Saturday, June 30, 2007

Separation Anxiety Comes Full Circle

My twins are three-and-a-half and still exhibiting bouts of separation anxiety. Even though they love their summer camp and have a lot of fun, they still give me a hard time when I drop them off by crying, clinging to my legs, or running off. On the first day of camp, Austen made a mad dash across the playground to escape the camp counselor, and I had to chase him down! It got a little better after that, but there are still plenty of days with tears and clinging. Of course, I hear from the camp counselors later that the boys are perfectly fine about thirty seconds after I leave, but they still have to put on a good show while I’m there. Even the promise of ice cream when they get home doesn’t always get them to curb their misbehavior.

Even though I have two older children, this is really my first experience with separation anxiety. When my older two were babies, I had to return to the workplace very quickly, so the boys spent their days with a babysitter and other children. I think they just learned at an early age that it was okay to separate from Mommy for a while.

But with the twins, I decided to work from home when maternity leave was over, so they were with me all day, every day, until they started part-time preschool when they were almost three. Even then, they were only away from me for a few hours a day. Thus, they got used to having me around . . . maybe a little too much!

Strangely enough, though, now it’s me who’s suffering from separation anxiety as my older ones grow up and spend more time away from home. My seventeen-year-old is in New Orleans with a group from church to rebuild homes damaged by Hurricane Katrina. I find myself wondering if he’s okay, what he’s doing, if he’ll call, if he’s safe, and so on. It feels strange not to have him in the house! But I guess it’s something I’ll have to get used to. Another year of high school, and then he’s off to college. And I’m sure the years will quickly pass, and he’ll really be on his own. Will it get any easier with each kid? Somehow I doubt it. Yes, my twins will grow out of their separation anxiety soon. But I don’t think I ever will.

Friday, June 22, 2007

I Am Not Supermom

I may be a parenting author, but I’m the first to admit that I’m not Supermom! (And if you read my book, "It’s Twins! Parent-to-Parent Advice from Infancy Through Adolescence," you’ll find plenty of examples of the chaos that exists in my life!) But, you know what? I’m perfectly happy to admit to my lack of perfection.

And I don’t think I’m alone in my feelings. I recently read an article about a web site called www.unsupermoms.com, which was started by Nicole Henry-Clark, a mom of four from New York. According to the article, almost 900 mothers have joined her group. They’re tired of the pressure to do everything "right." They’ve decided not to stress about the unmade beds, the Cheerios under the couch, and the fact that they let their children have ice cream for dinner once in a while. Sometimes you just have to relax and realize that perfection is unattainable and your family will be just fine.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve been in plenty of houses that have just plain grossed me out. If my shoes stick to the floor and I get clumps of dog hair all over my behind when I sit on the sofa, then I think they’ve taken this Unsupermom thing a bit too far. I once knew a mother who never folded or put away the laundry. She just pulled everything out of the dryer and dumped the contents in a big pile. Her family was invited to take their daily outfits out of the pile each day. Now that’s not relaxed parenting…that’s just plain lazy!

But there’s definitely a middle ground between the two extreme parenting styles. Cut yourself some slack when you fail your mother’s white-glove test or realize you’re never going to win the latest "Home Beautiful" contest. The point is to look at the big picture. Are your children taken care of and happy? Is your house hygienic but homey? Do you generally accomplish all you need to get done? Is the stress you feel at a manageable level? If you answered yes to these questions, then you’re doing just fine.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Has Parenting Turned Your Brain to Mush?

If you’re like me, you frequently enter a room to retrieve something and forget what you wanted. Or you spy someone you know in the grocery store but can’t for the life of you remember her name. Or perhaps you emerge from the store to find that you can’t remember where you parked your car. If you find this happening to you more frequently, you’re not alone. Being a parent is certainly a stressor and a sleep-depriver, which can play havoc with your brain.

But, sorry to say, this also goes with the territory when you enter middle age. Scientists aren’t sure why—perhaps we begin to lose brain cells, or our brain cells just don’t communicate as well as they used to—but chances are slim that you’re suffering from Alzheimer’s, as you’ve probably feared. It’s most likely caused by age and stress. And parents are masters at multitasking, which tends to clutter the brain. That’s why it’s helpful to keep a very accurate calendar and a to-do list (if you could only remember to check it . . . after you find it!).

At my house, I instruct my kids to write any food they use up on the grocery list posted on the refrigerator because I know I’m not going to remember when one of them says, "Mom, we’re out of milk!" And I keep a calendar in the drawer that I check several times a day on which I’ve written every single activity I must attend, even if it’s a regular event. And keep a notepad in your purse in case you remember something while you’re out and about that you need to do later. Some people even leave themselves messages on their cell phone or carry a small voice recorder. When you write things down, you won’t be stressed about forgetting them. (Of course, if your memory loss seems to get worse with time and even list-making doesn’t seem to help, please see your doctor to be checked out.)

Most importantly, and I know it’s hard, try to get plenty of rest, nutrition and exercise, and manage your stress. All of these things are good for the brain and allow you to achieve optimum mental functionality. A shower is also good for clearing the head! Writes Tammy Tibbetts in Ladies’ Home Journal (June 2007), "According to recent research, warm water running over your body can stimulate the outer layer of your skin, releasing molecules that ‘talk’ to your nerve endings. These molecules include beta-endorphins, which trigger brain activity." This stimulates your thinking power and problem-solving abilities!

So next time you can’t remember where you left your keys, or you can’t summon the words to formulate a thank-you note, hop into the shower and wait for a brainstorm!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Parenting in Other Countries

There’s a fascinating article on the BabyCenter.com web site called "Mommy, Mama, Mutter: Motherhood Around the World," by Connie Matthiessen. It’s loaded with interesting trivia about pregnancy and parenting in various countries. Here are some of my favorite highlights:

China: Many Chinese believe that exposure to cell phones, microwaves and computers can cause miscarriage or birth defects, so many pregnant women wear “antiradiation vests” to protect their babies. Many expectant mothers also refrain from using their cell phones until the baby is born!

Sweden: Swedes believe that nursing moms should warm their breasts to prevent blocked ducts and increase milk flow, so they sell a product called a “breast warmer,” which can be stuffed into the bra to hold in the body’s heat.

Mexico: In Mexico and some Latin American countries, they believe that if you don’t indulge in a food that you’re craving, your baby will have a birthmark shaped like that food!

India: The proper way for women in rural India to let their elders know they are pregnant is by asking for tangy and sour foods, like raw mangoes and tamarinds.

Switzerland: Many Swiss believe it’s bad luck to announce your child’s name before the birth.

Canada: Working mothers get a year’s leave after having a baby, as well as 55 percent of their salary during maternity leave. Fathers are also allowed 37 weeks of parental leave.

Panama and El Salvador: Many Latin American countries have a "quarentina," during which a new mother is well taken care of by family members during the first 40 days after the baby is born. The mother or mother-in-law will do all the chores and cooking so the new mother can rest and take care of the baby.

Susan M. Heim is the author of Oh, Baby! 7 Ways a Baby Will Change Your Life the First Year.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Children Remind Us of the Simple Pleasures of Life

Life brings simple pleasures to us every day. It is up to us to make them wonderful memories.—Cathy Allen

Children love to marvel at the simple things in life, don’t they? Having children helps us to rediscover those little pleasures that fascinated us when we were kids. When was the last time you looked for a rainbow after a storm? Or went out at night to look for constellations? Or watched a squirrel scamper up a tree? It doesn’t take an expensive toy to thrill our kids. The world around us is a wonderful playground! Following are some of the things that my three-year-old twin boys love:

Sunbeams: When the sun shines in through the blinds and makes a pattern on the floor or wall, they never tire of trying to put their hands through the sunbeam or stomp on it! And then, as the sun changes position, the sunbeam disappears. Where did it go? It’s a mystery!

Worms: My kids’ latest craze is worms. They love to watch them wiggle, and even bring them into the house for me as a gift! It’s like watching the cat bring in her prey (only these worms are alive!). I valiantly try to show enthusiasm as I gently steer the twins back to the yard with their wiggly friends.

Bugs and Lizards: Anything that moves is wondrous! Unfortunately, the little bee that was moving on the ground stung Austen when he picked it up! But that didn’t slow him down for long. Soon he was chasing the curly-tailed lizards in the yard. One day at preschool, the teacher took the children to a playground they’d never been to before. Caleb looked at her hopefully and asked, “Do they have bugs here, too?”

Books: Any offer to read a book is always greeted with enthusiasm! My children love to snuggle up next to me and look through books, especially if they’re Look & Find books. They can’t get enough of discovering the hidden pictures. And, thanks to books, their preschool teacher was awed by the fact that the boys know the names to almost every imaginable animal!

Airplanes: What little boy doesn’t love the sight of airplanes in the sky? We live near a small airport, so there are plenty of take-offs and landings to be viewed. Wouldn’t it be fun to fly in the sky?

Caterpillars and butterflies: My twins’ preschool teacher taught a unit on caterpillars and butterflies. The children had a jar full of caterpillars that they watched create chrysalises and then emerge as butterflies! We even got to bring home the caterpillars one weekend. How many creatures can transform themselves into something new?

Freckles and boo-boos: For some reason, kids are fascinated with skin! They love to point out freckles, birthmarks and “ouchies.” They want to put Band-aids on all of them, whether they’re needed or not! My kids love to show off their boo-boos, as if they’re prizes they’ve won. When people try to tell my twins apart, the boys proudly announce that Austen is the one with the freckle on his nose!

So, go out and make some memories with your kids. Create chalk art on the sidewalk. Follow an ant to see where it goes! Compare the shapes and sizes of everyone’s fingers and toes. Let your children be your teachers in discovering the world around us!