When did you bond with your baby?

My brother and sister-in-law recently welcomed their first baby into the world. I am so excited for them and can’t wait to hold my niece and see the people I love in their new role as parents. Part of me envies the wonder and joy of becoming a first-time parent, while the other part thinks whew, glad I don’t have to go through that again!

Naturally, a birth in the family causes people to reminisce about their own baby stories. I have two sons, but because of circumstances surrounding their births, the bonding process felt instant and natural with my first child, but came much later with the second.

I had a healthy first pregnancy and delivery, and when my older son was born, he spent the entire hospital visit in the room with us. I don’t think he spent a minute in the nursery. He took to breastfeeding immediately and seemed very content from the get-go. I wasn’t nervous during my pregnancy because I felt no reason to be. Other than the typical fatigue and weepiness a new mom faces, becoming a parent was a natural transition.

Halfway through my second pregnancy, I found out I had a rare condition that could cause me to suddenly hemorrhage and bleed to death. Needless to say, this put a damper on the normal joy of pregnancy. I was fortunate to have skilled medical care and a safe delivery, but nevertheless, my second son was born premature at 35 weeks. He didn’t yet have a sucking reflex and his blood sugar dropped easily, so he spent his first two weeks with a feeding tube in the NICU. We could only see him by showing identification and passing through locked doors, then scrubbing up as though preparing for a medical procedure. I couldn’t nurse him. And when I was discharged from the hospital, I had to go home, an hour away from where he was. I didn’t even see him until the day after he was born.

He did not have formula because I was able to pump milk for him, but even when he came home from the hospital, he was only taking milk from a bottle. It left me in the frustrating position of having to get up in the middle of the night to use a breast pump and then feed him with a bottle. I was agitated, he was agitated, and it took us a while to get in sync. To me, breastfeeding was one of the easiest ways to feel bonded to my babies, so I was relieved when, a month later, he finally got the hang of it.

I think the major bonding experience for me and my younger son did not come until last year, when he was seven years old and spent three days in the hospital for a severe asthma attack. He endured needle sticks day and night, all kinds of pulmonary testing and chest x-rays, and an entire night in the ER. It was just the two of us (and many medical personnel) for three days together in the ambulance, the ER, and a hospital room. I gained so much pride and appreciation to see how my son handled himself under duress. I will never know how he felt in the hospital as a newborn because obviously he couldn’t tell me then and he doesn’t remember it now. His more recent hospital stay felt like our better-late-than-never bonding experience because I was fully focused on nothing but him and we spent the days and nights together that we should have shared when he was first born.

In my first novel, Giving Myself Away, my main character, Adrienne, who is already a mom, faces the heartbreaking decision of whether to give up her third baby for adoption. I incorporated some of my birth story into hers, but it was fascinating for me to explore this dilemma in writing because it’s an experience I could never imagine going through myself.

At a writers’ conference this past spring, I met a woman who found herself exactly in this situation and her story was amazing. If you are willing to share, what was the moment you felt bonded to your baby? I’d love to hear it (and it might inspire a story for a future novel!).

 

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Photo: A moment of bonding with my little guy while he was in the NICU.

5 ways to take better care of yourself as a mom (bonus spa giveaway)

SpaFinders card

The two things that have held me back from taking care of myself as a mom are time and money. I even used to put off doctors’ appointments when it meant I’d need a few hours away from my kids. I went six months at a time without a haircut because I felt like the money could be better spent on the kids. That extra time and money I thought I was saving for the family only led to me feeling like a run-down martyr with no distinct identity apart from Mom/Mommy/Mama (depending on what the kids want at the moment).

Now I am functioning on a much better level.  I have a lot more confidence and energy because I take care of myself. I exercise regularly, I eat well, I get highlights (expensive AND time consuming!), and I get a massage or a facial now and then. Little indulgences like that make me feel so much better that I find I’m more attentive and patient as a parent. I enjoy life more, even with the constant hustle of our work, school, and activities.

We can certainly live without a trip to the spa, but ask yourself, as I did, whether the time and money you’re saving by not doing anything for yourself is really enhancing your family’s lifestyle. If you want to change that dynamic, here are some tips to free up the time and money you need:

 

  1. Save up for what you want to buy ahead of time so that you’re not feeling guilty putting something on a credit card that you really can’t afford. One of the best ways to feel on top of the world is to know you have a grip on your finances. If you’re not used to handling money, take on the challenge and feel the satisfaction of knowing you’re living within your means. If it helps, keep a picture of what you want to buy in your wallet to motivate you. Having a goal stopped me from getting coffee drinks, extra makeup I don’t need, or other little expenses that don’t seem like much but add up quickly.

 

  1. Trim money from other spending. When my kids were younger, I budget $100 a week for our family’s food; whenever we were under that, I put the extra money aside for myself. This gave me the motivation to creatively plan meals and not settle for fast food, which is overpriced and under-nutritious. At first it was a hassle for all of us: we had a routine of stopping at McDonad’s every Friday night, but that $20 was a fifth of the week’s food budget! We spend more on food now that they are older, but we’ve dropped the habit of eating out. Now going to a restaurant is a special, once-in-a-while treat we all look forward to and appreciate more.

 

  1. Decide as a family what you can give up in order to get something better. I realized I could not afford both cable TV and high-speed Internet access, so the kids and I voted and unanimously chose DSL. We haven’t watched TV in three years now, and after the initial shock that lasted about a week, it’s never bothered us since. Again, since you are giving something up, find something even better to replace it. One of my goals was to find new hobbies we could enjoy together. Not paying for cable TV meant there was enough money left over to go ice skating a few times a month. It’s become an activity that we all enjoy and look forward to and something we all learned together. If ice skating isn’t your idea of an indulgence, find something that is.

 

  1.  Look for ways to pursue your own interests, and find babysitting where you can. Fortunately, my mom lives nearby and even though she’s a busy woman herself, she makes it a priority to see that I get some time off from mom duty.  My brothers know that more than any stuff, the most valuable gift they can offer is some time with the kids so I can go out. I’ve also taken my kids to events and then sat on the sidelines to pursue my favorite passion, writing. Instead of watching them watch a science presentation, I pull out my laptop and write. I always wanted to write, but one of the things holding me back was feeling like I was doing something that wasn’t bringing money to the family and was taking time away from my kids. I’ve saved a lot of money on babysitting by finding fun things at libraries and schools for the kids to do while I take the time to write.

 

  1. Stop feeling guilty that every waking moment isn’t focused on your kids! This was the hardest one for me, but also the most necessary. There’s no point saving up money for a massage if you’re lying on the table feeling bad that you’re not home playing with the kids. A family needs times of separation to appreciate the togetherness. Tell your kids what you’re doing and why so that you can be a role model for how to balance work, parenting, taking care of your home, and taking care of yourself.

 

The first massage I ever had was because of a gift card, so I’d like to get the ball rolling for you on taking care of yourself.  Please visit my Facebook author page (Grete DeAngelo, Author) on the Giveaway tab or click here http://tinyurl.com/nurmmou to enter a random drawing for a $50 Spa Finders gift card!  Drawing ends Wednesday, July 16, 2014, at 10:00 am EST.

 

 

When did you stop picking up your kids?

 

I am usually a forward-thinking parent. I celebrate all the milestones and enjoy them – my kids taking showers instead of baths, cutting their own fingernails, making their own lunches and beds.

But sometimes the whoosh of passing time strikes me so hard that I can’t help but get sentimental about how fast it’s all going. On vacation recently, my son told me he felt sad because he missed his friends. That was the first time he had ever mentioned such a thing and it made me realize he’s making the transition to a point where his friends equal, if not surpass, his parents in his sphere of influence.

In this tenderhearted blog by fellow mom Kara Uhl, she wrote about her husband’s lament that there comes a time when you no longer pick up your children. That point passed for me long ago; I’d hurt my back if I even tried to pick up my sons. But sometimes I still grab one or the other of my boys, get as much of them onto my lap as will fit (pretty much just head and shoulders at this point), and talk baby talk to them. They still tolerate my fits of maudlin mushiness and probably secretly enjoy them.

Now and then I tease them and tell them they’re not allowed to grow up or get taller, but I know it’s their job to grow up and my job to let them grow up. I am proud of every new accomplishment and often find myself pushing them to try more than they thought themselves capable of doing on their own.

I am simultaneously drawn to cuddling my boys and pushing them away, knowing that soon the boundaries of our physical and emotional relationship will change. Other mammals go through the same weaning process that we do, and sometimes the young will live with their mothers for years before striking off on their own. In many animal groups, the female young stay with their mothers their whole lives, while the boys are cast out to find a new family group.

Even if I can’t pick up my children in my arms, they still need me to pick them up in other ways. There are days and nights of tears and anger and slights and things to be fearful of. Little problems turn into bigger problems as kids get older. There’s a comfort in knowing that no matter how grown up my kids are, they’ll always need me.

The best part of all is knowing that now they pick me up too.

 

If you like reading about families, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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Photo credit: “Mother Giving Hand To A Child” by David Castillo Domini / http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Do you give your ex a Father’s Day gift?

 

The first few years after our divorce, I attempted to ignore Father’s Day as I dropped off the kids to spend the day with their dad. But as time has healed the pain of our failed marriage, I found myself wanting to acknowledge his continuing role in my life: the co-parent of our children.

I’ve decided to let go of things that disappoint me and celebra te what he means to the kids. They adore him and I believe that showing my appreciation boosts his confidence and shows our kids that they don’t have to fear they are “taking sides” by wholeheartedly and unreservedly loving their dad.

I am grateful that we are the kind of divorced parents who can peaceably go to parent-teacher night together, who can sit side by side at sports events, and who can talk without getting into the blame game.

Last year, I went through old pictures and made my ex a little photo album of our kids. He had very few baby photos because I seem to be the keeper of family history, so I knew it would be something he’d like. I felt I had reached a new place of acceptance that I could look at those photos without feeling angry, sad, wistful, or any other negative emotion. Instead, they reminded me that we had two beautiful babies who will always tie us together. We aren’t married anymore, but we will always be linked through our children, and maybe someday our grandchildren.

Now I can wish him Happy Father’s Day and mean it, and I can look for ways to let him know all year that I value his role in our children’s lives.

If you like reading about families, parenting, divorce and tough decisions, please check out my novel Giving Myself Away, available now.

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The Lonely Housewife

 

I get a taste each year of what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mom because I’m a teacher and I’m off in the summer. My kids’ school schedules are different from mine, so I always have several days at home myself before they are also home for the break. “Sounds heavenly,” you might say. “Two weeks all to yourself!”

Well, I hate it. I’ve always thought of myself as somewhat introverted. I got teased mercilessly as a kid for being quiet. But for the past seven years, I’ve worked in a career where I am with people from when I wake up until when I go to bed, and the abrupt shock of transitioning from that to a deadly quiet house is painful.

I used to think I was going to be a stay-at-home mom, but life circumstances proved me wrong. I’m not sure how I would have handled it, and now I can’t imagine not having my job, even though it means housework, cooking, shopping, and all of the other things that stay-at-home parents can do during the day are lumped on top of what I already do and have to be squeezed in on evenings and weekends.

Every morning during the school year is an organized blur as the kids and I have breakfast, make our lunches, get dressed, and pack the car by 7:18 a.m. Saying goodbye to them never feels like too much of a separation because I’m already thinking about work and they’re thinking about school and their friends. The day speeds by for all of us, and before we know it, I’m picking them up and we’re starting our equally busy evening routine.

This morning as I waved goodbye to the departing school bus and walked back home, I thought about how much easier it is to be the one leaving, rather than the one being left behind. Even though my kids are noisy and messy and we’re often doing our own separate things, it feels right when we’re all in the house together.

If you like to read about the choices moms make, please check out my novel, Giving Myself Away, available now in paperback and ebook.

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How do you deal with sibling rivalry?

sibling rivalry

This picture is captioned “I used to be the little one.”  If you have more than one child or you have siblings, I’m guessing you can relate to at least one of the girls in this picture.  I’ve noticed my older son sometimes gets jealous when I give attention to other adults, while my younger son only gets jealous of my attention toward other kids (especially his big brother!).  Sometimes he’ll actually push his brother out of the way and say, “She’s my mom, not yours.”

I was one of four children, and what that meant is that you had to do something REALLY good or REALLY bad to get any parental attention focused solely on you.  Sometimes that was a blessing.  I liked not having to be the only one to take the heat when household objects disappeared or got broken.  Even though my brothers annoyed me, spied on me, and took things from my room, I liked the feeling of being in a “pack.”  Anywhere we went, there was always a pile of us.  I rarely spent time alone.  An important part of my identity is being a sister.

On the other hand, it may have been good to learn early on that I wasn’t the center of the world, but sometimes I wanted to be, and that wasn’t going to happen with three younger siblings.  I rarely knew what it was like for the house to be quiet.  Sometimes we all got in trouble when my parents didn’t feel like parsing out who did what to whom.  At the time, it seemed so unfair, but I find myself doing the same thing when my kids argue now.

I try to spend some time with both of my kids separately.  I try not to compare them to each other.  They may look alike, but they have very different personalities.  I even motivate and discipline them differently, based on what works for them.  What do you do to handle sibling rivalry in your household?

[photo source: http://failblog.cheezburger.com/parenting]

If you’re interested in reading more about family, please check out my novel, Giving Myself Away.

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Is it okay to put your kids online?

Amy Webb wrote this thought-provoking article in Slate called “We Post Nothing About Our Daughter Online.”

What do you think about this? Most of you know I’m a mom.  When my kids were babies, I put their pics on Facebook. However, after they were toddlers, I removed those pictures and haven’t posted my kids’ pictures or names online.

It’s hard for me not to talk about them or put their pictures on Facebook because my primary role in life is Mom and of course I’m proud of my kids the same way any other parent is. I also like looking at my faraway friends’ and relatives’ pics of their kids to see them growing and changing.

For me, this decision was more because of my public role as a teacher: the closer my kids get to the age of my students, the more I realize their privacy is compromised by what I put online.

When I was 12 and older, I would have been mortified at a lot of the pictures and anecdotes my parents could have put on Facebook, if it were available then.

This article goes into a lot bigger reasons to protect your kids’ anonymity, dealing with their future virtual identity.  Webb believes kids who are online will never have a chance for anonymity, and that these pictures and information can be used insidiously for data mining.

Webb and her husband have gone so far as to search for their child’s chosen name online to make sure it wasn’t one with any negative associations.  They’ve also set up social media accounts in their daughter’s name that they are keeping on hold until they feel she’s old enough to create her own online identity.

I’m not sure if I’m paranoid, and I’ve mostly given in to the idea that none of us will ever have a chance for privacy anymore, but I’m doing what feels comfortable for me.

Do you put your kids’ pictures online?  If you do, do you have any second thoughts or concerns about it?

The only adult in the house

Adriennes blog 19 washing machine picHi, I’m Adrienne and I’m the only adult in my house.  Most of the time, I’m okay with that.  I get all the closet space, no one steals my stash of Oreos (that I keep too high up for the kids to notice), and the toilet seat is never up in the middle of the night.

Other times, it’s really hard.  I’ve lived on my own with no problem, but there’s something about having kids in the house that raises the stakes.  If there were a break-in or a fire, it’s not affecting only me anymore.  When there’s a tornado warning or a flood watch, it’s all on me to keep the kids out of harm’s way as best I can.

When Drew first moved out, I woke up countless nights to every little noise, convinced that something awful was happening.  Someone was trying to creep in the basement windows or pick the lock on the front door.  I’d startle awake, my heart pounding, and grab my cell phone.  But who to call?  After listening and sitting so still that all I could hear was the blood rushing though my head, I’d eventually calm down and realize it was just a noise like all houses make.

Then there are the times a major appliance breaks down.  I’ve had to figure out how to turn off the electricity and the water because pipes have leaked, the washing machine has become unbalanced, and the furnace made a scary sound.  Men probably feel intimidated about certain home repairs too, but they have a more exploratory nature, whereas I assume that anything I touch is going to break down even further with my intervention.

Growing up, I learned how to change the sheets and cook and iron and sew, but my dad didn’t teach me guy things because he never expected I’d need to know them.   As a result, I’m as unbalanced as the washer.  I don’t think of turning off the pipes to the outside faucets or cleaning the gutters because they were never in my realm of responsibility before.

I’m teaching my sons everything I know.  I hope they have someone to share the joys and responsibilities of home-ownership, but just in case, they won’t be as unprepared as I was.

Read more about my life after divorce in Giving Myself Away, available now.

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Gaining confidence as a single parent

Adriennes blog 18 suitcase picI did not sign up to be a single parent.  I expected I was going to have a partner with me to see through the raising of our children.  Yes, their father is actively part of their lives, but we don’t do our job of parenting together anymore.

At first, it was overwhelming.  Parents with partners can tag-team so that when one is wiped out, he or she can step out of the ring for a few minutes to regain energy and composure.  When you’re a single parent, you’re on all the time.  You might be able to hand off kids to a grandparent for a few hours, but you’re still the chief decision-maker.

Early after Drew moved out, I decided to take Tyler and Nicky out for dinner, just the three of us.  It was a disaster.  Nicky was sulking about something and didn’t want to order, so I picked macaroni and cheese from the kids’ menu for him, which I figured he probably would have ordered anyway.  Just to be contrary, he said he didn’t want macaroni and cheese (after the waitress had already taken our order and walked away).  I said, “tough, you’re having macaroni and cheese.”

Tyler, the peacemaker, was upset that we were arguing, burst into tears, and knocked over his juice trying to hug me across the table.  This led to even more tears.  By the end of the meal, all of us had cried at least once.  I can only imagine that our waitress and the people at nearby tables looked at us with either pity or scorn:  Look at that pathetic single mom.  She can’t handle her kids (her life!).

Since those early days, we’ve developed a partnership that works.  Nicky and Tyler and I are now a family that feels complete.  There are plenty of families where the parents are married, but a spouse has to work long hours away from home or serve overseas in the military.  There are stay-at-home moms and dads who have to take three kids to the grocery store and clean the house and cook, all while keeping an eye on little ones.  I’m not alone and I’m not a pity case.

Our latest adventure was an overnight trip on our own to an unfamiliar city.  This was a big step for me, the person who couldn’t even handle a night at a restaurant on my own.  I took lots of time to plan our route (no navigator to help me in the car), packed our bags (no one to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything), and prepared for missteps (there were a few).  But we had a great time and it built my confidence as a parent.  I’m a parent, not a single parent.  And we are a family, not a one-parent family.

You can read more about my life after divorce in Giving Myself Away, available now.

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What to stock up on when you have children

Adriennes blog 17 bandaid picHi, I’m Adrienne, a mom of two boys.  When you have kids in the house, there are certain items you should never be without.  I’ll tell you my top five, and I’d love to hear what you’d add to the list.

  1. Adhesives to fix the things that break.  Packing tape, scotch tape, duct tape, school glue, super glue… we have them all.  While there are kids in the house, I have to be resolved to the fact that things get broken and need to put back together, including my patience.  Both of my kids have gotten so frustrated at times that they’ve torn up a favorite piece of artwork only to regret it five minutes later.  My own mood has frayed to the point that I want to break things too.  Glue is the stuff that pulls things back together.  In our house, a hug is the glue that binds us back together when we get pulled apart.
  2. Erasers to fix the mistakes.  We keep pencil erasers, Mr. Clean magic erasers, and spot remover to undo the things that got messed up.  Sometimes we have a “do over” on the whole day when everyone’s out of sorts and things got off to a bad start.  It’s amazing what erasing the past, even the past five minutes, can do for your outlook.
  3. Band-aids to fix the hurts.  I keep all different sizes to cover everything from a paper cut to a brush burn.  Sometimes the cut is so little that I can’t even see it and yet my child wants a band-aid.  These are the times I know that what he really needs is the kiss that comes with it, the reassurance that everything’s going to be okay, even when he’s in pain.
  4. Thermometers to diagnose the severity of a situation.  You can put you hand on a child’s forehead and know instantly whether it’s a fever or not, but the doctor always asks for the exact temperature.  Being aware of the details helps you gauge what’s not obvious on the outside.  Sometimes children can’t tell you in words what it is that’s ailing them, and your attentiveness is what draws it out.
  5. Blankets to provide comfort.  We have big blankets and little ones, but the most important thing is that they’re soft and warm.  Did you ever notice how common it is to want to wrap yourself in a blanket, not only when you’re cold, but also when you’re lonely and sad?  The most important thing a family can be is that big fuzzy blanket of security and comfort over our shoulders.

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Available at Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle format

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