Thursday, August 27, 2009

When your toddler prefers one parent

Last week, Gail and I got some time to spend just with Leigh. Grandma (Gail's mom) spent a few hours with Ira while we both took Leigh downtown for a carousel ride and lunch. We had a wonderful time, just the three of us like old times, and noticed two things.
  1. Wow is it ever easier to go out with one kid than with two!
  2. In all of the late-pregnancy-early-infant chaos, Leigh has developed a bit of a preference for Gail.
Like all parents, we've been down this road before. At 6 months Leigh developed a strong preference for me and would cry if I was in the room and not holding her. During early toddlerhood she favored Gail, often in inconvenient ways, like insisting that only Ima could put her shoes on or take her to the potty or push the stroller name it. This latest preference isn't on the scale of either of those previous times. It's not taking the form of outright rejection of me, but rather as a kind of warmth between Gail and Leigh, which in and of itself is absolutely delightful.

During our trip downtown, Leigh wanted to hold Gail's hand a lot. She preferred that Gail to ride the carousel with her, but didn't object when I rode with her on the second ride. But being out without the baby, and seeing the strength of their relationship right now made me realize that I have some work to do. I wrote before about how late pregnancy, particularly with all of the health concerns and my lack of sleep, was hard on my relationship with Leigh. Things have gotten better between us since Ira was born. Truly, even with the newborn sleep hit, I am in a much better place now and have many more resources for her. Since things have been better, I thought we were back to our old form, but now I realize we aren't quite there.

What do you do when a child who prefers one parent to the other? Anything? The usual advice given by many is is that you just need to ride it out, wait for long enough, and the "preference" will fade or tip the other way. But both of these previous times that Leigh developed a strong preference, we didn't find that was the case. We waited. And we waited. And the constant squabbles with Leigh over who was going to do what really started to take a toll. We felt like our only choices were
  1. to let her choose completely who did what, but then one of us felt completely run ragged (especially during her toddler Ima-kick), or
  2. to insist that she could not control everything, sometimes requiring she accept care from the non-preferred parent, leading to a giant tantrum which then led back to letting her control everything.
It wasn't pleasant for anyone, so we decided that the conventional wait-it-out advice was not for our family.

For the 6 month separation anxiety, we were already planning for Gail to spend more time with Leigh that semester, and that naturally helped to smooth things out. The toddler preference was a bigger fish to fry. Our friends Marc and Amy have written about this, about how in their family, they work hard not to let toddler whims govern their parenting. Inspired by them, after waiting-it-out failed, and we felt our whole family spinning into frustration and disarray, we drew some parental limits. We decided to work on the morning routine first, and trade off who would get Leigh dressed. Come hell or high water, when it was my day to dress her, she would either let me put her clothes on, or she would not get dressed, and she couldn't do any fun stuff until she was dressed. We explained to her that in our family, both Mama and Ima take care of her, because we both love her a lot, and because if one of us does everything that person gets tired and crabby. We told her clearly about the new morning routine, and she understood. She already understood something similar because we have always traded off bedtimes.

But my first morning to get her dressed, it was meltdown city. She was screaming and crying for "IMA IMA IMA!!!". We had decided that in this case, I would take a break so I could keep an even keel, so I headed to the porch for my own parental time out. As Leigh continued to wail and gnash her teeth, at first Gail ignored her, but then as the demands escalated, she explained to Leigh, again, that Mama was going to put on her clothes. Another uptick in the screaming, and Gail said that she was not going to dress her, flat out. Finally Leigh got it. Once she knew this was truly not negotiable, she came out to the porch, and handed me her shirt. I got her dressed. We had a recovery snuggle.

And that was it. One awful morning and we had broken out of the vicious cycle that was leaving our whole family miserable. Since then, we have talked a lot with her about how Mama and Ima both take care of her.

Our current situation is nothing like her previous demands. It's not really problematic that she and Gail are close right now, because she is much more flexible than she was at one and a half, and accepts care from me just fine. I certainly don't feel threatened that she and Gail are close right now, and I'm tremendously grateful she had such a strong relationship with Gail to rely on when I was less available to her. But neither Gail nor I want this to become the "new normal." So to this end, for the last week or two, I've been taking care to take time just with Leigh. We've had some pool trips and some park trips, just the two of us. And you know? I think that's all it took. She's been coming to me for snuggles spontaneously and just yesterday said to me that she thought I should spend the day with her (it was Gail's day home, so I told her I'd spend time with her on Thursday, and that seemed fine with her). She's sometimes been asking to pull her chair next to mine at dinner, once even explaining that "Today, I want to sit close to Mama. Ima, I'll sit close to you at breakfast, OK?"

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nursing Update: hitting my stride

It was recently brought to our attention that everyone gets to hear all about my nursing, but Lyn is a nursing parent, too, and some of you might want to know what is going on with her. She promises a thoughtful post soon, but until then, I'll just give you a few more gory details about re-lactating (see here or here for some back story).

About a week ago I got so frustrated on a day home using the supplemental nurser that I was just ready to give the whole thing up. So, I'm not using the supplemental nurser any more, and without that frustration, nursing has settled into more of a rhythm.

Every other night, I am on Ira duty. I don't do any pumping or nursing after 3pm so that I'll have enough milk for the night. After Lyn does a dream-feed at around 10pm, I do the rest of the night. Ira is usually getting up at around midnight or 1am, then again around 3 or 4, and then at around 5-6am, after which we are both laying around in some kind of groggy state slipping in and out of sleep for an hour or two. That's actually one of the nicest parts of the day. I have enough milk for him that I don't have to break out a bottle, although I know he gets less milk during a night with me than he does on a night with Lyn. He seems to adjust fine.

In the morning, sometimes Lyn will feed him and sometimes he's not interested in more food before his nap. If it's a day that I'm home alone with him (like today), I'll then give him his next two feedings out of a bottle. Today I nursed him for the third feeding and then topped him off just a little with a bottle. The supplemental nurser was just creating too much frustration for me to handle, and this new system is working out fine.

On nights like tonight that Lyn is going to be nursing him, I'll do the dream feed at around 10pm. I haven't nursed him since maybe 2pm, so I should have enough milk.

On days that I'm not alone with him, we try to work in one or two feedings for me and I might pump 1-2 times. I've gotten really tired of pumping, so I'm very lazy about it these days. I still take domperidone and fenugreek four times a day but I've cut out other herbs.

My supply probably supports about three real feedings a day and I am lucky to be able to do many of those feedings with an actual baby versus putting milk in bottles. As I write this, I haven't pumped in about 36 hours. I will pump several times tomorrow since it is a work day for me. I worry that my supply is going down right now, but so far I can still do those night feedings and that's worth it. I also have been enjoying giving Ira bottles. That wasn't an experience I got to have with Leigh, and it is very nice, in a different way from nursing. Oddly enough, I think I pay a little closer attention to him when I'm giving him a bottle. He seems to prefer to be held a little ways out from my body when taking the bottle, and that gives me a chance to look at his face while he eats and catch some sweet milky smiles. I had to stop looking at him earlier today, in fact, because I was distracting him from the feeding!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Parenting Roundup

  • Fatherhood Friday post: A different kind of delivery « Jesus has Two Daddies. I'm on a quest to read more dad blogs, and I recently stumbled across this great blog and the post about their new son Elijah and the amazing foster family that had been caring for him.

  • The problem with equal parenting « blue milk. Blue Milk contemplates going back to work while her partner stays at home. It would represent a role-reversal for them, and she discusses the good and the bad behind this reversal.

  • Flying Pumps « oneofhismoms. Oneofhismoms writes about how nursing has changed since she stopped pumping. Things got a lot easier, but there's a bit of the bittersweet in there too.

  • Book Review « Equally Shared Parenting. Review of the book Couples, Gender, and Power, including some discussion of how gender norms impact our relationship in unexpected ways and "the myth of equality" -- how many couples have relationships which are equal in name only. Queer couples I think tend to have more equal relationships than most hetero couples, but gender norms (and parenting norms) can still mess with us in ways that we can't even see.

  • Family Week 2009: Coming Home « Green Dads. Brian speaks eloquently about the importance of family week to his family and all GLBT families. We've been to family week once and hope to go again regularly. (If only P-town weren't so expensive!)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Flying Solo

Lyn and I are both back at work part time this month and as a result I recently began spending significant amounts of daytime alone with Ira and a smaller amount of time alone with both kids. Even though I have been spending lots of time with Ira, the time alone still felt like a shift.

It's different to parent without a safety net. I realized how much I rely on Lyn to have the backup baby cure-all: nursing breasts that are always full. If I'm trying to nurse him but he's fussy, or I give him a bottle and he's fussy, or he's just fussy for an unknown reason, Lyn has previously always been there to take over and fix everything. But last week I had to do everything on my own with no "real mom" to take over if I stumbled. That was less challenging than I feared and more rewarding than I hoped.

For those of you who are curious, on a day alone with Ira I feed him about every two to three hours, usually right after he wakes up from a nap. I try to feed him with the supplemental nurser if we are at home. I can now put the supplementer on pretty fast and it keeps Ira from getting frustrated when I don't have enough milk to satisfy him. If we go out, I will usually give him a bottle or occasionally I will nurse him without using the supplementer. That usually doesn't work out as well as I might hope -- if I want to be able to feed him well without using the supplementer I generally need to have gone at least 4-6 hours without pumping or nursing and that's not usually possible on a day home alone.

Last Friday I went out with Ira to finally pick up his birth certificate from city hall and to run a few other errands. It was interesting to be out alone with him -- I found myself frustrated that I didn't look radical at all. I realized that being out with him alone I looked like any other mother, but I wanted to stand out. I really wanted people to be able to see that I was doing something outside of the norm, parenting with another woman, parenting a baby I had not given birth to. I didn't want everyone to assume that my experience as a mother was ordinary. But I guess, when I think about it, no one has an ordinary experience of motherhood (or fatherhood) -- it feels extraordinary to all of us.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

On having a son

Before Leigh was born, we were so convinced we were having a boy, that I was sure I got it wrong when I told Gail that Leigh was a "she" at the birth. I had to ask for another peek.

I think the main reason we were so "sure" was that we were trying to get ourselves used to the idea that we might be parenting a boy. Neither Gail nor I have any brothers. Gail is an only child. I'm the middle of three girls. For goodness sake we're lesbians. We were understandably intimidated at the prospect of a son.

While we would have been thrilled with a baby boy, it is also true that Leigh being born a girl felt a bit like a reprieve.

We knew that Ira was going to be a boy before he arrived. When we found out, my mind raced to all sorts of things. I immediately thought about real-estate since our two-bedroom condo now can't last us forever (though room sharing will work fine for quite a while). I cringed at the thought of organizing a bris 8 days after birth. I wondered how many of Leigh's clothes I'd really be willing to put on a boy, despite my ostensibly progressive ways.

A few weeks ago, Gail and I got some precious time just with Leigh (thanks Grandma!), and walked to a nearby square. A young man with a guitar, and coloring like Ira's, was there playing sweet songs. We sat for a long time on a nearby bench and listened. Leigh snuggled with both of us, asked lots of questions, danced, and delivered our tip to the jar. I found myself tearing up to think that someday our baby could be a young man like this young man. Maybe he'll play guitar for tips in the square. Or maybe he'll be like the tough-looking teenager on the train, who looked far too cool to care about a little kid, but then proceeded to play a game with Leigh, were he moved his baseball cap from his knee, to his foot, to his head and back to his knee. He had her in fits of giggles.

It's not that we haven't seen plenty of young male musicians on the streets around here before now. And it's not that I don't have plenty of positive interactions with men day-to-day (I work in a male dominated field, and my colleagues are great). It's that now when I see these young men, I realize that someday the world of young men will have something to do with me. Until Ira was born, that was pretty much never going to be the case.

For now at least, instead of feeling intimidating, this feels like Ira is opening a door to a new world for us.