Losing It

August 18, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By Julie Gamberg

I had one of those days today. A day that only a parent can appreciate. My toddler didn’t nap. And not only didn’t she nap, but whatever was keeping her too wired to sleep was also keeping her hysterical, weepy, wild, and deeply invested in negating any suggestion I might make or any attempt at getting her, say, fed or slept. As her hysteria wound up and up and up all afternoon, turning into bouts of mournful crying, thrashing, screaming, shaking, pounding, hitting, and kicking, my own blood pressure went up with it, along with my own exhaustion, hunger, thirst (needing to pee!), and general sense of fury at my child, and sense of failure as a parent.

Hard parenting days seem to be harder than anything I’ve done. It’s not that harder things haven’t happened. It’s that in the past, when they do, I get to lose it. Or at the very least check out emotionally. At one point during the endless crying and screaming, I just sat there next to my toddler, and began breathing exercises. When I felt myself still flooded with anxiety, I began chanting a Sanksrit mantra that sometimes calms my daughter down, as well as lessening my own anxiety. It was a no go today for both of us.

We finally traded nap for an early bedtime, with much consternation about getting pajama’d and storie’d and in bed too (which at this point I well knew was coming). But before that, once I knew the nap really, truly was not happening – as bad as she clearly needed it today, I took a giant breath and sent out a couple of aaack texts and emails in lieu of the work I was supposed to actually get done during naptime, held my clingy, angry, frustrated, and exhausted toddler on one hip while I fed me and her some refrigerator tofu and veggies I had previously prepared (thank you, thank you, my self of yesterday!), and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to wear her out in anticipation of bedtime, and trying to keep myself afloat. Thankfully she did fall asleep exceptionally early, leaving me time to catch up a bit, and to try to wind down and actually take a deep breath or two, start to finish.

Here is the amazing thing about parenting though, that I know all of you parents must know to be true – it is perhaps extra amazing for us single mamas: No matter how crappy the day was, no matter how much rage you felt at your child, no matter how much you longed to check out, none of that changes the immense love that surges through you as you watch your little one sleeping. Or how much you look forward to seeing her face in the morning.


Time Warp: Development and Perspective

July 21, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

At the zoo, all my toddler wants to do is touch the animals. “No, honey,” I tell her, “This is their house and they want to stay there and they want us to stay here and they do not want us to touch them. But we can wave hello.” “But,” she says, “I want hippopotamus to go uppy” (meaning she wants to lift up, cradle, and hold the nice little 500-pound hippopotamus).

We just started a small class in someone’s house which involves having several animal visitors with whom we can interact – including petting, touching, and in some cases holding and feeding them. During our last class, we met a juvenile wolf, a chicken, and a pot-bellied pig.

My child loves the idea of pigs. She loves wolves. But did she want to touch and pet them? Did she “want wolf to go uppy”? Of course not. When the animal was there, without restrictions, without a cage, she was hesitant.  “But look honey, you get to actually pet the wolf. It’s a very friendly wolf. Let’s pet it.” Suddenly she is way more interested in snacks and playing, and opening and closing the gate to the pen.

I’ve realized through watching her how true it is that children process the world at their own speed and in their own time and I’ve also had to realize that I need to make a concerted effort to adjust my own thinking to reflect that. Just as my perception of time shifts depending on if I’m, say, having a good time, or bored, so does it also shift depending on how pressured or relaxed I’m feeling, or on other aspects of a situation.

It may appear to me that all my child wants to do at the zoo is go after the forbidden fruit – touch the animals behind the cages – but it may be that in reality we’ve already been at the zoo for 10 minutes, or 20 minutes, or an hour, before she feels “ready” to touch the animals. It may be that I’m so sick of telling her she can’t touch them that from my perspective I feel like she’s been asking forever.

And likewise, when we’re at the animals class, which I have paid for, and at which we only have a limited amount of time in which to interact with the animals, it’s quite possible that time moves in the other direction. That I can’t believe six whole minutes have gone by and she still doesn’t want to cuddle with the wolf.

Oh, kids. Oh, parents.


Picking Sperm, Part Two: Sperm Bank Ethics

July 12, 2011 by  
Filed under Family

By: Julie Gamberg 


So you’ve thought everything through and you know that a sperm bank is the best route for you, or for you and your partner. Now you have to choose a sperm bank, and decide between a completely anonymous donor, or an“identity release” or “willing to be known” (different sperm banks use different terms) donor –one who agrees to some sort of contact when the child turns eighteen.  Although there are definitely good reasons for using sperm from an anonymous donor –like the desire to mirror one’s specific mixed racial background as closely as possible (which can be almost impossible without an anonymous donor), or the requirement to have a donor who is CMV negative –it appears that the primary reason women choose a fully anonymous donor is the wider variety. A bigger selection can seem like it will mean a better chance of getting that medically healthy, super cute, funny-in-his-essay, compassionate, athletic, artistic seed.  Also, sperm banks with a wider pool of anonymous donors tend to be large and web-savvy, with a frothy commercial appeal in how they market the donors. These are banks where you can shop online and it’s fun! -which is a huge relief when making such a complicated and difficult decision. These sites often have baby pictures and adult photos available online, are very user-friendly, and have lots of cool features like celebrity lookalikes, unlimited profiles for one flat fee,and online donor voice records. In fact,not by accident I’m sure, these sites often mirror the popular and well-funded dating sites, like match.com.


Although the appeal of having a fun, upbeat shopping experience is understandable, the short-term benefits of using these banks may be outweighed by the long-term repercussions. For starters, activists argue that the field is not well enough regulated.  Wendy Kramer and her son Ryan, who founded the Donor Sibling Registry, a site where donor-conceived offspring can register by clinic and/or donor identification number and choose to meet half-siblings –and possibly their anonymous donor, should he choose to register –strongly believe that the first priority should be the long-term needs of the child.  This includes having a low donor-to-family ratio and allowing for the offspring to have the choice of at least a one-time meeting with the person who makes up half of his or her DNA. They consider this a fundamental human right. Several countries, such asNorway, Holland, England,Sweden, Germany, and Italy, agree.  In these countries, anonymous donation is illegal. As donor-conceived children grow up and tell their stories (and there are many on the DSR website and in some recently published books), two issues are echoed again and again: these children need to be told if they were donor-conceived (this especially applies to straight, two-parent families who can easily withhold this information), and they need to have the opportunity to meet their donor. It seems that nearly all the negative issues reported by donor-conceived offspring occur when these needs aren’t met. Fortunately these are both issues that parents can control and it’s important for the long-term well being of your child-to-be to think them through in advance.


If you do decide that you want to ensure your donor-conceived offspring the opportunity to meet his donor, it does matter which sperm bank you use. There is no set standard for the donor-to-family ratio. From my survey of about a dozen of the largest or most well-known sperm banks, the donor-to-family ratio ranges from a low of 10 to a high of 60. Sixty families! At an average of 1.5 kids per family, that means your little one could have approximately 90 half-siblings. There is also no fixed definition for what a “willing to be known” or “identity release” donor means. On the webpage of the very popular California Cryobank, they explain that “open donors” are “committed to one contact…” which “may be in the form of an email, standard letter, phone call or meeting in person – the type of contact is decided solely by the donor.” This means that at the end of the day, your child might be unable to get a name, genetic information, or even simple questions answered. Your child’s one single contact might come from an anonymous email account or  a form letter sent to all of the donor-conceived offspring, both of which would fulfill the legal and ethical obligation according to the terms set by California Cryobank.


Contrast this with Pacific Reproductive Services, a lesbian-owned sperm bank, where the donor is required to have actual contact at least once. Or, the sperm bank I’m particularly fond of, The Sperm Bank of California (TSBC), the only non-profit sperm bank in the country, and also one of the oldest (operating since 1982). According to their website “TSBC conducts research on the psychosocial implications of donor insemination …” as well as being “the first sperm bank in the United States to create the Identity-Release® Program, serve lesbian couples and single women, provide extensive personal and family medical histories on donors, offer instruction on how to perform inseminations at home, document conception and birth rates, track and limit the number of births per donor.” They also thoroughly discuss identity-release with their donors and prepare them for contact if so requested by offspring who have attained the age of 18. At such time, TSBC then releases an entire profile, including full name, birth date, place of birth, updated contact information, and how the donor would like to be contacted.


Unfortunately, TSBC’s web searches are clunky and their donors seem, on the page, more like good, nice guys, rather than the Brad Pitt/Zac Effron combo of whom the other sites seem to have ample amounts. Their simple, straightforward site cannot begin to compare with the sleek Xytex website which offers a one-click “ultra unlimited package” – 90 days’ of unlimited use, profiles, photos, “PhotoSpans,” and audio interviews.  On the Xytex homepage is a rotating box with baby and adult pictures of donors, including a photo of a cute, trendy looking young man.  And then there’s a quick search feature, where you can plug in three parameters and immediately begin searching. As you might imagine, medical history is not one of them. In fact, the parameters on the Xytex site provide the perfect illustration of how buying sperm on the internet propels us to fixate on the superficial. What, according to Xytex’s webpage, are the three most important factors to take into account when performing a quick search? Hair color, eye color, and ethnic origin. At least the last one wasn’t height.


I have to admit, when I first considered using a sperm bank, I signed up for Xytex’s three months’ of unlimited profiles and loved the ability to just keep clicking on profile after profile, seeing adult photos, reading both the short and the extended question essays.  I thought about ordering their really cool service where I could submit my questions and the donor would answer them by voice. But I kept coming back to the integrity of banks like TSBC – where there would only be nine other donor families; where the donor receives thoughtful communication about the gravity of his choices; where a donor is meant to really understand that he is signing up for releasing his full identity; and, where he most likely would have warm and compassionate contact with a potential adult child of mine.


I did not, in the end, conceive with a sperm bank or a co-parent, but rather with a unique known donor situation that feels perfect for my single-parent family. No matter how things come about, donor-conceived children are lucky. They are wanted and they are born to a parent or parents doing everything possible to create a thoughtful, loving family. Which is a beautiful thing. Even if you don’t pick the most beautiful sperm.


For more thoughts on picking a sperm donor and known donors, please see Part One.



[Photo Credit: Furhan H!]


Picking Sperm, Part One: The Accidental Eugenicist– A Journey Toward a Known Donor

July 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Family

By: Julie Gamberg

Picking a sperm donor, to your great chagrin, will bring out the eugenicist in you. You will find yourself mixing and matching genetic traits like you would an ensemble for a big night out.  And if that weren’t bad enough, you will be forced to put your money where your mouth is on the nature versus nurture debate (not so easy if you’re a hardcorebeliever in environment-is-everything). Suddenly all traits seem inheritable. Athletisism? Genetic.  Artistic ability? Genetic! Intelligence? Hell to the genetic yeah! Sense of Humor? Uhm, let’s just be safe and say…genetic.


Before you know it, you have your dream seed picked out – someone you would happily be friends with. Someone you might even sleep with, even if you don’t sleep with boys! He’s smart, funny, artsy, cool, athletic, virile (gotta check the sperm count), kind, idealistic, grounded, and oops! –you forgot to look at the medical history, didn’t you?


Which, uhm, maybe you should prioritize. But admit it:  isn’t there a part of you that just wants to consider looks? I know a lesbian couple who called their sperm bank and asked for the hottest, hottest, hottest guy available. They figured that because they’re both smart and well educated, their kid would be too. Hotness, they felt was the one thing they couldn’t influence environmentally, and so they wanted to give it in droves. This couple wound up putting their foot (or needle-less syringe) down in the nurture camp – deciding it’s all environmental, except for looks. But they didn’t think about medical history.  Because I promise you that that smart, musical, sweet hottie’s family is full of cancer, heart attacks, diabetes, alcoholism, mental illness, more cancer, and 17 other medical issues which definitely involve genetic propensity (and teen acne, about which you will suddenly wonder if you’re supposed to care).


And in the middle of all of that eugenics work  –the wanting of a physically attractive, smart, artistic, musical, athletic, funny donor with a clean medical history, you may start realizing that your child-to-come might want some kind of a relationship with this donor, even if only a one-time meeting to satisfy eighteen years’ of curiosity.


And you want that meeting to go well.


So now you start thinking that you might like to actually know your donor, this person who is going to give your little one half of his or her DNA.  Meet him, smell him, look into his eyes, ask about his family, check him out.  So you consider using a known donor.  Like your partner’s brother.  Or your best friend from college.  Or a former friend-with-benefits of whom you might cash in on one really huge benefit. All really nice, good-hearted guys.


More often than not, the potential donor says no (which often leads to choosing a sperm bank, which is covered in Part Two, here).  But should your male “friend” say yes, you now enter…Negotiations.


You will need to decide how much, if any, involvement this friend will have after your child is born.  You’ll have to consider his parents, to whom your child will be a grandchild. Will your child know him as uncle, donor, dad, donor-dad, or something else entirely? What will you do if your child wants more contact with the donor? Will he agree in advance to be a donor a second or third time, so your child can have full siblings should you want more children? There is a lot to think about.  There are some great books out there, as well as online resources.  Sample donor contracts can be helpful in guiding you through the ramifications of using a known donor. It can also be useful to consult with a therapist to talk you through these issues as well as a lawyer who specializes in drawing up contracts with known donors.


For some families, having only involvement with a known donor is not enough, and they seek rather to co-parent with the donor. I have a lesbian friend who did not have a partner and was ready for a child. So she went to a co-parenting group at the local LGBT center.  She met a man who was interested, and within a few short months, they went for it!  How are they doing? They’re doing okay. They are madly in love with their amazing little one, who is a happy, healthy, thriving five-year-old. They struggle, though – a lot – with their connection to one another, as well as with their very different styles of parenting. Their particular custody arrangement ensures that she makes most of the big decisions and has custody for a majority of the time, which eases tensions somewhat.


I have come across other co-parenting situations in which the struggles are fewer, and even a co-parenting situation which seemed downright blissful. I don’t know of any big studies or raw data on how this is going, but I do believe that huge amounts of communication and clarity at the outset are helpful in lessening the inherent struggles of co-parenting.  Get to know one another well; talk in-depth about parenting styles; consider now any possible future situations, like if one or both of the parents becomes partnered (or un-partnered), if one parent wants to move, if someone dies, if one wants more or less custody, and so on.


Unfortunately, some known donor situations become sticky, complicated, and downright ugly. There have been lawsuits on both sides of the equation – women who asked for a sperm donation then later sued for child support as well as men who agreed to donate sperm and later sued for custody – although anecdotally, the latter seems more common than the former in true donor situations (as opposed to, say, exes).  Although legal protection for donor situations varies state to state, it’s wise to have a firm and clear known donor contract. (But keep in mind the court can ultimately override any contract or arrangement it doesn’t deem to be in the best interest of the child.)  Some precedent cases ruled that sperm that goes through the hands of a doctor is generally considered a donation; if a doctor is not involved, it can be considered paternity (and yes, even if a turkey baster – aka needle-less syringe –is used).  If the donor later gives the parent or child money or establishes a parental relationship, this can also be legally interpreted as paternity.


As for my friend and her co-parent, would they do it all over again? In a heartbeat. Because they love their child. In fact, most moms I talked to wouldn’t change anything once they have their baby because, well, they have their baby. Whatever it took to bring her or him into the world was exactly the right thing – whether by foster-adopting, adopting internationally, turkey-bastering, IVF, surrogacy, or any other method of having a child. Although you will undoubtedly love your little one however she came into the world, do take the time now to research your options carefully and make a fully-informed decision that marries the best of your brain with the best of your instincts, and your heart.


For more on choosing a sperm bank, and sperm bank ethics, please click here for Part Two.



[Photo Credit: i_gallagher]



Q&A: Permissive v. Strict

July 8, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.


I’m a divorced mother of a 6-year-old. My ex is always giving in to whatever my daughter wants. When she comes back to me I feel like the bad cop because I enforce boundaries. My ex says I’m too strict, and my daughter isn’t so happy with me either. What should I do?

Answer by Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

You’re in a difficult position and we applaud you for upholding boundaries with your daughter. Maintaining limits is especially important because she’s living in two households, which is potentially destabilizing. You have the opportunity be be a bedrock of stability, but how do you hold your own in the face of her visits to the proverbial candy factory?

Children who are raised by so-called ‘permissive parents’ – ones who avoid conflict and indulge their child’s every desire – may initially appear to be reveling in the freedom. But as kids learn they can push boundaries to potentially unhealthy levels, they lose a sense of security, trust, and safety. Inconsistent (or nonexistent) boundaries can cause kids to develop anxiety because they feel a lack of control over their environment. An overly strict environment prevents kids from exercising their judgment, though, so it’s important to strike a balance. Working through conflict with children in a constructive, positive way is a critical parenting skill that your ex is, apparently, lacking. So your daughter needs you to model compromise and negotiation so she can learn to use these skills in relationships with others.

If your ex continually removes limits in order to bypass conflict with your daughter, he risks sending the message that he would prefer to avoid her negative emotions at all costs. A parent who is afraid to tell his child “no” is telling her that he’s not equipped to handle her frustration, anger, or sadness. It’s important for you, then, to support her through these emotions, comforting her through the inevitable disappointments that life brings, coaching her through complicated feelings and demonstrating that you are there for her. Your unconditional love will pay off in the long run.

Here are some further suggestions:

• Avoid setting limits in reaction to your ex’s permissiveness. It’s important that the limits you set are appropriate, loving, and make sense to your daughter. Be clear with her and yourself about why a limit exists. She won’t think you’re too strict if she understands why you set the limits you do.

• Many of us have inflexible limits (“no running in parking lots”), but don’t be afraid to establish flexible limits as well. For example, you might have a flexible limit around bath time:

Child: I don’t want to take a bath! Daddy doesn’t make me take a bath.

Parent: It’s good to wash the dirt off our bodies.

Child: But I was inside all day today and I’m not dirty!

Parent (applying a flexible limit): You know, that’s a good point – you are pretty clean. Let’s skip it for tonight.

• Empathize sincerely and engage your daughter in problem solving when you hold a limit. For example:

Child: Daddy lets me watch TV before bed. I want to watch TV!

Parent: I know he lets you watch TV and that sounds fun. It must be hard to do things differently here but we don’t watch TV before bed. Can you think of another relaxing thing to do that we can both agree on?

Child: What if we skip bath and read another chapter? Reading relaxes me.

Parent: Sounds great!

Dismissing limits is the easy way out. By avoiding parenting short cuts, you’re investing in your relationship with your daughter and building her sense of confidence and trust in you. The fact that your parenting style differs from your ex’s could be an opportunity for you and your daughter to talk and connect. You might be surprised at how a little transparency can bring you together. By maintaining high standards for her, you’ll be demonstrating that you respect her, which she’ll come to value more than nights of watching Late Night and eating Frosted Flakes.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

When parents are separated and a child is being raised in two different households there is always a tendency to try and compensate for what the other parent is doing wrong or to compensate for the short amount of time you have with your child by being more indulgent than you would otherwise be.

So the first rule is: don’t parent in reaction to what your ex is doing.  Stick with your best instincts and work to create a balanced approach in your relationship with your daughter.  You won’t improve your daughter’s upbringing by either being stricter because your ex is too lenient or by being more lenient because your ex is too strict.  A too-strict relationship with your daughter won’t remedy the too lenient one she has with her father.  It will only mean she has two unbalanced relationships instead of just one.

Next, to the extent that it’s possible, try to unite with your ex in terms of the ways you both parent your daughter.  Try to agree on bedtimes, morning routines, and guidelines about play dates and even the ways you set boundaries and give consequences.  Perhaps you can ask him to suggest a parenting book he likes and then read it to find common ground.

After a discussion or mutual reading, I suggest writing down some points that you think are most important.  Present it to him by letting him know this is just a first step in the two of you being unified and ask him to freely change or add to anything you’ve written.  There is a lot of power in having some basic points written down that you both agree on.

Lastly, the “bad cop” feeling you’re having can be mitigated by doing your best to set boundaries in a compassionate and sympathetic tone.  Parents often feel it necessary to give consequences and enforce boundaries in a tone that tells their child how angry, upset, or disappointed they are.  It’s as though they don’t trust that the consequence or boundary will be enough to change the behavior they don’t like so they need to add an additional emotional motivator.

But the emotionally charged tone when giving a consequence is a form of emotional manipulation that undermines your relationship and the autonomy of your daughter.

I suggest trying to do two things simultaneously: be firm in your setting of boundaries and consequences, and while doing this acknowledge your child’s autonomy, respect her decisions, and keep any judgment of them out of your voice.  Let the boundary do the work of shifting the behaviors –not emotional manipulation.

Here are a couple of examples of how that might sound:

“Yes, I realize your father puts away your toys for you when you’re at his house, and if you can get him to do that for you that’s between the two of you.  But when you’re in my house you need to clean up after yourself before you do anything else.”

“Yes, I realize you hate sitting in timeout.  Timeouts aren’t supposed to be fun. But if you decide to call Mommy “stupid” you’re going to get a timeout.  You’re the only one who can control what you say, not me.  I just control the consequences.”

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists.  During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.


Answering Questions

July 7, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

Last month, in a playful moment, I goofily asked my growing-up-way-too-fast almost twenty-month-old, “Are you a baby, or are you a child?” She replied, “A baby and a child.”

Last week, my baby-child had a cut on the top of her foot. She scratched off the scab and was scratching at the wound in a way that looked painful. “Mama help get it off me,” she said, referring to the raw wound. And I realized that me and my baby-child were together looking at her first wound – the first thing that had actually scabbed. And that she thought this abrasion, this thing marring the smoothness of her skin, was what was causing her pain. How to explain to a baby-child about cuts and wounds? About picking and healing? About causing our own pain sometimes?

I’ve been at this single mothering thing a little while now, and I’ve recently taken some stock.  One clear thing that’s happened over time is that I see myself more and more as a “mom” and less and less as a “single mom”. The more I feel comfortable – confident even sometimes – in the role of parenting, the more “parent” takes precedence.

However, my online single moms group has recently been discussing the “daddy question”, reminding me that I’m not near out of the woods on the single parent’s issues yet. (And let’s not even think about dating!) When and how do you answer questions about daddy? What do you say? I used to obsess about this when I was thinking about conceiving.

Now that I have a little one, I haven’t thought about this issue in … possibly a year. Yet I am so happy and grateful that there are smart, wise, thoughtful parents who have come before me and left some breadcrumbs of ideas of how to address these complicated questions. But I’m also realizing that how to address complex family structures with little ones is a very young field and we have only a few voices advising us. I realize I’m going to have to pay some attention again soon, because soon my baby-child is going to be a child-child, and will well understand that she can’t pick the owie off of herself to make it stop hurting, and will then have even trickier questions for me.


Q&A on Sleeping

June 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.


My 3-month-old is a terrible sleeper and I’m not sure what to do. She wakes up every couple hours and the only thing that seems to get her back to sleep is nursing her before I put her back in her crib. I’m so exhausted from getting up so many times during the night. Is it too early to begin sleep training?

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

To be honest, this is not my area of expertise.  So I will make this brief and allow you to proceed to Julie and Holly’s answer.

Many parents I know who’ve had similar problems have raved about the book “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Harvey Karp, M.D. The methods he‘s developed seem compassionate and effective.

And I’ll leave you with some common wisdom from Babycenter.com:

“Typically, by age 3 months or so, babies have started to develop more of a regular sleep/wake pattern and have dropped most of their night feedings. And somewhere between 3 and 6 months, experts say, most babies are ready for sleep training and are capable of sleeping through the night. They’re not talking about eight hours, though — they generally mean a stretch of five or six hours.

Of course, every baby is different: Some may be ready earlier, others later. And some will sleep seven hours or longer at an early age while others won’t do so until they’re much older.

Before starting sleep training, make sure your baby doesn’t have any medical conditions that affect his sleep. Then be flexible about how you apply your chosen program and carefully observe how your baby reacts. If he’s very resistant or you see a change for the worse in his overall mood and behavior, stop and wait a few weeks before trying again.”

Good Luck.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists.  During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program.  His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.

Answer by Holly Kretschmar & Julie Gamberg (Parents and Educators)

We sympathize. Sleepless nights with a newborn can sabotage our best intentions to be patient parents and leave us desperate for a few consecutive hours of shut-eye.

Yes, three months is too young to begin sleep training. Sleep training advocates recommend starting no earlier than six-months-old, and the risks of sleep training using “cry it out” (a.k.a. “CIO”) methods at any age are under investigation. Several studies cite the damage that this type of sleep training can do to infants, including one conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School: “The early stress resulting from separation causes changes in infant brains that makes future adults more susceptible to stress in their lives.” 

Researchers found that despite Americans’ fears that children will become dependent, physical contact and reassurance makes children more secure and better able to form adult relationships. Sleep training can exacerbate children’s fear of sleeping, and it can condition parents to ignore their baby’s pleas for help.

Our culture tends to expect babies to conform their behavior to meet their parents’ lifestyle, including ‘sleeping through the night’. Much of parenting requires shifting our expectations; waking every few hours to nurse is normal for the first year of life, and many children don’t sleep without interruption until after 2. Babies have small stomachs and they need regular calories – and perhaps more importantly, comfort – to thrive. An infant can be ‘trained’ to put aside her core needs (for food, comfort, a dry diaper, for example), but this can negatively affect her ability to grow into a confident, secure person. Infants are a bundle of needs – none of them separable from wants. It’s difficult to force anyone to sleep, and in general, it’s more effective to teach children to enjoy sleeping by creating positive sleep associations that will help them sleep soundly for their whole lives (or, until they have children!).

To minimize trips down the hall, we recommend sleeping near your baby. You can try sleeping in the same bed, attaching a ‘side-car’ (three walled) crib to your bed (such as the Arm’s Reach Co-sleeper), or bringing your baby’s crib into your room (encouraged by the American Academy of Pediatrics). The majority of the world ‘co-sleeps’; North America, Europe, and Australia are unique in insisting that babies sleep alone. Co-sleeping can also be a boon for working parents who can use the night time to catch up on snuggling. As one parent puts it, “How is it fair that the parents get to sleep together, but not the child?” Although there has been some controversy, studies indicate that if parents follow simple precautions (don’t smoke, drink, or take drugs before co-sleeping, keep infants away from bedding and close any cracks between your bed and the wall), co-sleeping protects against SIDS. [For more on co-sleeping safely, visit the site of Dr. James McKenna, Director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Lab at the University of Notre Dame.] If you’re concerned about your baby rolling off your bed, consider a bumper. Also, some bed-sharing families find it easier to sleep in the children’s room, if it’s large enough, to maintain a private space for parents.

Nursing to sleep is also normal and developmentally appropriate. Don’t worry about establishing a bad habit; children can learn to wean and put themselves to sleep when they’re developmentally ready, just as children learn to walk and talk on their own. If you try nursing lying down, sleeping next to your baby, you’ll find you learn to respond to her stirs before she cries, and before either of you fully wakes. Nursing will help your baby learn that sleep is a natural, comfortable state to enter.

Regardless of whether you make changes to your sleeping arrangements, it’s important to take care of yourself. If you’re home with your baby, we cannot recommend strongly enough that you sleep when your baby sleeps, including during the day. Your baby is probably sleeping at least fourteen hours a day; rest for as many of those hours as you can and you may find the sleep interruptions are more tolerable. If you’re not home, consider sleeping when your baby does in the evening. You may need to make some adjustments, such as buying pre-made (or frozen) meals for dinner so that you can eat quickly and go right to bed.

Finally, if you have a partner, we recommend sharing night waking duties, which could include bottle feeding or simply trading off who wakes with baby in the morning. Alternatively, consider hiring a night nurse or early morning sitter for some temporary relief. Soon, your baby will be sleeping through the night, chattering merrily at you in the morning, and you’ll be grateful for the investment you made in her physical and emotional health. In other words, this too shall pass.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.


Mama Bear Brain

June 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

I’ve worked with children for years, and have what I think of as a deep understanding of the fact that young children have developmental stages where they do things that adults can find quite annoying, or even – in our less wise moments –  “morally wrong” but that are totally appropriate for a stage that they are passing through. Thus I was prepared to deal with my daughter going through a hitting (biting/kicking/pushing/hair-pulling) stage. I have an arsenal of strategies for dealing with a toddler exhibiting aggressive behavior. What I was not prepared for – at all – was how to deal with my own child being hit, and kicked, and pushed. I was not prepared for what it would feel like when someone else’s sweet little angel, bundle of love, little light and pure being, grabbed a handful of my child’s hair and pulled for all they were worth, my daughter screaming in agony.

We often term the kind of rage that emerges when you feel your child is not safe, or is not being treated well, “mama bear” behavior. I feel so incredibly Mama Bear when my daughter is attacked by another child. When my daughter is aggressive, which is turning out to be so far very seldom, I am somehow able to stay in my Logical Brain. I can remember that she is acting out of very different motivations than an adult would be, and I don’t see her actions as sociopathic, or her hitting as an assault. When she is “attacked” however, I see it as I would an incident of adult violence. If I were hanging out with my friends and one of them grabbed the other one and hit her hard, it would terrify and infuriate me. My adrenaline would be pumping, and I would want to take swift and decisive action.  When I see my child hurt, I feel the exact same way. I want to grab the other kid and scream, “No!” I want to see them punished. My Logical Brain knows that punishments are not effective. My Logical Brain advocates against them. But my Mama Bear Brain wants to see the offender put in the corner with no supper, and I want him to have to spend the night there, thinking about how he hurt my poor baby and writing lines over and over about how he will never do it again.

And when I do get out of my Mama Bear Brain long enough to see the offending child as simply acting on complicated developmental impulses which need to be addressed with empathy, compassion, and with an attempt to meet that child’s core needs, I often come up against a whole different problem: Judgment Brain. When the hitting child’s parents do not do as I would do, I feel infuriated that the offender’s parents are not doing more to address offender’s behavior. At a recent hippie-ish music circle I go to, one toddler singled out my daughter for a series of hitting and pushing attacks. The toddler’s parent was fairly inattentive, raising my alarm, fury, and general annoyance bells. Then, the parent and her toddler sat down right next to us. The toddler hit the mom.  The mom slapped her child’s hand. Hard. “We don’t hit!” she said. Really?

I moved across the room and realized that I would have to be the one to monitor this toddler when she came near my daughter, as her mother’s response was a combination of inattention and reactive aggression. I stewed about all of the things I wanted to say. I realized that many of my feelings were a combination of how angry and defenseless I feel in these moments of physical aggression visited up on my child. Judgment Brain wants to correct, lecture, wax pedantic on parenting theory and practice. Mama Bear Brain wants to lash out. Logical Brain is usually out getting a latte and flipping through a gossip magazine. What are your strategies for dealing with moments when your child is pushed or hit?



Getting Choices to Work

June 10, 2011 by  
Filed under Parenting, Q&A

Note from the editor: It is important to us that TNF expose you to both sides of the coin on parenting issues. Your child may not fit the personality described by one writer but s/he may very well be like another. Each week in this Q & A segment we will juxtapose two parenting philosophies –one as proposed by Julie & Holly (more of an unconditional parenting style), and the other by Joe Newman, who provides a more transactional parenting approach.


I’m trying to be a good parent by giving choices to my daughter (age 4), but it’s not working at all and I’m at my wit’s end. What should I do when she refuses to go along with the “giving choices” plan?


Answer by Julie Gamberg & Holly Kretschmar (Parents and Educators)

Giving a choice can be an effective tool if it’s done respectfully and gives control to a child who wants to feel powerful. During transitions, such as when you’re headed out the door, leaving the playground, or getting ready for bed, offering a choice to a child can help to diffuse tension by focusing your child’s attention and giving her control over a situation. The key is to communicate the options calmly and kindly, and to remember that offering a choice is not a strategy by itself, but one tool in a toolbox that includes empathy, problem-solving, and maintaining healthy limits.

Below are some tips on using choices:

*Only offer options that you’re comfortable with, such as, “We need to leave the house. Would you like to walk or go in your push car?” If bare feet aren’t an option, don’t ask, “Would you like to wear your sandals or no shoes?”

*Communicate respectfully and allow her to exercise her skills: “We had a fun time playing, but now it’s time to clean up. Which should we do first – pick up the yellow blocks or the green blocks?”

*Describe the choice in terms your child can understand. Use simple language and concepts. Don’t say “Would you like to go up to bed now, or in 5 minutes?” if your child isn’t familiar with a sense of time. You could try: “We need to go to bed soon. Before we go upstairs, would you like to read a story or play ‘put your elephant to sleep’?”

*If necessary, present the less-preferred reality and then offer a choice that makes the request more desirable. For example, “I know you want to stay up and play – you’re having so much fun and it’s hard to stop. But it’s time for bed, so we’re going upstairs now. Would you like to have a piggy back ride or be carried like a sack of potatoes?”

*Avoid framing choices such that your child is punishing herself, such as, “You can choose to finish your dinner now or go to bed right now.”

*Before key transitions, give your daughter plenty of warning. Before leaving the playground, for example, give her warnings at five, three, and one minutes before leaving (if appropriate).  Then, let her know it’s time to go but give her a choice that engages her imagination: “While we’re walking to the car, should we walk like penguins or hippos?”

*Transparency can be a powerful parenting tool; engage your daughter in designing the choice. “It’s so hard to leave. What can we do to make walking to the car more fun?”

*Engage her with empathy: “You love playing with that ukulele! It’s really hard to stop playing. But we have to get ready now. Do you want to put your shoes on by yourself, or would you like me to help you?”

*Be patient. If your child initially balks at the choice, repeat her options calmly.

Giving choices isn’t a panacea, and may not work if your daughter is, say, exhausted and over-stimulated and her core needs aren’t met. Don’t force your child to choose something she doesn’t want to do. You can always say, “Wow, we’re in a tough situation. I’m going to help you put on your shoes and I know that’s not your choice and you’re upset. You want to stay and play. We’ll make sure to find some time to play when we get home. Now we’re going to do shoes.” And then gently and lovingly put on the shoes.

Let us know how it goes.

Holly Kretschmar and Julie Gamberg are two parents, writers, and educators who live in Los Angeles and are writing a book about parenting tools.

Answer by Joe Newman (Behavior Consultant)

It may be you’ve created a monster by giving your daughter too many open-ended choices (or too many choices at all), and even the impression that she’s entitled to choices. It is also possible that your daughter is challenging the choices you offer in order to see what she can get when she fully asserts her power.

The simplest way to stop this behavior is to make her grateful that she is given any choice at all. The next time you offer her a choice and she refuses to take one, tell her, “In 10 seconds if you haven’t made a choice I’ll make the choice for you…10, 9, 8, 7…” Then make sure you follow through and don’t relent about her having any other option than the one you’ve chosen. She will likely throw a fit and you’ll need to make sure that nothing fun or interesting happens until she has complied with the choice you needed to make for her.

When you’re talking to her about the single option she is now left with, point out that this is a result of her decision, not yours. “I gave you an opportunity to choose and you decided not to choose, so you made the decision to let me choose. Next time you can make a different decision and choose the one you prefer.” If you do this a few times she will quickly realize that choices can quickly disappear if she refuses to cooperate.

If you haven’t already done so, it’s important that you start to have regular times throughout the day when there are no choices at all and times when choices are very limited. There should be consequences for refusing to go along with the rules you set or the choices you offer.

In many cases the choices you offer aren’t really choices so much as ways to clearly communicate to your child what each of you has control and autonomy over. For instance, your child wants to play in the yard with her friend after they’ve come home from another’s birthday party. You’re happy to let her do this, but she’s still wearing her favorite outfit and you need her to change first.

You say to her, “You can play in the yard, but only after you’ve changed out of your dress.”

Your daughter loves wearing the dress and insists she be able to wear it to play in the yard, “No, I want to wear my dress! I’m not taking it off! I’m wearing it!”

You point out what you control and what she controls, “You don’t have to take off the dress if you don’t want to.” (What she controls) “But if you want to go outside, you need to change out of the dress.” (You control the rules) “So you can choose to change and go outside or wear the dress and play inside.” (She controls her choices).

Choices and limits aren’t important simply because other options can’t be accommodated; rather, children need to experience the frustration of not getting what they want and yielding to the needs of others because these experiences are essential to psychological development.

There is a natural tendency to feel like the more we can give our children, and the easier and more comfortable we can make things for them, the better. Parents who have the luxury of giving their children most of what they want and asking for little in return believe doing this is doing the best thing for their child. But children who are raised this way end up becoming children with very little experience using the psychological muscles of deferred gratification, emotional regulation, and self-discipline. There is a myth that children develop these essential character skills through being talked to and reasoned with – they don’t! They learn them through being required to use them, by exercising and building them.

Joe Newman is a behavior consultant who trains parents, teachers, administrators and specialists. During the last twenty years he’s taught 2nd through 12th grade classes, designed curriculum, and founded a national mentoring program. His book Raising Lions is available at Amazon.com.


Courage and Grace

June 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Family, Julie Gamberg, Single Parents

By: Julie Gamberg

having courage in middle school

Children in junior high often respond to authenticity with cruelty. I imagine this is especially so at large, public junior high schools like the one I attended, and perhaps it was made even more extreme because I and many other kids were bussed from all over the city – meeting for the first time in a wealthy neighborhood that many of us did not live in.  At my junior high, students were either cruel, tried to stay under the radar, or else inadvertently wore a Fuck With Me, Please! sticker.  Since anyone who behaved with genuine kindness or authenticity, or showed any humanity, or who was different in any way, screamed Fuck With Me, Please, even the kindest amongst us tried to keep a lid on it, resorting to eye rolling and sarcasm, to avoid being a victim even as we also tried to avoid perpetrating genuine cruelty.

Yet I had one single and memorable experience of authenticity and genuine kindness in junior high school and I am sorry to say it did not come from me. I was walking through the quad with one of my closest friends when we bumped into a friend of hers I had never met. She introduced me and told us she’d been wanting us to meet because we looked so much alike. My alarm bells went off. At our school, this was an invitation to make some sort of snide comment – the possibilities ranged from the slightly sarcastic to the truly mean. There were two people we were supposed to insult: our mutual friend for her “retarded” concept of what “alike” is, and each other in girl-one-up-manship, implying that we each thought we, ourselves, were prettier (this was a few years before we would flip the script, arguing vociferously that the other was prettier). Yet, at heart, we were nice girls, so I prepared to do the absolute kindest thing that could possibly be done in junior high: Say nothing. I stood mute, basking in the glow of my own generous warmth and non-snarkiness that was my silence. And then the look-alike did the most amazing thing. This thirteen-year-old girl, in the middle of a lion’s den, in the middle a viper’s nest, said, “Oh, what a compliment!” I was flabbergasted. In awe. Ashamed. I would never, ever, have been able to make myself that vulnerable in junior high. The things I could have said! The things that normally would have been said. The least of which: “To you, maybe!” Or, “Oh, well I guess you should just follow me around then, Lezzie!”  And so on.

I recently wrote to a mom friend who I had been incredibly close to at the beginning of motherhood – it seemed clear that we were BMFF (Best Motherhood Friends Forever), talking daily about our little ones, sharing insight, trading readings and theories, consulting each other over every decision, anxiety, concern, joy. Then, at one point, she fell nearly completely out of touch in a way that reminded me of other new, red-hot friendships I have had. I have known other friend-collectors who lay it on hot and heavy in the beginning, and then relegate the friendship to a twice-a-year gossipy lunch. They must have dozens of these semi-intimate, sparsely connected relationships. Although I knew that was a possibility, we had clicked so intensely, at such a key moment in both of our lives, that I hoped that she had just gotten busy and had forgotten to water the garden of our friendship. So I wrote her a letter telling her that.  That I adored her, and missed her, and missed our connection and that, as busy as she may be (and me too!), I’m wondering if we can find ways to be more connected – to talk, or see each other, or have a playdate. I also wrote, in this extremely vulnerable way, about how challenging it is for me when relationships are very intense then cool off completely and that it is not always easy for me to dive back into that intensity, that I’m more of a keep it steady type person. I even wrote about connections to childhood issues (lest you’re thinking TMI! TMI! I would like to remind you, dear reader, that these were the types of conversations we had just been having almost daily, not to mention intimate discussions about our vaginas, breasts, and so on), and told her that I totally get if that isn’t her but if not, I wonder if there’s some middle ground that might suit us both well? It was a very kind letter. No sarcasm. No defensive offense. No cruelty. And what I got back was a quick, curt reply (weeks later!)  saying, basically, she’s sorry if I don’t like it.

So here’s the thing: I thought I was in Authentic-ville, and really we were in Walls-Up-Fuck-You-Junior-High. I don’t know how we split our friendship into those parallel universes, or when or why it happened. But I was mortified to have been so: These are my issues, blah blah, I care about you so much, blah blah, and to get back what felt like everyone in the room laughing at me.

Every time we show someone who we really are, talk about how we really feel, show our soft spots and remain open, we risk this particular type of humiliation. I wonder about the girl with the grace and the poise in junior high. I know there is no way to keep my daughter from being on the wrong side of barbed comments, of disregard, and disrespect, of cruelty, and just plain inauthenticity. But I do wonder how that sort of grace comes to be? How do you learn to value your own real self, in the face of that self being made fun of, being socially unacceptable? We spend so much time teaching the values to children of not teasing, of accepting themselves and others for who they are, but I’ll tell you from lots of experience, not like you don’t already know, the adult world does not work like that. It is often better than junior high, much better, but it can also often be shockingly as bad if not worse.  I think about that girl surprisingly often. She made a huge impression on me with her courage and kindness. She did something I was unable to do in that moment, and it has set a bar for me ever since. I hope that I pass that on to my own child and that, when the moment comes to decide whether to flee from herself or stay fast, that instead of standing there in polite silence, that she will do me one better.


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