Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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How can I stop my mother-in-law from telling me how to parent?

October 18, 2016

By YOU Program Facilitator

How can I stop my mother-in-law from telling me how to parent? | A new dad sits in bed with his wife while his mother argues with them while holding the baby.

Question: I just had my first baby and my mother-in-law is driving me crazy! She’s telling me how to do everything, even breastfeed! She has an opinion about formula, diapers, swaddling, how to hold the baby—the list goes on and on. I’m about to lose my mind—how can I stop her from telling me how to be a parent?

Answer: We’ve all been there. As soon as the pregnancy or adoption announcement goes out, the unsolicited parenting advice rolls in. It seems unstoppable. You start by politely smiling and nodding, agreeing even when you don’t. But once the baby comes, there is neither time nor patience for being polite. And of course, the advice that hits the biggest nerve is from your mother-in-law.

This is one of the most common questions we receive from friends and YOU Program workshop attendees and the answer isn’t simple. It depends on your and your parenting partner’s relationship with your in-law. It depends on the advice they’re offering. It depends on a lot of factors.

There are two key starting points:

  1. Take a breath and remember that it comes from a good place.
    Your mother-in-law loves her grandchild and wants to pass along advice that helped her raise your partner. But she might not understand that parenting trends come and go, safety expectations change, and most people only want advice when they ask for it.
  2. Assess the advice.
    If it’s a clear safety violation to follow her advice, then stop her right away and explain the current safety rules or laws. For example, if Grandma says it’s okay for a two-year-old to ride in the front seat of the car, you need to stop her immediately and explain why that’s unsafe and where your two-year-old should be sitting instead (in a strapped in car seat in the back seat).

From there, here are some ways to deal with common issues.

Giving Birth
If your parenting partner and you would like privacy during the birth or right afterward, communicate that to close family and friends as soon as you have decided. Be proactive about announcing this decision so everyone knows your expectations. Let them know you’d like some privacy as a family before they come to visit the baby.

First Visits at Home
If parents or parents-in-law want to stay with you after the birth of your child and you’re comfortable with it, be proactive about asking for help.

Think of things you need help with that won’t interfere with what you need to do with your new baby: laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, cooking, etc. By giving them something to do, they can be helpful while you take care of the baby’s immediate needs.

If your in-law seems to take too much of a hands-on role with your baby, you or your parenting partner need to quickly explain that you are now in the parent role and your in-law is now in the grandparent role. Explain the differences, like the new parents needing to establish a routine for the baby with them, and the exception to the routine is with the grandparents. The grandparents need to respect your rules for your baby, not the other way around.

Parenting Advice
If your mother-in-law is persistently offering opinions that you disagree with, you and your parenting partner should discuss them privately to ensure you’re on the same page. Then, figure out who should talk to Grandma.

Some people are more comfortable with the child directly addressing the issue with their parent. For example, if Dad’s mother is critical of the way Mom is feeding the baby, Dad can gently tell his mother that her criticism is hurtful to both him and you and that you are following your doctor’s advice.

If Dad’s mother is with Mom alone a lot, it might be better for Mom to address the opinions directly. Again, be gentle but firm. “I really appreciate your advice and you did a great job with Dad, but this is something I want to figure out for myself. If I’m having trouble, I’ll be sure to ask you for help and advice.”

Remember those starting points and that your mother-in-law means well. At the same time, it’s a good opportunity for you to start setting boundaries for your new family. Hopefully, everyone in the family will soon settle into a routine with your baby and you can get the help you need but not the advice you don’t.

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Do you let your baby cry or do you comfort them?

December 10, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Do you let your baby cry or do you comfort them? | Before you became a parent, you probably talked to your partner and friends and researched what to do when your baby cries. Should you rush to the baby’s side and comfort him or her, or should you let the baby cry it out? | A mother holds her crying baby.

Before you became a parent, you probably talked to your partner and friends and researched what to do when your baby cries. Should you rush to the baby’s side and comfort him or her, or should you let the baby cry it out?

Everyone has an opinion, and many insist theirs is the right one. But what’s best for you? We want to hear which approach—or combination of approaches—you take.

Cry It Out
Some research suggests that letting a baby cry for a short period of time won’t cause any harm and may actually help the baby and the parents sleep longer in the end.

You can try “controlled crying,” during which you wait a certain amount of time before comforting your child. With this method, you first wait two minutes, then the next time three, and gradually extend the amount of time you wait to comfort your child. The intention is that your child will learn to soothe him or herself back to sleep.

Soothe the Baby
Others are strongly against the cry it out or controlled crying approach, stating that a baby’s cry is the only way he or she can communicate. If ignored, the parent isn’t giving the baby what he or she needs.

For example, Ask Dr. Sears, a website with advice from several pediatricians, says,

The cry is a marvelous design. Consider what might happen if the infant didn’t cry. He’s hungry, but doesn’t awaken...He hurts, but doesn’t let anyone know. The result of this lack of communication is known, ultimately, as ‘failure to thrive.’ ‘Thriving’ means not only getting bigger, but growing to your full potential emotionally, physically, and intellectually.

So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do you let your baby cry it out, do you soothe him or her immediately, do you practice controlled crying, or do you just do what you can in the moment?

Tell us in the comments below and share why you do what you do. We can all learn from each other. And remember, if someone does it differently than you, that’s okay. We’re all doing the best we can.

Tags :  parentingparenthoodinfantbabyemotional
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4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler’s Fine Motor Skills

September 22, 2015

By Ana Vela

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter plays at a park.

All photos courtesy of Ana Vela. 

As our infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones such as crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). We may not put as much focus on fine motor skills, which can be equally as critical.

Fine motor skills involve the movement of muscles in smaller actions. According to Baby Center, “it's equally important that kids work on their fine motor skills—small, precise thumb, finger, hand, and wrist movements—because they support a host of other vital physical and mental skills.”

I’m fascinated in watching my 15-month old develop these skills. She gets frustrated when trying something new at first, but with my persistence, encouragement, and modeling, she will eventually pick it up. And I love seeing her glow with pride when she learns.

There are many ways you can help your child develop fine motor skills while integrating them into your everyday activities. Here are some of my personal favorites to do with my daughter:

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter stacks blocks.

Play with toys.
Use stacking blocks to encourage your child to grab the block and carefully coordinate stacking them on top of each other. This will take several tries, but it’s amazing how soon your child will stack them to a nice height! Other great toys are large puzzles with knobs on the pieces, stacking toys, and Legos.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter plays with cymbals.

Enjoy music.
I sing songs to my daughter that use hand motions, such as “The Wheels on the Bus” and “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Through many attempts, she now knows how to follow along on her own. She also has a musical instrument set, which has encouraged her to grab more difficult instruments such as the cymbals. She couldn’t pick them up properly at first, but now she can hold them successfully between her thumb and fingers to bang them.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter eats her food with a spoon.

Encourage independent eating.
Although I hate messes, it’s important to teach your toddler how to eat on their own. Demonstrate how to hold a spoon, scoop up some food, and place it in their mouth. Sounds simple, but a lot of complex finger, wrist, and hand movements are involved.

4 Fun Ways to Develop Your Toddler's Fine Motor Skills | As infants enter the early toddler stage, we tend to focus on major milestones like crawling, walking, and running (gross motor skills). But fine motor skills are equally as critical. Here are 4 fun ways to develop those skills. | The author's daughter picks up a soccer ball.

Encourage physical play.
We live in Chicago and have a limited amount of nice outdoor weather, so when it’s warm and sunny, we spend a lot of time at parks. Help your child learn to climb, slide, and maneuver around the playground and obstacles. I’m also teaching my daughter to play with a soccer ball by picking it up and trying to kick it.

All of these activities are beneficial, but most importantly they are fun and entertaining for your toddler. As discussed in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, use positive reinforcement to encourage your child to keep trying and celebrate their successes.

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Help Your Toddler Adjust to a New Sibling

July 21, 2015

By Jennifer Eckert

Help Your Toddler Adjust to a New Sibling: 3 Common Problems and Solutions | It's tough going from being the only child to having a baby in the house, especially for toddlers. As this mom navigates the behavioral changes, she shares three common problems and solutions to help your toddler adjust. | A sister kisses her baby sister.

Last month I shared strategies my husband and I used to prepare our son for the arrival of our new baby. Bobby has been a big brother to Baby Henry for almost six months now, and I have to admit that the adjustment period is still a work in progress.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children between the ages of two and four have the most difficult time adapting to a new arrival since they are still very attached to their parents and may be sensitive to change. Bobby fits this definition to a T. Following are some of the observations I’ve made about toddler behavior in response to the arrival of a new sibling, along with strategies we’ve been using to cope.

The Problem: Acting Out 
When we first brought Henry home from the hospital, it seemed like Bobby would choose the minute I sat down to nurse to do something he wasn’t supposed to do. Numerous times, I found myself trying to feed a hungry newborn while trying to get my toddler to stop unrolling an entire roll of toilet paper, pulling the cat’s tail, or doing some other “no-no.” 

The Solution: Offer Alternatives 
Bobby was obviously trying to get my attention, and he figured that negative attention was better than no attention at all. I dissuaded him from this behavior by finding a special activity he could do while I was nursing. I knew he was obsessed with the ceiling fan in the master bedroom, so I would sit on the bed to nurse while he snuggled up next to me and blissfully turned the fan on and off with the remote.

The Problem: Regressing to Baby-like Behavior 
I thought we were going to get away without encountering this phase, but a few weeks ago, Bobby started to act less like a toddler and more like a baby. Instead of using words to ask for something, he started pointing and whining, and his interest in potty-training all but disappeared. He also wanted to be picked up and held all the time, and he suddenly “forgot” how to put his shoes on by himself.

The Solution: Point Out “Big Boy/Girl” Benefits 
Bobby obviously saw how much time my husband and I spent doing things for Henry and, in his two-year-old mind, decided that we would do the same for him if he stopped doing them for himself. We’re still working on this solution, but we have been trying to emphasize the positive side of getting older.

This past Independence Day, we let Bobby stay up to watch the fireworks and made a point of telling him that Baby Henry was too little to stay up late. We’ve also been consciously trying to praise him whenever he does something for himself. And, of course, a little babying doesn’t hurt every once in a while. I know the day will soon come when he no longer wants to curl up in my lap, so I’m enjoying it while I can.

The Problem: Competing for Attention 
This behavior reared its ugly head during a recent long car ride. Henry started crying, so my husband turned to try to soothe him. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Bobby started wailing at the top of his lungs—completely outdoing Henry. In other instances, whenever one of us praised Henry for some new accomplishment, Bobby would immediately do the same thing and say, “Bobby, too! Bobby, too!” 

The Solution: Turn Competition into Collaboration 
For two years, Bobby was used to being the center of attention . . . and then he suddenly had to share the limelight. My husband and I have tried to minimize feelings of competition by encouraging Bobby to help us care for Henry and then praising him for his good work. For instance, we’ve gotten Bobby to help us when giving Henry a bath. He loves pouring water over his brother’s body to keep him warm while in the tub. 

We also try to turn certain activities into things the boys can do together. Every month, we take Henry’s picture in the same chair so we can capture his growth during his first year. After we get some shots of Henry alone, we take pictures of both boys in the chair, followed by a few solo shots of Bobby. That way, he feels included in the process. 

None of these solutions are foolproof, but my husband and I hope that we are making the transition from only child to big brother a little easier for Bobby while also fostering a bond between our Bobby and Henry that will continue to grow as they get older.


Learn more about infant and toddler care in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher 3-book set, available on Amazon

Jennifer Eckert is an editor at National Geographic Learning and a freelance writer. She lives in Chicago with one husband, two sons, and three cats.

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Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood

June 2, 2015

By Ana and Mario Vela

Couple Chat: Surviving the First Year of Parenthood | Mario and Ana Vela talk about the best and most difficult parts of the first year of parenthood. | Mario, Ana, and Mariana Vela take a photo outside in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

In the Couple Chat series, we pose a few topical questions to a couple and ask each person to answer privately. Each person then reads the other’s responses and the couple discusses their individual thoughts on the topic. They share their discussion with us in the reflection.

For today’s Couple Chat, we asked Ana and Mario Vela, whose daughter Mariana will turn one year old next week, about surviving the first year of parenthood. Here’s what they said.

What’s the best survival tip you’ve learned in this first year?

Ana: My best survival tip is to trust your instincts. I have been so surprised to discover how well I know my own child, and how my instincts have helped me find solutions to comfort her, make her happy, and keep her safe. I think this is the hardest concept to grasp, but when you are in it you will know exactly what it means.

Mario: The attachment and care your child needs will offer you a drive you might not be aware you had. The new moments and experiences you gain will allow you to offer the care necessary to your child. Also, if your family and friends offer support, accept it. We’ve been very fortunate that our mothers have decided to take turns in living with us.

What was the hardest thing about the first year of parenthood?

Ana: The hardest thing about the first year of parenthood is trying to juggle everything. You lose sleep, your priorities change, it´s difficult to find time to spend with your partner—much less friends—keeping up with work, and finding time just for yourself. I´m most surprised about the strain it has caused on our marriage because we prioritized everything else and took our relationship for granted. It has taken me many months to start getting to a place where I feel I can start “handling my personal load” again, and I have had to make some major life decisions in order to achieve a good sense of balance. And that´s okay. After all, this new child is absolutely worth it!

Mario: Adjusting my priorities. I’ve been driven by my career and educational goals, and I had to adjust that amount of time since I now want to be with my daughter and support my partner. I previously attended several networking events per week, and now I have reduced to a few events a month. I’m also now involved in non-profit boards that require less time in the community, but make a bigger impact. I’ve even had to reduce the time we spend with our friends, which they understand. Now that Mariana is closer to a year old, we’ve been able to spend time with our friends again by having her join us at some Chicago summer festivals.

What was the best thing about the first year?

Ana: The best thing about this first year has been having fun! I never knew how much fun spending time with my daughter would be. Every new thing she learns is fascinating. Making her laugh is the best! And taking her out to the world and seeing her enjoy new experiences is so fulfilling. I am always looking forward to doing ¨the next thing” with her because everything is new to her. I couldn´t have ever imagined this feeling.

Mario: Seeing Mariana mature, socialize, and develop her own personality. I see myself in her.

What did you learn about your partner that you never knew in this first year?

Ana: The most surprising thing I learned about my husband has been seeing his inner child come out. It´s interesting to see how he sees the world through her eyes, and how he wants to make everything fun and memorable for her. I always knew he would be a good father, but didn´t realize how fun and attentive he would be to her development.

Mario: The type of love and care she offers our daughter. Ana wanted to have children, but I was surprised by how naturally it came to her. I was also surprised to see her moments of doubt. I believe she now feels capable and confident, but with new stages forthcoming. She also makes me a better father.

Reflection
Ana: When reading our answers to each other, we got very emotional. The first year has been demanding, and yet so wonderful. It’s the oddest thing. But we survived, and we both agree that we are so proud of where Mariana is in her development. We both contributed different things to shape her in to the person she is right now.

It’s interesting how we don’t want to waste any time in life anymore. Every moment is about her – giving her everything she needs and spending time with her and making it memorable. We’re looking forward to her first birthday party—having our family fly in from Texas, surrounded by our friends, and celebrating that we will have completed our first year as parents!

We can help you through not only your first year of parenthood, but through high school graduation and beyond. Check out our holistic approach to parenting in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, now available on Amazon

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