Archive for Opinion

The #1 Thing You Can Do to Keep Your Kids Safe

car seat safety

We all want to keep our kids safe.

I spend an irrational amount of time researching safe sunscreens, choosing stainless steel or glass containers for their food, and selecting organic foods whenever possible.

The most important and completely rational safety measure I take for my kids by far, however, is buying, installing, and correctly using the right child safety car seat.

Did you know that motor vehicle crashes are a leading cause of death for children age 1 to 13 in the USA? And that consistent use of the correct child safety seat in the car could cut fatalities by about half?

Are you sure that your child is in the correct seat? Sure enough to be his life on it?

Read more

The Show Must (Not) Go On?

You might think this is satire from a “fake news” site but it isn’t–a Long Island elementary school in the Elwood school district has canceled a kindergarten play because they are “responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills…”

Elwood Kindergarten Play Canceled

Another letter references the unusually high number of missed school days due to snow. Elwood, like the district in which I live, has half day kindergarten. So, morning kindergarten was likely canceled when there were delays. Although missed days in excess of allotted snow days are made up–kindergarten days missed due to delays are not.

However, the reference to “college and career” readiness implies a connection with the demands of the Common Core. Do the administrators at Elwood genuinely believe that a few days spent preparing and performing a school play in kindergarten will affect little Ava’s ability to succeed in college and find a high-paying job? Or are they scared that Brayden will bomb the state tests in third grade because his demanding rehearsal schedule distracted him from test prep? Or are they using these children as pawns to protest the requirements tied to implementation of the Common Core in New York?

Does anyone really believe that a five year old’s time is better spent bubbling in more scantrons?

Whatever is going on in Elwood, this is a sad day in early childhood education.

Twin Day for Spirit Week: A Bit of Fun or Exclusionary?

Earlier in the year, my daughter brought the “Spirit Week” flyer home with the list of daily “themes.” This year, there was a new addition, “Twin Day” was slotted instead of the wacky hair or crazy hat day that we had last year.

the-shining-movie-the-grady-twins

Our school has spirit weeks several times a year and they are always fun. A number of parents grumbled about the “literary character day” last year but my daughter went as Dorothy and had a lot of fun with it.

Something about “Twin Day” sent my mama-sense tingling, however.

Read more

Elf on the Shelf in the Classroom — Yea or Nay?

We don’t have an elf on the shelf mainly because I need another thing to do this holiday season like I need more stuffed animals in my kids’ rooms. I have four kids ages 7 and under. If I can get them all in bed in time to watch an episode of Doctor Who on Netflix, I call it a win. The tooth fairy has almost forgotten her duties several times already and I don’t think an elf of ours would fair much better. Seriously, parents…why do you want to make more messes for you to clean up…do you need more kids? Want to borrow one of mine?

My daughter thinks that if she wishes on a star Santa will send us one. Sorry kid, blame Jiminy Cricket.

Before you call CPS on me, however, my kids will not be deprived of this wacky new tradition because their classrooms have their very own elves.

I was a little surprised to find out that my kid’s class had adopted (is that the proper EotS terminology? I am a newbie at this…) an elf. Let me be clear before I get fried in the flames of the Internet…I said, “surprised,” not “incensed” or even “concerned.”

Elf on the Shelf Classroom

So, I did some research (i.e. I asked my friends on Facebook and looked at the first page of results in a Google search…totally New York Times standards of journalism going on in here).

Read more

A Possible Model for Blogging and PR Campaigns

Bloggers and PR people are caught between the proverbial financial rock and the ethical hard place.

Whether or not this is the case, paying and accepting money for reviews on a blog are seen as damagingly prejudicial or, worse yet, a potential legal liability.

And yet, many talented bloggers spend hours establishing, building, and maintaining their blogs. They have integrity and care about the blogging community and their focus topics–but they also aren’t just giving away their hard work for free.

We offer clearly marked, paid advertisements, but companies want the editorial reviews. And if they can get the editorial milk for free, why pay for the banner ad cow?

For many smaller companies, they are simply interested in sending a product for review and that is a completely acceptable deal. You pitch, the blogger accepts, and they either review or get back to you if there is a concern.

In this post, I’m talking primarily about larger corporations that are seeking a wider campaign.

First, let’s start by being honest. Some bloggers are just in it for a quick few bucks, some companies just want the in context links, and some PR people just want to be able to fill in that their campaign reached x number of glazed over eyeballs.

Fine.

If this is you, just skip the rest. Continue on as you were.

For those of us who care about genuine word of mouth campaigns, let’s consider how to move forward.

Instead of sending a press release to thousands of bloggers, regardless of their quality or relevance (I’ve received some, uh….ummm…”adult themed” press releases for my parenting product review blog), try something different.

  1. Research the right blogs that are a fit for your campaign.
  2. Invited a select number of quality, relevant blogs to join your campaign.
  3. Demonstrate your respect and appreciation for the expertise they bring to your campaign.
  4. Provide something of value to them and their readers.
  5. Ask them to share with their readers as appropriate.

Lee Fit Ambassadors is a great example of this type of campaign. Lee selected 25 Fit Ambassadors, including myself and my co-editor at Mamanista, who write about topics relevant to the type of affordable fashion Lee represents. The Fit Ambassadors will have the opportunity to test out various new Lee products throughout the year. In return, they request you share your thoughts on a couple of the products with your readers. They also offer you a number of giveaway pairs to distribute to the bloggers’ readers.

PR people can also use social bookmarking and corporate blogs to share posts, offer bloggers opportunities to guest post, hire bloggers as consultants, identify expertise and invite these expert bloggers to participate in your communities as such, and invest in the blogging community by sponsoring events.

How can you trust that these bloggers will take the time to give you valuable feedback and share with their readers as relevant? Well, you DID do your research right? You chose quality and consistency over page rank and numbers? You showed an interest in the bloggers’ work?

Choose the right bloggers for your campaign, recognize their expertise, value their time, and engage their audience and you will have a great return on investment in your word of mouth campaign.

And if you want a tightly controlled message delivered on your schedule…then buy an advertisement.

To Sling, Or Not to Sling

Every time I take my babies out, I have a choice: Sling or stroller.

I’ve seen parents carrying young infants with neither option, but I cannot imagine that and there is no way I’m carrying my 18 pound infant in a car seat without a stroller.

Let’s do a case study:

Slinging It:

Today I took my toddler to the doctor and I placed Junior in the sling. While we were waiting for the doctor, he fell asleep and continued to sleep through the entire exam.

I brought them to “Toddler Tango” at the library and held Junior in the sling while I danced with my daughter. Junior flirted a bit with the ladies and then passed out. Another mother’s infant woke up from a nap in the travel system and she commented that she did not have her Bjorn with her. I whipped out my spare pouch sling (hee, hee) as a loaner and now she wants one, too.

Strolling:

We went to a craft program. I decided to place Junior in the stroller, hoping he’d fall asleep and I’d get a little break. I maneuvered our Sit N’ Stroll into the elevator along with another adult and toddler. Then, a Dad came along and we held the door for him. He came in with toddler and his stroller.

The doors closed and…the elevator did not move.

We pressed buttons, the doors stubbornly refused to reopen.

Three adults, three toddlers, two strollers, and one infant stuck in an elevator for 15 minutes.

When maintenance finally got us out, I placed Junior in the sling, left the stroller, and walked down the stairs. We arrived in time for circle time but missed the craft.

Now, in the stroller’s defense there are times when I need a little more freedom of movement (like undressing and dressing the toddler for swimming). And sometimes I want to move faster than the toddler can walk. So, strollers definitely have their uses. After the elevator experience, though, I am even more convinced of the benefits and convenience of my slings.

How about you? Any stroller or sling experiences that made your day or drove you crazy?

You Voted for HER?

I’ve been doing some thinking about influence.

I was joking with another HAWT blogger that I’m a connector, but how do I make my zillions off of this? I always seem to connect exciting people together and they have synergy or whatever and go off and do fabulous things. For example, I connected one of my favorite college professors with my Iraq veteran husband and now he’s been a guest speaker at the professor’s classes twice.

I’m a node, but I’m rarely at the center.

Then, I started to think about success. I see a lot of Internet classes advertised by bloggers I respect and I wonder–do people who take these classes really achieve success? And if a few do, how likely are they to have done so anyway? Is it the knowledge conveyed in this class or is it the attitude of the person who uses the knowledge?

This is no disparagement on the quality of those classes. I just suspect that the people teaching these classes on how to become just like them did not need a class to become themselves.

And then I thought about a person who I think is just wonderful. Sweet, smart, helpful, confident, fun, etc., etc. I voted for her for the Hot Blogger Calendar (and yes, she’s in it).

Why did I vote for her?

  1. She Asked Me To: For starters, she asked me to vote for her. So did several others I know through blogging. But since some of the nominees asked me, I was almost certainly going to vote for one of them.
  2. She Deserves It: The Hot Blogger Calendar is interesting because it leaves it to the voter to define “hot.” That could mean talented, popular, sexy, or something else. In this particular case, the blogger is attractive, talented, and is increasingly making ripples throughout the blogosphere.
  3. She Had a Shot: People love to be on the winning team, don’t they?
  4. She Wasn’t a Sure Thing: Although a lot of people know her, she isn’t huge. Not yet. Even better than a winner is an underdog who wins.
  5. She Plants Seeds: This blogger always helps out others, though it is not in a calculating way. She is genuinely kind and the karma comes back to her.
  6. She Wanted It: I knew she would do it if chosen. And she showed her eagerness for this”honor” with a humorous stunt that was daring but still classy.

I think this last one is especially important. All the others who asked me probably fit the first five criteria, but this blogger just seemed to want it more than the others.

There are some people who draw success around them and they do it by “dressing” the part–by which I mean that they give off a winner’s aura. More importantly, they make you feel like you are part of their success and it is just so much fun to be along for the ride.

So, if you voted, how did you make up your mind? What makes a winner in your book?

Promoting Breastfeeding and Supporting Mamas

I started writing this post on MOMformation and it just felt too long, too serious, and too preachy…so over there I am publishing the TOP TEN REASONS I LOVE BREASTFEEDING and I thought I’d bore the 30 people who read this blog instead with my more philosophical ramblings 😉

You’ve heard it all before, all the benefits of breastfeeding for mother and child and their relationship. And, no doubt, if you are planning to or are breastfeeding, you’ve read all the breastfeeding tips and advice on sites like BabyCenter and KellyMom. So, if the information is out there, why are so few U.S. mothers breastfeeding?

Certainly it isn’t a lack of willingness to try. Seventy-five percent of new U.S. moms start breastfeeding but by six months that number drops to just thirty-six percent. Some small percentage are, no doubt, physically unable to breastfeed. But is something else at play here?

Personally, I breastfed my daughter exclusively (no formula and she refused the bottle) for six and a half months. I loved the convenience. I’m lazy like that. And I appreciated how she enjoyed the milk and thrived. Despite a congenital heart condition that would usually make feeding and gaining weight difficult, she hit the 90th percentile curve and followed that until she started walking. And given her medical vulnerability, I felt that any immune boost was helpful. And speaking of weight, mine dropped off immediately.

But I’m well aware that there are as many different experiences with breastfeeding as there are mothers who try to breastfeed. Why is it that so many women struggle with breastfeeding and stop before six months? How can we support women who wish to breastfeed without pressuring those who do not?

I am not a doctor, nor a sociologist. I am a mother, a friend, and a confidant. Listening to my friends, I hear common threads emerge in their stories.

Some of my friends had experiences similar to mine, finding breastfeeding initially exhausting but eventually liberating. A few struggled through immense amounts of pain due to medical conditions or infections but persevered. I’m not saying a mother should have to do that–I’m not sure I would. I even met a woman on a support board who was an adoptive mother trying to stimulate lactation. Whatever your opinion about that, I have to admire the dedication.

However, quite a few of the women I know, after bouts with postpartum depression or other illness, attempts to pump exclusively, or returning to work full time, eventually decided that breastfeeding was not a fit for their families.

A family’s decision how to feed its baby any nutritious food is their own business. I never question any individual mama’s decision to stop breastfeeding–her child, her body, her call. At the same time, I find the trend that the vast majority of mothers are not breastfeeding to six months, let alone a year, concerning as a “big picture.”

I have a few theories about this trend, and I’d be interested in your ideas.

  1. Marketing of Formula: Many doctors claim they support breastfeeding and encourage breastfeeding, but yet the offices and magazines are jam-packed with glossy ads, coupons, and offers of free samples for formula. Thank goodness formula is available for those mothers who are unable to breastfeed or choose not to. And, I certainly have no issue with companies making money. However, there is little money to be made off of breastfeeding and so, in terms of marketing dollars, it just can’t compete with formula.
  2. Medical Interventions During Delivery: Again, thank goodness for modern science. Medical interventions save babies every day. At the same time, with incredibly high rates of c-sections, some mothers and babies miss out on the first opportunity to breastfeed. Often they are still able to breastfeed, but for some this sets the stage for a stressful breastfeeding relationship.
  3. Lack of Breastfeeding Role Models: I think this is a big one. My friends and I are mostly boomer children. Our mothers, with a few exceptions, graduated college and were determined to be more than housewives and technology promised to set them free. Now grandmothers, they have, with few exceptions, any breastfeeding experience to pass along.
  4. Fears of Breastfeeding in Public: Some women may be more naturally or culturally shy about breastfeeding in public. It certainly does not help when people make nasty remarks or even try to push the woman off into an inconvenient and sometimes even uncomfortable and unhygienic place to feed her baby. In certain areas bottle feeding mothers have received nasty stares and remarks, too. And no mama needs a judgmental stranger harassing her during a vulnerable time. Truth is, there are jerks of every stripe. My guess, though, is that the mom with the bottle is not going to stop feeding her child with a bottle (because how else would she feed her baby if she’s already stopped breastfeeding?), whereas the mom with the babe at the breast may be bullied into stopping.

What helped me feel comfortable with breastfeeding in public and keep going was finding a supportive online community to share thoughts, fears, and tips about breastfeeding. What challenges do you think create these low numbers? If you tried breastfeeding and stopped, why? And if you tried breastfeeding and kept going, why? I hope you’ll take a few more moments to let me know!

Photos: Pecho y lectura by Daquealla manera; Nursing in public, the horror! by karynsig; Oh my God! by chispita

I Kept My Big Mouth Shut…

As a former teacher, I have a tendency to lecture inform share my knowledge with others, particularly in museums and in the globally-influenced decor aisle of Target.

But I really, really try to keep my yap quiet when it comes to casual strangers and their parenting. Almost every day someone stops me and asks me about my sling or diaper bag or something else and I’m happy to share. But if I am not asked for my advice, I don’t go around shoving it in people’s faces.

There’s that saying about opinions being like a certain part of the anatomy–just because everyone has one, doesn’t mean we need to hear yours.

Of course, if I saw a child locked alone in a car or a parent beating a child, I would call the authorities, but if it is merely a matter of parenting style, I do remain silent.

Parenting becomes so wrapped up in our identities, particularly for those who are the primary caretakers. Certainly no new parent who hasn’t asked needs to be bombarded with my opinions on breastfeeding, plastic, or shopping cart covers.

There are times, though, when a parent, seems to be unknowingly putting her child at risk and I don’t know where to draw the line.

The other day, I was walking along, with Baby Diva in one of our many slings. Another mother was wearing her baby in a Baby Bjorn and we locked eyes and shared a smile, an unspoken babywearers’ bond.

And then I caught my breath and almost opened my mouth.

No, I wasn’t going to tell her that hard carriers may hinder baby’s proper hip placement–that falls under the smile, nod, didn’t ask, so don’t tell category.

What I saw was a very young infant, adorably passed out, but with his head thrown almost all the way back. The carrier was so loose that if baby was any larger, mom would certainly be unable to walk. I was concerned that baby could fall out and even more concerned that he couldn’t breathe properly in that position.

So, should I have said something? Or was it none of my business? Where do you draw the line?

Colic: New Science, Old Nonsense

When the latest New Yorker arrived, I showed baby the cartoons and noticed an article on colic. I could hardly wait until baby’s nap to check it out, hoping to see some exciting new information about how parents can ease babies’ transitions and help themselves cope better with challenges.

The article is not available in its entirety online, yet, but here’s an abstract of The Colic Conundrum. I’ll save you the cover price: the main researcher with whom the author spoke advocates letting the baby cry, alone.

I’m not going to dispute the research itself. I’m no scientist and it actually seems more or less sound. However the conclusions drawn and the actions advocated just do not logically follow.

Researchers found that even in traditional societies, where crying is seen 50% less than with Western babies, colic is still found.

Barry Lester, the researcher, has found that many colicky children (about 75% in a limited study) end up having behavioral problems. He speculates that these children are overly sensitive.

He then goes on to argue that part of the problem is that while colic may not cause irreparable harm to the child, it can harm the family relationship, leading to problems down the road.

He goes on to say, “…the child doesn’t learn behavioral regulation and develops problems with impulse control…It starts out with crying, and then, when the child is older, he doesn’t control his emotions very well.”

So, his advice in all of this? Let the baby “learn” to “self-soothe” by leaving him to cry for five to ten minutes.

Like a colicky baby will stop after five to ten minutes? Haven’t we been here before? Didn’t Ferber even admit he had gone too far in his recommendations?

Now, one good thing the article examines is that crying can stress out the family, particularly the primary care giving parent, noting that many “shaken babies” were crying. This is pretty obvious stuff. Even Dr. Sears advises that it is better when overwhelmed to put the baby down for a few minutes in a safe place, rather than to act rashly (a fact not mentioned in this article that seems to almost sneer at him and the idea of attachment parenting in general).

However, allowing a baby to cry regularly, without comfort, as a matter of policy, is absurd.

Let’s start with the whole concept of colic.

Colic is pediatricianese for “I don’t know what’s wrong and I can’t help you.” Colic isn’t a diagnosis. It is a description of a symptom. Colic is defined by a rule of three. More than three hours, more than three days a week, for more than three weeks. Then it is called colic, but no cause is known and no advice is given. Imagine if a doctor diagnosed adult ailments that way! He’d be laughed off as a quack.

A doctor is supposed to help track down the cause of the problem and offer possible ways to solve the problem or alleviate the suffering if possible. Not offer meaningless words and send you on your way.

Now lets move onto the !Kung observation

The !Kung study is cited to show 50% less crying. Even if colic still exists in these societies, that still means that most babies would cry less if raised like !Kung babies: carried close to the body and nursed on demand.

So, right there, that should show that, while Lester is right in putting down expensive gadgets, it actually does make sense to try that sling and some attachment parenting before moving on.

My darling baby was colicky. Although I had planned to practice attachment parenting, anyway, I discovered I did not have a choice. Due to her heart condition, I had to keep her calm.

I am not saying it is easy to soothe a baby who is sensitive to the stimulation of her new world–but with this life and death motivation, I managed to do it.

Add that to the fact that SOME cases MAY have medical roots, such as reflux, and you can probably bring relief to a few more families.

We got most of the way there with swaddling and nursing and shushing and lots of babywearing…and then I got someone to believe me about the reflux. Once she was on Zantac, nursing became a huge comfort to her again and we did great.

I am still angry, though, when I think of that doctor who would repeat nothing but, “She has colic, there’s nothing you can do.” Her confidence in her “diagnosis” meant that it was another month before I was able to relive more of my baby’s discomfort and my stress.

So now we’re left with a handful of genuine “colic” cases…what to do?

I would guess one could still reduce the stress on colic babies, and therefore on their parents, with some attachment parenting measures. However, some babies will still be criers, despite the most attentive parents and most diligent doctors.

Lester’s idea is that leaving the baby to cry teaches him the skill of self-soothing. I suppose when his sixteen year old wants to learn to drive he’ll just hand over the keys and say have at it? Since when does a total beginner, let alone a four week old baby, learn to do something without any help?

“Lester concedes that most people who suffered from colic as infants and from temper tantrums as toddlers do not exhibit behavioral problems as adults, regardless of how their parents responded to their cries.”

He also says, “Because colic is ‘the first bump in the road for many parents, it will influence how you deal with the second, the third, and so on…”

True…so which “template” would you rather use? You have a problem, kid, so you’re on your own? Or, here, let’s solve this together?

Attachment isn’t doing things for your child, it is showing your baby how to calm himself–all the while reassuring him that this is what learning will be. Baby and parents working together through things.

So, you, like hate this guy, right?

Well, not exactly.

While I am concerned that he is sending the wrong message to an audience that is way too broad, I do think he has good intentions.

The article notes that some doctors used to suggest that “nervous” mothers caused colic in their babies. (When the aforementioned doctor suggested this to me and I almost clocked her.)

Recent studies have shown this is not the case. However, colic can worsen depression and anxiety in the mother.

Lester is trying to find ways to minimize colic’s impact on the family.

So, what’s the answer?

I think that better suggestions may be found, within the article itself. You just have to look in the right place:

Lester, observing a rare crying baby in a traditional non-Western village. This was unusual, he explains, and so, he describes: “Everyone in the village would stop what they were doing to see what was wrong.”

I think a huge part of the issue is that we have moved so far from our support systems and isolated ourselves to the extent that the only help a parent usually has is the help that parent can afford. And if you can’t afford any help, you are often out of luck.

Most babies, even those who do not cry very much, will have the peak of their crying around the same time. Most will also see a reduction of crying around the same time.

So, given that even easy babies have some difficulty in their new environment, it makes sense to do the free and inexpensive things that make babies feel safe and help avoid overstimulating them–babywearing, swaddling, nursing if mom is able, etc.

Given that even with these efforts, some babies will still cry…a lot, the best thing is to develop support systems and to help one another out.

Believe me, I know it is tough. My husband was deployed while my baby was born and for most of her first three months of life. My family lived halfway across the country. My friends were afraid of getting my baby sick with colds and flus, given her condition.

Still, looking back on the experience, I needed to work those support systems more and ask for help where it was needed.

The article is also framed with a mama who was blessed with twins who were colicky and we learn that the twins eventually outgrew their difficulty adjusting to their world and mom is now giving advice over the Internet to another mom coping with colic:

“I urged her to get someone to spell her.”

Amen, sister.