Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Why All Parenting Fads Are Wrong

Parenting is tough (how's that for the understatement of the century?).  You feel the weight of raising these helpless little babies into healthy, happy adults, knowing that at any moment you could say or do something that will later be recounted in your grown child's therapy sessions.  You might make a mistake that your child will use to blame you for all her flaws and failures - and what's worse, she could even be justified!  There's so much pressure to do everything just right.

Naturally, when there's such high stakes, we'll want to turn to experts for help.  Surely there's someone out there, smarter than us, who has figured this all out.  If we just find his program and follow it exactly, our kids will turn out perfectly.

I recently had a conversation where the new parenting fad called RIE came up.  I had never heard of it before, and for a moment, I got excited when I heard it explained as, "you respect babies and children, and treat them like adults."  But as we got further into the conversation, some of the ideas and advice started to sound wrong to me, so I looked it up for myself.  The RIE website actually sounds pretty good.  It touts "basic trust in the child," encouraging parents to give "time for uninterrupted play," "freedom to explore and interact," and that parents should "allow the child to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient."  The only problem I saw from the actual RIE website is that parents are called 'educarer' - which immediately makes me lose some respect for the philosophy.

Then I went further and read a Vanity Fair article about the parenting trend.  The article starts with advice I can fully get behind - talk to your children like adults.  Give them your undivided attention.  Stop paying attention to your phone and pay attention to your kids.  Yes!  I agree, totally.  But then it goes on to say, 
Bouncers are discouraged on the principle that they are disrespectful to a baby’s true emotions, as the object is to make him zone out and stop annoying you. RIE is philosophically opposed to anything that disrespects a baby, including not only sippy cups and high chairs but also baby gyms, baby carriers like Bj√∂rns, baby swaddles, and baby walkers, which Gerber, who had quite a way with words, called “a moving prison."
Well - I can sort of see some of that, though I think the reasoning behind it is flawed.  Babies shouldn't be left alone for long periods of time in bouncers, swings, etc.  The the article also goes on to say,

 “Children don’t need toys,” says Solomon. “Almost all of the toys at RIE can be found in somebody’s cupboard.” No rattles either. According to Gerber, “Rattles are an adult idea: you pick up something, and it makes noise. Why does it make noise? Because some adult put something into something.” No mobiles. “Mobiles are intrusive—the infant has no choice. Who chose the mobile? An adult.” No pacifiers. “The pacifier is a plug,” Gerber once wrote. “It does stop a child from crying, but the question is, Does an infant have a right to cry?” 
And that's when a good premise (treat your children with respect) goes too far.  In trying so hard to treat children with respect, like adults.. they're forgetting that children aren't actually adults.  Babies have an actual need to suck, whether it's on a pacifier or a breast.  If you're not willing to let your infant use you as a pacifier, and you can't give him an actual pacifier when he needs one, how is that respecting his need?  I don't know anyone who has been able to make a child suck on a pacifier when he doesn't want to - at least, I never could with my kids.  If they didn't want to suck on the damn thing, they wouldn't.  Babies cry, yes, and they have that right.  But a cry is a sign of distress, and we have the right to try to figure out why our children are in distress - do they need to suck on something?  Give them a nipple - real or fake - or even a clean finger.  Is the baby bored, tired of looking at you all day?  Try a toy, or a bouncy seat, or a play gym.

Bouncy seats and play gyms are useful because babies need visual stimulation - but their eyesight isn't fully developed.  A young baby can't just sit in your lap and look all around a room, look at that fascinating painting you have hung up on the wall over there - they can't see that far.  A bouncy seat or a play gym puts interesting objects at the right distance for your baby to focus on.  Don't worry about them getting bored - they'll do this amazing thing to let you know they've had enough - they'll cry.  And that's when you pick them up and see what you can do to meet their needs.

But the fact that RIE parenting has some flaws isn't surprising or unexpected.  Every parenting style, fad, philosophy, etc has flaws.  It's inevitable, because not every parent, child, and combination thereof are alike.  Not everyone will respond to techniques or advise the same way.  Some of my favorite philosophies advise things that I just can't stand.  Montessori is wonderful, but what about the child who loves to dress-up and act out elaborate, creative imaginative stories?  Waldorf is beautiful and lovely, but what about the child who teaches himself to read 'too soon' and loves math and science, always asking for more?  Attachment parenting is so nurturing, but what about the mother who can't make enough milk - must she feel like a failure?  I think homeschooling is one of the best choices we've ever made - but would I refuse to let one of my kids go to school if he really wanted?  Of course not.

The problem here is when people choose a particular approach and follow it dogmatically.  They turn off their brains and give up their responsibility to be the best parent they can be - which means thinking critically about what works best in each circumstance, and also following their instincts.  Our instincts are there for a reason - for the survival of the species.  And yet we also have the responsibility to question our instincts - because sometimes they come from wrong place (a parent who was spanked as a child will instinctively do the same thing to their children).  Parenting is hard and the idea that someone out there will magically come up with the perfect way to do it that will work 100% of the time is just crazy.  It's tempting because it takes the responsibility and thus the blame off of us.  If something goes wrong, we can say, "It's not our fault!  We did it just how the book told us to!"  There is no easy answer.  We will make mistakes, it's inevitable - but using our heads and thinking for ourselves is a step in the right direction.  As is taking the one useful thing RIE parenting says - treat your children with respect, as people you care about, not as annoyances or burdens.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Children's Museum of New Hampshire

We are now proud members of the Children's Museum of New Hampshire.  This little gem is in Dover, about 15 minutes from our new house.  We haven't been to a children's museum in a long, long time (the one in Boston was just too inconvenient, and we had a traumatic parking experience that really soured us on the place).  I wasn't sure if Colwyn and Lachlann would enjoy it, being on the slightly older side, but everyone had a fantastic time.

Here's Colwyn sailing a boat in the Cochecosystem exhibit.  The Cocheco is the river that flows smack next to the museum, and their exhibit on the natural ecosystem and industry surrounding the river was really fun.

One of Niall's favorite exhibits was the Dino Detective one.  Anything with goggles and tools is a hit with him. Here he is getting ready to dig up some dinosaur bones.

And here is Fiona comparing herself to a Triceratops femur.  The T. Rex's femur is behind her.  She actually really liked the exhibit, too, and checked out the educational stuff I'd expected her to skip.

One of the biggest hits, by far, was the Adventures in Travel exhibit.  This consisted of a huge green screen, two big TVs, and lots and lots of dress-ups and props.  It was super cool, and I anticipate Doug having fun with this exhibit when he gets a chance to tag along.

I was really impressed with Mindball.  Colwyn and Lachlann thought it was fun, but not quite as cool as I thought it was.  Basically, you put on a headband with electrodes on it, and the game reads your brain waves.  The object is to move a ball (in that tube on the table) into the other person's goal.  The ball moves towards the player who is more agitated - so to win, all you have to do is relax more than your opponent.

The boys also spent a fair amount of time in the giant yellow submarine.  I didn't get a chance to check out what all of the stations in there did (it was pretty crowded, despite how the picture below looks).  They did have a sonar station which 'ping'ed' out of a little window - pretty cool.

We didn't get a chance to check out everything there, even though we were there for over two hours.  I anticipate spending a fair amount of time at the museum, especially during the winter months (and probably hot summer days, too).  

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Downside to an Old House

One of the downsides to living in a really old house--or maybe just this house in particular--is the lack of storage space in the kitchen.  It's not a small kitchen, don't get me wrong.  It's actually quite big, and there's a narrow pantry off the kitchen which has a second, deep sink, dishwasher, and more cabinets.  The kids think it's funny when I ask them to fetch something from the 'other kitchen' or sometimes 'the little kitchen'.  My father thinks it's weird that I don't just call it a pantry, but that's how we roll.

But regardless of how much storage we should have in a kitchen this size, the point is that we actually don't have much at all.  We have one - ONE! - upper cabinet.. and it's half-sized at that.  We do have a really tall pantry-type cabinet (about 18" wide), but the problem there was that even though it's six or seven feet tall, there were only two shelves in it.  Great use of space, right?  As far as bottom cabinets go, we have three regular cabinets, a narrow cookie-sheet type cabinet, a half-size cabinet, and a weird cabinet in front of the chimney which is about the depth of a medicine cabinet.  Oh, and one of those pull-out ones that can hold cans.  Oh, and the obligatory under-the-sink cabinets.

We're coming from a house that, despite its many imperfections, had an enormous amount of cabinets.  Seven full size upper cabinets, plus the cabinets above the fridge and microwave.  Four big lower cabinets, plus a stack of drawers in place of another cabinet.  Oh, and a ton of counter space, too.  So we're kind of floundering here.  We got some MDF cut to make extra shelves in the tall pantry cabinet, that was a no-brainer.  But there's nowhere to store our dishes, about half the food storage we're used to, and our big-ish appliances are vying for space with our pots and pans.  We managed to find space in a cabinet for the crockpot and the food processor, but the toaster oven, Keurig, and stand mixer are all squeezed onto a counter that's about 24" long.

We did come up with a few solutions.  Next to the window in the little kitchen is wide open wall space.  Why they didn't put a cabinet here, I don't know.. but we put shelves.  We tossed almost all of our mugs and miscellaneous cups, bowls, and plates.  Bye-bye, sippie cups!  This is pretty much it for our dishes now.  (Okay, I stashed some extra bowls and our Disney mugs on the top shelf of the tall cabinet).  I actually really like the pasta/rice/etc in nice jars, it looks cool.  The problem there is that I have to get a step-stool if I want anything from that shelf.

One of our other problems was storage for our spices.  We have a lot.  Who doesn't, right?  Anyway - this is our one upper cabinet.  It's next to the stove, so it seemed like a perfect place to set up one of those magnetic under-the-cabinet spice thingies you see on Pinterest.

I could say that we did it perfectly on the first try.  I don't have to tell you how the metal we glued to the bottom of the cabinet wasn't magnetic, or that one magnet wasn't strong enough to hold up a full spice jar (we tried on the underside of the microwave, since the metal isn't magnetic).  I also don't have to tell you that when I hot-glued magnets to the metal, so the magnets on the caps would have something to stick to, that I didn't account for the polarity and that most of the bottles insisted on facing label-side-in.

Nope, I did it just right on the first try.