic wellness from conception through breastfeeding and onward! I feel so blessed to be raising my daughter in a conscious community like New Paltz. Our community is a Mecca for holistic living particularly in the childbirth department!

Let us work together: Mothers, Fathers, Grandmothers, Lactivists, Midwives, Doulas and Childbirth Educators, all side by side, in an effort to create a space where children come into this world peacefully and parents feel empowered to make their own informed choices!

Power to the Peaceful Parent!

Till Next Time, Be Well!

How can I leave my baby?

A New Mother’s Journey with Separation Anxiety.

Hello Mamas!

When my daughter was first born there was clearly no need for separation…

We were attached physically at the breast for long hours of each day and night, but more intensely we were attached emotionally and spiritually in ways I am still learning to understand…

Being a stay at home mom from day one, I felt continually blessed to have the time to find natural rhythms to attune each day together too. I remember so vividly in the first week’s home from the hospital how days passing brought so much change! Each night that we made it through together, the cozy three: Mama, Pop and Baby Rita Bear in our little nest seemed liked such a triumph. Each day shed new light on how we could best meet our little daughter’s needs.

For the first two years of my daughter’s life our exclusive breastfeeding relationship kept us within arms reach most days and nights. In the past year, as my daughter has grown from 2 to nearly 3 years old I have left her several times to attend to adult activities which did not lend themselves to bringing her along.  We left once for an indoor rock concert and then again for an adults-only wedding reception. More recently, I was given a gift from my dearest friend of 2 nights of concert tickets for my husband and me.

Since our night’s out are few and far between these days my heart jumped at the thought of two nights out dancing with my darling husband and best friend. Then, the mother in me kicked in and I had my first taste of panic attributed to the obvious fact that if we were to accept this gracious gift it meant we would have to leave our daughter for two nights!

My husband and I both struggled with similar emotions: “Would we be able to enjoy ourselves at the concert if our minds were elsewhere thinking about our baby and her well being?” An answer that could not be determined…For 6 months leading up to the concerts, July 4th weekend, I had mini panic attacks filled with separation anxiety at the mere thought of leaving little Rita. As the date drew nearer the panic worsened. It would come to me in the middle of the night, first thing when I woke in the morning.

Finally, it was the Friday we were set to take off to the concert dropping Rita off at her Grandparents for the weekend. I asked my husband & friend “Should I just stay tonight and meet you at the show tomorrow?” My best friend responded “I understand your sentiment, but I think if you choose not to go it would be out of personal fear and not general interest/well being for your daughter…”

This statement rang with truth. I had left my daughter for events before and she experienced no separation anxiety herself beyond a mere ‘Where’s mommy?’ before she went to sleep.

It was not my daughter who suffered from separation anxiety, it was me! But, it wasn’t just me, it was dad too! Our emotional tethers to our daughter were so strong at times they seemed impossible to break, if even for an evening!

I then took the time to analyze our individual fears. My husband and I were both really worried about my father taking little Rita out to fireworks on the Fourth of July, not only is she usually in bed by the time fireworks start but we were worried about her being out on the roads on one of the busiest nights of the year. When I expressed these emotions to my father he basically dismissed them by touting his good driving skills.

Since trying to make my daughter, myself, my husband, and my father all happy was starting to really stress me out I decided to write my dad a letter describing my emotions, separation anxiety and why I felt it would be best if they nixed the firework plans for this year. After reading the letter my dad told me that ‘He would be there to help me work through my emotions and feelings of separation anxiety’ and also that they would stay in that night skipping the fireworks! Yes, mission accomplished, all parties satisfied, all emotions rationalized:  May empathy always reign supreme!

While I was away that weekend my dad, Rita’s grandpa, met another man whose wife experienced severe separation anxiety to the point where she didn’t even want to make trips to the gas station without her young children in tow! It made him realize that his daughter was not going through these emotions in isolation. In fact, my mother had extreme anxiety issues when it came to leaving her children in the early years too! I should also point out that little Rita had a great weekend with her grandparents, totally spoiled, filled with trips to the zoo, parties with sandboxes and ice cream, too! Also, Rita’s father and I were given some much needed adult alone time which replenished our strong bond as companions and lovers!

I hope that this story can shed some light on the issue of separation anxiety from the perspective of a mother as opposed to a child. The major lesson I have learned through leaving my daughter each time is that the only way it gets any easier is by doing it and working through the emotions, but most importantly, by doing it in your own terms. Do not be afraid to vocalize how you feel time spent with a babysitter, relative or otherwise, should be spent! As they are your child, you know them the best, and ultimately all parties will come out of the experience feeling fulfilled!

Till Next Time, Be well!

Jasmine