“Are dads the new moms?”: The generation of hands-on fatherhood

"Are dads the new moms?": The generation of hands-on fatherhood
Dads have raised the ante with the role of fatherhood. While I’ve seen plenty of dads at park outings, I’m seeing more and more of them taking an active role in the daily routine. On Facebook, my dad friends post blurbs about helping with homework or taking their kids to the doctor’s appointment. In my own home, my husband isn’t merely the occasional babysitter and instead feeds, bathes, and regularly interacts with our toddler. And recently, my brother—long known for packing his daughters’ lunches, doing their laundry and playing ridiculous games with them—proudly proclaimed, “I know how to do a French braid!”

Welcome to the new dad: men who no longer see themselves merely as husbands or providers, but have stepped up their game as amazing fathers.

Last month, The Wall Street Journal writer Susan Gregory Thomas asks, Are dads the new moms? She writes:

Whether it is because today’s men were raised amid the women’s movement of the 1970s, or because they themselves experienced the costs of that era’s absent fathers, there is little question that the age of dads as full partners in parenting has arrived.

I’ve long since been a fan of hands-on dads for several reasons:

  • When more dads want to be the primary caregiver just as much as women want to be the company CEO will we truly blur the gender lines often found at home and in the workplace.
  • In dual-income families, women end up assuming not only the role of the income-earner but often the role of child-care provider alone.
  • Kids benefit from having an active relationship with their dads, whether through stronger bonds with both parents or a less fearful view of the disciplinarian dad.

I’m excited that dads are stepping up to the plate. With both mom and dad attempting to balance it all, perhaps we’ll see a cultural shift that will support working parents as they attempt to create a healthy work/life balance. And to all the awesome SSBE dad readers: Happy Father’s Day! My hats off to you on this well-deserved day of yours.

What role does your partner play in your family? How does dad balance career, marriage and fatherhood? What was your father’s role growing up, and how has it affected your own perceptions of fatherhood?

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Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep

Flashback Friday: Why I regret rocking my baby to sleep
When I was pregnant, a co-worker advised, “Don’t rock your baby too much—he’ll get used to it.” As I nodded my head and smiled politely, all I could think was, “Cruel woman! How could she suggest such an idea?!”

Well… six months, two broken knees, and one sleep-deprived mama later, I knew exactly why she suggested not to rock my baby to sleep. (I’ll get to the broken knees later.)

After bringing my baby home from the hospital, I quickly realized how easily he dozed off after a few bouncing and rocking in my arms. Somehow he only fell asleep in mine—a fact that I actually took great pride in: “Only mama has the special touch!” I employed all sorts of crazy rocking, from the side-to-side stepping to the bob-and-weave rocking. But the constant rocking plus a growing baby meant that my arms were exhausted.

When my toddler was about four months old, I visited my sister when I noticed she had a yoga ball. “Can I try to see if I can bounce LO on the ball?” Not only did she agree, but she lent us the ball—a curse in disguise as I would soon learn. The ball seemed to work miracles: not only were my arms given a break, but the ball seemed to conk out my baby quicker than ever. But with our ever-growing dependence on the ball, my baby grew to rely on motion to fall asleep, so much so that we would have to bounce him for several minutes before gingerly placing him on the crib.

This rocking business wasn’t working out for us. A few months ago, SSBE reader Mommy Organics asked me what I would do differently if given the chance to do it all over again, and hands down I would not have rocked my baby to sleep. Perhaps with another baby or different techniques I wouldn’t have this sour experience with rocking, but as it is, below are the reasons why I wish I didn’t:

  • My baby relied exclusively on external sleeping aids. We all have sleeping aids, some of them as common as sleeping in a dark room or hearing white noise. But my baby’s sleeping aids were not only unsustainable (we couldn’t rock him the whole night) but prevented him from falling asleep on his own. He could have explored self-soothing techniques to fall asleep, whether it’s rocking his head side to side or sucking on his thumb. But because we did all the work for him, he had few opportunities to develop that ability on his own.
  • Frequent wake-ups meant the entire family was all tired. Not only was our baby not sleeping on his own, he also didn’t know how to help himself fall back asleep when he woke up in the middle of sleep. And since our baby was a light sleeper, that meant waking up every hour and a half to two. We hardly reached deep sleep; even though we technically clocked in eight hours, our bodies weren’t rested.
  • My knees gave out. Our baby required at least 10 minutes of ball bouncing per sleep session. Considering that he was still napping three times a day in addition to the evening where he would easily wake up three times a night, that’s a whole lot a bouncing. All the bouncing took a toll on my knees, and considering that my mom and two sisters already had knee issues, I didn’t want to exacerbate the pain and need surgery as well.
  • And lastly, my baby got to the point where he still cried despite all that rocking. In what is supposed to be a nurturing act—a bonding experience between parent and child—brought us both misery instead. Somehow the rocking itself wasn’t soothing enough, and he ended up crying in our arms the entire time. Something wasn’t working.

We ended up sleep-training our baby at six months old. While it’s not for everybody, sleep-training worked for our family. After two days, my baby was falling asleep on his own sans rocking. Considering that he was barely clocking in three-hour stretches of sleep, I just about died when he slept for 11 hours straight. He woke up more energetic, and we were so much happier for it.

Were I to have another baby or travel back in time, I wouldn’t jump to sleep-training as the first and only solution, but I probably could have employed a few techniques to avoid sleep issues to begin with, such as:

  • Put him down drowsy but awake. I had heard of this advice, and perhaps this is what my co-worker was referring to when she meant not to rock him too much. Instead, I ended up rocking or nursing my baby to drunken oblivion. Not only was he more likely to wake up confused as to how he ended up in a crib when he remembered being in someone’s arms, but he also wasn’t given a chance to learn how to fall asleep on his own.
  • Give him a chance to lie awake on his back. I felt this pressure to always carry my baby, and that if I even so much as lay him down I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. Letting him enjoy time on his back probably would have helped him feel comfortable in his crib.
  • Nurse him when he just wakes up, not to fall asleep. I forget where I had heard of the E-A-S-Y technique (eat, awake, sleep, you), but the general idea is to feed your baby after he wakes up. We didn’t really have a routine in the beginning, but once we started getting into a rhythm, we eventually followed this technique.
  • Decrease or eliminate sleeping aids that I planned to wean him off of anyway. Darkened rooms and white noise is fine by me, but I wouldn’t have rocked, swaddled, or nursed to sleep if I intended on taking those away from him down the line. I’d rather that he didn’t need so many external sleeping aids and instead practice his own self-soothing skills.

You now know why my blog is titled the way it is. While parenting presents many challenges (ahem: tantrums), sleeping was by far the most difficult for us. I think we did our best knowing what we did, but boy if they had that time machine, I would have done a few things differently.

As for that yoga ball, we promptly returned it to my sister with the intention of never wanting to lay eyes on it again.

For parents who rocked their babies to sleep: did you love it or hate it? For parents who didn’t rock their babies, how did you get him or her to fall asleep?

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How late is too late for your child’s bedtime?

How late is too late for your child's bedtime?
We’re those parents who put their kids to bed at the same time every day, so that by 7:30pm, our toddler is tucked in and ready to sleep. Once in a while, he’ll take a late nap and we’ll extend his bedtime, but the latest he has slept has been 8pm. So far this routine has worked well for us. LO usually wakes up at 7am, clocking in nearly 12 straight hours of blissful sleep.

There are times though when I wish we had more flexibility. Take the holidays, for instance. Apparently Filipinos and Mexicans have no regard for children’s bedtimes because both my husband and I have grown up celebrating Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day. For as long as I could remember, I stayed up until midnight and then some, along with every other kid and adult. Everyone in my family continues this tradition… except me. For the past two holidays, we skipped the midnight celebration and instead opted to join them the following day (a.k.a. the B-list festivities of leftover food and groggy attendance).

The same applies to Fourth of July. My most favorite fireworks show happened when—before having a kid—my husband and I drove to the local high school and along with hundreds of other people, laid down on the football field and gazed at the fireworks exploding literally right above us. Since our baby was born, we’ve had to bypass fireworks (or pretty much any festivities that occur in the evenings) because they start at 9pm—far too late for our toddler’s bedtime. This doesn’t even count for the time the fireworks finally end as well as waiting for hundreds of cars to file out of a small parking lot.

Having a regular bedtime routine helps keep our toddler’s temper at bay, so I only half-mind that we miss out on evening events. He seems to thrive with consistency and appreciates that he knows what to expect and when.

This year, though, we might venture out and try a new strategy for Fourth of July. We’re lucky—we can actually see some pretty decent fireworks from our patio. We don’t hear the explosions, but they’re large and amazing to watch. Perhaps now that our toddler is all of two-and-a-half, we could try putting him down for a late nap so that he can stay up until 9pm, watch the fireworks for half an hour or so, then head straight to bath time and sleep. We would still have to brace ourselves for any sort of “I didn’t get enough sleep” grumpiness the next day, but considering that we’re fortunate enough to watch fireworks from our patio, this may be the best we can hope for at his age.

As far as Christmas Eve and midnight revelry, we’ll have to wait a few more years for that.

What time do your kids go to bed? Do you have any plans for Fourth of July fireworks? Do you have a set bedtime every night, or are you more flexible with when your kids turn in for the night? If you have a set schedule, when have you made exceptions to bedtime?

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4 reasons I don’t push my kid to perform

4 reasons I don't push my kid to perform
My cousins and I were laughing about a photo of us when we were kids: our parents had us act out the nativity scene for Christmas, complete with costumes and a baby doll wrapped in a blanket. And while I’m sure I didn’t mind playing the part of a shepherd, I hesitate to think that we actually enjoyed the show as much as our parents—in that photo, all but one of us looked miserable.

It didn’t stop there; for another Christmas, our parents dressed us up in over-sized, gift-wrapped boxes, and probably made us sing a jingle or two. And well into middle school, many of us were still singing at family parties or—I’m ashamed to admit—choreographing hip-hop routines to dance at weddings.

I told my cousins, “We need to do this to our kids. It’s our turn.”

I was kidding. In fact, I do my best not to push my toddler to perform. But sometimes I still shine the limelight on him, and I’m not talking about dressing him up as a shepherd. A few days ago, I was with a friend when I asked my toddler, “Do you want to sing one of the songs you know?” He didn’t respond, so I started it off for him, “Twinkle twinkle little star…” Still, no interest. In that moment I realized I was showing him off; I wanted my friend to see all the cool tricks and talents he can no do. And while it’s natural to feel proud, I knew I shouldn’t have displayed him like a novelty. Thankfully I caught myself and pressed no further.

We often want our kids to perform for various reasons, whether it’s to highlight their talents, brighten other people’s feelings, or encourage kids to continue their talents. If kids are willing to put on a show or even initiate their own performances, then by all means, raise the curtains and take a seat. And for some temperaments, showmanship comes naturally—one of my nephews is a natural performer and thrives with attention. He’s not one to deny a request to perform.

My toddler usually performs when requested—get him started with his Foot Loose dance and he’ll go on tapping his feet away, laughing all the while. But there are times when he’s just not in the mood. He may even go along with a request to recite a few lines or count to 20, but do so monotonously or irritably. It’s these times that I have to be mindful to respect his feelings for several reasons:

  • He may end up feeling like a novelty; someone called on to perform (try to think of the last time you asked an adult, “Hey, why don’t show so-and-so how you play ‘Under the Bridge’ on the guitar?”).
  • He may become bashful or embarrassed from being in the spotlight. While my toddler is only two, there will be a day he’ll realize that people’s laughter—however innocent the intent—is aimed at him, and he may not like it.
  • He may not feel ready to perform. If he’s just learning how to identify a few words, he may not feel 100% confident about reciting a whole book in front of people just yet. Pestering him to do so may frustrate him, or worse, cause him to stop pursuing it.
  • He may equate learning with praise from other people. Receiving attention might lead him to externalize his rewards rather than pursuing talents for his own personal, internal satisfaction.

More often than not, I don’t need to push my toddler to perform. When left to his own devices, he’ll eventually warm up to the crowd and start making his own jokes, or willingly sing Twinkle Twinkle and 20,000 children’s songs when asked. But if he isn’t in the mood—he isn’t smiling, doesn’t look like he’s enjoying the attention, or is ignoring me—then I take a step back. I want to respect his space and allow him to interact with others in what seems most natural to him, not because his parents said it’s show time.

Do you find yourself pushing your kids to perform? Do your kids like putting on a show on their own?

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Pick your battles: why fighting with your kids isn’t always necessary

The other day my two-year-old was fussing about his diaper. “Itches,” he complained, scratching at the diaper where the flaps were taped. Every time I suggested changing his diaper, he’d vehemently say, “No!”

Okay, fine. Live with your itchy diaper then.

But he whined about it again so I picked him up and tried to lay him down on his changing table. “No—get down!” he yelled. Okay, fine. Live with your itchy diaper then. For real, this time.

He ran to his bed and cried for a few seconds. I just looked at him exasperated. He calmed down after a few more seconds so that his cries died to sniffles. Then he even attempted small talk: “How many blankets?” My face softened as I gave a small smile and responded, “You have three.”

Finally he gave me a look and quietly said, “Want diaper change.” I was surprised at his change of mind, especially because it didn’t seem like he was being fickle the way he does when he throws a tantrum. I said, “Okay, let’s get you up on the changing pad.” And he climbed out of bed and willingly let himself be changed.

Pick your battles
Our pediatrician reminded us of sage advice when my toddler was entering his defiant, independent age. She said, “Pick your battles. If he’s not hurting anyone, just let him be. If it’s not necessary, let it go.”

We were having breakfast last weekend when LO wanted to eat but didn’t want to part with his book. “You can put it on the couch,” we told him. “You can have it after you’re done eating.” This, after all, abides by our efforts not to have toys or books on the table while we’re eating. “No,” he replied. He started getting fussy. Then my husband suggested, “Do we really want to start off the day fighting over a book?” We picked our battle and let him have his book.

Letting him win
And when we did, I wondered if we undermined our authority by letting him “win.” You always hear about the importance of staying consistent with rules. What if he now thinks he can bring a toy or book with him to the dining table all the time? What if he starts being rebellious? Will he listen next time if we ask him to put his toys and books on the couch before going to eat?

The answer? Yes. He still listens.

Just this afternoon, LO wanted to eat (a not-uncommon occurrence it seems!). Not only did he willingly put his toy on the couch before sitting down, he did so without being asked or told. I don’t think that by “letting him win” did he permanently think that he can get away with every misbehavior he can think of. Maybe he thought, “I’ve been following the rules, I know what’s expected, but maybe just today I wanted to have this book in my hands.”

Nagging doesn’t work for the long-term
Think about all the effort it takes to nag and fight: you have to harangue someone who really doesn’t want to listen to you right now because he has his own agenda in mind. Nagging often involves telling, telling, telling without really putting ourselves into the other person’s perspective. And my toddler is almost always obedient and a self-starter; do I really need to bug him about the rare times he bends the rules? Probably not.

I tell myself that if I had to fight with my toddler—someone whom I love beyond this world—then it better be for a darn good reason. There’s the obvious scolding for serious offenses, like the one time he purposely took a few steps towards the street instead of staying on the sidewalk. Or to a less dangerous degree, when we have to leave the house at a certain time, we absolutely have to go despite any protests or tears. But let’s say we’re going to the park just to hang out. We probably don’t have to go right this minute; maybe we can wait until he’s done playing with the toy he’s focused on.

Prevention is key
Even though I write about my toddler’s tantrums and our temperamental differences, most of our days are good days and thankfully we don’t argue all that often. One tactic we’ve used is prevention: avoid the battle before it even begins. If the environment or situation isn’t conducive to a toddler, you might as well welcome a battle right then and there. For instance, if we want to leave the house by 8:20, we don’t introduce a new toy or even try to go to a new room when it’s 8:15. That’s just not fair: why offer him this new activity only to tell him five minutes later that he now has to stop playing with it? Don’t introduce the new toy: battle averted.

Letting me win?
I wondered about that day when my toddler suddenly changed his mind and let himself get a diaper change. In the simplest terms, maybe he finally realized that the diaper really did itch and he wanted to take it off. Or maybe… he learned to pick his own battles. Maybe he realized that this is silly and we don’t have to ruin the wonderful day we were having to spend the rest of it crying or yelling. Who knows. But at that moment, when my toddler I looked at each other, I felt  as if we were saying to one another, “This is unnecessary.”

How do you pick your battles? How do you resolve conflict with your kids?