Parenting Life

The Parenting Life

WebMD Live Events Transcript

Your new identity as a parent: childcare; reconnecting with your partner; going it alone. Whatever your situation, parenting is a whole new life. 'The Mother of All Baby Books' author, Ann Douglas, joined us on June 29, 2004, to help answer your parenting questions.

The opinions expressed herein are the guests' alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

MODERATOR:
Welcome back to WebMD Live, Ann. When you were a new parent, what was your toughest challenge?

DOUGLAS:
Sleep deprivation. I honestly thought I would never sleep again. But about six months later I think I got a decent night's sleep -- not every night, but enough to start feeling semi-human again.

MODERATOR:
So what did you do about it?

DOUGLAS:
I ended up really cutting back on my to-do list. I mean, I'm not exactly Suzy Homemaker at the best of times, but this was a time in my life when I really learned to cut back on my expectations of myself. Menu plans were kept extremely simple. We're talking soup, sandwiches, and salads on those days when I could figure out how to chop vegetables with a baby in a baby sling (with the first baby we're talking about the days before salads were available in plastic bags -- the pioneer days!)

As for luxuries like dusting, forget about it. Vacuuming got done, however, because I quickly discovered that my daughter was lulled to sleep by the sound of the vacuum cleaner. My house has never been so well vacuumed since!

What I think was really tough, however, was finding the emotional energy to connect with my husband. In many ways we felt like two ships that were passing in the night, or perhaps two ships that were adrift on the rocky postpartum seas. It made for a very rough ride, let me tell you.

MEMBER QUESTION:
When will I feel sexy again? Or is this not an option now that I am a mother? I'm so tired and I feel like my breasts are off limits to my husband; they are for feeding my little girl. And every time he approaches me that way I can't focus. I feel like I have one ear listening for the baby. I'm not being fair to him. Help!

DOUGLAS:
What you are feeling is extremely normal. I think 99% of new mothers on the planet have felt this way. I think the other 1% of mothers have live-in hired help. Because when you're battling exhaustion, leaky breasts, and postpartum aches and pains, it's hard to feel like a sex goddess. Trust me, I have been there.

I've also read studies that say that on average it takes seven to eight weeks to get your sex life back on track after the birth of a baby. And remember, we're talking averages. That means that some couples will take much longer to start feeling sexy again. Of course, there will be a few sexual overachievers who can hardly keep their hands off one another within a few days after the birth; I just haven't met very many of them. So please, don't feel like there's anything wrong with you.

Generally, once you start getting sleep and feeling relaxed and confident about your new role as a mother, your sex life will start to resume its normal frequency, or something that resembles its prebaby frequency. Many people find that their sex life after baby is always a bit different than their prebaby sex life, but that's just the way life is at times.

"When you're battling exhaustion, leaky breasts, and postpartum aches and pains, it's hard to feel like a sex goddess. Trust me, I have been there."

MEMBER QUESTION:
I feel like I am on alert every waking minute. My baby is 5 weeks old. When will it get easier and I can relax a bit?

DOUGLAS:
It takes quite awhile, I have found, to start to be able to relax. I remember being on hyper alert for quite a long time. Granted, I have always been the kind of person who worries, dare I say even obsesses, about every new stage my children pass through. Let's just say I haven't quite relaxed about the teen years yet, so I'm still worrying 16 years later.

However, I can tell you that the 'round the clock anxiety does begin to wane after a month or two. Mother Nature couldn't allow you to sustain this level of anxiety indefinitely, or you would quite literally begin to burn out. As you become more comfortable with your baby and more confident in your own mothering abilities, you will find that only brand-new situations put you on hyper alert. The rest of the time you will feel increasingly relaxed and confident and able to enjoy all the joys that mothering brings.

MEMBER QUESTION:
Any tips for handling mom and mom-in-law? I know they both raised children but this is my child. They mean well with the advice, but we want to do it our way. How can I get them to understand this without alienating them? I want to have my cake and eat it too -- I want them to baby-sit sometimes, but not to tell us how to raise our baby.

DOUGLAS:
This is truly the mother of all balancing acts, isn't it? On the one hand, you want their love and support, and baby-sitting skills, but on the other hand you do not want to be bombarded with advice that may leave you feeling like a rank amateur when it comes to raising your own child.

It often works well to establish boundaries on the advice-giving issue -- to let friends and family members know that while you will consider the information that they offer, you are the mummy and therefore you will make the decisions where your child's health and well-being is concerned. People may initially be a little taken back by your stand on this issue, but over time they will come to respect you and realize that you are really only doing your job as your child's parent.

If you are faced with somebody who is particularly aggressive on this front, you may want to use my favorite tactic, which is to tell the person you will check things out with your baby's doctor. Only a true rabid advice giver will not back off at this point. Hope this helps.

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MEMBER QUESTION:
How do I find a new mother group? I chose to stay home when my son was born, but I miss talking to adults. However, I can't really talk with my old co-workers; their interests and mine are different now. I'm all about the baby, and of course they aren't. I think a new mother group would help, but don't have any idea how to find one.

DOUGLAS:
You are very wise to want to hook up with the other new mums in your neighborhood. The best way to find the groups is to hang out at the playground or park and ask the other mums if they know where the groups are operating. Ask your pediatrician or ask the children's librarian at your local library if they know or they know of someone who might know where these groups are running.

Find out if there is a local parenting newspaper. You can find these basically anywhere parents go: your pediatrician's office; at the pool; the community center; grocery stores, or at the library. Often they are available for free, so they are truly the best bargain in town. And also, a lot of these publications have web sites; so don't forget to hit the worldwide web, too. Often these papers have calendars filled with playgroup listings, new mum group listings, and other activities you may want to know about. They can be a lifesaver is you are feeling cut off. Hope this helps.

MODERATOR:
Sometimes these groups meet at a local church or synagogue. Check with them as well.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I have to work, so my baby is in daycare. But compared with being a parent, my job seems so unimportant. And I feel guilty, too. How do I get focused on my work again when all I can do is daydream about staying home with my baby?

DOUGLAS:
Well, guilt is truly the universal emotion of parenthood. I have to tell you whether you are at home with your baby or working outside of home, guilt will get you sometime in your career. It got you earlier. Seriously, it is very difficult to cope with the feelings of regret when you want to be home with your baby but have to work outside the home. I am assuming you are working for financial reasons, because it sounds like if you had the choice, you would definitely be home with your baby.

One thing I would encourage you to do is to possibly look at other career options that might allow you to work from home or to work part time or otherwise juggle your working options, so that perhaps you might not have to be away from your baby quite as many hours in the week, since it seems to me, from your message, you would prefer to be with your baby more hours in the week if at all possible.

Sometimes working full time isn't necessarily that much more beneficial than working part time or having a home-based business or some of the other working options that people come up with in order to bring in an income. But you have to be quite creative. You also have to realize that if you are operating a home-based business you will still need childcare for your baby. You can't give 100% attention to your business and 100% attention to your baby simultaneously. That is a myth.
There are several excellent books on this topic so I would encourage you to explore the work/life sections of your library and do some reading on this very important topic. Good luck.

"I always tell parents they should never ever think about putting their child in a family daycare home if the provider is unwilling to allow parents to drop by unannounced."

MEMBER QUESTION:
What should I consider when choosing daycare? Of course cost is a factor (or I wouldn't be working). But what are the things I should be looking for when I visit a potential daycare situation? We are trying to decide whether a center is better or homecare (in someone else's home). I would love to have a nanny or au pair but that's not even a remote possibility -- much too expensive.

DOUGLAS:
There are all kinds of important points to consider when you're making a decision about choosing daycare. I have written an entire book on this subject; in fact I have written two books on this subject, but my most recent book is Choosing Childcare for Dummies. I'm only going to briefly touch on some of the material I cover in my book, but I will try to do this topic justice, because I feel it is a very important subject that a lot of people struggle with.

The first thing to consider is whether you want to choose a daycare center or family daycare. If you decide to go with a daycare center, the advantage is that the daycare center will be open pretty much whenever you need it. You don't have to worry about the daycare provider being off on holidays or being sick or otherwise unavailable, things that can happen if you're dealing with a family daycare situation.

The other main difference between the two environments, of course, is the number of children. In the family daycare you are dealing with a relatively small number of children, whereas in a large daycare you could be dealing with a large classroom environment with dozens of children and multiple caregivers. It's often a matter of personal preference whether a family feels more comfortable with a family or classroom environment. When we are talking about infants, sometimes parents prefer a family daycare while their babies are quite young, but then like to make the move to a daycare center as their children get a little older.

There is, of course, no right or wrong way to do this. When you are evaluating a daycare center, here are some of the points you will want to consider:

  • Whether the daycare is warm and welcoming
  • How secure the daycare center is
  • If the daycare center seems to have well-trained staff
  • What the discipline policies are
  • What the operating policies are
  • What the procedures are, especially regarding sick children
  • What meals the center serves
  • Whether the center director is willing to provide you with references from other parents
  • Whether there are spaces, and if not, how long the waiting list is
  • What the hours of operation are
  • What ages of children the center accepts
  • What the center's caregiver/child ratio is
  • What the center's fees are
  • Whether it is OK for you to bring your baby with you when you are checking out the center

Now let's talk about the kinds of questions you will want to ask when evaluating a family daycare. You will want to find out:

  • Where it's located
  • Its operating hours
  • The ages of the other children
  • If the family daycare shuts down certain times of the year, and if so ... whether the family daycare has a backup
  • If the family daycare provider has been trained in first aid
  • What fees the daycare charges
  • What training she has had
  • How much experience she has with children
  • What her philosophies and policies and procedures are
  • If she charges late fees if parents are late picking up children
  • If she encourages parents to drop by anytime unannounced
  • If she is willing to provide references

I always tell parents they should never ever think about putting their child in a family daycare home if the provider is unwilling to allow parents to drop by unannounced. That should be the ultimate red flag, an indication that something is not going right.

You may want to check out the Childcare Aware web site, at childcareaware.org, for more information on finding a safe and child-friendly childcare arrangement. Good luck.

MEMBER QUESTION:
I am going to be a single mother. Any advice?

DOUGLAS:
I think it is really important when you are going to be a single parent to line up as much support as you can up front, because parenting is an extremely demanding job. Until you are in the trenches you can't even imagine how exhausting it can be at times, and so it is extremely important to call in all of your favors and not to fall into the trap of going into martyr mode. If someone offers to bring you dinner or to run errands on your behalf or otherwise pitch in and make your life easier, accept their offer willingly (By the way, this advice applies to all new parents. For some crazy reason, we seem to feel the need to go it alone at the very time in our lives when we would most benefit from the support of our community. How crazy is that?).

I want to recommend a really good book for single parents. It is called The Complete Single Mother , by Andrea Engber and Leah Klungness. It is a very comprehensive guide to raising a child on your own, covering all aspects of single motherhood from artificial insemination or adoption, through divorce at any stage of parenthood. This may be a book you may want to pick up before your baby arrives.

You may also want to look into single parent networks or other mothers' networks in your community. Earlier in today's chat I talked about tapping in to the new mother communities, so you may want to go back and read that, because it is so important to connect with new parents in this wonderful, but often challenging, time in your life. Good luck with your new baby to be.

MEMBER QUESTION:
My friend is adopting a baby and will be a single mom. I want to help her out, because I know she'll be overwhelmed at some point. But I don't want to make her think I don't believe she can handle this. Can you help me figure out the best way to offer my services? I was thinking of giving her a homemade coupon book with things like "good for one free weekend of babysitting while you go skiing" or "good for one free session of laundry folding." Does this sound cool or kooky?

DOUGLAS:
I think this sounds wonderfully cool. I think this will go over extremely well, because you're not intending to hover or to in any way undercut her mothering abilities. What you are doing is giving a wonderful gift -- a gift of your time, which any friend would appreciate. I think your friend will feel free to take you up on your offers, perhaps not at first, because she will likely want to spend a lot of time with her new baby, but gradually over time, when she feels she can be away from her baby in small doses, don't be surprised if some of those coupons start to be redeemed. I think it's wonderful that you are being such a kind and supportive friend.

"If someone offers to bring you dinner or to run errands on your behalf or otherwise pitch in and make your life easier, accept their offer willingly."

MEMBER QUESTION:
My husband feels left out since the baby came. Help!

DOUGLAS:
I think sometimes we forget that husbands often feel left out after the birth of a baby. All the visitors show up with a present for the new baby or for mum, and poor dad gets left on the sidelines treated like an "also ran" or afterthought. I think we need to make a special effort during this time to acknowledge the postpartum period can be hugely challenging for dads. His world is being rocked as much as yours, and often nobody is acknowledging it. Unless he has some special friend he can confide in, he may be feeling totally isolated and alone.

Sometimes it's just a matter of giving your partner a hug and saying "I miss you," or "It won't always be like this," or "Let's try to find 10 minutes on the couch to cuddle tonight," or something to acknowledge to him he matters to you as much as ever. Otherwise your husband may feel he has totally fallen off your radar screen, something that can be incredibly painful to him at a time in his life when he is struggling to find his new sense of equilibrium.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is that couples need to find their bearings in their post-baby universe together.

MODERATOR:
Any words of wisdom for new grandparents?

DOUGLAS:
I think the advice I would have for grandparents is to give new mums and dads the space they need to start feeling comfortable in their new roles. Believe it or not, they think you, the grandparents, are all-knowing. So any little bit of advice you offer, however well meaning, can sometimes be taken as a threat. So if you just give them a little bit of time to spread their parenting wings and to start to gain a bit of parenting confidence, they will be only too willing to turn to you for love and support and to tap into your wisdom during the years to come. You have so much to offer your children and your grandchildren.

MODERATOR:
We are almost out of time. Ann, do you have any final words of advice for us?

DOUGLAS:
I would just say to make the most of this exciting time of your life. I know sometimes when you are dealing with the physical and emotional challenges, it seems this wacky time in your life will go on forever and you will never have any sleep and never any time and space for yourself again. But you will, so don't wish this time away. Your child's babyhood is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so savor the experience.

MODERATOR:
Thanks for joining us, members, and thanks to Ann Douglas for sharing her expertise and experience with us. For more baby care information, please read her book, The Mother of All Baby Books , for tips on all aspects of parenting during the first year.



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Reviewed on 12/29/2004 4:31:14 PM

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