Monday, December 29, 2014

My New Friend, Paxil: A Story of Postpartum Depression

The day before my baby turned 9 months old I told my husband that I was going to text my midwife and ask her to prescribe me an antidepressant because I had postpartum depression (PPD). He was immensely understanding and empathic. He didn’t take the opportunity to say, “I knew it.” He was simply with me in my moment of realization and pain. He’s the main reason that the months of increasing PPD symptoms leading up to that moment hadn’t been allowed to affect our baby to any discernible degree. He had always been there to take over when I became overwhelmed and needed to regroup. He always knew when to step in.

I’m not a clinician or a psychotherapist, but I am a developmental psychologist with more knowledge on psychological disorders than your average bear, so I found myself wondering how I could have gone nearly five months without realizing that I had PPD. I was disappointed in myself for not realizing I had PPD given that I had struggled with depression since adolescence. I should have seen the symptoms. I knew I was at a greater risk for developing PPD because of my history of depression.

As I waited for my midwife to text back, I thought back to my previous bouts of depression and realized it was these previous depressive episodes that had thrown me off the trail for sniffing out my PPD. The set of symptoms I had with previous bouts were different than my current struggle with PPD. My previous depressive episodes left me in bed all day. I would sleep up to 20 hours per day waking only to eat and use the bathroom. I ate a little less than I probably should have. When I was out of bed, I spent my time crying and watching depressing television. I socially isolated myself.

My PPD symptoms were nearly entirely different from these pre-baby depressive episodes. I had raging insomnia. I was ravenously eating 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day (Thanks to the miracles of breastfeeding, however, I was slowly loosing about a pound of the baby weight each week.). I was irritable. I felt constantly overwhelmed. I couldn’t manage to help around the house. I had a low-grade, chronic, generalized feeling of anxiety. When I was alone, I found myself ruminating on frustrating and depressing things that had happened in my life. I couldn’t focus. I found myself unable to enjoy just about everything that I loved. I couldn’t talk to my husband like I used to. I didn’t want to go to work. I couldn’t muster the energy to exercise. I couldn’t read more than a few pages of a book. The only thing I enjoyed was my baby, but as the symptoms grew, it was more and more of a struggle to delight in him. This was my breaking moment. My PPD was starting to threaten my relationship with my baby, so I reached out for help.

Another reason it took me so long to see PPD coming was that the symptoms didn’t come all at once and they started off as mild, growing over time. My insomnia started out in August as not being able to go back to sleep after the 4am feeding. By December, I was getting only 2-4 hours of broken sleep per day. My anxiety started off mildly too but had grown to the point that I had a few panic attacks by Thanksgiving. I had lots of good days without symptoms, but the good days became fewer and fewer, and the bad days became more frequent. The day I realized I had PPD I was starting what I knew was going to be my third bad day in a row. Bad days never lasted more than a day and a half prior to that. When my midwife called to talk to me, she said the anxiety is the most common symptom she sees in moms with PPD.

I also found it difficult to distinguish first-time momma struggles from PPD. It was easy for me to brush off a bad day by attributing my symptoms to fluctuating hormones. Babies are stressful, so it seemed plausible that I would be more stressed out and overwhelmed. My baby is a terrible sleeper so clearly I wasn’t going to get much sleep. Transitioning back to work is hard according to the Internet. Teething can be a nightmare said the baby books. I was making 24-48 ounces of milk every day, so of course I was going to be hungrier than normal. The morning I realized I had PPD, I looked at my husband holding our baby while I took my vitamins and asked myself why I didn’t feel as joyful as my two favorite guys seemed. Then, it all added up: changes in appetite, changes in sleep, inability to concentrate, rumination, irritability, no energy, anhedonia, feeling withdrawn. If someone else would have told me that’s how they felt, I would have told them to see a doctor for depression. It only took one look at this page to confirm my suspicion. I have PPD.  

The day that I took my first Paxil, I stopped binge eating. I ate three normal sized meals and a small snack. I no longer craved carbs and sugar. Two days later, my anxiety was replaced by a feeling of peace. That day I also emptied the dishwasher and did two loads of laundry for the first time in five months. Five days later, my insomnia subsided. Now, I’m just the sleepy momma of a baby who wakes multiple times a night to nurse. A week after taking my first Paxil, I've exercised three times and lost as many pounds of baby weight. The most important transformation, however, has been my relationships. I don’t snap at my husband. I don’t freak out over stupid stuff. I’m calm and peaceful. My relationship with my baby has gone from good to amazing. I no longer find it a struggle to be present. It’s so much easier for me to delight in him. He also seems to delight in me more. He’s never smiled and giggled so much. Before I started Paxil, I sometimes had to fake it. Now, it’s natural. I’m looking forward to going back to work after Christmas break.

I’m not going to beat myself up over having PPD or for not recognizing I had it sooner. I’m going to forgive myself for the times I couldn’t be present for my baby. He seems to have already forgiven me anyway. I’m going to be thankful that I realized I have PPD when I did, rather than later. I’m going to be proud that I was strong enough to ask for help as soon as I realized I needed it. I’m going to celebrate my new start.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Five Elf on the Shelf Hacks to Make your Life Easier

1. Do not purchase an Elf.
2. Do not ask to be gifted an elf.
3. Tell other people NOT to give you an elf.
4. If someone gets you an elf, re-gift it to someone you hate.
5. If you have an elf, kill it.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Lilly White: Breaking the Boundaries of Gender Stereotypes

In my Developmental Psychology class, I have my students create children's literature that breaks gender stereotypes because children who are less sexist have better developmental outcomes and one way to help kids become less sexist is to expose them to media that portrays both sexes more diversely. The problem comes when you try to find media that doesn't reinforce gender stereotypes. Thus, my students and I have become part of the solution by creating children's literature that portrays both sexes in non-traditional ways. This post is my favorite story from this semester, so I'm rewarding my hard-working and creative students by making them astonishingly famous by publishing their retelling of Snow White on my wildly popular blog.
Lilly White
Tessa Rademacher, Issac Pohlman, Nikki Deel, and Ashley Thornton

Once upon a time, there was a valiant woman named Lilly White. While walking through the town, Lilly grabbed the daily newspaper and noticed something interesting. “The Prince is Missing!” the headline read. Lilly continued to read the article. Lilly discovered that the queen was holding a competition: Whoever found the Prince first would win a great reward.

Intrigued, Lilly decided to enter this competition. In preparation, she headed to the gym to lift. She sharpened her two trusty swords and prepared her noble steed. She grabbed her PowerBars® and whey protein shakes and ventured off into the night.

At dawn, Lilly found her stash of PowerBars® low and decided to find a place to rest. While wandering around for several minutes, she found a small, tidy cottage with a wonderful garden and elaborate landscaping. Curious, Lilly knocked on the door.

After knocking, a small voice greeted her, “Who’s there?”

“A local townsperson on a quest to save the Prince. I am in need of PowerBars® and more water for my protein shakes.”

The door slowly opened, revealing a small man wearing scrubs. “Oh, Dear! You look exhausted and parched. Come in. I need to check your blood pressure and get you rested up.”

Lilly contemplated and decided to accept the invitation.

Upon entering the cottage, Lilly was greeted by six other little people. The smallest one jumped up and yelled, “A guest! A guest! So exciting!”

The scrub-wearing little person led her into the living room to a hot tub. “Go ahead, Dearie. Go on in and I’ll go get my equipment. Gosh, those nails look awful!”

Lilly casually looked down at her nails, confused, then, at the rest of the little people. The smallest one, again, yelled, “It’s so exciting to have a guest here! My name is Peppy!”

Peppy began to point around the room. “And that’s Nurse who let you in. And that’s Sleazy, Ditzy, Sappy, Crampy, and Crabby! Would you like a back rub?”

Lilly, overwhelmed by the peppiness, considered the offer. “Uh…I do have an itch on my back. I just lifted yesterday and I’m so swole I literally can’t even reach it.”

“Of course!” Peppy began to scratch Lilly’s back.

Soon, Nurse returned with a blood pressure cuff and a stethoscope. During her examination, Lilly felt cramps in her stomach. “That darn whey protein,” she thought to herself.

One of the little people interrupted her gassy thoughts. “So…like…what are you doing?” Ditzy asked, twirling his hair.

Lilly, enjoying her back scratch and hot tub time, proudly said, “I’m on a quest to find the missing prince.”

Sappy, a love-struck looking man, swooned, “Oh! True love’s quest!”

Sleazy, a midriff-showing, leather pants-wearing little person, seductively walked up to the hot tub, switching his hips side-to-side, and began to rub Lilly’s toned delts. “You don’t have to go so soon, ya know. You can stay here in my room,” he said with a slightly perverse wink directed toward Lilly.

Crampy, a rather whiny little person, kept repeating himself: “I have a migraine. Can we dim the lights? I’m starting to get my knee pains again too.”

Crabby, a little person with resting bitch face, rolled his eyes. “Why the heck would you care about true love with hair like that?” as he smacked his chewing gum.

“Now, now everyone,” Nurse began. “Look, she needs her clothes washed, a fresh meal prepared, and plenty of rest.”

“I feel a hot flash coming on,” Crampy complained.

“Oooo, I’ll make her a fresh meal,” Sleazy said in a sultry voice as he waltzed off into the kitchen.

“I’ll start the laundry! Nothing says true love like fresh laundry!” Sappy exclaimed.

While the little people took care of Lilly’s needs, she set out on an evening walk through the woods. The sun was beginning to set when she heard sobbing coming from behind a big oak tree. She drew her sword ready to battle and tiptoed toward the tree. She sprung around, taking the mysterious creature by surprise, only to find a full-grown man on the ground in the fetal position, rocking and sobbing. Lilly rolled her eyes and, with as much sincerity as she could muster, said, “Um…hi. Are you okay? You look a little…sad.”

The man looked up at her and replied, “NO! NO! I’m NOT okay! Is your mom the meanest person ever! The answer is NO because mine is! What am I going to do?”

Lilly let that rant sink in before replying, “Well, I’m sure it isn’t that bad. I think you should suck it up a little.”

“SUCK IT UP? You want me to just SUCK IT UP? You try having the Queen as your mom always on your back about your missing brother. It’s too much for one guy to handle. I just can’t even. Literally, I can’t even,” replied the man.

Putting two and two together, Lilly realized this sobbing, pathetic man was the brother to the missing prince. This was Prince Prissy. “Great,” she thought, another basket case for me to handle.

“Funny you should mention it,” Lilly said, “I’ve made it my own personal quest to find your missing brother. I love a good competition. I guess…if you have to…you can join me if you agree to a few conditions. One, don’t talk. Two, basically leave everything to me and just know if it comes down to it, I will leave you behind.”

Like a deer in headlights, Prince Prissy nodded his head, got up, and followed Lilly to the cottage. They gathered their things along with food prepared by the little people and set out at dawn in search of the prince. 

Many days passed before Lilly and Prince Prissy came across a tall tower. Leaving Prince Prissy in a meadow to pick flowers, Lilly started to do a little reconnaissance. Only a few minutes into her recon mission, she heard Prince Prissy shriek. “Darn it,” she thought, “This is exactly why I didn’t need this clingy, basket case to be my problem. Reluctantly, she went to see what mess he had gotten himself into.

She found the prince standing with a woman, when they both turned to look at her. “My word” the lady exclaimed, “you can’t do anything for yourself can you?” the lady directed  toward the prince. “You needed this brute to do what you couldn’t handle.”

“But Mah-um,” Prince Prissy exclaimed, “you don’t understand!”

All of a sudden, a faint voice from the top of the tower called down, “Hey! Hey! I’m up here! Mom’s gone mad! Get me down!”

The Queen, filled with rage, turned into a ferocious dragon.

“Oh, great,” Lilly said, knowing she was the only one brave enough to slay the dragon and save both princes.

Lilly drew both her swords, looked the Dragon Queen in the eye and said, “Say hello to my two mighty pythons!” flexing both of her biceps. Like a boss, Lilly took down the dragon with a single strike of her sword.

“You’re amazing!” the prince from the tower called, “I’m forever in your debt.”

“But, um, how do I get down from here?” The prince asked.

“Jump!” Lilly instructed, “I’ll catch you. Don’t you trust me? Don’t be so needy.”

“Funny you should mention it. Needy is actually my name. Prince Needy, that is,” the prince replied.

“For goodness sake, just jump.” Lilly demanded. Reluctantly, the prince followed her orders and jumped from the tower into Lilly’s strong arms.

“Is it just me, or is this love at first sight? Lilly, I’ve fallen for you. Like, literally,” the prince swooned.

“Yeah, about that. I’m sure you’re a nice fella. It’s not you. It’s me. I think I’ll be going now. Good luck without your Mom and Prince Prissy.”

Lilly gave a friendly wave and headed off seeking a new adventure.

And they all never lived together. Ever.

The End.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Using Pets to Prep for Parenthood in 77 Simple Steps

Many well-intentioned people get pets because they think it’s going to prepare them for parenthood. I was one of them. The problem isn’t so much that pets can’t prepare you for being a parent. Rather, it’s more of a problem of how most people parent their pets that ill-prepares them for parenting humans.  I don’t want to poo all over your dreams, so I’m going to give you some practical advice on how exactly pets can prepare you to rear children.

1. Get at least one dog and one cat.  If you want a bigger family, add more of either type of pet. This will simulate having children of different personalities, motivations, and capabilities. Bonus points if they fight like cats and dogs. Pun intended.
2. Smear the cat’s ass with chunky peanut butter (This will be important later).
3. Put a diaper on the cat.
4. Put the cat in a onesie, pants, socks, and a hat.
5. Take the dog out to go potty. Bring the cat with you. You can’t leave kids unattended! The dog says he doesn’t have to poop. He swears.
6. Time to dress the dog. He needs a shirt, pants, socks, and shoes.
7. The dog is insisting, “I do it myself!” so you have to let your dog at least try to lace his own shoes.
8. Get frustrated and try to tie your dog’s shoes. He goes catatonic and refuses to wear shoes. You’re running late.
9. Find the cat! Where the eff did the cat run off to while you were wrestling your dog into shoes!?!
10. The cat has knocked the fish bowl over and is trying to eat the fish. Remove the fish from your cat’s paws.
11. Your dog’s goldfish is dead.  You dog saw the whole thing and is whimpering for you to make the fish all better with big sad puppy-dog eyes (again, pun intended). Put the dead goldfish back into the bowl. Refill the water. Lie to the dog and tell him the goldfish is just sleeping. Text your spouse, “Come home with a goldfish that is an EXACT replica of Bubbles. ONLY AN EXACT REPLICA WILL SUFFICE.”
12. Bathe and change the cat who is covered in goldfish sewage (You haven’t changed the goldfish’s water in 3 months. How has that goldfish survived up until now?!).
13. Oh, gross. There’s chunky peanut butter all over the cat’s ass. Don’t act disgusted or upset. You don’t want to scar your cat for life. Paste a smile on and start scraping the peanut butter off of the cat.
14. Bathe the cat.
15. While you are trying to get the cat into the bath, your dog has stripped naked and hopped into the tub.
16. Bathe the cat and the dog.
17. The dog pooped in the tub.
18. Pull the wet, sudsy cat and dog out of the tub before the turd touches either.
19. Get the fish net, fish out the turd, and flush it while holding a wet, screaming, sudsy cat.
20. Put the cat and dog in the bath in a different bathroom and finish bathing.
21. Redress the cat and the dog. While you were dressing the dog, the cat unrolled all the toilet paper and ate an undetermined amount of it.
22. The cat and the dog are hungry. Make the dog an organic bento box with fresh vegetables and homemade hummus while you breastfeed the cat.
23. Leave the mess for your spouse to clean up.
24. Put the cat and the dog into their respective car seats. Pull out of the garage and start your exciting day trip to the beach!
25. Alternate playing dogs barking Christmas carols and cats meowing Disney hits.
26. Stop at the store to pick up some essentials.
27. The dog has fallen asleep. The cat has thrown up all over himself. Clean up the cat. The cat eating toilet paper has made this task a bit easier! Wake up the dog and put him, now grumpy, into the cart.
28. Put the cat into the cart. The dog doesn’t want to share his leg hole with the cat. He spends the whole shopping trip crying. The cat scratches him. He tantrums while you’re in the sunblock aisle.
29. Check out. Do not let your dog eat any of the candy. Do not let your cat knock any of the candy off the shelves.
30. Pay for the candy your dog ate. Apologize for your cat knocking off all of the candy on the shelves.
31. Get back into the car. Turn on static so your dog and cat take a nap on the way to the beach.
32. Listen to static the WHOLE GODDAMNED DRIVE.
33. You’ve made it to the beach! Now, park. The dog and cat are still asleep. Sit in the car still listening to static waiting for the dog and cat to wake up.
34. They’re awake! Put your kids into the stroller. Stuff the stroller with your blanket, beach bag and towels. Carry the cooler and umbrella. Do not hit anyone while walking to the beach.
35. Apologize for hitting someone with the umbrella, another for hitting her with the cooler, and an elderly couple for running into them with your stroller. Find a spot and get comfortable.
36. Spray the dog with sunblock. Do not let him run into the water. You'll be judged harshly if your child is leashed so you have to let your dog be free range.
37. Put the thick, pasty baby sunblock on the cat. Sorry, there is no spray sunblock for babies.
38. Take the dog and cat to the water. Make sure the dog doesn’t drown while keeping the cat out of the water. The cat will scream if touched by water. The dog will scream if removed from it.
39. Lunch time. Finally! Breastfeed the cat while making sure that absolutely nobody knows that you are feeding your cat with your boobs. At the same time, make sure the dog sits still and eats his organic veggie-wrap pinwheels you made him.
40. The dog’s done eating. He's eaten only the wrap of the pinwheels. The cat’s not done eating. Continue breastfeeding the cat while making sure that the dog doesn’t go over to other people and beg for food and attention.
41. The cat’s asleep. Entertain the dog making sure not to wake the cat.
42. The dog has to go potty. The cat’s still asleep. While you are looking for the closest bathroom, your dog pees on the blanket. Cover it with sand.
43. The cat’s awake. Time to take one more dip into the water. Repeat 36-38.
44. Time to go home! Gather up your things. Repeat 34.
45. Your dog is crying. He wants to walk. Let him out. Proceed to continue your walk to the car stopping to look at every. single. tiny. little. thing. at one-tenth of the pace that you would normally walk.
46. Apologize to everyone who walks past you for being so slow and for hitting them with the umbrella/cooler/stroller.
47. Put the dog and cat in their respective car seats. They want snacks. Give the dog cereal puffs and tell him to share with the cat.
48. Pull into the drive. Your partner is home! The dog wants to go see your partner. Let him out. He runs inside. Phew! One less kid to wrestle.
49. Get the cat out of the car. The dog has shared his cereal puffs by what appears to be, first, chewing them himself and, then, smearing the resulting paste all over the cat’s face and hair. Carry your crusty cat into the house. Leave the crap in the car. Your partner will have to take care of that.
50. You walk in just in time to see your spouse pulling out the new goldfish and giving it to your dog. You try to stop him but you can’t. It’s happening too fast. The dog is running gleefully to put his new fish in with Bubbles.
51. Your dog is screaming, “BUBBLES IS DEAD! HE IS NOT SLEEPING!” Snot bubbles (again, hahaha, so punny) have appeared.
52. Tell your dog you are sorry that Bubbles is dead. Begin planning a funeral for his dead goldfish. He wants to invite Nanny and Poppy to the funeral.
53. Nanny and Poppy arrive. Within 7 seconds of entering the house, Nanny has said 11 passive-aggressive things about your housekeeping, laundry, and parenting.
54. Swallow the blood trickling from your tongue which you have been biting. See 53, above.
55. Have a goldfish funeral.
56. The dog insists that Nanny and Poppy stay for dinner. You’re supposed to eat after you have funerals, he says. Make a mental note to Google your dog’s precocious knowledge of funeral practices.
57. Hand over the parenting duties to your spouse and Nanny and Poppy while you make a three-course, post goldfish funeral dinner.
58. The dog won’t eat any of the food you made because Nanny gave him a bag of candy from her purse.
59. Nanny and Poppy go home!
60. Start the bedtime routine. Baths all-around. It’s your spouse’s turn to take over!
61. Go to the bathroom before you drink the glass of wine you poured yourself to celebrate Nanny and Poppy’s departure. 
62. Forget that the cat “used” all the toilet paper in your bathroom. Wait on the toilet until your spouse is done bathing the pets so you can ask for a roll of toilet paper.
63. Your naked, wet dog brings you a roll of toilet paper.
64. The dog comments that your tummy looks like a fat donut. He wants to pretend to eat it. Hurry him out so you can finish your bathroom "break."
65. Look longingly at the glass of wine on the counter as you walk through the kitchen on your way upstairs with your naked, wet, wriggling dog.
66. Trade pets with the spouse so that the dog can be read “Goodnight Moon” fifty-eleven times.
67. Breastfeed the cat in the dark nursery listening to the gentle, soothing sound of white noise. Do not look at your phone. The cat does not care that you are bored. You must sit there in the dark and like it.
68. Forty-five minutes later, emerge from the nursery having successfully nursed the cat to sleep.
69. The dog is still being read bedtime stories. Try to sneak past without being noticed.
70. You were noticed. Squish into the dog’s bed with your spouse and read “Goodnight Moon” four more times.
71. Leave. Close the door. Walk downstairs. Reach for your glass of wine…
72. The dog is thirsty. The dog is yelling for a glass of water. Send your spouse to give the dog water.
73. The yelling has woken the cat. Put down your wine and repeat 67.
74. Repeat 67 every 2 hours.
75. After the 4 am feeding when you can’t go back to sleep, yet your spouse is sleeping peacefully, Google “Sleep training” and "Child obsessed with death" while finally having your forgotten glass of wine until the 4am feeding.
76. Wake up at 6am with a hungry cat and a dog who is crying because he peed the bed.
77. Repeat steps 1-76 for 18 years in various venues and rotating characters with other insane situations that you never imagined possible.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Help! My Sister-in-Law is Driving Me Mad!

A reader wrote: My sister-in-law accused me of not caring about my boy’s low weight gain. Sent me into tears. How do you deal with difficult in-laws since you have to deal with them? It makes me so mad I don’t even want to spend the holidays with them.

First, let me say that I’m sorry about your sister-in-law’s hurtful dialogue. Of course you care about your boy’s health. How insensitive of her.

Unfortunately, my recommendation is basically for you to be open and honest with your sister-in-law. I do, however, have some specific advice. From my years in therapy and school, I have learned to use statements like the following for helping me to voice my feelings: When you ________ I feel _________. I would prefer _________. 

The “when you ________” part of the statement is designed to let the person know what specifically it is that is problematic. The “I feel ________” part is designed to make it about you and your feelings rather than blaming the other person. Making “I” statements helps prevent people from getting defensive. The “I would prefer _________” part is meant to give the person a specific idea of how to fix the problem.

Either you or your husband can be the one to speak up to your sister-in-law. I know it can be awkward to talk to family members but if you don’t say anything, she’ll keep thinking her behavior is acceptable and you’ll keep being gnawed up over her dumb comments. It may take a few times of you or your husband having this conversation with your in-laws for the problem to be resolved because people don’t like hearing that they are acting like douchebags and changing behavior isn’t always instantaneous. If they choose to keep mistreating you after you’ve clearly expressed your feelings, then you may want to consider drawing more boundaries between you and your in-laws. If they are given the opportunity to change and choose not to do so, then you may consider limiting your contact with them and visiting with them on your own terms, which leads me to my next point.

You are a grown-up and it’s your holiday. You do not have to spend it with your in-laws. I feel like this point is one that most people forget. You do not owe them your time even if your husband rented out their uterus for 9 months. If they are toxic or abusive and you’ve clearly expressed how their behavior hurts you and how they can act differently, then you are certainly more than justified in not spending the holidays with them. If they ask why, you should be honest with them and tell them that the questions and comments about your boy’s low weight gain hurt your feelings and you’d rather stay home or do whatever it is that you are going to do. You can also limit your time with them and or see them on your own terms. It can feel very empowering to start setting boundaries with them that you are comfortable with.

I’ll end by saying, again, how sorry I am that you are having trouble with your in-laws. I know people can be very judgmental when your baby isn’t fat. You’re a great mom and you take terrific care of your baby. Know that I’m with you and I’m giving your sister-in-law the middle finger right now on your behalf.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reader Q: What Do You Think About Jimmy Kimmel's Halloween Prank?

A reader wrote, “Dear Professor Parenting: Please tell me what you think about Jimmy Kimmel asking parents to convince their kids that they ate all their Halloween candy.” 

At first, my response was that those kids are likely going to be just fine in the long run because most people end up just fine. The odds are in their favor. Then, I got in the shower and I started thinking. I started thinking that I don’t like the spirit of the trick. I don’t like it because it celebrates being mean to our kids. I especially don’t like it in the context of repeated mean, nasty, taunting parenting that too many kids have to face from their parents—the people around whom children center their entire world in their early prescient years. Then, I had a flashback to my childhood.

The flashback was a memory of my sixth birthday. The only thing I wanted was a desk. I wanted to have a special place all of my own to do the things that brought me the most joy—schoolwork and crafts. The few months leading up to my birthday, I had just started kindergarten which resulted in me being assigned a desk.  I had been given my own first desk and it was my first love. All I wanted was to have a desk at home too. A place to work, put my books, and keep my art supplies. I asked for a desk everyday leading up to my birthday.

The big day came. It was a Saturday. I woke up at 7am and asked my mom if I had gotten a desk for my birthday. I had been promised a desk. My parents sat me down on the couch and handed me a small wrapped present about the size of a ladies’ wallet. I felt my heart sinking through my stomach as I opened it. It was a box made of laminate board. I was unable to hold in my disappointment and shock. My mom told me that it was a pencil box. She explained that they wanted to get me a desk but they didn’t have enough money. All they could afford was the pencil box. That’s all I was getting for my birthday. I bit my lip, ran down the hallway into my room, and let the hot tears run down my cheeks.

Just as I had started to let my tears turn into quiet sobbing, my mom entered and tried to convince me to come back out. She wanted to show me something. I obeyed, walking down the hallway with my head down, vision still blurred from my crying. She opened the door to the guest room, and there was desk. It was the desk I specifically requested. My parents erupted in laughter. I had gotten a desk, but I was confused. Why would my parents have played such a cruel joke? Why did they think that the pain they caused me was funny? 

I settled into my desk, the wound of my parents’ cruelty still raw. My parents left, laughing all the way to the family room about how funny it was to see me so disappointed when I opened the pencil box. My father had managed to snap a photograph of me the instant that I opened the pencil box. For the rest of my life, my family would pull out that photo and laugh about how funny it was. Every time they pull that photo out, they reopen my old wound just so they can have a laugh.

My main issue with parents being encouraged to video record themselves convincing their children that they ate all of their Halloween candy is that it praises parents for being mean and nasty to their children. I’m not against playing tricks or pranks in general. In fact, I don’t think that an isolated event like mine would necessarily scar children for life. My experience could have gone much differently.

What my parents had done, in psychological terms, is called a rupture. They had ruptured or damaged our relationship with their actions. We do it all the time to each other in microscopic ways (not returning texts fast enough, forgetting important dates). Usually, it’s no big deal because we do what’s called a repair. We apologize and make amends. We validate the other person’s pain. We empathize. 

My parents didn’t repair. They didn't recognize that they had hurt me deeply. If this had been an isolated event and/or my parents had repaired the rupture, I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about it as a developmental psychologist concerned with helping parents treat their children more kindly. What happened, instead, was me being left alone to deal with my pain.

I have problems with venerating cruelty for a cheap laugh because I want to prevent children from experiencing the repeated cruelty that I faced. My parents are the meanest, cruelest people I’ve ever known. My parents would say things like children should be seen and not heard, I’ll give you something to cry about, and if I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you. When I was three, I once spent three hours in time-out with my nose pressed against the wall for breaking one of my toys. It's this kind of omnipresent threat of parental cruelty that I admonish. Video recording has the potential to make it worse by facilitating and encouraging parents to make their children relive the trauma. It’s experiences with parental cruelty like mine that I want to prevent if I can. I would never participate in that Halloween candy prank because there’s no need for me to take a chance that I deeply hurt my child. Kids do cute and funny things without people acting like total dicks. Most importantly, however, there is enough cruelty and nastiness in this world. Children don't need their parents to be one of those people too.

I get that the Jimmy Kimmel prank is funny. I’ve laughed at the things those kids in those videos say. I also don’t think that the kids in those videos are going to be messed up as a result of their parents convincing them that they ate all of their Halloween candy. What I’m trying to point out is that this type of deception isn’t something that’s completely innocuous. It has the potential to do real lasting harm to real people, especially if it’s a way of life for the children whose parents do so.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Reader Question: My Kid's a Nightmare If I Wake Her Up

Shortly after I proclaimed myself a child development expert on Facebook and the Blogosphere, my friend from high school, Miles, messaged me soliciting my advice on an issue he was having with waking his daughter.  He told me that she’s a great kid except when you wake her up. If you wake her up she’s a total crab-ass, to put it mildly. His breaking point was his daughter’s imminent first day of kindergarten and he feared she would commit a homicide due to having to wake her up to get to school on time. 

Here’s what I said: Is there any way you can get her to bed earlier? She's like most kids--happiest when waking on her own. If you can get her to bed earlier you might not have to wake her up and have a shit head. Another option is to wake her up with enough time to not only get her ready but to have her homicidal ways wear off. Oh, and she's probably shitty when you wake her up because you might be waking her in the middle of REM sleep which makes people more shitty. She just might be especially sensitive to it.

I heard back from him recently and he told me how he took my advice to devise his own parenting hack around the issue. Here’s what he did: He tricked her into thinking she's waking herself up. He gets up 15 minutes earlier than otherwise necessary to do it, but he swears it’s worth it. He gets ready for work, and then he gets her out of his bed and puts her into his bed while she’s still asleep. Then, he turns on her favorite cartoon and "accidentally" nudges her for about 5 min. Once she's got her eyes open, he lets her watch about 15 minutes of the show. Then, he asks her favorite question: Who wants breakfast? She’s a sucker for breakfast foods. As of now, it’s worked for about a month and she hasn’t committed an acts of aggression or homicide and she’s been much more agreeable.

My hope is that sharing Miles’ sensitive and well-thought out work-around to his daughter’s waking issues will provide others with ideas for their own problems. So, congratulations Miles on your success and thank you for sharing and letting me write a post about this. For the record, I offered to let him guest blog for me and he reminded me that although I like to write essays for fun, I’m nuts if I think others want to spend their free time writing papers that aren’t required for some sort of degree. Touché. For his ability to be bigger, stronger, wiser, and kind while taking charge and using TV to his benefit, Miles is my proud first recipient of a Parenting Black Belt award. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Infertility: Our Unwelcomed Guest

On average, couples have sex 104 times before getting pregnant. Obviously, some get pregnant quicker, but sometimes it takes longer. For the people who had to keep trying and trying, getting pregnant is stressful and heartbreaking. This post on infertility is meant to address the feelings of heartbreak that come month after month of trying and not getting pregnant. If you've struggled with getting pregnant too, I hope this post helps you feel less alone in your pain. For others, I hope this post helps foster a better understanding of the emotional turmoil that infertility brings and a little more insight into why someone struggling to get pregnant might lose it. I present to you haiku I wrote while my husband and I struggled with infertility due to endometriosis. I’ve titled my set of poems Infertility: Our Unwelcomed Guest. I’ll warn you now that, depending on our relationship, some of this will seem like way more information than you ever wanted to know about me.

Dull aching, now throbs
The courtesy call she sends
Warning me of loss

Hot diarrhea
And I know she’s coming soon
To empty my soul

I clench the toilet
Waiting out the contractions
Preparing to wipe

Look between my legs
My heart drops though my stomach
Her fangs have sunk deep

Her name writ in blood
I examine the contract
Written on tissue

I prepare for her visit
Destructive, cruel

She thrashes about
Tearing, screaming in her room
While I wait outside

I abide her stay
With resentful silent tears
Mourning with Malbec

Mark the calendar
Crimson stained dates, warning us
Of her next visit

I would love to read your own haiku about your feelings about getting pregnant in the comments.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Reasons People Think I’m a Bad Mom: Pregnancy Through 6 Months

I've been a mom for only 6 months, but I've learned one important thing. It doesn't matter what you do or how educated you are on motherhood, people will think you're doing it wrong. Here are the top ten things I've done to put me in the Mommy Hall of Shame.

1. I had a home birth. Jim Gaffigan was really only half joking when he said, “Oh, you had your baby at home? Yeah, we were gonna do that, but we wanted our baby to live.” People seem to think home birthers are on a mission to kill themselves and/or their unborn child. Even the most supportive members of my family asked how far away the hospital is. I had a home birth because the research indicated that for a healthy woman with a healthy pregnancy, home births are just as safe as hospital births, if not safer.

2. I went 2 weeks past my due date. I chose to let baby come when he was ready because ultrasound dating of pregnancies is more inaccurate than the risk of going past your due date. Thus, it is more likely that your doctor makes a mistake and induces your pregnancy too early and you have a preemie than is the risk of complications arising as a result of going past due. Doctors start pushing induction rather quickly after women go past their due date because research shows that the risk of the baby being stillborn increases as you progress past your estimated due date. But what do the actual numbers look like? The chance of stillbirth is 2/1000 at 40 weeks, 2.3/1000 at 41 weeks, 3/1000 at 42 weeks, 4/1000 at 43 weeks, and 7/1000 at 44 weeks. Doctors often tell women the risk of stillbirth doubles after 42 weeks of pregnancy and they are right, but the overall probability is really low. As such, I chose to let Frankie come naturally because the risks of induction seemed greater and more troublesome than the risk of him being stillborn.

3. I couldn’t let Frankie cry it out. For the first 3 months, we wore Frankie in a baby wrap and walked until he fell asleep. We did this because until 3 months of age, babies aren’t capable of self-soothing. At 4 months, we tried full-out extinction (a.k.a. "Cry It Out") for a week. It seemed to be working. Then, at 5 months he started pulling himself to stand and it quit working. For a week he cried for 20-60 minutes before each nap. Then, we switched to Ferberizing him. For 2 weeks he cried for an hour or more before each nap. Thus, Ferberizing didn’t work with my extremely persistent, terrible napper. At this point, he was approaching the age at which babies begin to form attachments, and the only time he cried all day or night was when we put him down for naps. Thus, I didn’t feel that we were being generally available and responsive and began to worry that my son might form an insecure attachment because of the sleep training (I do not feel that crying it out or Ferberizing leads to insecurely attached kids. In fact, I would largely expect it to have no effect on attachment for most babies, but for our baby, it seemed possible.), so we used a no-tears method of sleep training (put down in crib, respond and comfort when he cries, put back down, repeat until asleep) so he understands that we are available and responsive to his needs, but we’re serious about him taking his effing nap. Now, at almost 7 months, he takes between 30 seconds and 40 minutes to fall asleep, but he's not screaming is face off alone for an hour and I'm not wracked with guilt. Also worth noting here is that some people have thought I'm a bad mommy for sleep training at all.

4. I never gave Frankie formula. I’ve been asked a bajillion times whether Frankie was getting enough milk. This line of questioning usually comes from people who still believe that a fat baby is a healthy baby. It's now become abundantly clear that fat babies are more likely to be fat kids and fat adults. He's not fat, which may be why people ask if he's getting enough milk, but does he look malnourished? Again, if I had chosen to give him formula, people would have lit their torches for that choice as well.

Frankie, not fat, but certainly not malnourished despite eating only breast milk as of this photo.
5. I’ve never sterilized anything. I also don’t wipe off the shopping cart. I’ve washed things off when necessary but I’m not about to waste my time sterilizing things, especially when there’s good evidence that keeping things too clean may lead to allergies and asthma.  

6. I don’t give Frankie a bath every day. He gets cleaned as needed (roughly every other day). I’ve also never used soap, shampoo, or lotion on him. We clean and moisturize him by rubbing him with coconut oil and either putting him in the shower with us or letting him play in the bath. He doesn’t smell and he’s perfectly clean. In fact, he smells like a baby, which is delicious.

7. I didn’t find out the sex of my fetus. Some people were utterly confused. How could people possibly start sex-typing my baby if they didn’t know the sex? Should they buy blue or pink stuff? Should they assume the baby is strong and emotionally-distant or caring and bad at math? I’m trying to keep the sex-typing to a minimum here because it’s linked to better social and emotional outcomes like higher self-esteem, greater creativity, and better adjustment. Noteworthy here too is that if I had wanted to know the sex of my fetus, there would have been haters on that front as well.

8. I didn’t “baby-proof” my house. I’m trying this new parenting technique my husband and I created that we call "Watch The Baby". Here’s how I do it (I’m giving this parenting advice away for free!): All of my outlets are tamper proof and I shut the door to the basement. Otherwise, wherever the baby is, so is a responsible adult who makes sure he doesn’t cut his finger off or put his head in the oven.

9. I didn’t start Frankie on solids at 4 months. I also didn’t start him on rice or some other cereal. I started him on avocado. We’re also avoiding fruits for as long as possible. Babies don’t need solids until they’re a year old if you breastfeed. Plus, the new recommendations are to wait until 6 months to feed solids for lots of good reasons.

10. I drink alcohol and breastfeed. People get all up in arms over drinking and breastfeeding because there is a lot of misunderstanding of what doctors actually say and how and how much alcohol gets into breast milk. Doctor's recommendations basically say if you are sober enough to drive, you are sober enough to breastfeed. There is also rarely a reason to pump-and-dump because pumping doesn't let you make more milk with less alcohol. People just like to be obnoxious about asking nursing mothers about pumping and dumping because it rhymes and, again, people don't know how alcohol gets into or out of breast milk. The alcohol content of breast milk is parallel to the blood alcohol content of the mother in a 1:1 ratio. Thus, a legally intoxicated mother is producing breast milk that is less than 1/10th of a percent alcohol, which is roughly equivalent to that which naturally occurs in fruit juice and waaaay less than what's in kefir (fermented milk, like a thin yogurt drink). In addition, the research on whether alcohol consumption while breastfeeding is linked to developmental problems in children is really sparse and has failed to be replicated. Thus, my knowledge of how and how much alcohol gets into breast milk combined with not enough research evidence to make me worried about it's effects has resulted in me drinking like a normal, functioning adult who is not concerned with whether or not I should breastfeed.

In the end, I’ve learned that even if you have a PhD in child development, people will think that you’re a bad parent.