Favorite Posts of September

Here's a little monthly recap of some of my essays and posts I've written for Babble.com and mom.me. Starting next month, I'll also be writing about relationships (including my own complicated story) for YourTango.com — filling out the "early marriage" perspective from Early Mama.

I hope you enjoy...

3 Inconvenient Truths of Parenting

“There are certain truths about life — about people, about parenting — that we all know to be true, and yet they’re hard to admit to ourselves. As a whole, we tend to indulge in magical thinking or various forms of denial, and we’re so quick to look for shortcuts and easy answers for impossible questions.

Sometimes we just have to wake up and face reality.

Like these three inconvenient truths of parenting, for instance:”


 

Teaching My Son About Boundaries Means Setting Some of My Own

Furthering the discussion of codependency...

“Having weak boundaries makes it hard to take care of ourselves in the way that every parent wants their child to take care of themselves. We don’t want our children’s lack of boundaries to contribute to (or cause) uncomfortable, chronic control issues and a heartbreaking lack of self-esteem. We want them to have healthy relationships and a strong sense of self, right? We want them to protect themselves when we aren’t around to do the protecting.

In order to do that, they need to have boundaries in place. In order to do that, they need to have boundaries in place.

But how can I help my child set boundaries when I’m just starting to practice setting my own?”


 

How a Glass of Water Helped My Child Understand His Emotions

Furthering the discussion of emotional awareness...

“I called my 5-year-old son to the kitchen table, where he saw a clear glass of water, a box of baking soda, and a spoon.

I could see the reluctance on his face, as if to say, ‘Is this some kind of sick game that ends in me choking down medicine?’

‘Don’t worry, you don’t have to drink anything,’ I said preemptively. ‘I just want to show you a little something about how our bodies work.’”


 

Millennial Moms Want “Me Time”…So What?

(They changed the headline to read, “Millennial Moms Reject ‘Good’ Parenting”…but I prefer the original.)

“I’m tired of the antiquated, unrealistic ideal that a mother’s ‘goodness’ relies on her selflessness. That we’re supposed to put our own needs and wants at the bottom of a to-do list in order to serve the needs and wants of our kids. That we should feel guilty — or at least apologize for — wanting to take time for ourselves and do whatever we need to feel happy and healthy.”


 

My Kid Has Older Friends, and It Scares Me

“I know first-hand how badly kids want to be around older, cooler kids. I know how this dynamic, if left unsupervised, can lead to things being learned too soon, too crudely, as the little one’s innocence slowly seeps like water from a sieve.

The oldest one in the neighborhood clan is in sixth grade, and no matter how nice and polite he might be, that’s a scary age gap. A lot happens between Kindergarten and middle school, and all of the mixed-age benefits can’t deny the very real coming-of-age crap along the way.”


 

10 Things Parents of Only Children Are Sick of Hearing

#9. ‘You’re not a real mother until you have two.’

I’ve heard this from at least a dozen people, including my own mother. As if motherhood is defined by stress and competing schedules and numbers of diapers changed.

I am a real mother, and I don’t have to prove that to anyone.”

(Early Mamas of onlies: I wrote another post last month that you might be interested in, too. I never expected to have an only child — as evidenced by this post and this post and this post — but it's something I've explored here for years. "I Was Barely Ready for One. Is It Responsible to Have Another?" I asked. I hemmed and hawed. I indulged in questionable reasons to get pregnant — wondering, "Is this a bad reason to bring a life into the world?" I've THOUGHT about it a lot...probably too much...but if you've read my posts you already know I tend to over-think things. All I know is that the time hasn't been right for us, and my timeline has no baring on yours. Maybe we'll have another, maybe we won't. For now I'll enjoy the heck out of the one I have.)


Thank you so much for reading and commenting and sharing my writing. Being able to write out my late-night musings and experiences, send them out into the world, and receive such positive feedback? It means everything to me.

So thank you for that.


Kayla's Advice to Student Moms

Kayla Knapp, a 23-year-old graduate from George Washington University, recently completed her Bachelor's in Theatre. (Yay! Congrats!)

She's stopping by with 5 quick tips for other student moms making their way through college:

1. Try to create a schedule that is babysitter friendly — i.e. piling up classes on one or two days a week, or just in the mornings or evenings. Whatever you can make work with childcare.

2. See if your school offers online classes you can do from home.

3. Take advantage of friends and classmates for babysitting. They are available, cheap, and on campus. Perfect if you need to take an hour or two to finish a paper or study for an exam.

4. Check out resources your school offers parents. My school didn’t have much in the way of student-parent support, but there were resources for faculty/staff parents that I found helpful. (The “Maternity Rooms” on campus for breastfeeding/pumping were amazing!)

5. Finally remember you are also in college! There is absolutely nothing wrong with going to a party once in awhile, or catching a school event with your friends. It will keep you connected to friends and peers, which is important!

Kayla is currently back in school working on a second degree in Nursing.

Do you have tips for college moms? A story to share? Email me!

10 Things To Do When Your Friend Has a New Baby

Your friend just had a baby.

She’s your first (insert word: high school, college, childhood) friend to go through this massive life change, and it freaks you out to think that someone your age could be a mom now.

Maybe you aren’t sure what to say or how to act. You’ve been friends for so long, and you love her, but your friendship is quickly changing. She doesn’t answer your texts like she used to. She doesn’t have time to talk you through your ongoing dating drama — and who will be your sounding board now? Even though she says she still cares, she’s always distracted with feeding or consoling or changing a diaper that looks more like an air bag by the time that kid’s filled it up. And as cute as her baby is, and as happy as you are for her, you just can’t relate.

You have grad school exams and roommate arguments, and she’s barely sleeping enough to hold a conversation. You don’t want to take up any more of her time, and you have absolutely no advice or understanding of virtually anything she’s dealing with. (And there’s just so much talk about poop. Is that normal?)

You want to help. You want to be useful. You want to be a good friend; you just don’t know how. You don’t even know if your friend wants you around any more. (She does.)

Well, hypothetical friend, you shouldn’t be expected to immediately understand how to help your friend (and your friendship) through this transition. And truth is, she might not know how to ask for help. She might not even know what she needs or wants — it’s new to her, too.

So in an effort to help, I’ve come up with 10 things you can do and 3 things you should NOT do for your new-mom friend.

1.     Bring food. Offer to grab a pizza on your way over, or ask if she wants anything in particular. It’s hard to get out of the house with a baby, so swinging by with some one-handed food — granola bars, apples, plenty of water — is very appreciated. Bring over a bag of groceries and stock her cabinets, if you’re feeling extra generous. Also: A fruit (and chocolate?) basket is way more useful and appreciated than more flowers.

2.     Also, does she need face wash? Jumbo maxi pads? Nipple cream? Diapers? Be direct: “Hey I’m at the grocery store/CVS/the mall right now, what do you need?”

3.     Bring a gift for her, not the baby. A favorite candy, a DVD, a new magazine. You could be a real superstar and sign her up for a monthly subscription, like Glossybox. But don't feel weird if you can't show up with gifts in hand. Money is tight, she gets it.

4.     Offer to go on walks with her. She’ll want to get out of the house and get some fresh air, and it will give you time to catch up while the baby is harnessed down and (hopefully) napping.

5.     Offer to run errands with her. Sure you might not be getting mani/pedis or going out for margaritas like the olden days, but you can accompany her to Target and be an extra set of hands.

6.     Work around her schedule. Understand that this is a very short, very demanding, very exhausting time period that she’s in. She’s in pain, she’s hormonal, she’s literally never been this tired in her life. Go easy on her. It won't always be this difficult.

7.     Offer to watch her baby while she takes a shower. Maybe even encourage her to straighten her hair and put on some lipstick. She’ll feel like a new woman.

8.     Snap lots of candid photos. (Like you weren’t going to do that, anyway.) She'll deeply appreciate having those moments captured. And if you can print them out or make a little digital book for her? Well A+ for you, friend.

9.     Be patient. This phase will not last forever, and before you know it, you’ll see your old friend emerge from the hazy fog of new motherhood. Or maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll both change in your unique ways, and your schedules will keep conflicting and your time together will diminish. That happens as we get older. But if she’s important to you, you'll find a way back to each other.

10. Show her you care. Even if you’re states away or just super swamped with your own newly grown-up life, a little text every now and then will brighten her mood. No need to put pressure on her to respond or to make plans. Just be there for her, and know that no matter how glowing her Instagram feed is or how blissed-out she seems on Facebook, it's difficult to be a new mom. Lonely, isolating, exhausting, confusing. She could really use a friend.

And now for the DON'Ts.

1. Don't take it personally. It's not that your friendship isn't important to her, or that your problems aren't important...it's just really overwhelming to juggle this brand new life of hers, with all of the responsibilities and expectations and priority shifting going on. She might not want to do the same things she used to — and that's okay. Maybe you think she's totally annoying because all she talks about is her baby and how amazing being a mother is, and you're feeling a little left out. It's okay to feel that way, too. Be honest when she says something hurtful or insensitive. But try not to take it personally.

2. Don't go on and on about the wild parties she's missing, or humble brag about your oh-so-free life. No matter how much she loves being a mommy, it's hard to hear about the familiar world she's missing out on. And if you're doing it to counterbalance her endless talk of poop (to answer your earlier question, yes, that's normal), don't be passive aggressive, either.

3. Don't give unsolicited advice, or stress her out with the What Ifs and If Onlys. She gets enough of that from her family.

All you really have to do is show up — physically or virtually. Be there for her.

Preferably with a pizza in hand.

Treat Yourself to a Monthly Glossybox: Get 20% Off!

I've mentioned how utterly in love I am with my Glossybox deliveries each month, but it's worth saying again:

I've signed up for several monthly subscription services in the past — some focused on "moms" or babies or even beauty — but Glossybox has been the most consistently exciting and impressive of the bunch. While other services have given me rinky-dink samples and obscure brands, every single Glossybox package wows me.

It also gives me an excuse to pamper myself with a little self-care each month. And seeing that monthly package makes me HAPPY! All for mama!

For the price of a basic Starbucks habit, you can have a box of five new beauty products show up at your door. (Almost everything in my makeup bag right now is from Glossybox, which has saved me a few trips to Sephora or the drug store.) And besides discovering and trying new brands, Glossybox has delivered some of my all-time favorites — like Benefit and Essie and GLAMGlow.

Because of my oh-so-dear love for this monthly delivery, I've signed up to be an affiliate with Glossybox. So if you sign up using this link, a portion of the proceeds will go toward maintaining and expanding Early Mama.

And for three days only, you can get 20% off when you sign up!

Use this Glossybox link and the coupon code FALL14 to get 20% off a 3, 6, or 12-month subscription.

The discount ends on Friday, but you can continue to sign up through the links on Early Mama anytime.

So go forth and pamper yourselves, mama. You deserve it.

10 Little Things You Can Do for Yourself, Mama

The best thing we can do for our children is to be our healthiest selves.

Let me say it again...

The best thing we can do for our children — and for our husbands/boyfriends/life partners — is to be healthy. Emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy. When we're healthy, we can think clearly. When we're healthy, we can rise above our reptilian survival-mode brains and make better choices. We can be our BEST selves.

If you're anything like me, the self-care/self-love stuff might not be as intuitive as it should. We've been taught that love is selfless and requires sacrifice, which, yes, we all need to make compromises in life and marriage. And yet there are certain things that should never be sacrificed — our well-being is one of them. Because if our health/minds/lives are compromised, what do we really have to give?

It's a balance, and setting up these boundaries and self-care practices can take time to figure out. It also requires us to stand up and shake off the assumption that we belong at the bottom of a to-do list.

We deserve to take care of ourselves. We need to take care of ourselves.

So how do we do that — especially with limited time and money?

The following is a list from my own self-care efforts, as well as some input from the Early Mama community. Here's what we do for ourselves. What will YOU do?

1. Start a gratitude journal

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No matter what's going on in my life (and there's been some shit going on), a key to happiness is taking time to acknowledge my gratitude. Gratitude for my health, gratitude for a beautiful Autumn day, gratitude for specific lessons I'm learning through the hard moments.

Typically I do this in my head, but when times are really tough, jotting down my gratitude in a notebook helps keep me grounded and focused. Try it. It helps.

2. Get your vitamin levels tested and be conscious of what you're using to fuel your body

I'm severely deficient in Vitamin D and it's taken me an embarrassingly long time to take care of the issue. But I'm happy to say that I've been regularly taking Vitamin D3 drops, Magnesium, and Calcium for a few weeks. Maybe it's all in my head, or maybe it's the act of putting something healthy into my body, but I feel so much better about myself. It's like the mommy in me is taking care of myself in the same nurturing way I take care of my son. And that feels nice.

If you're wondering what kind of supplements you might need, I heard Dr. Rhonda Patrick, Ph.D., on a podcast recommending:

  • Omega 3 with 600 mg EPA (an anti-inflammatory) and 800 mg DHA (helps cell membranes in the brain)
  • Vitamin D3 (4 - 5,000 IU/day)
  • Magnesium

Of course check with a doctor if you're wondering about your specific deficiencies, but according to Dr. Rhonda, most people could benefit from those supplements.

Also...WATER. Water water water water water. There's nothing stopping you from drinking more water, whether you're nursing your baby or chasing after a house-full of toddler tyrants.

3. Find time to exercise

I have a really hard time finding the time and motivation to exercise, I'll be honest. This photo is from the ONE Soul Cycle class I took with my friend, and I was pretty sure I might die mid-way through the class.

But many of you are better at this than I am, and I know (I know I know I know) that it's important for my mood and health to move my body rather than sit in front of this here computer with a gallon of coffee.

So instead of me, listen to THESE Early Mamas who have their fitness priorities in order:

  • Nadia from ChildMode.com told us that fitness is the only thing that really and truly works to help her feel better and take care of herself. You can follow her fitness inspiration on Instagram and on her blog.
  • Early Mama Victoria G. said that she finds time to exercise almost daily, and she makes time to go salsa dancing. (Go Victoria! Shake it!)
  • A young-mom friend of mine, Kelly, always found time to take out her jogging stroller with a brand-new infant and squeeze in at-home fitness videos, even as a full-time teacher.

IT CAN BE DONE. (Now I just have to do it.)

4. Clean, organize, purge

I thought it was just me who feels antsy and stressed in a cluttered, dirty environment, but apparently so many of us feel the same way. I feel LIGHTER after purging my closets and cabinets. I feel happiest in an organized, pretty setting. Creating a happier home = a happier me.

I admit that sometimes it's hard to keep up on everything, especially during the work week. But tackling the household drudgery is always a mood-booster for me, and has become a non-negotiable in my life. Sometimes it's a "rage clean," sure. But isn't it important to recognize our anger and emotions, and channel that energy in a productive way? Yes, I should probably go for a run to release some of that bottled-up energy, but mopping the floors and hauling out garbage is immensely therapeutic for me.

Maybe you don't feel the same, but I know a lot of us do. As Early Mama Katie M. said, "I power clean/purge junk from my home when I am stressed or feeling down. It is probably some mechanism to create a sense of control, though I just enjoy how clean my house is!"

According to Kamryn D., "I feel like if the house is messy, I can't breathe. I try to keep up with the house/laundry/cleaning so it never gets to that point, but sometimes life just happens! Cleaning and cooking is great therapy. Especially for us moms because both cleaning and cooking is necessary, we don't get a lot of time for other things we enjoy."

Finding therapy and peacefulness in our daily responsibilities is a GREAT way to add a little "me time" into our (sometimes monotonous) days — whatever that means for you. Often I'll listen to a podcast while I'm doing the dishes, or I'll rock out to some Michael Jackson/90s pop while cooking dinner. Insert moments for us, even when it's all about them.

5. Get outside

Sometimes it's impossible to get away from the daily responsibilities of life, but we can usually take the kids outside for a walk or some park time.

There's no reason that the things we do for ourselves HAS to be alone. Finding small ways to insert ours needs and wants into daily life is important and, believe it or not, doable. Getting outside, breathing some fresh air, feeling the sunshine on our skin...it helps.

6. Take yourself on a date

Early Mamas Taeko C. and Emma M. take themselves out for dinner. As Taeko said, "Wednesday night I wasn't feeling my best, so I put the kids down, kissed my guy goodnight, and headed to my local theater to catch the 10 pm show of Guardians of the Galaxy. Sometimes I do dinner, shopping, just a treat for me. It works wonders!"

No apologies. No guilt. No shame.

7. Pamper yourself

Finding moments to de-callus my feet and give myself a quick pedicure during yet another showing of Ice Age.

Steaming my face with a pot of boiling water and a towel, before putting on a face mask and chasing my son around as Doctor Doom.

Slapping on some pretty lipstick and indulging in some silky-smooth lotion while I wait for Noah to find his damn shoes.

(My monthly Glossybox subscription has been like a box of self-care delivered to my door, AND I LOVE IT SO.)

Pampering doesn't just have to be in the form of makeup and nail polish:

  • Early Mama Emily G. goes to a Turkish bath where she lays in a beautiful, historic, therapeutically quiet steam room and has a Turkish lady scrub her whole body before soaking in a hot water pool. She leaves feeling fresh and relaxed and WHERE IS MY TURKISH BATH?
  • Emma M. makes time to bathe, and keeps an emergency stash of Godiva chocolate in the freezer for such an occasion.

8. Meditate and/or start a mindfulness practice

If you're looking for a place to start, I really enjoy the Headspace app for quick 10-minute guided meditations that you can squeeze into your day.

9. Ask for help and delegate

You cannot do it all. Your partner will rise to your expectations — don't assume all of the responsibility all of the time, just because you have ovaries and a "mommy" title. And if you're a single mother, find people in your life to give you a hand when you need it, and don't be too proud to say, "Help please."

And if you feel like you need professional help for depression or a tough life circumstance, please find someone to talk to. Seeing a therapist was a huge turning point in my life. You don't have to handle this all on your own — sometimes it's not possible. We all need help at times.

10. Do whatever you need to feel like YOU

For me that's writing and reading. Making weekly/monthly trips to the library (with my son) has been a really positive thing I do for myself (and for him).

  • Victoria G. schedules time for acupuncture because it forces her to relax and focus on her body and the present moment for an hour.
  • Liann needs to find time to get out of the house each week, whether for a pedicure with a friend or just to spend some time alone, away from her homemaker/mommy role.
  • Several Early Mamas mentioned losing themselves in a good Netflix binge to relax and disconnect.
  • And I know there are a lot of you who need to schedule some time to get out of the house and have a little fun. Don't apologize for that; embrace who you are. Embrace what you need for you. As long as you're not hurting or neglecting anyone, there are no Rights or Wrongs to being a mom. No matter what you do or don't do, you're still a valid, valued, REAL mother.

No more feeling victimized by your roles and responsibilities.

No more playing the martyr mom, thinking it's what a "good mom" is supposed to do.

Take care of yourself, mama — even in the smallest and most thoughtful of ways.

It's the most loving thing you can do for the entire family.

The Hidden Perks of Young Motherhood

I'm spreading the early-mama love over at mom.me!

There are so many little-known benefits to starting a family early — perks I would have loved to know at 22 years old.

No one told me that young motherhood can be an incredible motivator to better ourselves, tackle our goals, and redefine what's important in our lives.

 

Or that young moms don't have a decade of "me" time to get used to — with lazy weekends, a hefty vacation fund, and adult lifestyle habits to undo.

 

Or that our kids will be grown by the time our currently childless friends are in the trenches of parenthood. After all, IT'S ONLY FOR NOW.

See all 7 Hidden Perks of Being a Young Mom on mom.me, and share it with your early-mama friends.

Here are some of my other favorite reasons to love being an Early Mama, which weren't included in the article:

What's your favorite perk of early motherhood?

4 Questions for Tough Decisions

If you've ever been stuck in a hard place, wondering the right thing or the best thing to do, it helps to shift perspectives.

I'm especially talking to those who have a hard time taking care of themselves — like young women who devote their time to tiny people with tiny needs, and feel a real loss of identity. It can be hard to know the best thing to do for you, outside of your responsibilities as a wife and mother.

And by you I mean me, because this has pretty much been my life lately. Wrestling with hard choices, trying to find my own needs, defining my boundaries in marriage and life. These all require me to look at my life from a zoomed-out lens — you know, the whole forest-for-the-trees thing.

But it doesn't have to be tough marriage challenges. It might be career dilemmas, toxic friendships, difficulty deciding on a major and planning a future. Anything that leaves us at the end of one rope, wondering if we need to swing to a different one, and in which direction?  HELP.

Here are four questions that I ask myself to motivate an honest, loving decision from a shifted perspective:

What advice would I give to someone I love?

In an ideal world of healthy minds and open hearts, we would love ourselves as much as we love our children and our husband. But if the self-love stuff feels counter-intuitive, try looking at the situations from a different view:

What if someone I love was in this situation — like my sister, or my best friend, or my mother?

Would I want that person to be in this situation?

What advice would I have for her?

 

What would I want my children to do?

For me, it's especially obvious when I look through a motherly lens. My son is watching me, absorbing my behaviors and choices as his "normal" programming. What kind of example do I want to set? What would I want my son to do in this situation?

When I can think, "What would I want Noah to do?," I can clearly see how to practice what I preach and be my best self.

 

If I were the lead character in a story, what would that character do? BE THE HEROINE.

If your life was a book or movie, and you were watching it play out as an observer, what would your character do next? Your life is a mess and you've been sideswiped by challenges and obstacles (like pretty much any character) — so now what?

What makes a better story? A story you'd be proud to tell others? What would the HEROINE — a strong, brave, INTERESTING heroine — do in your situation?

What's the next chapter?

 

Are you making this choice out of LOVE or FEAR?

Dig. Analyze. The answer might surprise you.

The heart is like a garden: It can grow compassion or fear, resentment or love. What seeds will you plant there?
— Jack Kornfield

Are you focused on what you'll gain or what you'll lose?

Are you motivated by inspiration of possibilities, or by fear of the unknown? Fear of change? Fear of failure?

Are you staying in a relationship out of love for your partner/child/self, or for fear of letting go?

(This is a good question to ask in quiet meditation.)

Love moves us forward, and fills up our hearts. Fear keeps us stagnant and unhappy.

**

That's not to say these questions make the hard choices easy, or that we'll immediately know what to do. But in ever so slightly shifting our perspectives, we can start moving in one direction or the other.

Do you have any helpful mantras or self-reflecting questions for the hard times?

Ask Liann: Classic Baby Girl Names

Hi Liann,

Please help! My husband and I are having trouble choosing a name for our future daughter, due in October 2014. We were stuck on Evelyn for awhile, but not sure about it. Then Amy came into both of our heads — but still, not sure. I love classic names like Margaret, but my husband isn't a big fan.

Thanks!

— Lucy


Hi Lucy,

Congrats on the upcoming birth of your daughter! Let's see if we can come up with some names you feel more confident about.

Evelyn, Amy and Margaret are all lovely. Evelyn and Margaret make me think of names like Katherine and Cecelia, whereas Amy makes me think of names like Jessica and Deborah. Do any of these peak your interest?

Even if they don't — if you're leaning more in one direction than the other, it can give you a good starting point to continue your search. So let's do that. I'll make two lists — one inspired by Evelyn and Margaret, and one inspired by Amy.

Another direction you could take is to find a classic name you love that has a nickname your husband loves. You said that you love Margaret, but your husband isn't a fan. Well Margaret happens to be a name with many, many nicknames: Maggie, Maisie, Daisy, Molly, Polly, Peggy, and Greta (to name a few). Some are dated, yes, but I just want to show you the extent of the options.

Same thing for Katherine: Kate, Katie, Kathy, Kit, Kitty, Kay, and Kat are all accepted nicknames for Katherine. Exploring the nicknames can be just as fun and productive when searching for a name.

Do you have any ideas for the middle name? This can also help narrow down a list by eliminating names that don't work with the chosen middle name, or names that produce unflattering initials with the middle and last names. Then you can focus on the few names that work.

Good luck with the rest of your search, and I hope you let us know what you decide when your little girl arrives!

— Liann

Do you have a baby name question or dilemma? Contact Liann.

EM Advice: Sleep Training Pressure

Three Universal Truths of New Mommyhood:

1. You want to do what's best for your baby.

2. You have no idea what's best for your baby.

3. Everyone thinks they know what's best for your baby, and whooooooo-boy they'll school you on it.

If you have people around you who are like, "Trust your instincts," "You're doing a great job," "This is hard for everyone, you're doing your best," then kiss them square on the mouth.Because that's not what most young moms have, right?

A lot of us have, "You HAVE to do this" and "You SHOULD be doing that," all the live long day. This happens to most new moms, mind you, but when you have a shiny youthful inexperience, people can get even more aggressive with their well-intentioned words of wisdom. Or maybe we just take it more personally. Or maybe we have less peer-like moms to lean on. Or maybe our parents/older relatives still see us as very tall children.

Raise your hand if you've heard one of these:

You hafta put some cereal in that bottle, then he'll sleep!

You need to have some formula in the house, just in case.

Babies NEED pacifiers! // That toddler should NOT have a pacifier!

Cloth diapers?!, said with shock and disgust. Great, I'll have the smelly grandson.

(Dear Family: Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.)

Sleep training — or sleep, in general — is like the mecca of SHOULDs and MUSTs and HELPs. To be fair, sleep deprivation leaves us an emotionally raw version of our former selves, where even the slightest breeze could knock us into a full-on breakdown. But it could have something to do with the fact people have been asking us, "How does the baby sleep?!" or "How long is he sleeping at night now?" from the jump — as if hours slept is some sort of performance measure of our parenting.

You have a baby who sleeps through the night? CONGRATULATIONS! A+ to you, mama.

Or maybe it has something to do with the absurd EXTREMES we take in predicting the consequences of our sleep-training decisions. Like, it's not enough to predict what a child might be like in the next few weeks — we have to warn exhausted parents that, sure, go ahead and let a kid cry-it-out (::behind open hand:: If you don't mind raising a sociopath).

Same goes for the flip side. Oh, you still rock your baby to sleep? You're not at all concerned about that life-long dependence keeping him awake at night in his dorm room?

An Early Mama reader recently asked for advice in our private Facebook group about sleep concerns, and it made me remember how much pressure we can feel to make the "right choice" as new moms — especially about sleep.

Hey mamas! I think I need some help...I’m 19, so of course I’ve been receiving endless advice since pregnancy — letting her fall asleep [by] herself in her crib, they can’t be “spoiled” until they’re a few months old, etc. But I’m not so sure about that last part anymore. My daughter is now 2 months old, and most nights I have to nurse, hold, or rock (in rocking bassinet) to sleep. If we lay her in the crib even just drowsy, she cries and eventually screams and chokes until she’s picked up and soothed. We wrap her, we make sure she’s comfortable, fed, everything. Plus we live with family so we can’t just let her cry all night. But I don’t think I can do this much longer!! Our bedtime routine sometimes can take hours, even if she’s exhausted. Any advice, tips, experience? Please and thank you in advance!
— Katelyn

Katelyn doesn't know that there are other moms out there rocking and nursing their 2-month-old babies for hours before bedtime. She doesn't know if she's doing something right, or something wrong, or whose advice to follow. But after reading so many other member's advice and personal anecdotes, she came to this conclusion:

Thanks mamas for all of your great advice! I’ve decided that if I have to cuddle my sweet baby to sleep, then so be it, because she won’t be tiny forever and we both need to rest. I’ll worry about spoiled later, lol.

I think that's such a loving, nurturing conclusion — one that takes care of herself as well as her baby. And I just love that she could get that kind of support from Early Mama readers — women who understand the experience of being a young mom.

Considering not all readers are in our private group (or maybe you missed this thread), I wanted to share some of the advice Katelyn got. I'm also including my own response, from a different perspective.

When that happens to us, we load up our son and either go for a walk or a drive. We are out of the house (lets others sleep), and it puts our son to sleep, too. Have you tried that?
— Lydia
When you’ve tried everything and nothing works, try less bundling. Babies in Western life get too hot and can’t sleep. I know it’s against most people’s advice but keeping baby a little cooler (and fresh air- walks in stroller too) really do work.
— Nicole
I know my advice will probably be against what most others have given you, but, when my baby was that young (against the advice of my family) if he cried I held him! A lot of his freaking out in the crib was him not wanting to be separated from me. Have you tried the bassinet right next to you so she can hear your breathing and sense that you are close? Then maybe you can transition to the crib later? I agree with everything posted above me, I just thought I would add this. I had no idea either about baby bedtime routines but once I stopped listening to well intentioned advice from family and did what I felt was right, things stared to go a lot smoother. I don’t believe that babies can be spoiled, what I do believe is they spent 9 months living inside your body and growing accustomed to your every move and sound and so when they come out they get scared when you aren’t around. Even just a few feet away feels like a whole lot to a tiny baby. Like I said, my advice is probably not the most popular, but once I started having him near me at night when he was very new, we both slept a whole lot better! Good luck! I know it’s difficult and there are a ton of people who want to help pulling you every way, but listen to your instincts because you are her mama
— Megan
I had this issue...it was like the moment she left my body she was crying...we used to put her swaddle blankets in the dryer before we put her to bed then she wouldn’t know when she left the warmth of my body
— Nikki
Every stage is a short stage so do whatever you want!! If you want to hold and spoil the baby... Do it! Every baby is different so do what you as mommy feel is best!
— Ashley

Lucy suggested bouncing on an exercise ball, Emily suggested the Gentle Parenting International FB Group, Stacy uses a small bed in between her and her husband while she's nursing, and Jessica said to make sure her baby gets enough rest during the day. (I personally found that life got much easier when I made sure baby Noah wasn't overtired — meaning tuning into his sleep cues and putting him down BEFORE he was getting too tired, about every two hours.)

And Liann has recommended the book "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child" on several sleep-related threads, and I totally agree with her.

Here's my two cents on the thread:

Sleep training was brutal on me and it took FOREVER for Noah to fall asleep without needing me nearby. He's an anxiety-prone kid, for sure — looking back, I can see that in him as a baby, too. He had night terrors a lot and exhibited real fear being alone in the dark. Maybe some babies don't have as much of that fear, but Noah definitely did.

And, to be honest, I didn't mind snuggling him to sleep. I CHERISH those moments and memories, even to this day. He's 5 years old now and I still lay down with him every night until he falls asleep. I know that sounds like some kind of failure, but it's one of our most special times in the day. We have some of our best conversations snuggled up together as he's getting sleepy, and a little inquisitive, and the deep emotional stuff comes up. That's when he asks me some of his best questions and we have some of the best talks. It's where we've bonded in a way that he hasn't with anyone else.

I didn't even start thinking about sleep training until 4 months (I think that's the standard time they say to start). After a brief stint sleep training, I still ended up shushing and rocking and nursing him to sleep. I'd even hang over his crib and hold his hand until he fell asleep. It was way more time consuming back then, of course. Now I just cuddle him and hold his hand in a twin-sized bed, and he's out within minutes.

I can see the end ahead, friends. He won't want me in his bed forever, so I'm enjoying this innocence and sweetness while it's still here. I think that "nurturing" and "spoiling" (or "indulging") are two different things. To me, snuggling and comforting and bonding is on the side of nurture. Like whatever helps the kid and family be comfortable and rested is nurturing — maybe that's sleep training. Some kids don't like to snuggle at all, and they need their space to decompress and fall asleep. At 2 months old? Trust your instincts and just love. She'll be completely different in 3 months, and then 3 months after that. You're in such an exhausting time period, but it'll change soon. Just love.

Did you feel pressured to sleep train? Did sleep training work for you? Any tips for Katelyn?

For more advice on co-sleeping, sleep training, and shared sleep struggles, request to join our private group.

 

I'm a Recovering Codependent

My name is Michelle, and I'm a recovering codependent.

Hiiiiii, Michelle.

If you would have asked me a year ago, "Do you have codependency issues?", I would've scoffed and immediately said no. No no no, I'm far too independent to be codependent. I'm not needy or smothering. I'm actually quite well-adjusted, it's the other people in my life that have the issues.

(The fact that I always seemed to have a steady stream of "other people with issues" in my life? Clue #1 to my codependency.)

Turns out I had no idea what codependency actually is, or how deeply it's affected my life. And yet researching "codependency" and seeking out therapy has been the most profound turning point in my life.

In the next few weeks, I want to dive a little deeper into what exactly codependency is and how it's affecting our relationships, our parenting, and our well-being. Codependency is something that we learn from one or both of our parents, which was learned from their parents, which was learned...(you get it). Codependency is the root of so much family and personal dysfunction, and it's often masked as "love" or "selflessness" or "being a good wife."

What it really means is that we have issues with boundaries, control, self-esteem, and knowing how we feel/think. We're often people-pleasers with a severe inability to love and care for ourselves. But other people? Wheewwww, we're the BEST at taking care of other people. We take care of people without ever being asked to; we take care of people at the expense of ourselves. The problem: Caretaking doesn't actually help anyone.

Codependents are also famous for absorbing and reacting to other people's thoughts and feelings. Does your husband or boyfriend's mood dictate your day or mood? Do you have a hard time detaching from your loved one's problems without feeling responsible to "help" or "fix" or "rescue"? Do you blame other people for making you feel a certain way? Do you ever offer your help and then feel angry or resentful because LOOK HOW MUCH YOU DO FOR EVERYONE?!

If you answered "yes" to any of these things, then you might be a codependent.

Are you a perfectionist? Do you have issues with shame, guilt, or saying "no" to people? Do you chronically put your needs and wants at the bottom of your to-do list, in the name of being a good wife and mother? Do you attract and allow damaged, dysfunctional people into your lives? Are you married to someone with an addiction?

Then you might be a codependent.

I'm working on several posts about codependency — including how to recognize it in your relationship and parenting style — but I wrote a basic overview for Babble.com to better illustrate what codependency is, where it comes from, and what we can do to prevent our children from being sucked into the cycle.

Whether you think codependency applies to you or not, it's rampantly common in the most subtle, unconscious ways. If you want to know more about the subject immediately, I suggest getting into your car, driving to your nearest library, and checking out any and all books by Melody Beattie. I've read everything she's written on the subject, but her latest book — The New Codependency — is the most eye-opening and helpful self-help book I've ever read.

Also, if you're struggling with this issue and/or you're dealing with addiction in your marriage, please feel free to reach out to me. I'm not an expert — I'm still dealing with these issues on a day-by-day basis — but there's nothing more powerful than support.

The one thing I've learned through all of this is that the most important thing we can do for our relationship and our children is to be our healthiest self. We have to love ourselves, be kind to ourselves, and make ourselves a priority — starting with our own recovery.