Waving goodbye to your toddler

One of the many wonderful things that come with a visit from my mom is the ability for my husband and me to head out on our own. Whether it’s to watch a movie or run some errands spending any sort of time alone together feels really special. I am able to enjoy this time with my husband because I know that my son is in great hands. Hands that I know I can trust because they’re the same hands that raised me, and I turned out OK!

I think anybody that has had kids can attest to the fact that there are things that we all do differently than our parents. I think it’s completely normal because no two people are exactly alike. We all make different decisions based on our own personalities, beliefs and information available to us. No matter how we come to our decisions the impetus is always the same: we want what’s best for our children.

Whenever my husband and me would head our my mom would immediately distract Diego. It brought back a lot of memories of me helping do the exact same thing for my cousins when their parents would step out. I don’t know if it’s a cultural thing, or simply a habit my family shares but across the board it was what was done. So I immediately understood my mother’s instinct when it came to Diego. Now, I am not one of those parents that is very picky about things involving my son. I would consider myself quite laid back in that respect. But when it comes to saying goodbye to him I don’t want him to be tricked into being left with somebody while I step out. I feel very strongly about this which is why explained to my mom how and why I wanted to do it differently.

It is normal for kids to experience separation anxiety, and it is normal for them to cry and be upset for a bit after one departs. It breaks my heart to see him cry when I leave but I know it has to be done. I also understand the desire to avoid the tears by simply distracting a child so that he doesn’t see his parent(s) leave. There are two main reasons why I don’t believe in distraction over openly waving goodbye to our children:

1. Trust that mom and dad will come back.

I want Diego to learn that he can trust that we will return to him. That we will be honest with him and tell him when we are leaving. I plan on parenting with open communication and this includes communicating with him when we are leaving him behind. He might not understand it all right now but a kiss and a wave goodbye is something he is familiar with.

2. I don’t want him to feel that he has to look over his shoulder.

Peace of mind is something you can’t place a value on. I want my son to have this. I don’t want him to realize that anytime he looks the other way Mom and Dad might disappear without a word. The anxiety that can cause is potentially harmful in my opinion. Being carefree and relaxed is what I want to give him and I think that at some point kids pick up on the vibe whenever their caretaker(s) are about to sneak off. For one thing it’s very blatant when we try to distract them, and the nervous energy is something kids can very easily pick up on.

I honestly feel that sneaking off to avoid tears is more for the parent’s benefit than for the child’s. I hate to see my sweet boy pout and cry when we leave but I know that within a few minutes he will be back to playing and having a good time. In time he will learn that even though we may go out for a bit we will always return to him. We are not abandoning him.

I want to thank my mom for always being open-minded and understanding. I always hear horror-stories about grandmothers who force their way of doing things. I am lucky that my mom has always respected my parenting choices. I have never been shy about standing up for myself and while I think we should always pick our battles I also believe in standing up for things you feel strongly about. And speaking about that I also think it’s important to communicate effectively with caretakers about your expectations and limits. Oftentimes a simple explanation of your thought process is enough to incite conversation. My mom and I do not see everything in the same way, nor will we ever, but we share a thirst for learning and discovering new points of view. I hope to pass that on to my son.



I was a better mother before having Diego

Before having Diego I had a lot of answers. I had plans, and scenarios that put me first in line for a reality check. I was determined to follow the American Academy of Pediatrics’ advice regarding no television for children under two, I was going to swaddle my way into a baby that slept through the night within the first six months, I was going to breastfeed for at least a year and I forget what other lofty goals I had for myself and my unborn child. I read books, blogs, journal articles, and watched countless YouTube videos about everything from which stroller is best to what foods to avoid.

We are all better parents before our children arrive. We are so full of energy and motivation that we can’t fathom that we will fail, or deviate from our preconceived ideas about what parenthood will entail. My first lesson in this came at my thirty-five week appointment where my blood pressure was so high I had to be admitted right away. Right then, I knew that my natural childbirth had slipped through my fingers. I had wanted a vaginal birth, I wanted to feel the pain of labor no matter how briefly (I was always open to an epidural) and I wanted to give birth to my baby in the beautiful way I had seen time and time again. My doctor, accustomed to my neuroses assured me that everything would be ok. She also reminded me that things change. I knew this. I had discussed this with her at length, but in that moment, overcome by fear, I could only grieve for that experience I wouldn’t have.

Diego was born via Cesarian section the next day. I saw him briefly before he was taken to the NICU. Already, my plans were changed. I did not get to nurse him right away. It would be days before I would put him to my breast. Breastfeeding is hard and even more so when your baby has been drinking from a bottle while in the NICU. I was pumping regularly and fortunate to have an ample supply but I couldn’t be there to feed him every three hours so I had to be satisfied with sending baggies of pumped colostrum/milk to him.

When we finally brought him home I discovered that he could break through his swaddle and end up scratching his face. He did not like having his arms contained. We tried using mittens to avoid scratches but his jerky movements had him smacking himself in the face and waking himself up. Where was this swaddle magic I heard so much about?! By the time Diego was four months we couldn’t swaddle him anymore because he could turn over. Sleep would elude us for most of his first year. We had some good nights where he slept for five or six hours straight but those were rare. We tried everything to no avail. Books will tell you that by six months babies should be able to sleep through the night but babies don’t read the books!

Diego is now almost eighteen months and has been sleeping around twelve hours straight each night for a while. He obviously did not fit the mold when it comes to typical sleep in babies.

As for television, he watches some shows. There are days when the TV stays off all day and he doesn’t miss it. It’s not part of his routine, but he does watch it. How unrealistic is it to expect parents to not expose their kids to ANY television whatsoever? In my opinion it’s pretty unrealistc. At least for us. Somedays I need those thirty minutes to an hour to get something done. Other days it’s just nice to sit together as we sing along to some of his favorite songs on his favorite show.

I was a better mother before having Diego because I had answers. I thought the experiences of others would somehow help me navigate first time motherhood with grace. Nothing helps you when you’re up at four in the morning, crying because your baby hasn’t let you sleep in days and if you put him down you will only ensure a screamfest. The books don’t tell you that sometimes a shower is the last thing you will want at the end of a long day of pumping, feeding and cleaning up poop. There are days when we are at our worst, when we cut corners, feed our kids frozen chicken nuggets, and let them tear our mail into pieces just for a few minutes of peace and quiet.

I was  a better mother, but now I am something even better: I’m mama.


Achieving great sleep in babies/toddlers

The first year of Diego’s life was a challenging one sleep-wise. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know that I’ve had my ups and downs with this endeavor. I am now happy and confident when I say that I have a good sleeper on my hands. The journey here was not an easy one. My quest for a better night’s sleep involved a lot of reading, frustration, and even tears. It is no fun being sleep deprived. I cannot claim to have been the worst off but I am confident in putting myself up there with many of the parents who have been at their wits end.

Some babies are great sleepers early on. I have a close friend who was enjoying restful nights eons before I ever imagined it was possible. A word of caution here, do not compare your child or situation to that of others. It’s never a good idea and it will leave you feeling incompetent and sad. However, for me, knowing that it was possible gave me something to look forward to and I was sincerely happy for my friend’s good fortune.  That’s not to say it was all fun and games for her, either. She was just a little less tired than I was.

Most, if not all, articles and books on child sleep recommend a bedtime routine. I honestly don’t think it can ever hurt, whether or not your baby or toddler kicks up a fuss, or refuses to cooperate, a routine is still important. Before Diego could crawl we did not bathe him everyday. It was more of an every other day type of thing. At bed time we fed him, swaddled him, and rocked him to sleep before placing him into his bassinet. At four months he moved into his crib. Our problem was never getting him to sleep, it was keeping him asleep. We achieved some good nights between four and six months but at six months he started a grueling schedule of waking up every 3 hrs to feed. I did not understand it and tried everything to remedy this to no avail. He demanded to be fed before he would go back to sleep.

Diego was breastfed until he was a little over six months. At six months he refused the breast and two weeks later my milk had dried up despite my efforts to continue pumping. Once he was exclusively formula fed I had high hopes that he would sleep for longer since I had read that formula is more difficult to digest and therefore causes babies to go longer between feedings.

This was not the case with Diego, especially since the most he would drink in one sitting were four ounces. Since Diego has never been on the heavy end of the scale I have always let him lead me in his nourishment. Babies aren’t corrupted like we are, they don’t consume more than they need. I continued his night feedings as needed.

By eight months I could maybe get four hour intervals of sleep each night. The problem arose in trying to put him back in his crib and then getting myself back to sleep. I struggle to go back to sleep after being woken up in the middle of the night. Regrettably, my body never adapted and it’s a problem I will probably always have. I decided that instead of fighting Diego I would just bring him back to my bed.

Co-sleeping and bed sharing are two different things, but both are controversial. Co-sleeping involves sleeping in the same room, say in a bassinet or even a crib. Bed sharing is exactly what the name implies: sharing a bed with your baby. Bed sharing has risks. You could smother your baby with a blanket or pillow, or even roll on top of him. Diego very rarely slept in our bed before he was able to turn over on his own. For a few months Diego would start out sleeping in his crib and would end up in our bed.

If you’re ever in a situation where you might consider bed sharing, consider this:

  1. Do not share a bed with your baby if you have limited space. A full size bed is not big enough, in my opinion. A queen bed could work but I honestly would not attempt it in a bed smaller than a king.
  2. If you’re a heavy sleeper, or a restless sleeper you should rethink bed sharing.
  3. If you’re on medication that impairs your judgment or makes you dizzy/drowsy do not share a bed with your baby. (This includes, pain killers, sleep aids, etc.)
  4. A crib or bassinet is the safest place for your baby to sleep.

Those are pretty common sense to me but I don’t think we lose anything by reminding others and ourselves of the risks and dangers of bed sharing. I fully believe in doing what is best for your family and sometimes sharing a bed results in better sleep for everybody. Do it safely and purposefully.

Shortly after Diego turned one I decided to start the process of teaching him to fall asleep on his own. At this point he was still waking up once or twice each night (not to feed) and I was just done with that. I needed to start cleaning up his routine and his habits. I started by having him fall asleep in his crib rather than in my arms. He protested at first but I was there to rub his back and say soothing things. Once we had this down I moved to leaving his room shortly after laying him down in his crib.

I guess I did a sort of cry it out method. It only lasted a week or two and he only cried for about ten minutes on average. I started doing the same thing during his naps so as to reinforce this new practice. I know that crying it out isn’t for everybody and I’ve heard many parents who feel that it is cruel to make your baby cry himself to sleep. In my case, Diego was pretty much crying no matter how we put him to sleep.

At his fifteen month check-up his pediatrician suggested giving him five minutes to settle himself back to sleep if he ever woke up in the middle of the night. It was difficult to not run into his room at the first cry. I wanted to rush in there as I always done. I was shocked to find that a few cries subsided into nothing. He could indeed put himself back to sleep. It has been a while since I’ve heard him awaken during the night.

He is now seventeen months old and is sleeping through the night. He whines a little sometimes when we put him in his crib but he doesn’t cry. He is also sleeping about twelve hours straight each night! He wakes up happy and doesn’t even cry out for anybody. He just amuses himself in his crib until I go get him. He is also napping really well. He has been down to one nap a day for months. On average, he naps for two hours but on some days he sleeps for up to three hours. It all depends.

Here’s what I’ve learned about achieving great sleep in your child:

  1. All children are different. Do not compare your child to others.
  2. Sleeping through the night is a skill and dependent upon many things.
  3. There is no one sure fire way to get your child to sleep through the night but there are many things you can try. Swaddling and a sound machine were particularly useful to us.
  4. Routines are important. For us it’s: bath, lotion massage, get into pjs, brushing teeth, and going into crib. Sound machine to ocean sounds and projector/night light.
  5. You need to decide when your child is ready for what, and be honest, is your child really not ready, or is it you?
  6. Adapt any method that catches your fancy.
  7. Do not listen to people who tell you to put rice cereal in your child’s bottle, give him medication, or any other ill advised, and dangerous suggestions.
  8. Bring any concerns to your doctor. That should always be your starting point. No question is silly. If it’s bothering you, bring it up. That way you know you are getting medically sound advice that is safe.