Thursday, March 31, 2011

Becoming a Stay-At-Home-Mom, Part II

Prompted in part by the post Unplanned Parenthood on A Gift Universe. The same information presented below also is a factor when people think they cannot afford a child.

I gave the timeline of my decision to leave the workforce here as part I of this series. Today I will look at how finances affect the decision to have one parent stay home. For our family, this was a fairly easy decision. Firstly, when we found out I was pregnant, we restructured our budget so that it did not include my income. (All of my income since that time has gone to paying off student loans more quickly.) Secondly, even when I was working about 20 hours a week, my take-home pay was "only" about 18% of our income. Many families, however, feel that finances dictate how much time they can have with their children. This post is for you. I hope to provide a framework for you to evaluate your own lifestyle and decide if you might be able to stay home after all. The question is not so much "How much does a baby cost?" as "How much does everything else cost?" Here is a look at our budget:

Fixed Expenses
Charitable donations: Yep, our first line is for church and other charitable donations. It's 10% of our annual gross pay. I'm including this not to look for praise, but to demonstrate that trusting in God is an integral part of managing your money instead of allowing it to manage you.
Debt: Our only debt at this time is my student loans and our mortgage. We intend to keep it that way. By following a budget, you can keep yourself out of the awful cycle of credit card payments. This line is the minimum monthly payments for loans and the mortgage.
Life insurance: For us, health insurance is taken directly from my husband's paycheck and homeowners is included with our mortgage payment, or they would be in this category too.
Car insurance: If you need to reduce spending, consider buying an older car or selling one if you have two. Take advantage of defensive driving courses that lower your costs.
Phone: This is a fixed expense only because you need a way to make emergency calls. Most likely, you will want a plan that allows you to call and receive calls, but be sure to go with the lowest plan that meets your actual needs. You probably don't NEED to be able to send pictures. :-) If you have a cell phone, pick a model that comes free with your contract.
Trash pick-up: If this is not provided by your city or town, shop around!

Adjustable Expenses
Groceries: You can find oodles of articles on how to reduce your grocery budget, so I won't give an exhaustive list here. My main tips would be buy in bulk, get what is in season, experiment with generic/store brand goods, and comparison shop at the public market if you have one. We buy organic meat, milk, and produce and are still only at $200/mo for the three of us, including toiletries and cleaning supplies.
Travel: You must include enough to get one of you to work daily. Does it have to be in your own car? Consider public transportation, carpooling, or biking.
Utilities: Reduce your carbon footprint and your bills by conserving energy and water. An energy usage meter may help you pinpoint areas where you are wasting your money. For example, we recently discovered that in 24 hours, my printer used as much energy turned off as the television used in 30 minutes turned on.
Car upkeep: If you trust your mechanic, ask him/her for an estimate on what you might spend in a year. Remember to include inspection and registration costs.
Work expenses: We found we needed to put aside a little bit each month for things like work clothes, certification courses, and those "optional" lunch meetings.
Home repair: Maybe $10/month or less to cover light bulbs and such.
Medical copays: Make this an estimate based on your typical medical and dental costs.

Optional Expenses
Internet: Unless you work from home, you do not need internet. You can access it at your local library to read my blog.
Cable: We don't actually have cable, but I'm putting it on here because most people do. Not necessary.
Gifts: A good place to remember, "Those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind." A heartfelt card (especially handmade!) conveys sentiment as well if not better than a gift.
Restaurants: On the 16th of each month, we go out to celebrate our wedding "monthaversary." When we had less disposable income, this sometimes meant the dollar menu at a fast food chain. If finances were dire, we would cut this line completely.
Entertainment: We each have our own disposable income line, which is used for going out with friends, clothes*, books, games, craft supplies... basically anything not listed in another category. We've had this as low as $10/month per person. Again, if times were tough, we could cut it completely.  *Most of what we wear is a gift, hand-me-down, or from a thrift store, so this has been adequate.

To make your budget, fill in what you are spending on fixed and adjustable expenses. Compare this total to your net income. Now is there enough to pay for a child? Keep in mind that with one of you staying home, you reduce costs for work expenses, travel, and save whatever you were spending on child care.

We are raising a happy, healthy little boy on $40/month in the "baby" line of the budget. Cloth diapers, breastfeeding, and thrift store clothes make this very doable. If one of you stays home, you have more time to do things like hang laundry outside to dry and make meals that are not pre-packaged (and usually more expensive), which saves you even more!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Nursing bras reviews

I'm not a fan of spending a lot of money on my clothes. In fact, most of what I buy comes from a thrift store where my mom volunteers. Nursing bras are hard to come by in thrift stores, however, so towards the end of my pregnancy, I bit the bullet and actually spent some money on nursing bras. I went to Target and bought four of the cheapest ones they had. Some experienced moms out there are saying, "Oh no!" Oh yes. In the hopes of providing some good information for other moms-to-be, here is a review of the six styles I have now.

Gilligan&O'Malley padded demi bra
Pros: These are very inexpensive, less than $10 if you catch a good sale. They are padded, which means you're not showing off the contours of your nursing pads if you wear a fitted shirt. If you aren't leaking much, you could even get away with no nursing pads. (I have never been that fortunate.) The clasp to drop the cup is easy to open and close with one hand.
Cons: On these bras, "padded" translates to "structured". They are not bad for casual wear around the house, if you're not going to be bending over or lying down. However, if you are in any position other than upright, your breasts tend to move while the cups stay right where they are. This is particularly annoying if you are in bed and want to roll over. Also, the cups have been known to try to resume their usual position while my son is trying to nurse, pushing his latch off center. Ouch! Finally, I am not confident these bras will last past child #1. They seem rather flimsy.

Gilligan&O'Malley seamless softcup bra
Pros: One step up the ladder, but still relatively inexpensive. They are comfortable to wear for sleeping and have the same drop-cup clasp as the padded bras, which is very easy to use. The bra moves as you do and the cups are a little stretchy to accommodate changes in breast size throughout the day.
Cons: These offer very little support. They are a way to hold nursing pads in place, but not much beyond that. If you are at all large, I would recommend looking for something else. Also, the cup fabric is very thin, so nursing pads are highly visible.

Medela sleep bra
Pros: As the name suggests, these are GREAT for sleeping. The whole bra is stretchy, so you just slide the cup aside to nurse. The fabric is smooth and not too constricting. This is definitely my top recommendation to wear while sleeping.
Cons: I wouldn't recommend wearing these during the day. The support while moving around is almost non-existent and the fabric tends to stretch more throughout the day in my experience. If you do choose to wear it in public, this is another one that makes nursing pads very visible. Occasionally, the cup starts to creep up while Peter is nursing, but it is easy to readjust. 

Medela seamless softcup bra
Pros: The cups on these are a bit thicker and hide the contours of nursing pads well. They are flexible enough to move with you and accommodate changing breast size during the day. The straps are wide and the bra offers good support without being restrictive.
Cons: The only thing I don't like about this bra is that the clasp is virtually impossible to close with one hand. However, I bought mine used and when I looked at images online of the ones being sold now, they seem to have the more common plastic hook/loop clasp that is easy to use. If mine had that kind of clasp, this would definitely be my favorite style.

Motherhood Maternity wireless full coverage bra
Pros: This bra is very lightweight and is nice if it is hot and you're trying to wear a minimal amount of fabric. The cups are flexible. The straps are wide and easily adjustable.
Cons: The cups do not stretch at all and, since they are so thin, nursing pads show. As with the G&O softcup, there is not much support. Even running up the stairs might make you wish you'd chosen another style!

Leading Lady cotton wirefree nursing bra
Pros: I consider this to be my church bra. :-) It has what is marketed as a "full sling", which basically means the area exposed while nursing is smaller -- a circle in the middle rather than the whole cup dropping. Very discreet, hence the church bra. I would imagine the full sling is also good support for larger women. The fabric is thick enough to disguise nursing pads and thin enough to move with you.
Cons: The fabric is not at all stretchy and the band around the bottom can feel rather constricting once you get it snug enough to offer support. To accommodate changing breast size, the cup hook can go in to one of three loops. There are a couple problems with this. First, the hook and loop are small and metal and can be very difficult to close with one hand. Secondly, you may want it on the smallest setting right after you finish nursing, but not by the time a few hours have passed! So then you have to reach inside your shirt and adjust it, or just put it on the bigger setting when your little one is done. If you use it as a church bra, though, you're not wearing it all day, so that becomes less of an issue. :-)

Happy shopping!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Birthday presents and toys

Today I am 27 years old! Peter's present for me was a flyswatter because he thinks I am a wimp about insects. Or so he allegedly told my husband. :-) One of my husband's presents to me was a Cadbury Crunchie bar, which is chocolate-covered honeycomb. Probably not remotely healthy, but delicious!

A quick idea (then I need to go nurse my son, who just woke): Cloth remnants, sold deeply discounted at many craft stores, make great toys! Peter loves the variety of colors and textures.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Becoming a Stay-At-Home-Mom, Part I

Today I met with my supervisor and turned in my two weeks notice. Professionally, this is a good time to leave because half of my caseload hours are being discontinued at the end of this month anyway, so fewer cases need to be reassigned to other workers. Personally, this is a good time to leave for many reasons. (The absolute least of these reasons is that my birthday is tomorrow!) Here is an overview of my employment since taking maternity leave.

Maternity Leave
My due date for Peter was July 23. I decided to begin maternity leave on July 1, in case he came early. (My job involves taking kids into the community; I didn't want to even imagine what I would do if labor began while I was out with a client!) If he was born on or before his due date, I fully intended to return to work for the beginning of the school year in early September.

Extended Leave
Within a day of Peter being born (July 18), I knew I couldn't return to work so quickly. He was so tiny and needed me so much! I knew I wanted to exclusively breastfeed and avoid pumping and bottles as much as possible. The idea of returning in September was too overwhelming. I seriously considered not returning at all. I prayed, sought counsel, and talked about it with my husband, who said he would support whatever decision I made. One friend suggested I ask for an extended leave and reevaluate as Peter and I both got into a more regular routine. I asked to return after Thanksgiving and was immediately granted an extended leave with the promise of my job when I chose to return. (I should note here that I am over-qualified for my job, so they are willing to compromise with me. Don't take my experience as an indication of how it will be for everyone!)

Back to Work
I returned on November 30 and slowly built up my caseload to what should have been ten hours a week. In reality, it was both fewer and more hours. For one reason and another, I never had all of my cases active at the same time, so I didn't have the assigned billable time. However, to be respectful of my full-time colleagues and our clients, I always had my phone on during business hours, which was a minimal but constant stress. Also, there were meetings that needed to be rescheduled at the last minute or had been scheduled by a school district with a very strict timetable that I had to accommodate. "Flexible hours" no longer seemed like a benefit.

Job Changes for my Husband
After I had returned to work, my husband's job situation also changed. Rather than working from home full-time in a support role, he now was in the office two days a week and must be continuously available during business hours. This made it much more challenging to accommodate my work meetings by leaving Peter home. My mom helped out whenever I asked, but I didn't want her to become a regular babysitter.

Answering the Call
I was becoming increasingly stressed, unhappy, and unable to live life in a manner worthy of my calling. I was struggling to meet the minimal time required to help out at Angel Care, a pro-life ministry. I had turned down opportunities to help others because I felt too overwhelmed. Even going to church seemed like a huge time commitment. Something had to give.

Two Weeks Notice
That brings us to today. Again, I have spent time in prayer and confirmed with my husband that he is comfortable with me staying home full-time. Turning in my resignation letter is freeing. I am excited to enter a new chapter of my life, relieved that my resignation was accepted gracefully, and completely at peace that I am following God's plan for me as best I am able.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

On keeping the Lord's Day holy

Today I washed Peter's diapers, washed dishes for an hour (last night's dinner required many pots and pans!), put away clean clothes, did my lesson plan for Sunday school, worked at my paying job for three hours, and made a batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies for the party tomorrow. My husband put away his games and Peter's toys, vacuumed the first floor, cleaned the bathroom, took out the trash and recyclables, and helped friends pack their U-Haul to move.

Tomorrow is a day of rest.

Pope John Paul II wrote, on keeping the Lord's Day holy, "Sharing in the Eucharist is the heart of Sunday, but the duty to keep Sunday holy cannot be reduced to this. In fact, the Lord’s Day is lived well if it is marked from beginning to end by grateful and active remembrance of God’s saving work. This commits each of Christ’s disciples to shape the other moments of the day – those outside the liturgical context: family life, social relationship, moments of relaxation – in such a way that the peace and joy of the Risen Lord will emerge in the ordinary events of life."

We have decided, in our family, to keep Sunday holy by avoiding work in addition to attending Mass. While I was in school, I even avoided doing homework on Sunday. (Some very late Saturday nights, though!) For me, the work of Saturday has become blessed simply by being a preparation for Sunday. At the end of the day, I can look at what I have done, know that it is very good, and look forward to a true day of rest.

Friday, March 25, 2011


My husband and I went to see Chicago tonight at a local high school. It was excellent. The students were very talented in acting, song, and dance. I have watched the beginning of the movie, but the musical version is much better in my opinion. I must say, it is very dark, not a family show. It is a satire, mocking our judicial system and what Americans truly value (money and fame, rather than justice). I hope the students learned from it as they rehearsed over the past months and understand it as satire, not a promotion of the values portrayed.

This post seems rather disjointed to me. Perhaps this is due to a combination of being tired and an inability to express in a blog post what was captured so well on stage tonight.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Language development

One of the joys of raising an infant is watching him master new skills almost daily. Peter has recently learned how to clap and will usually perform if we say, "Yay!" At eight months old, he still has some time before I would expect him to produce language, but he certainly demonstrates understanding. He gets excited when I ask if he wants to see Daddy. He has started to make an affirmative noise ("Eh! eh! eh!") in answer to some questions, such as "Do you want a book?" or "Do you want to nurse?" We also use signs for book and nurse, so that might be helping. His language development makes me more aware of the songs I sing around him. I have been learning how to play Boolavogue on the piano; consequently, I've been singing it frequently. The melody is pretty, but the lyrics tell the story of a failed uprising against the British. One line is, "The Yeos of Tulla took Father Murphy and burned his body upon the rack." Not a lullaby, to say the least. I've started humming that line.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Myth of the Minivan

While I was pregnant, my husband read a few parenting books, some of which were aimed at fathers-to-be. One in particular was full of so many inaccurate assumptions about our lifestyle that he read parts aloud just to keep me entertained. For example, "If this is your first child, you probably will only need one minivan to start." The idea that we would need a minivan (and possibly two) for one tiny baby is absurd. Friends cautioned us, "It's not the baby that takes up so much space, it's all the stuff the baby needs!" Again, how much stuff does a baby actually need?

We have a Nissan Versa. We love this car. It is a narrow hatchback that somehow has oodles of room inside. We have fit two computer desks (simultaneously), a treadmill, and a book case in it at different times. We have comfortably traveled with Peter, including a five day, 3000 mile trip from upstate NY to Dallas, TX. The most recent Versa adventure was a short trip to my husband's first gig with his current band. The trip was only about 90 minutes, but the impressive part was that we got Peter, our luggage for staying over night (including a pack-n-play), and my husband's drum kit into the car. Well, all except for the floor tom. But that is still a bass drum & kick pedal, two rack toms, snare drum & stand, high hat, three cymbals & their stands, drum throne, and the rug.

Now, I'm not saying minivans are pointless. They have their place. My parents have one and we have borrowed it to transport some bigger purchases. It has also been nice when five or six of us are traveling together to the Midwest. My cousins have a minivan that they use all the time. They also have four children in car seats or booster seats. Some day, we might get a minivan of our own. But it won't be for one child.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Vegetable Garden: Planning

I have been reading recently about vegetable gardens. We have plenty of space and a decent amount of sunshine, so our yard is prime garden material. Today my husband and I started planning what vegetables we would like to plant, once the ground completely thaws (snow is predicted for the next four days). The problem is, we've done this a few times. Planning, that is, not gardening. I am hoping that the combination of more free time and wanting to be a role model for Peter will be enough motivation for us this year to actually DO what we plan. At any rate, initial plans include digging up the garden that came with the house (a sizable plot of ground-cover) and planting some easy vegetables. Our list so far includes tomatoes, green beans, squash, carrots, and potatoes. Perhaps this public announcement of our plans will be a further encouragement to me to take one more step towards healthy eating and care for our planet!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Moby Wrap vs. Snugli comparison

I used the Moby Wrap to take Peter for about a mile walk. Loved it! He seemed closer to me than he is in our Snugli, and it definitely distributed the weight more comfortably. Most of his weight settled around my hips, rather than on my shoulders as I have found with the Snugli. That being said, the Snugli offers more head support, so even if I could go back in time, I would still use the Snugli for the first few months when he weighed less. I don't think my husband will use the Moby much, if at all, mainly because of the time needed to wrap it correctly. It is ungainly compared to the fairly compact Snugli. I plan on leaving the Snugli in the car for when I just want to pop him in for a quick errand. I have already used the Moby a few times around the house -- it is amazing how much more efficient I can be when one hand is not holding him on my hip! :-)

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Happy St. Patrick's Day! Six years ago, I was studying in Galway, Ireland, for a semester and spent St. Patrick's Day in Dublin with the Little Sisters of the Poor. At the time, I was discerning if I was called to a religious vocation. Tonight, I was at the parish where I grew up, enjoying the "Irish Cultural Celebration" with my aunt, parents, husband, and little son. It is amazing how much has changed in my life in a few years.

My little leprechaun, sporting his TinyTush diaper and Mommy's scarf. :-)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No gas shortages here

My mom and I made traditional Irish shortbread tonight in preparation for the St. Patrick's Day dinner at church tomorrow night. It was delicious and fun to make, aside from frequent trips upstairs to cuddle and soothe Peter back to sleep. He was gassy. Actually, he has been gassy since he was about a month old (and was exclusively breastfed until he was six months old). I've tried eliminating dairy, soy, and even chocolate from my diet. It can't be anything he is eating, because he had the problem long before he started solids. We have tried multiple burping positions, keeping him upright for 20 minutes after he eats, and even gas drops. Nothing seems to make an appreciable difference. Tonight as I lulled him back to sleep with my hand on his stomach, I could feel the bubbles moving around in there. My poor baby. Any suggestions?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Craigslist findings

Peter got new diapers today! Well, new to us. In an ongoing quest to find the (non-existent) perfect night diapering combination, we are moving towards FuzziBunz with hemp soakers. I got one used at luvaboos, our local cloth diapering shop, and it has worked very well. So I scouted out Craigslist and found a few more. Granted, they are almost all girly colors, but hey, he's wearing them to bed. I'm sure the other babies won't make fun of him. :-) My other recent Craigslist acquisition is a Moby wrap! I have read many glowing reviews, so I'm looking forward to trying it myself. I'll let you know how it works next time I take him out. Hooray for people who resell baby items!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Walking the mall

A friend of mine hates shopping malls. She is upset by the rampant commercialism. She gets discouraged seeing all the anxious, hurried people racing from one store to the next. I understand her point of view. I agree with her that commercialism can be dangerous and damaging to our relationships with one another and with God. Despite that, however, I love walking the mall. I rarely buy anything. I like to be around people and observe this microcosm of our society. When it is too cold to be comfortable outside for long (October through at least March here in upstate New York!), the mall is a safe, warm place to walk with Peter. There are many things for him to see and smell and hear. He was fascinated this evening to watch the fountain for about five minutes. I don't go to the mall as a mecca of commercialism, but as one more place to go when we are tired of being home.

What are your thoughts on shopping malls?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

New toys!

It's late and we have to set our clocks ahead tonight. But Peter's peg dolls of Jesus, Mary and Archangel Michael arrived in today's mail. I am very excited. He is still a bit too young to use them (I don't want him chipping their paint with his teeth), but I know he'll be ready for them soon. They are so beautiful with such  excellent attention to detail! I highly recommend these to anyone looking for quality Catholic toys that are a bit out of the ordinary. (Or if you're Christian but do not venerate saints, she makes a few different images of Jesus!)

Friday, March 11, 2011

My guys

We took Peter for a walk today in the snow flurries. Babywearing results in some of the cutest pictures ever. Also, I'd like to point out that baby carrier covers, while cute, are not necessary. A big zippered sweatshirt or jacket does the trick. 

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Live simply, live green

A few quick tips that save time and/or money in my house:
* Have a laminated placemat on the counter that is not adjacent to the sink. When making sandwiches or other things that cause small messes, the entire thing can be lifted over to the sink and rinsed off.
* Use less toothpaste. The dental hygienist said at my last visit that if you use enough friction (not pressure!) and brush with baking soda a couple times weekly, you never need toothpaste. Personally, I like the minty taste, so I put just enough to coat the tops of the bristles -- about half the "pea-sized" amount recommended for small children.
* Eat rice. Find a dish you like that uses rice and replace one meal a week with it. It is so inexpensive!
* Take low pressure showers. I love to stand in the shower and relax. We have a water-efficient shower head, but I have found that even with it I can afford to lower the water pressure. Now I can relax with less guilt!
* Buy used clothes. They cost less. I don't feel awful when they get stained. I can find fun, unusual clothes. Fun fact: Putting clothes (and toys, bedding, etc.) in the dryer for a minimum of 45 minutes on high heat kills bed bugs and lice.

"Live simply so that others may simply live." (Attributed to lots of people)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

You are dust

A man who has known me since childhood told me today that I am dust. He said the same thing to my son. It was great.
Peter and I went to Mass today for Ash Wednesday and, while being crossed with ashes on our foreheads, heard, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). This is a powerful statement about how temporary our earthly bodies are, especially in contrast to our eternal souls. I think this message is rarely spoken in our society and needs to be considered more often. The world does not revolve around me. I am only a tiny part of creation and the Body of Christ. An important part, as is every part, but small. It is too easy to believe that things will fall apart if I am not there to make everything go smoothly. I need to remember that I am dust. God is in control. The best things I can do in any situation is to pray. Remembering that will be my goal this Lenten season.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Choosing to breastfeed

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Natural Parenting Top 10 Lists
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared Top 10 lists on a wide variety of aspects of attachment parenting and natural living. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

My son Peter is only seven months old, so I can’t claim to be an expert on breastfeeding. I have been told that it just keeps getting better as the baby grows, though, so perhaps I have already weathered the worst of it. Either way, I intend to continue breastfeeding as long as my little one is interested. Here are the top ten reasons why:

10. Breastfeeding helps me get back into pre-baby shape. Breast milk has a high fat content, which has to come from somewhere! I like a healthy weight-loss plan that just requires me to cuddle with my baby.

9. Breastfeeding reduces the chances of getting pregnant. I don’t consider pregnancy to be a disease or children to be a burden, but I am thankful that God designed us in such a way that caring for our babies results in natural child spacing. As Catholics, my husband and I believe that Natural Family Planning should only be used to avoid children if there is a grave reason to do so (read more here). Breastfeeding cooperates with God’s plan for our family.

8. Breastfeeding gives me valuable relaxation time. I think this one will be more important with the next baby, when I am constantly on-the-go with one child already. Even now, though, I appreciate time to sit and do nothing, guilt-free.

7. Breastfeeding has important health benefits for me. Studies have shown that moms who breastfeed have a reduced risk for osteoporosis, type II diabetes, ovarian cancer, and some forms of breast cancer. Sign me up!

6. Breastfeeding saves money. By choosing to breastfeed, I am not spending money on formula, bottle warmers, sophisticated breast pumps, or tons of bottles. (In the interest of honesty, I do have a few glass bottles and a manual pump, which have been fantastic when I am letting one side heal from the result of a poor latch.)

5. Breastfeeding is efficient. There is absolutely no preparation time to feeding. As soon as my son gets hungry, food is available! I have many things I would rather be doing than waiting for a bottle to get warm. Also, there is little to no clean-up after the fact.

4. Breastfeeding is convenient. This goes along with number five, but deserves its own entry. I’m not just saving time, I’m saving effort. Whenever, wherever we are, food is available. For short outings, I only need a burp cloth, diaper, and a plastic bag to store the dirty one, all of which easily fit into a mid-size purse. We travel out-of-state fairly regularly (Peter has already driven to TX, MA, and IN), so having fewer things to pack is a definite bonus.

3. Breastfeeding produces immediate calm. Regardless of what caused him to be hurt, scared, angry, or otherwise upset, Peter will always nurse to calm himself. He will go from screaming to suckling immediately, bringing blessed peace for him and me. I treasure this opportunity to help him self-regulate and will definitely miss it as a parenting technique when he decides to wean.

2. Breastfeeding results in healthier babies. Breast milk is healthier than formula, providing the proper balance of nutrients for babies as they mature. Breastfed babies are sick less often and recover more quickly. Suckling at the breast strengthens tongue and jaw muscles and is correlated with a lower incidence of speech impediments in childhood.

1. Breastfeeding has strengthened the bond of love I have for my little one. I love cuddling with him, soothing him, and watching him nurse himself to sleep. I like to know that this is something special he and I share. It helps me to forgive myself for my mistakes and be patient when he is upset. Breastfeeding makes me a better parent.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon March 8 with all the carnival links.)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Home economics

I am a firm believer that your home speaks volumes about your values, priorities, and personality. I want my home to be welcoming to big and little people, to be clean and organized, to reflect our interests, and to emphasize the importance of family. I like my home to be interesting.

If we suddenly had an increase in disposable income, I would spend a fair amount of it playing house. I'm not talking about major renovations (although we have a few of those we want to do, too), but rather the simple things: reupholstering our couch, getting a phonograph that works, or replacing the curtains. As it is, I try to content myself with smaller improvements, like designating baskets to hold things that otherwise would be all over the place (books we're reading to Peter, various baby items).

When I read about toy spaces that work, I get all excited and want to restructure my house. When Better Homes & Gardens arrives each month, it's a guarantee that I will organize a closet or something; I get so motivated. I want my home to reflect the best of me; it inspires me to live up to that image.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Defense of behaviorism, Part II

Yesterday, I outlined how behaviorism can be congruent with gentle discipline, noting that a good relationship with parents and peers is generally enough of a reward to stimulate good behavior. This is not always true. I believe there are cases where a child needs to be trained using tangible rewards or immediate punishments, usually in instances of disability. With that sentence, I realize I have stepped onto a minefield.
First, disabilities. Many contend that all children are created equal and we shouldn't label them. I agree all children have equal value, but not all have equal skills. When these skill deficits impact a child's ability to function, I consider it a disability. A child who cannot tolerate typical levels of light and noise, for example, or one whose anger management skills are nonexistent can be considered to have a disability. Both of these children may, as a coping mechanism, injure themselves or others. I think having labels such as autism and bipolar disorder helps adults know how to respond when the child is in a crisis.
Second, training. In rare circumstances, it is OK to first address the behavior before addressing the underlying need. If a child starts banging his head hard enough to potentially cause brain damage when he is angry, it is more important to stop that behavior immediately than to address the multiple triggers for his anger. Once the behavior is under control, perhaps by giving him a cracker for every five minutes without head-banging, then one can begin the slow work of identifying triggers and teaching positive coping skills for each situation. The child's safety must come first.
As with yesterday's post, my point is that behaviorism is not evil and can, judiciously, be used for great good.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Defense of behaviorism, Part I

I am a certified school psychologist and a behaviorist. Very broadly speaking, behaviorism holds that every behavior is goal-oriented; a child is never "acting up for no reason." To correct misbehavior, then, we first seek a way to provide the desired goal through a different means. For example, if a child is grabbing toys, we teach her how to ask politely instead. If the goal is not an adult-approved goal, i.e. keeping all the toys, then we manipulate the environment so that the choice we support is the most attractive one. This might include affirmation for respecting others by sharing or loss of toys that are not shared ("If you can't use toys nicely, we need to put them away for now."). To me, this seems very congruent with gentle discipline. I am therefore frustrated by parents who despise the idea of "training" their kids with rewards and punishments. Every behavior has a consequence. The key to making behaviorism work in an ethical manner is to make the consequences reasonable and related to the behavior. If a child takes all the toys, don't send her to her room. Removing her from a social situation doesn't teach her how to interact with others.  Likewise, if she shares, don't reward her with a sticker. The reward of a good relationship with you and her peers will be enough (in most cases; more on exceptions tomorrow). Training your children to make good decisions is not a horrible thing. It is another way to teach.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Feeling fleshy

I got up with Peter around 7:00 this morning and convinced myself to go to 8:15 Mass. I realize this shouldn't have to happen. I love Mass. I like bringing Peter along with me. I am at peace there and am always strengthened by the Eucharist. There is nothing remotely unpleasant about the experience in any way and so many benefits! But I have such a hard time convincing myself to get into the car and go. I somehow feel like I am making a huge time commitment (we were home by 9:00) and that, if I go, I will be unable to accomplish some important task later in the day. This is absurd. If I stayed home, I would probably have skimmed Facebook and played on the floor with Peter. The latter is important, but certainly not more so than bringing him to the house of God (Ps 122:1). An hour of my day is a small thing to give to God when He uses it to give so much back to me. These are all reasonable points and attending daily Mass should be a foregone conclusion. Indeed, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Mt 26:41).