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9.09.2010

Intentional Parenting: My decision making process

My last post made me think of a conversation I had with my brother-in-law not long after he married my sister. The man is a little freaked out by kids (most men are before they have any, at least a little). We were at the lake, sitting in my parents' boat, and a slightly drunk guy approached us to compliment the vessel. Being drunk, once he started talking he had a hard time stopping and I would imagine my kids were nearby (sad that I can't remember, but they often get drug off by aunts or cousins when we're around family) because the conversation quickly turned to children, as random drunk guy had just had a baby. He brought up Infant Self-Rescue lessons, which had recently been discussed in one of my mom's groups. I told him that, in my case, I didn't think they would be worth either the possible stress caused to the child (and I have to admit that may be an ignorant statement because I have no idea how these skills are taught to children, but it is really hard for me to believe that the learning of these skills doesn't cause stress to the child) or the money (not normally a deciding factor for me, but these lessons cost between $800 and $1000). We don't have a pool, nor do either of our parents or any of my children's other caregivers. We do go to the lake with my parents about twice a year (max), but while in the boat or on a doc (as per law and common sense) they ALWAYS wear a life jacket, and while on the beach they are under the constant supervision of me, my mom, and often also my two sisters. Plus Oliver never goes in the water alone (he's not a fan- I still watch him of course, but seeing as he's usually right in front of me digging in the sand it's not a hard task). Moral of the story- my children are never in a position or an environment where these lessons would benefit. If we or a caregiver owned a pool or if we spent more time at a lake then I would feel differently.

Which got us talking about the general process of making decisions as a parent. Random drunk guy, being drunk, told me I was wrong and was having none of my rationalization. But when I broke down for them how I make these decisions both men had to agree that the process makes sense. Because I'm very male in the way I make these decisions- I am not an emotional decision maker as many women (esp. mothers regarding their childre) are. As I told them, pretty much every decision I make regarding my children, be it a tiny daily thing or a big ol' huge life altering decision is based on cost/benefit analysis.

When I say cost, I don't mean that monetarily (at least not exclusively, although sometimes that is a factor). It could mean emotional cost, or time commitment, or physical sacrifice (that sounds way worse that what I mean, but you know, like taking cod liver oil is gross, but you take it anyway, or childbirth hurts, but you deal with it- things like that). What I'm getting at is that there are few decisions I make without thinking about them. And since I KNOW that many mothers find this harder than I do I thought I would share more of my decision making process.

For most any decision I ask myself:
  • How will this affect my family as a whole, now and in the future?
  • How will this affect each individual in the family, now and in the future?
  • Does this go against anything I believe in philosophically (this usually applies to anything regarding the environment, like plastic toys or disposable diapers).
  • Are the benefits of this decision worth the cost?
  • Am I comfortable with the amount of knowledge I have concerning this decision? (if not, I do research)
  • (once I've implemented said decision) Is this working for us? If not, evaluate why not a change.
I know, this all seems very abstract. I'm an abstract random thinker (another personality test, but I won't go into it this time). Let me give an example.

**before I go into the following example I want to preface it by saying two things- first that I think 100% that breastfeeding until 1 and beyond should be the norm and that there is very little excuse not to do so. I, despite my mantra to set guilt asside, still feel guilty for not making it to a year (I stopped at 8 months with each child). The decision (which it wasn't really a decision, more a series of events that felt out of my control) to stop was one of the few parenting decisions that wasn't well thought out. Don't compound my guilt by criticizing my decision, as it's not a decision I will ever encourage another woman to make. Save that energy, if you feel like criticizing me, for people who can still make that decision OR for people who aren't encouraging mothers to breastfeed, because unfortunately I can't go back and change what I have done but I will ALWAYS encourage mothers to breastfeed at least to a year. SECONDLY, I don't believe what I'm about to say applies to weaning a breastfed baby, only a bottle fed baby. End of guilt induced disclaimer**

I weaned both of my children off of their bottles during the week before their first birthday. During this time we lived in California amidst a Hispanic population that regularly allows their children to drink from bottles well beyond a year (often until 3 or 4), as well as allowing their children to use a bottle to get to sleep. But in my opinion allowing a child to continue to drink from a bottle past a year is almost always an emotional or selfishly utilitarian decision on the part of the mother. They either don't want their baby to grow up, so they allow their child to continue to drink a bottle (hate to tell you, but treating your child like a baby doesn't stop them from growing up), OR they are too scared or too lazy to deal with the perceived stress of taking something away from their child (or they don't want to deal with the two or three sleepless nights they'll have when they don't give their child a bottle to fall asleep). I, however, am lucky on two fronts- I don't make decisions emotionally (I know, I said that already) and I have a pretty solid core knowledge of a child's emotional and physical development. So here's a simple breakdown of the why, kind of the way my brain sees it:
  • Removing an object or practice from a child before they are 12 months old is emotionally easier on the child because their attachments thus far are mostly practical- they want the bottle because it makes their hunger go away, they want the binky because sucking makes them feel better, etc. Postponing the removal allows an emotional attachment to take place which in some circumstances (like with a lovie) may be desirable, but in the instance of a bottle or binky*** is not usually desirable because you have to take those away eventually.
  • There is no benefit to allowing a child continue to have a bottle past the age of one. Unless there is some sort of developmental or physical delay any child should be able to drink out of a cup, at least a sippy, by this time.
  • There are several negative affects of allowing children to continue to drink a bottle past the age of one and/or to get to sleep- tooth decay, increased likelihood of ear infection, increased likelihood of childhood obesity, and, believe it or not, malnutrition because they will often fill up on whatever fluid the bottle is filled with instead of eating more varied nutrient dense food.
***My opinion on the binky is a little more flexible, as I believe that some children still physically have the need to suck beyond a year. But the thought process is the same- do I want my child to have his/her binky because I really truly believe that he/she still has the physiological need for it, or because I want him/her to stay a baby or am scared of taking it away?***

So, based on that information I weaned them off their bottles over the course of a week, eliminating one feeding a day. Then, the day before their birthday, they got one night time feeding and that was it. Whenever they started to indicate that they wanted a bottle I gave them a snack instead with a cup of water and neither of them complained at all. Oliver, who is the needier of the two, asked for a bottle once the next day. But that was it, and even he didn't have any tears or fits over it. I can tell you that if you try to take a bottle (or anything else, for that matter) from an 18-36 month old it is going to be much harder and much more stressful than that about 95% of the time.

I have gotten yelled at for expressing this particular belief of mine (concerning bottles) in the past- another mother told me "just because it worked for you doesn't mean it will work for everyone else, you don't know people's circumstances, etc etc." In concept I agree with her, which is why I try really hard not to judge certain parenting practices that I don't prescribe to (at least when they're well thought out- I won't hesitate to judge stupidity or closed mindedness). But in this case, baring any special circumstances (because there is ALWAYS an exception), there is no reason to NOT take the bottle away. Seriously, someone give me a reason, I dare you. And if anyone posts "because they're only children for so long and they don't need to grow up any faster" etc I will NOT even approve the comment, because that's exactly what I'm saying. That rationalization is purely for you, your child does not mind growing up in the least (in fact, I can almost promise you that he/she really wants to). And you know what? Imposing your own desire for your child to stay a baby onto your child is not only selfish but potentially damaging to said child. Your kid is going to grow up. Own it and enjoy it.

But back to the topic at hand... that kind of illustrates how I make my intentional parenting decisions. I don't always pour over what everyone else has to say on a topic both because I already have a basic knowledge of children and parenting and because a certain amount of parenting does have to be gut related. However, when I am stumped, or something isn't working, or I don't know much about a topic or situation (which was the case with the food allergy thing) researching then does become an intregal part of the process. Because I don't like to guess.

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