Thanks to Jill Kuramoto and the great team at KITV for having me on again yesterday. This time, we talked about how to know whether your child has ADHD -- or is just an active kid. We also talked about how to slow down and enjoy this wild adventure of parenting a bit more. Check it out!
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink
Despite awakening at 4 am with bloodshot eyes from an allergy attack (perfect for HDTV, right?) -- I was psyched to head down to KITV yesterday morning to talk story with the gang about parenting. So mahalo to Jill Kuramoto for inviting me, and a big aloha to Mahealani Richardson, Moanike'ala Nabarro, and Yasmin Dar for making me feel so at home in the studio. Looking forward to seeing you all again next month!
Here's the link: Dr. Heather on KITV -- January 17, 2012
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink
I've been doing some serious writing now for several months, so it was refreshing to have a fun conversation with Tammy Pescatelli recently. She's mom to a preschooler, star (and producer) of her own TV show, and hardworking stand-up comedienne. With credits like Leno, Carson Daly, and Last Comic Standing to her name, plus winner of Comedy Central's Standup Showdown, she's a force to be reckoned with in entertainment.
But I was more interested in her approach to motherhood. She's a hard-working lady in a family that values family -- so much, in fact, that they're full of advice. We're talking enmeshed Italian family here. (As a member of an enmeshed Jewish family, I feel I can say it -- Jewish, Italian -- same thing.) And like many of us, Tammy is an older mother has had enough life experience to have more confidence in her decisions and in her parenting. She tells me that being in the public eye has reinforced the notion that you can't make everybody happy all the time.
For instance, Tammy revealed to me that she didn't breastfeed her son. Despite her valid (and personal) reasons, she was judged and criticized for it. Long-time BabyShrink readers know this is a pet peeve of mine. So many moms suffer rude (at best) commentary from others who feel somehow justified in crossing over this very personal boundary -- involving our babies and our bodies. And Tammy's story is actually worse than most I've heard -- she received a phone call from a "lactivist" organization, saying that they had "heard" she wasn't breastfeeding her child, and could they send a lactating mother right over as a wet-nurse? SERIOUSLY!
But Tammy has strength and confidence in her convictions. She's focused on her son and her family -- and she knows that balaning their needs with the needs of her demanding career may be difficult -- but ultimately worth it. She's nurtured her internal voice of what's best -- her "Mother's Intuition" -- plus she does her research and consults with experts. And she doesn't apologize or get depressed when others criticize her -- she laughs about it. And she's as pleasant, funny, happy, confident, and centered as she seems on TV.
After all, if we've lost our sense of humor in this kooky journey of parenting, we're in trouble. So thanks for the reminder, Tammy, and good luck with your new show! I can't wait to watch the first episode, this Tuesday, January 25 on WeTV, at 10 pm Eastern.
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink
Thanks to Parents Magazine and Sharlene Johnson for giving me the opportunity to be the "Q and A" expert on a
topic we're all familiar with...The Dawdling Toddler. Pick up a copy anywhere magazines are sold, and let us know YOUR suggestions for getting your toddler out the door in the morning.
Aloha, Dr. Heather The BabyShrink
When I heard from Lisa Fields, a writer for Pregnancy magazine doing a story on "Nursing Must-Haves", I was afraid that we were about to see yet another story on how blissful it is for everyone to breastfeed their babies. As I've said here before, it's surprisingly difficult for many moms to nurse their babies -- moms who try EVERYTHING and still can't do it, despite every single effort to make it work. We hear from these moms here a lot, and they suffer unnecessary guilt over the difficulties they encounter.
But Lisa was interested in including a quote from me in which I at least am able to mention the issue of guilt and the pressure moms experience to "get it right".
It's also exciting for me as I embark on my quest to make important -- and useful -- parenting information more available. Parenting babies and young children can be difficult, and our generation of parents has to sort through a bunch of inaccuracies and propaganda about child development in the quest to be the best parents we can be. Conflicting messages about breastfeeding, potty training, discipline, TV, and other "hot button" issues make it stressful to feel good about making parenting decisions. I've done a lot of work to sort through the garbage and provide you with the most essential and helpful parenting information I can -- information that's vetted directly by me, a psychologist and child development expert, and mom to four young children. To that end, I'm happy to announce that I'm also being used as an expert source in upcoming issues of Parents and American Baby magazines, as well. I'm commenting on some of the most common problems we, as parents, face with our young ones -- and suggest what I hope are helpful ideas to make your life simpler and more satisfying, as parents.
Thanks to Lisa for giving me the opportunity to start to reach a wider audience, and to you for your ongoing support! You can pick up the June/July issue of Pregnancy in Target, and most bookstores and newsstands. (I'm on page 60.)
Dr. Heather The BabyShrink
I am honored to present my two-part interview with Nancy Peske, co-author of Raising a Sensory-Smart Child: A Practical Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Integration Issues, now in its ninth printing. Nancy and occupational therapist Lindsey Biel wrote their groundbreaking book to continued rave reviews in both the parenting and special needs communities. A National Parenting Publications Award-winner, Raising a Sensory Smart Child is easy to understand and provides real-world descriptions of sensory/developmental issues in children, and gives loads of activities and suggestions to help with our kids.
Nancy is a freelance writer and editor and has co-written, ghostwritten, and edited several bestsellers, including co-authoring the successful Cinematherapy series. She lives in Shorewood, WI with her husband and son, who was diagnosed with sensory integration dysfunction and multiple developmental delays at age two.
BabyShrink: How do sensory issues affect even very young babies? What is it like to be the parent of a new baby who has sensory differences?
Nancy Peske: Babies with sensory issues overreact to everyday sensations, or underreact, often seeking the sensory input their body needs. My son, who never stopped spinning and kicking in utero, was a very physically active baby, and he never seemed to touch things so much as whack them with all his strength – yet he never quite understood that he was hitting people instead of patting them. He also seemed to be constantly teething because the drooling just never stopped; I now know that this can be a sign of low muscle tone and poor body awareness, both of which are associated with sensory issues.
He was also a bad latch; it took three sisters-in-law and a lactation consultant to help me figure out how to get him to nurse properly so that he was getting milk and not whimpering every thirty minutes. Again, this was a problem with body awareness, and with motor planning. He was also overstimulated by wind, becoming hysterical whenever it kicked up, as well as by swinging. He would pitch a fit if we tried to take him out of the baby swing after 45 minutes. So you can have sensory seeking and overstimulation, but you can also have overstimulation and sensory avoiding. A baby might scream and carry on every time it's bathed, or its diaper is changed. Feeding might be an issue; if the food is the wrong color, temperature, or texture, she won't eat it, or will even gag on it. A baby might need to be held a certain way, such as on her stomach instead of her back, or get motion sickness extremely easily if she is sensitive to movement.
Sensory issues also affect the body’s internal regulation. Falling asleep, waking up without being groggy, and calming down after stimulation and excitement, can all be very difficult for a sensory baby. Letting the baby “cry it out” a few times does not work with these little ones!
Habituation (getting used to a new situation) is also an issue. The toddler who is chilled just can’t seem to warm up, and if she's used to wearing thin little cotton dresses and sandals, she'll insist on wearing them up until the first day of winter because heavier, warmer clothes just don't feel right. She may take a week to feel comfortable with that new, short haircut she got because her scalp feels tingly and different for a long time.
The confusion caused by sensory issues makes babies and toddlers resistant to transitions. They need a lot of preparation before changing activities, and they need a lot of external structure, such as a more rigid schedule. They also tend to be more anxious and sensitive than other children, and are often reluctant to try new activities, but then may love the activity once they’re coaxed into it. The key is to gently introduce a new sensory activity in a pleasant or playful way. Persuade the toddler to fingerpaint, to offer her a smock and a paintbrush and the chance to wash her hands every thirty seconds if that will help her to do this type of important sensory exploration.
Pushing her, or berating her, will just make her more anxious and uncomfortable. Try to make new sensory activities fun.
Also, we expect babies to be inconsistent and a bit of a mystery, so it can be difficult for a new parent of a baby with sensory issues to acknowledge her gut instinct that something is “off” with her baby. Her concerns are likely to be dismissed by others, from her husband to her pediatrician to her mother and sisters, and well-meaning friends who have more experience with babies. The parents most likely to be encouraged to listen to their instincts about their child’s sensory differences are either parents of other babies who were much easier to deal with (less fussy, less inconsistent in their sleeping and eating habits, and so on), or parents of babies who were adopted from overseas orphanages, born prematurely, or experienced birth trauma or medical interventions shortly after birth. This is because the experts expect some difficulties in these situations. Often, the NICU will send them home with instructions about what unusual behaviors to look for, or the adoption agency will educate them about sensory issues and developmental delays.
But it’s important for parents to realize that if they feel there’s something different, or just not right about their child, they shouldn’t dismiss that impression. The more you learn about sensory issues, the more you’ll start to understand why you instinctively hug and massage your child in a crowded room before letting him down to the floor to play with the other kids, or why you put a snug cap on her head when she’s getting antsy. One mom I met swore that her toddler, who it turned out had visual processing issues, behaved worse on days when he wore red or orange shirts, and better on days when he wore less intense colors.
If you have the impression that your child is experiencing the world differently, then that’s probably what’s happening.
My interview with Nancy continues tomorrow. In the meantime, check out the Sensory Smarts website for more info!
At BabyShrink, we are inclined to believe Stefanie Wilder-Taylor is the long, lost lovechild of Erma Bombeck and Carol Burnett. How else to explain Stefanie’s sharp wit, stunning honesty and widespread public appeal? She is the author of two hilarious books: Sippy Cups are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom, and her second salvo, Naptime is the New Happy Hour: And Other Ways Toddlers Turn Your Life Upside Down, which will be released this Tuesday, March 25. Stefanie will be on the Today Show that day promoting it. It will be her fifth appearance on the show as a parent/humorist/author.
We happen to love Stefanie. We read her blog, Baby On Bored, where she writes about her three daughters (including four-month-old twins!), her experience with postpartum depression, and about life in general, with the superior brand of humor that has also served well in her stand-up comedy pursuits.
We are naturally thrilled that Stefanie agreed to be the subject of the second BabyShrink Interview.
BabyShrink: Why did you start Baby On Bored?
Stefanie Wilder-Taylor: About three years ago, a few months after the birth of my daughter, Elby, I decided to start a blog since I was a writer who was unemployed due to HAVING A BABY. I'd been told how absolutely wonderful it was going to be to become a mother and had been looking forward to "the blessed event" for nine months. But I was in for a rude awakening. Not only did I have horrendous postpartum depression and not know what it was, but I felt unbonded to my baby, overwhelmed, full of regret and ripped off that I'd been sold a bill of goods that didn't live up to the
BS: You don’t sugarcoat what it’s like to be a mom, and you’ve been very successful in being honest and funny about that.
SWT: My first book deal came from my blog being seen by an agent and sold pretty straight away. I couldn't believe that anyone would be interested in my decidedly unromantic take on the early days of my parenting experience but they were. Since the book received such a great response, I've found it's my calling to be honest about everything. I'm feeling safe in the knowledge that others out there feel the same way.
BS: Tell me about your parenting approach.
SWT: Of course, the bonding did take place with my daughter and I love her in an obsessive, crazy, stalker, "mommyish" way. But I refuse to believe that there is one specific way to parent. I do believe that one should treat each child as an individual and parent that individual to the best of our abilities. Yes, you are a parent and you have to suck it up and make sacrifices. But I don't think you have to live your entire existence thinking of ways to enrich their little minds and ensure they will get into an Ivy League school. Hey, I didn't even go to college and things worked out okay.
I also believe that all parents lie, so you can't compare your parenting to what others say. They all let their kids watch TV (otherwise how would you take a shower?). They all let their kids eat cookies (unless they're completely crazy and controlling), and they all lose their temper once in awhile. It's reassuring to say the least.
I must also say, I'm in praise of praise! The more the better as far as I'm concerned -- this is in response to some articles saying parents overpraise their kids these days.
BS: You had twin girls four months ago. Knowing you were prone to postpartum depression (PPD), how did you approach this pregnancy differently?
SWT: I did plan to go back on Zoloft the second I gave birth. When I found out my babies were coming early, I wasn't so sure I would take the meds so fast because I knew I would be trying to pump as much as possible. But, my doctor was fairly insistent that the Zoloft wouldn't affect my milk enough to warrant possible PPD, so I went ahead and started it. I still pumped for a month while the babies were in the NICU and even the nurses there told me the Zoloft wasn't a problem.
BS: Has it been different this time?
SWT: It's been different, yes. My PPD didn't get nearly as bad in part from the anti-depressant and in part because I knew what I was in for as far as sleep deprivation. The first time around I was paranoid that my horrible attitude would chase my poor husband screaming into the arms of another woman or even another house. But this time, we knew it was just divide and conquer -- make it through the first few months and things will get better. This pregnancy I didn't mess around and I'm so glad I went back on the medication immediately. With twins, I seriously wouldn't have had time to be moping around the house all day.
BS: Did your preparations and advance knowledge help?
SWT: Yes and no. Of course it helps to know that you've had another baby and survived it. But, part of PPD is chemical and that can't be solved by knowing about it in advance. For me, that required meds -- pure and simple, and I refuse to feel weak because I need a little something to get me through. Hell, I need meds with or without a baby or three.
BS: Did the twins being preemies and in the NICU make things more complicated, in terms of how you were feeling and recovering?
SWT: On one hand, I think having the babies be in the NICU made it easier. I knew they were okay and I had a chance to recover from my C-section and fix up the house before they came home. On the other hand, the fact that I went on hospital bedrest and had these babies much sooner than I thought I would, combined with hearing there was a major growth problem with one of the babies, caused an enormous amount of stress. Even though it's all over, the babies are safe and home and we have help, I realize I’m still recovering from that stress. And it will probably be awhile until things are back to normal.
BS: What can you say to the other moms out there who might also be prone to PPD but are afraid of reaching out to ask for help?
SWT: When I had my first baby, Elby, I thought I was crazy because I was crying inconsolably all day everyday. I felt ashamed that I didn't feel connected to my child and that instead of feeling blissful I just felt sad and, to be honest, angry. But when, due to my inability to censor myself, I told my doctor exactly what I was feeling, he blew me off and said that "having a baby is a big responsibility" and to basically suck it up. So, not knowing better, I did. It took me 14 months to get the help I needed. It wasn't until after my daughter was hospitalized for dehydration that I realized I'd felt stressed for months and needed help. I went to a shrink and was put on Zoloft and I suddenly realized that I hadn't felt normal since my daughter was born. It was like a window opened. Hey, if you're against pills and think maybe yoga or aromatherapy is going to make a difference for you than by all means do Downward Facing Dog or get a Glade Plug-In. But if you really want to fight fire with fire, I say GET HELP.
To read more of Stefanie's thoughts, buy her books (linked above) and visit her blog at babyonbored.blogspot.com
I'm thrilled to bring you my interview with Danny Evans (better known to the world by his super-hot blog, Dad Gone Mad), my good friend of 15 years. Since 2003, Dad Gone Mad has offered a colorful glimpse into bona fide, in-the-trenches fatherhood. With sharp wit and a healthy sense of self-deprecation, Danny plods through the havoc and collateral damage wrought by his two young children. Danny lives in Southern California and is currently writing his first book.
Danny has a lot to say to parents, and especially dads. Becoming a good dad, or at least a “good-enough” dad, isn’t easy. But despite facing the challenges and demons that many of us share, he’s got Hot Wife (one of my best friends) their terrific kids, and a career that is certain to skyrocket beyond even his current success. Danny and I recently spoke about becoming a father, learning lessons from our own parents, and depression.
BabyShrink: Let’s start at the very beginning. Why did you start writing Dad Gone Mad?
Danny Evans: Dad Gone Mad was the lovechild of misery and self-preservation. In 2004 I was working for one of those enormous, Fortune 100 HMOs that everyone thinks so poorly of because their focus in revenue, not health. I hated it. I was a nameless, spiritless corporate drone and I frankly needed to distract myself from those feelings. So I just started writing. About my life, my kids, my marriage, my bowel movements and on and on. Somehow that struck a nerve with people and the site has become what it is now because of their support.
BS: How did becoming a father change you?
DE: It changed everything. Beyond the obvious chaos inflicted on one’s life by a wailing eight-pound shit machine, it thrust me into a period of hardcore self-reflection about my life, my choices, my general readiness to be someone’s dad. I always wanted to be a father, but the moment I became one I wondered if I had what it took to develop this little mass of pink skin and cradle cap into a respectable, confident and driven human being. He forced me to think about the world and the future from the point of view of someone other than myself. That’s an enormous change.
BS: So, you didn’t just start out as a confident father? There were times when you doubted yourself and your ability to be a “good enough” dad?
DE: I don’t think it’s hard for guys to believe they’ll be great dads when the child is just a concept. A fetus. A lot of us are so hard-headed and macho that we think we can do anything if we just decide to do it. We’ll run through a brick wall if we have to. But we're not a particularly emotional bunch, so I tended to believe that being a good dad simply mean warming up a bottle and installing the car seat and, when the child was old enough, teaching it to burp the national anthem.
That all disintegrates when the concept becomes an actual human life. I was intellectually prepared, but the boatload of emotional and spiritual ramifications that accompany such a drastic change in one’s life can be a bit overwhelming. It brought to the surface issues about my relationship with my own dad, my own aspirations in life, my own priorities and learning to live with the all-consuming love I had for this child. Like I said, it changes everything.
BS: So how did you get past the point where all your self-confidence about being a dad started to disintegrate? How did you build a real, not just intellectual, sense of confidence about being a father?
DE: I think it’s more a function of time than effort. As our son grew older and became more interactive, the bond between us began to solidify. He became human, as opposed to just this crying, screaming, pooping blob of skin. But I want to be clear on the difference between connection and bonding. I was connected to him and completely in love with him before he was even born. But like I said, I didn’t know what to DO about him. The connection came when things like eye contact and smiles and whatnot began to develop. Perhaps it’s a bit selfish to say I needed something back from him before I could feel that bond, but no one ever told me fatherhood was easy.
BS: What do you think society expects in terms of being a “good dad”? How are you different than the way your father was when you were growing up?
DE: I don’t know — or care, frankly — what society expects. I know there are certain standards by which people are judged, and by which their children are judged as well, but the bottom line for me is doing what I feel is right for my kids. That’s not meant as a cop-out or a cliché or as a sign that I think I’m better than other dads — because I certainly do not. But they’re growing up in a much more threatening time than I did and it scares me on their behalf. So I expect that I will do not what is popular, not what the dads on Disney Channel do, but what is right for my kids in their worlds. That’s a big enough challenge, let alone trying to fit into some giant cultural cookie cutter.
I think the father question touches on the most important issue in my life. My dad grew up in an environment where he wasn’t valued or shown love, and that certainly colored the way he fathered my sister and me. My dad and I butted heads a lot, and I always had a feeling that I was being controlled. I can understand that; having no control in his youth, he wanted to have all of it in his adult life. I see the opposite developing in my conversations with my own kids, and the challenge is finding that delicate balance of structure and freedom to explore the world.
BS: How would you respond to those guys who DO feel society’s pressure - whatever that may be - to parent their kids in a certain way? Say, in relation to their boys, and boys’ emotions. Just the other day, we saw a guy yell at his six-year-old son for being a “cry baby” when he fell and hurt himself. This guy really isn’t a jerk; he just was embarrassed that his son was crying. What do you say to guys like that who have a knee-jerk reaction to their kids’ feelings?
DE: I think the scenario you described about your neighbor is actually reflective of the kind of machismo and robotic behavior dads have tried to instill in their sons for generations. Boys aren’t supposed to cry or feel or emote anything but toughness, and if they do they’re labeled a “pussy” or some other such thing. It’s my personal feeling — based on my own experience — that this type of social stereotyping is why male depression has become such an issue in our society. Men are not robots; we DO feel hurt and sadness and disappointment. But because it’s not considered kosher for us to articulate those feelings, we swallow them. And for some, there’s only so much of that you can eat before it overwhelms us and makes us (clinically) depressed.
I’ll be honest: I’m not perfect in this area either. My son tends to cry over a lot of things that aren’t worthy of tears, and it does frustrate me. But I try not to call him names or make blanket statements about his maturity level just because he is prone to tears. I prefer to help him understand why he reacts that way, and to give him alternative tools to deal with disappointment. It’s NEVER easy, but I think it’s worth the extra time.
BS: I think that’s a really interesting statement you make about men, society, and depression. One thought in psychology is that depression is anger and aggression, turned inward. So as a father, how do you help your son to be appropriately assertive, but not aggressive, without totally thwarting him? What advice can you give other dads who struggle with the same problem - raising confident, strong and happy boys?
DE: I think being a respected and assertive dad requires knowing as much about yourself and your own biases as you do about changing diapers and replacing a detached arm from a Barbie doll. I think a lot of us tend to parent from the perspective of someone who wants to do better with his kids than our parents did with us. There’s nothing wrong with that idea, but when parenting becomes a competition with our own inner demons, the child is the one who suffers most. I saw those sorts of behaviors in my own fathering early on — the competitiveness and ulterior motivation — and it finally occurred to me that I was robbing my kids of something crucial by behaving that way. Fatherhood is almost never easy, but why make it harder by virtually forcing the kid to be something he’s not.
BS: Yeah, it’s easy to just be reactive to what our parents did: my dad did it THIS way, so I will take a 180 and do it the opposite, just BECAUSE. What do you say to other dads who are struggling with depression? About even recognizing that you had a problem, that this was not “status quo”? About the stigma and shame of getting help, going to counseling, trying meds? How did you get past that barrier?
DE: We talked earlier about the societal norms regarding fatherhood (which I believe to be sort of silly), but it’s obvious that our world’s expectations of men in general make a diagnosis of depression a serious spirit-crusher for men. We learn as boys that men must be stoic, rugged and emotionless. We must ignore pain. On the schoolyard, the boys who performed poorly in sports were labeled a “pussy” or a “faggot”, words intended to convey femininity, which in this context connotes weakness. But we are not emotionless, robotic beings; we are entirely fallible and completely human. We feel sadness, sorrow, fear, angst - but we resist it. It’s shameful.
That's all BS. The National Institute of Mental Health says six million American men -- almost seven percent of the U.S. male population -- are stricken with a depressive illness each year. Sadly, it’s in our nature to hide from it through compulsiveness and self-destructive behavior (e.g., alcohol, workaholism, infidelity, etc.). In my personal experience, the only way to get oneself “better” is to accept that we need help and attack the depression with a shock-and-awe type of assault. There are studies that suggest the best possible course of action is a combination of meds and therapy. That’s the path I chose, and I’m glad I did.
If you feel stressed or anxious or irritable, or even if you just think something isn’t right, address it. Swallow your pride and take an honest assessment of your life and your feelings. Contrary to what we most boys learned as kids, there’s no shame in asking for help. The shame comes from ignoring a problem so long that it becomes a detriment to your family.
For more on this and lots of other great stuff, visit Danny online at www.DadGoneMad.com.