Guiltless Guide to Parenting

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Birth plans, infant feeding methods, pacifier use, and TV watching are subjects on which parents find themselves conceding despite their best intentions once the demands of parenthood become a reality.

Before you had children, did you have a mental list of all the things you would and would not do when your first baby was born? For some parents, once the baby arrives and the reality sets in, learning to let that list of ideals go can be very difficult, and parents may even feel they are failing both their child, and themselves, as parents.

Parenting is not an exact science, there are no set rules and regulations when it comes to simply being the best parent you can be. The following pointers concerning some typical parenting concerns, even before birth, come from parents who have come to realize that every situation is different and that you can never really say beforehand how you will parent your child. Just do the best you can and enjoy the experience of being a parent.

Birth Choices

Did you plan to have natural childbirth and instead had to have an emergency c-section? Did you want to have an elective c-section and be refused? Did your birth plan state you absolutely would not use painkilling medications and you found yourself with an epidural in the delivery room?

“Perinatal psychologists have researched the long-term effects of the birth process on women and their families and conclude that giving birth is a momentous event which can impact all involved psychologically and spiritually for an entire lifetime,” says Shelly Girard, BS, LM, CPM a licensed midwife and certified professional midwife.

Marilyn Sander, mother to Bianca, 12, and Cullen, 6, prepared for natural childbirth but her baby had other ideas. At three weeks past her due date Marilyn went for a check up and it was decided that she would be induced as her baby was showing signs of distress. After four hours of labor she was only four centimeters dilated and her baby’s heartbeat was erratic—the baby’s neck was also caught behind her pelvis. She was told she would need an emergency c-section and given a consent form to sign. Bianca was born forty five minutes later. With Cullen she decided to have an epidural c-section but again her plans went awry—the anesthetist could not find the right vertebra and after five attempts it was deemed necessary that she undergo her second emergency c-section.

“Mothers who attempt natural childbirth and fail to achieve their desired goal due to life threatening emergency or medical complications often feel extremely angry, frustrated or depressed,” says Girard. “Pushing a baby out of her body with her own efforts can be one of the most exhilarating and joyful accomplishments of a woman’s life. And yet, indisputably the most important outcome is a healthy infant and mother, and not where or how birth takes place.”

Breast or Bottle

Even with the proven benefits of breastmilk, many women choose not to breastfeed their babies. There are numerous reasons for this: seeing their breasts as part of their sexuality and breastfeeding may therefore feel “wrong,” not producing sufficient milk, having an illness that means breastfeeding is not an option, dealing with painful conditions such as mastitis, seeking to involve other family members in the feeding process, returning to work shortly after baby’s birth—the list goes on.

Sally Bell always thought she would breastfeed her child but gave up after three months because it was very painful, and she was not producing enough milk and had to supplement it with formula—so decided to bottle feed exclusively instead.

Jacki Shaw, mother to Daniel and Eva, always said she would never breastfeed but felt pressured by her partner into trying with Daniel. She started breastfeeding but was not producing sufficient milk and after six weeks switched to bottlefeeding and formula. With the birth of Eva she went straight to bottlefeeding and was much happier and less stressed out about trying to make sure her baby was getting enough to eat.

Do what you feel is best for you and your child—no matter what you planned on doing, the main thing is to make sure your child is getting a sufficient amount of food and is gaining weight at the required rate. If you are absolutely miserable with one type of feeding, it is probably not right for your family—and there is a lot to be said for having a happy mommy in the house!

Routine or Bust

Some parents-to-be are sure before their child is born that he or she will be on a schedule and life will continue as normally as possible—but of course little ones have their own personalities and timetables, and it’s not always possible to predict what baby will do!

Some mothers swear by routine and others say that their child is fine making his own routine each day—eats when he is hungry and sleeps when he is tired. This is an entirely personal choice on behalf of the parent: do what suits you and your child, not what everyone else tells you to do.

Michelle Fetroll, mother to Mikhaila and Bronwen says before she had children she was adamant that her children would just naturally “slot” into her busy lifestyle, but that all changed once her first child was born. “I discovered I was one of those mothers who wanted routine to make life easier for myself –both my kids were on a strict routine when they were very young. Once they got a little older they got into their own more relaxed pattern which I then followed.”

On the other hand, Mick and Sally Bell say, “We feed the baby when it is obvious that he is hungry and we put him to bed when he is tired. Many other parents disagree with us but it’s worked so far.”

Pacifiers

Robin Goldstein, PhD, author of The Parenting Bible says, “There is nothing wrong with a pacifier, and a child who uses one is not harmed. Aside from dealing with outside criticism, many parents have their own doubts – when and how will the child ever give up such a comforting and satisfying object? Children do give it up, gradually, and in spite of the strong attachment you may notice that your child will limit her use of the pacifier to time when she’s tired or feeling stress.”

This is the case with nine-month-old Claudia. Her mother, Gillian von Buddenbrock, says “I always said my children would NEVER have dummies (pacifiers). That ideal lasted approximately three weeks with Claudia . . . she doesn’t have it constantly, just when she goes off to sleep or is really feeling miserable.”

Jacki Shaw’s two-year-old daughter Evá still has a pacifier at night but is being weaned off it unless she is in her bed. Jacki is fearful of the damage prolonged use of the pacifier could do to Evá’s teeth. The AAP says that it is normal for children to suck their thumbs, their fingers or pacifiers. Most children give up this habit on their own by the time they are four and do no harm to their teeth. If your child still has a sucking habit after age four, tell your dentist. Your dentist can watch for problems as the teeth grow. In most children, there is no reason to worry about a sucking habit until the child is five or six years old, when the permanent teeth start to come in.

Junk Food Snacking

Debra Dix, mother of four, says “I always said I would only feed my kids healthy foods, but I didn’t know then that kids are always hungry, so when I was really busy and they wanted something to eat again, I would give them a bar of chocolate or packet of crisps just to shut them up and to stop them from pestering me for five minutes.”

This is a common complaint amongst parents. Marina Zelenovic, B. Ss (Hon), RNCP, CNP, a qualified nutritionist based in Toronto says that these days children’s diets are more about fun and convenience than traditional nutritional value. Just look at the colors that are added to treats/foods that are intended for their consumption, such as cookies, cereals, breakfast bars, ketchup, canned pasta, etc.

With the shift to this way of eating we are seeing a rise in hyperactivity, reduced memory, concentration and school performance. After the “sugar highs” children also experience typical blood sugar crashes which result in severe fatigue and lethargy.

Zelenovic recommends reducing kids’ sugar intake in soft drinks, sweetened juices, cookies, cakes, and muffins etc., by replacing store-bought sweets with homemade ones (not to be given daily), unsweetened juice in place of sweetened juice and soda pop, whole grain cereals instead of those highly sweetened. Convenience/junk food should play a minor role in diet, and if anything, should only be eaten “on occasion” rather than regularly.

TV, Video Games and Computer Games

Nearly every parent swears that they will not put their child down in front of the TV for five minutes rest, but when push comes to shove, it is sometimes the only way to get some peace or get a shower before lunchtime.

Some child psychologists say that there is nothing wrong with letting children watch a certain amount of TV, but warn that it should not be allowed to take over the parenting role. Dr Goldstein advises that parents should also put strong limits on the kinds of shows, video games and computer sites their child is exposed to. Parental controls, ratings, reviews and mechanical devices can help parents to protect their child from questionable material.

“Children of all ages are constantly learning new things,” says the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “The first two years of life are especially important in the growth and development of your child’s brain. During this time, children need good, positive interaction with other children and adults. Too much television can negatively affect early brain development. This is especially true at younger ages, when learning to talk and play with others is so important.”

Until more research is done about the effects of TV on very young children, the AAP does not recommend television watching for children age two or younger. For older children, the AAP recommends no more than one to two hours per day of educational, nonviolent programs.

When All Is Said and Done

Parenting is all about compromise—compromising your set ideals and taking each day as it comes. Gillian von Buddenbrock sums it all up nicely, “You can never say what you’ll be like when you have a child. When situations start presenting themselves to you, you start to understand other parents and why they do certain things.”

“If you swear blind that you will do something one way, you will then feel obliged to do it that way even though what you’re doing may not be working with the child. Children are all different and what works for one might not necessarily work for another. Raise children with the right morals and values and everything else in moderation without being too neurotic! The main thing I’ve learned with kids is that each day is different and make your judgment call when the need arises.”

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