A number of years ago, my colleague (Dr. Karen Zager) and I were discussing some of the parenting dilemmas we had faced with our chidden.  It was strange that until we were in graduate school, issues about parenting were almost never discussed.  We had geometry and biology, civics class and English lit, but parenting, one of the most important life experiences was omitted.

What follows are some tips and thoughts about parenting, because children don’t come with instruction manuals. 

Jump to When Becoming a Parent is a Choice

Jump to Managing Pregnancy

Jump to Parenting the Newborn

Jump to Parenting Tips for Dads

When Becoming a Parent is a Choice

For some people, parenting isn’t a choice. But for many, there will be a time in their life when they will  make a  decision about becoming a parent. Currently (NYT August 3, 2014), about 47% of women aged 15-44 do not have children.   Parenting is not for everyone but for those who chose to parent, they will  most often adapt, respond and enjoy parenting. Here are some tips for coming to terms with your parenting decision-- be it yea or nay.

When Becoming a Parent is a Choice Tip 1. Not everyone wants or should be a parent. But, since most people do opt for children, those who opt out of parenting or cannot be a parent,  are not  mainstream. This does not mean that something is wrong; it simply means that you are in a minority--although this minority is growing larger and larger.   However, as part of a minority,  many majority people--frequently of the older generation-- feel free to question and comment on your choice in a manner that may feel critical and judgmental. It is important to remember that sometimes this comes from love of children but sometimes it may come from envy of the freedom and choice that childless individuals or  couples may have. Have a response ready that closes the door to this personal choice, such as “We’re a great couple and we’re keeping it this way” or “I’ve decided that this choice is just not what I want in life”  and then change the topic and move the conversation elsewhere.

When Becoming a Parent is a Choice Tip 2. Parenting is a stressful experience, but stressful does not mean bad.  Many worthwhile things in life are stressful: moving, marriage, buying a house, changing jobs and, of course, having children.  In order to move through a stressful experience, you need to have a game plan but you also need to be prepared to change that plan when needed.

Planning gives us a sense of control and helps us organize and prepare. But flexibility gives us the ability to redirect and change course if the plan isn’t working. Both planning AND flexibility are important in becoming a parent.

When Becoming a Parent is a Choice Tip 3. Look at your living arrangements and get a sense of how you would accommodate a newborn. Although it’s great if infants can have their own room, most new parents are not in a position to do this and infants do not need this. All obstacles can be managed but it makes the first year easier if you have an idea of how to divide you space. You will need a crib, a place to change the baby, a drawer for clothing, a high chair and a stroller just as a minimum. It’s helpful to think about where you will leave the stroller if your living space has many steps. Most infants do not need a totally quiet environment to nap or sleep. But most adults would like a little bit of privacy so a screen or curtain can be used to separate sleeping spaces.

When Becoming a Parent is a Choice Tip 4. Let’s think about your work life from a financial perspective. Will one of you stop working to care for the infant? Is your job amenable to part time work or telecommuting? Is day care generally available and reasonably priced? Do the general day care hours conform to your schedule or does your work schedule have enough flexibility that it is not an issue? Will one or both of you want to take time off? For how long? Does your business provide paid or unpaid parental leave? Review your bills and see how much income is necessary if one or both of you temporarily alters their work schedule.

When Becoming a Parent is a Choice Tip 5. Let’s consider your work life from a fulfillment point of view. Some people don’t want to miss a moment of their new child’s life and for them work outside the home is simply a burden.  Other people love their infants, but know they are far better off with some variety in their day. They look forward to going to the office and dealing with adults who can talk and are not dependent on them. Do you know which type of person you are? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But maybe you can try different scenarios out to see what might be personally, practically and financially viable.

When Becoming a Parent is a Choice Tip 6. Some people have children and are delighted homebodies. Babysitters are rare and most activities are family centered. People like this tend to hang out with other families and are happy to do so.
Other people have children and, particularly in the early years, want to participate in fine dining, theater, opera and travel.
Both types of people do well with children, but their lifestyles are quite different and the latter, typically requires extra help and more money (or some very willing and available family members).

As you are discussing this issue with your partner, think about what you would miss from your before parenting days, if anything.  What personal or financial resources will you need to maintain your lifestyle?

When Becoming a Parent is a Choice Tip 7. In the early years, the family tends to be very child centered.  Toddlers need to visit toddler proof homes, restaurants need to be child friendly, and visits with friends who do not have children can be difficult. Visiting with a young child, even for a few hours,  often means bring diapers, a stroller, a high chair, baby food and toys.

You may find that visits are easier if you invite people to your home. Your house will be babyproof and have all of the equipment needed. Keep it easy and keep it simple. Take-in food is fine and no one expects a home with a new baby to be neat.  Relax and enjoy and remember that infancy and toddlerhood are brief stages of life.

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Managing Pregnancy

Depending how you look at it, pregnancy is either a short blip on the screen of life or a long haul process.  Generally, when you are going through it, the sense is that of a long time.  Once your baby comes and you think back, it usually seems brief.
Pregnancy is a wonderful event because it is how you begin your family. And what could be more exciting than that.  But pregnancy is also a time when you might not feel right or well, and will need to adapt your lifestyle accordingly.  Here are some tips to help you out:

Managing Pregnancy Tip 8. Looking fine but feeling awful-For many women, the first trimester of pregnancy is odd. They tend to look the same as before the pregnancy, but they may not feel well.  Most typically,  the first few months are riddled by nausea and tiredness.  This is perfectly normal as your body responds to the hormones at work, but it is not much fun.  When possible, nap in the afternoon, go to bed early and sleep in on the weekends. Nausea is often (but not always) worse in the morning, hence the term “morning sickness”.  For some women,  leaving a few crackers to eat on the night stand   when they awaken is helpful.

Managing Pregnancy Tip 9. Restructure your day.  Whatever your normal routine is, consider restructuring it for the first few months. Depending on when you feel best and worst, consider altering your work hours, taking short cuts on food preparation and taking breaks throughout the day.  This may be the time to carpool or ask a neighbor for a bit of help. For most women, business is as usual but they just may not feel particularly well.

Managing Pregnancy Tip 10. Pregnancy high! The second trimester of pregnancy is usually one in which you look and feel quite well.  You will probably be a  bit round from the pregnancy with good color and energy.  This can be a high point, especially if the first few months of the pregnancy were difficult. At this time, the baby seems real and the sense of nesting and planning for the newcomer starts to take a more central place in your life.

Managing Pregnancy Tip 11. The last few months of pregnancy are often filled with excitement. Depending on how you carry the fetus, you can either feel well or burdened.  Most women experience some physical discomforts such as difficulty sleeping from the baby kicking, leg cramping and stiffness from a limited exercise routine.  Some women feel better physically and psychologically but may need to find new activities for this particular stage.  Swimming, since it buoys the body is one activity that is usually comfortable.  Chair exercises might be helpful too. For some, walking can remain enjoyable.  Remember that little indulgences like a manicure, pedicure or foot massage go a long way if you are feeling burdened at this stage.

Managing Pregnancy Tip 12. Wanting both to look good and  feel comfortable can be a challenge.  Consider buying just a few loose dresses or tops with several colorful scarves.  Loose clothing, lightly belted can be useful in the first month post delivery, and scarves can always be used to add variety to your outfit.  Don’t forget to pay attention to your feet.  Often shoe sizes can change at the end of a pregnancy due to swelling and weight gain. And remember to check the second hand stores for bargains.

Managing Pregnancy Tip 13. Stuck in the tub? Can’t get the seatbelt around your waist? Unable to button your winter coat?  Keep a smile on your face and hold on to your sense of humor. You won’t be the first pregnant woman whose belly makes her life hard to manage.

Managing Pregnancy Tip 14. So ready for this to end! The final few weeks of a pregnancy are a challenge and most women are ready for it to end.  Noticeably pregnant and having more difficulty moving around, this is now just a waiting game to meet the newcomer in your life.

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Parenting the Newborn

Parenting the Newborn Tip 15. Babies cry.  And when they do, it is a jarring experience.  The adult nervous system reacts and the immediate response is to try to calm the distressed infant. This is programmed into us. The problem is that there are a limited number of things an adult can do. You can try to soothe a crying  baby by feeding, holding, burping and changing a diaper. Often one of these remedies works.  Sometimes nothing works.  And you simply have a crying baby who will cry itself (eventually) to sleep.  No fun! (But this also not forever).

Parenting the Newborn Tip 16. Most infants have sleep issues. They often sleep when you are awake.  And they often wake up when you  sleep.  In the beginning, there is not much you can do about this cycle since infants need to be fed every few hours.  During the day, resist the temptation to clean up or cook if a child is sleeping. This would be a good time for you to nap.

Parenting the Newborn Tip 17. Work in a bit of self care. Often this means calling on friends or relatives for a few hours of babysitting. But the trade off will be worth it.  After all, if you  fill up your cup, you have more to give.

Parenting the Newborn Tip 18. If you are not sure what to do or how to do it--relax.  In small villages, infant care was passed down from one adult to the next. In modern society when it is just you and the baby, there is no one to teach you how to put the diaper on or  how to give an infant a bath. But truthfully, there’s really not much of a learning curve.  You will get it and the baby will be no worse for your trying.

Parenting the Newborn Tip 19. When you have a new baby, people visit and are happy for you. Forget being a host or hostess. You may look a mess, the house is usually a disaster and there is no supper on the table.  Don’t be shy about asking visitors to bring some food, especially if they are coming during meal time. And remember, they are there to see the new baby. No one expects any real hospitality.

Parenting the Newborn Tip 20. Some well wishers ask “Can I bring you anything?” Your answer should always be “Yes”. Whether it’s coffee from the local cafe, a sandwich, a few groceries it is perfectly acceptable to have a request. And if you are comfortable with them once they arrive, it’s fine to ask them to sit with the baby while you run a laundry or take a shower. Most people, especially if they have had children of their own, are perfectly understanding about this.

Parenting the Newborn Tip 21.  When all else fails, try driving the infant around in the car and repeat to yourself “All will be OK.  Children don’t shatter, they bounce.”

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Dads as Parents

Isn’t it terrific that dads have taken a greater role in parenting? A generation ago, we spoke of the stay at home mom and the only on Sunday (maybe) weekend dad.  What a relief that times have changed for so many people. Now dads find they can use some parenting tips too.

Parenting for Dads Tip 22. According to the New York Times (Nov. 16, 2014), stay at home dads account for 16% of the at home caretakers, a number that has more than doubled over the past decade.  What has recently  emerged is the “out-and-proud involved dad”.  And check out the National At-Home-Dad Network for meetings and tips.

Parenting for Dads Tip 23. Take a hint from the ladies and seek out mommy and me or daddy and me playgroups.  These can be formal as in groups that are held in a specific location or informal as in gathering at someone’s home with the kids. Often groups of women will welcome a dad into the group.  Or, by hanging out in the playground you may notice other dads and their kids and you can suggest forming a group.  Don’t be shy! Parenting is more fun when there is another adult to talk to.

Parenting for Dads Tip 24. Sometimes the beginning of childrearing is especially hard on a dad.  Most often this occurs when the mother has been nursing.  Is it any surprise that given the choice, most infants and children will seek out their mother? Food goes a long way in the animal kingdom and it’s no different with kids.  Hang in there dad! You will find that when it is just you and junior (and mom isn’t around) you will do just fine.

Parenting for Dads Tip 25. Dads can really enjoy the holding and comforting of a newborn, even those that look forward to activities be it painting, swimming or biking. Every parent has his or her favorite stages. Just go with the cuddling in the beginning. The bicycle is just around the corner!

Parenting for Dads Tip 26. Dads need time off too.  Even if you are part of a parenting group, an evening off is important. Schedule time to watch some sports, go to dinner, grab some dinner or play cards with some buddies.

Parenting Tip for Dads 27. Whether you are co-parenting with your partner or are the primary parent, be sure to arrive at school a few minutes early and get to know your child’s teacher. Make sure that she/he has your cell number and understand that you are a responsible and available parent, be it for problem solving or school trips.

Parenting Tip for Dads, Tip 28.  Teach your children to be appreciative.  Every now and,  ask your child what they are thankful for.  Don’t be surprised if they are thankful for the dog, or for an extra piece of candy.  Support them in what they appreciate.  Be sure to let them know what you appreciate and feel grateful for.

Parenting Tip for Dads 29. Be sure to check out local resources whether it is through a neighborhood newsletter, an online local group or simply flyers posted in your store.  Nowadays, children can be brought along to many activities including jogging (with a jogging stroller), swim class at the local “Y”, kid friendly restaurants and music classes. Introduce yourself to the moms and swap kid stories. You’re not there as the babysitter, but as the parent.

Parenting Tip for Dads 30.  If you are a Sunday dad (or a Sunday mom reading this tip), DO NOT FRET! Remember that many generations of children were raised  with mom at home and dad at work. These Sunday dads had children that turned out just fine. And with the hanging role of women, rest assured, your children can turn out just fine.

Making the most out of your Sunday will balance some hang out time at home with a kid friendly “event”.

A nice Sunday might be to preparing a special breakfast, hanging out afterwards and then taking a walk to the park or a stroll through the local zoo.  Quiet time is fine afterwards as both kids and adults need some down time.  Remember that children are flexible and it is the quality of time that creates the connection, not the quantity of time.

Parenting Tip 31. Remember that children learn from their role models. How your speak about and treat your own parents, extended family, neighbors,  friends and strangers are the examples you set for your children to model.

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