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Archive for January, 2010

Drive-by parenting

Something about having a new baby makes you public property in the minds of many. You know how people suddenly invade your personal space when you’re pregnant—asking how far along, weighing in on gender, even touching your belly without asking? This doesn’t end after the baby comes. Walk around with a baby or two, and the unsolicited advice just starts coming at you like projectile spit-up. Strangers at the park, coffee shop, or library will tell you what your baby should eat, what will help with sleep, even what might help him or her reach certain milestones not yet achieved, whether you are interested or not (Is she crawling? No? You know what worked for us…). While much of it will be well-intentioned, you may also encounter the occasional drive-by criticism. This is when someone mutters, “that kid should be out of diapers!”, “Give him a pacifier already!” or “She should be wearing a coat!” while not even breaking their stride—making it impossible to respond. And all this is not even factoring in all the unsolicited advice you’ll get from actual friends and relatives, including your own parents—sometimes the hardest to take tips from.

After you’ve been a parent for five or ten years, it’s easier to very quickly take or leave any outside counsel, because you are confident in your choices. But when you’re feeling your way through a day with a new baby, the barrage of unsolicited advice can be information overload at best, and a recipe for second-guessing yourself (or possibly weeping) at worst.

Tell us:

What kind of unsolicited parenting advice have you received?

Was it useful?

How did you respond?

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If your household includes one person who works more hours outside the home and one who is the primary caregiver, you’ve likely had this exchange (either out loud or in your head): “Easy for you to say, you get to go to work! You get to have coffee breaks and go to the bathroom! You get to talk to adults!” or, on the other side of the coin, “You get to have quality time with our child! You’re at the park instead of on a terrible commute! You don’t have the stress of earning the main income!” Ah, how the grass is always greener on the other side of the parenting fence. One of you, especially at certain frustrated moments, envisions office life as all sunshine and butterflies (easily forgetting all those terrible meetings, pressing deadlines, and unappreciative bosses), while the other person can’t figure out why dinner isn’t ready and the toys aren’t picked up after all those hours of “fun” staying at home with baby. The underlying question in all these conversations seems to be: Who’s working harder here?

In our book, it’s what we call the Unwinnable Argument. You simply can’t compare, and it’s not fair to think either party has it easy. If you are feeling resentful or put out—whether you work full-time, work part-time, or are a full-time parent—talk about it. Explain how things feel to you, and then listen to your partner. Dig deep and find ways to say thank you for what your partner is doing on a daily basis…even if you secretly believe it’s not as much as what you’re doing. Remember you are in this together. Do not become one of those couples who make pointed jabs at one another, trying to prove how much tougher you have it to anyone within earshot.

Tell us: Do you and your partner argue about who is working harder? If only one of you works full-time, do you each feel resentful at times about what the other one “gets” to do? How do you handle this?

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Egg-shaped cribs. Thousand-dollar jogging strollers. Fancy gliders that proved uncomfortable. Deluxe baby carriers you hated. Themed nurseries. Clothes from France. That electronic swing that scared the baby. And on and on.

Don’t let the newbies out there make the same expensive mistakes! Share your valuable advice by answering these two burning questions:

1. What’s the biggest money-waster you purchased as a new parent?

2. What’s the one thing you couldn’t have lived without?

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As anyone who has had a baby knows, everything about labor and delivery you planned for, imagined, or discussed with your doctor can go completely out the window—and probably will. Think of it as step one in the cosmic joke at your expense that parenting often seems to be. Was your birth plan useful? Or in hindsight, was it just a way to make you feel in control of what is likely the world’s most uncontrollable situation? If you have two or more kids, did you even bother with a birth plan the second time around? If so, how did your birth plan (and expectations about the experience) evolve?

Birth Plan: Oxymoron?

As anyone who has had a baby knows, everything about labor and delivery you planned for, imagined, or discussed with your doctor can go completely out the window—and probably will. Think of it as step one in the cosmic joke at your expense that parenting often seems to be. Was your birth plan useful? Or in hindsight, was it just a way to make you feel in control of what is likely the world’s most uncontrollable situation? If you have two or more kids, did you even bother with a birth plan the second time around? If so, how did your birth plan (and expectations about the experience) evolve?

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For writers, it’s the oldest advice in the book: write about what you know. It’s something I’ve always done, writing books about relationships, the joy of cocktails, and even Canada (with my Canadian husband, Rob Sorensen). But now it’s evolved even further. One could say our work and home life have truly morphed into one: Rob and I both work at home, and we are co-parents of young children and co-authors of a new parenting book, How to Have Your Second Child First: 100 Things That Would Be Good to Know—the First Time Around.

With two daughters age four and two, our upcoming book, and the idea behind it, is very close to home. It evolved because how we parent our second child versus our first is something we seem to talk about endlessly with our friends who are in the same boat, and with each other after the kids are in bed. We are continually fascinated in the differences between our two girls, and the different ways we approach what comes our way each day. We laugh at how we used to run all the way upstairs to change a diaper because that’s where the changing table was (needless to say, our second child is used to being changed on whatever surface is handy) or how we worried about every snuffling sound that came from the crib. With experience, of course, comes some level of calm—and greater efficiency quickly becomes necessary with two or more children. But what if we could help advise first-time parents about tips and tricks that we learned the hard way? And what if we could start a dialogue where novice and seasoned parents could share information, advice, and support?

In this blog we’d like to act as moderators, helping both seasoned and novice parents share their thoughts, fears, successes, and disasters. Experienced moms and dads, we invite you to share your lessons learned, shortcuts devised, products you came to love (or hate), and parenting or relationship challenges that continue to plague you—as well as ones you no longer lose sleep over, and why. New or expecting parents, use this blog as a way to eavesdrop on, and ask frank questions of, parents who have been around the block. You know how parents with two or three kids always seem so together, when you are first feeling your way in the world with a baby? How do they do it, when just one child seems so overwhelming? Here’s a place to benefit from all their advice, and pose specific queries and comments, too…with none of the repercussions that might filter into the same conversations had with family members.

Directly or indirectly, every day we learn something new as parents, even if it’s just about ourselves. We encourage you to please share your thoughts, opinions, advice, and questions…and please pass this on to all your friends so they can join the conversation too.

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