What’s so important – and stressful – about family dinner?

A recent study about the stress of getting family meals on the table has been getting lots of attention from both the media and moms. A Slate piece, “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner,” posted Wednesday, has already garnered 3.5K comments on the article itself and more than 26K Facebook shares. This has obviously struck a nerve. While feeding a family is a big and often stressful job, some perspective about why we do it and what matters most about family meals might be helpful to families feeling the mealtime crunch.

The study itself, titled “The Joy of Cooking?”, was published in Contexts, a publication of the American Sociological Association geared to be accessible to the general public. The paper itself is a really interesting read and freely available online.

Researchers in the sociology and anthropology departments at North Carolina State University conducted the study. This was a qualitative study, which means that the data came in the form of stories, generated from interviews with real people. From the paper:

“Over the past year and a half, our research team conducted in-depth interviews with 150 black, white, and Latina mothers from all walks of life. We also spent over 250 hours conducting ethnographic observations with 12 working-class and poor families. We observed them in their homes as they prepared and ate meals, and tagged along on trips to the grocery store and to their children’s check-ups. Sitting around the kitchen table and getting a feel for these women’s lives, we came to appreciate the complexities involved in feeding a family.”

These kinds of methods are common in sociology and anthropology research, and they allow researchers to understand the many complex variables that contribute to how people feel and why they feel that way. However, we have to be careful about interpreting these studies beyond the individual stories that they provide. For example, this study wasn’t a random sample of moms, and it can’t give us quantitative information like the percentage of moms who find cooking to be an unbearable chore versus rewarding or enjoyable. It doesn’t allow us to look at correlations between family income and nights of home-cooked meals per week, for example.

Here’s what it can tell us: Among the moms interviewed for the study, a common theme was that getting a home-cooked family meal on the table was stressful. The authors discuss the dichotomy of foodie standards for homegrown, home-cooked, preferably organic, meals, prepared with love and joy, and the realities faced by many families today. The moms interviewed in the study talked about how with both parents working long, irregular hours, there is simply no time to cook, much less sit down at the table at the same time. Others talked about the trade-offs between spending time cooking or spending time with their kids at the end of the day. Many noted that it was hard to please everyone with one meal, so they ended up sticking to tried-and-true, if boring, recipes rather than experimenting with new foods and flavors.

Family meals don't have to look like this. Credit: National Cancer Institute, Public Domain.

Family meals don’t have to look like this. Credit: National Cancer Institute, Public Domain.

Interestingly – though not surprising to me – poor moms in this study actually routinely cooked at home, because they recognized that it was the most cost-effective way to feed their families. That didn’t mean that cooking was joyful, but it was a necessary part of raising a family on a tight budget, even with barriers like not having reliable transportation, access to good food stores, or well-equipped kitchens.

 However, middle class moms cited financial barriers, too:

“To our surprise, many of the middle-class mothers we met also told us that money was a barrier to preparing healthy meals. Even though they often had household incomes of more than $100,000 a year, their membership in the middle-class was costly. While they did not experience food shortages, they were forced to make tradeoffs in order to save money—like buying less healthy processed food, or fewer organic items than they would like.”

Let’s face it: planning and preparing meals is hard work. It takes time, money, and effort, and doing it in the presence of children can make it more difficult. It may or may not be enjoyable, but it is definitely work and should be recognized as such. The Pinterest boards, food blogs, and gorgeous food magazines can be helpful inspiration, but they can also set us up for unreasonable expectations for family meals.

There is good evidence that family meals are important to kids. Eating regular meals as a family supports greater fruit and vegetable intake and displaces soda and fried foods. Not surprisingly, this results in better nutrition, and these same patterns can last at least into young adulthood. Research also shows that adolescents who eat family meals are protected from disordered eating, overweight, and substance abuse. There’s always debate about whether these association are because of the meal itself or the conditions that make family meals feasible, but there is evidence that family meals provide benefits to kids independent of other factors.

But let’s also consider how “family meal” is defined in the research. For example, in this paper, kids were asked, “On how many of the past 7 days was at least one of your parents in the room with you while you ate your evening meal?” There is nothing in that definition about meals made from scratch with all-organic ingredients. There isn’t anything in there about using real plates and forks or even the nutritional quality of the meal. All of those things might be desirable and might add more pleasure to a meal, but the most important thing about family meals is time spent together. If everything else is causing stress, then remember that as the first priority for family meals.

However, we do want to serve nutritious meals to our kids and support them in growing good eating habits, so let’s think about nutrition for a minute. Putting together a balanced meal means including all or most of the food groups. By offering this variety of foods, at least for most meals, you pretty much ensure that meals will be nutritionally adequate without having to fret much about individual nutrients. Your balanced meals may be elaborate and impressive, but they don’t need to be. Protein can be a scoop of peanut butter served next to apples, chickpeas from a can, or 3-minute scrambled eggs. The grain can be whole-wheat sandwich bread with butter. Vegetables can be the frozen variety, prepared in a minute in the microwave, then seasoned with a little butter and salt. (From a nutrition standpoint, these options are just as good as fresh. Also, conventionally grown produce is just as nutritious as organic.) These meals may not meet the standards of Martha Stewart or Michael Pollan, but they can still be nutritionally balanced, and their easy preparation may allow dinner to be more relaxing.

I enjoy cooking – to a certain extent – and I have the privilege of usually having the time and money to prepare the kinds of foods that I want for my family. Still, from my own qualitative research in the laboratory of my kitchen, I’ve observed a few things. First, there is zero correlation between the effort that went into the preparing the food and the quality of the interactions between children and parents at the table. Second, there is a high correlation between the complexity of the meal I’ve prepared and my stress level by the time I sit down at the table. For me, both of these observations are unique to cooking with and for young kids, and I expect they’ll get better as kids get older and can help in the kitchen and better appreciate good meals. In the meantime, though, I try to keep meal preparation simple and focus on enjoying food together.

Are family meals important in your house? Are they a source of stress? How do you pull them off?

 

P.S. – I’m sorry for my long and unintended absence from the blog. I’ve received several expert peer reviews on my book manuscript and have been working on finishing up edits – the book will soon be officially IN PRESS! We’ve also been doing summer things like swim lessons, camping, and refinishing the deck. The leaves are starting to turn, the fall college term is about to start, and we’ll be back in more regular routines in life and on the blog soon. Hope you all have had a great summer!

Getting our 3-Year-Old Back to Good Sleep… In 9 (Not Easy) Steps

Yesterday, I wrote about how we found ourselves struggling with sleep with Cee. We knew it was time to make a change, and we knew this meant asking Cee to fall asleep on her own at night, without one of us sitting in her room with her. This was not exactly a new thing for her; until the last 6 months, she’d been falling asleep on her own since she was a baby. Still, given how things had gone lately, this was a big change for all of us.

I want to share how we approached this transition, but I don’t believe this is a magic formula by any means. I don’t think there are easy answers to parenting challenges like these, and what works well in one family might be a flop in another. I am proud of how we thought this through and put a plan into action, and it has seriously given our entire family (Cee included) more happiness around bedtime. Here’s what we did.

1. Husband and I did this together. All of this would have been much harder without his help. He is great at staying calm in stressful situations, which has a calming effect on Cee, and he is thoughtful and empathetic. We also recognize that our relationships with Cee are different. He’s the more fun parent; he’s more lenient with Cee in many ways but is also very good at setting rock solid boundaries when it is important. I’m still the parent that she turns to when she needs comfort. This often means a sweet hug or snuggle session, but it can also mean being on the receiving end of a bunch of messy emotions. Cee and I also tend to end up in power struggles more often, something I’m working on. Because of these differences, Husband was the parent who initially sat down to talk with Cee about bedtime changes. We also made sure he’d be around at bedtime for the first few days (he often works evenings and nights, so this isn’t always the case), so that we could take turns and he could take over if needed.

The importance of a strong parenting partnership has been shown in the research. A recent study from Doug Teti’s Penn State lab found that one of the greatest predictors of high maternal emotional availability at bedtime (discussed in my last post) was the quality of coparenting, even when dads weren’t directly involved with bedtime.

2. We told Cee about the change. We told Cee that it was time for her to start falling asleep on her own again and that we wouldn’t be sitting in her chair anymore. We didn’t dwell on trying to explain why, because we didn’t want her to feel like this change was a punishment for previous bedtime behavior. We didn’t emphasize that big girls go to sleep on their own, because that might have made her wonder if being a big girl was really such a great thing. We simply told her that she used to fall asleep on her own, and we were going to help her do that again.

3. We asked Cee to help us make a new plan for bedtime. “How do you think we can help you with bedtime now that we won’t be sitting in your chair?” Husband asked. Continue reading

How My 3-Year-Old’s Sleep Fell Apart

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that after I finished my book, I needed a sort of parenting reset with Cee. One of the big areas that we needed to work on was sleep. Bedtime had become a battle, and it was taking Cee a long time to fall asleep. This was leaving us all frustrated at the end of the day, and Cee was waking up grumpy in the mornings. I didn’t have the energy and attention to work on it while I was trying to finish my book, although in hindsight I’m not sure why we waited this long. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve made some big changes to get us back to happy bedtimes.

Let me back up and tell you how we got into trouble with sleep in the first place. Last August, we moved to a new house. By this time, Cee had been in a toddler bed for almost a year, but she had no problem staying in it at bedtime or through the night. We had a sweet bedtime routine that ended with kisses goodnight, turning off the light, and then good sleep for Cee. After we moved, Cee started talking about being afraid of things like the deer and turkeys that wandered through the yard of our new house. We talked about these fears, got her a night light, and spent a little more time with her before saying goodnight, singing a couple of rounds of Twinkle, Twinkle and rubbing her back for a few minutes. All of that was fine.

Then Cee started getting out of her bed after we left her room for the night. She’d pad into the living room or my office to find me. I’d walk her back to bed and tuck her in again, but some nights this happened over and over. I would be shocked to see her in my office door at 9:00 or 9:30 PM, long after her 8:00 bedtime. She was also waking up during the night, coming into our room, and patting my shoulder until I woke up. I would walk her back to her room, often lying down next to her until she went back to sleep. Alternatively, I’d pull her into bed with me, but neither of us slept very well this way. All of this was adding up to fewer hours and less restful sleep for both of us.

When did the sweetness of a good nap become something to resist?

When did the sweetness of a good nap become something to resist?

Things seemed to get worse around the holidays. Cee was getting out of bed more and more after bedtime, and she was having a hard time separating when we tucked her back in. She started asking us to sit with her while she fell asleep, and this actually seemed like a reasonable solution. At least if we sat in her room we could make sure that she stayed in her bed, and maybe she would fall asleep easier and get more rest this way. I reminded myself that she was just 3, and if she was asking for more support in her transition to sleep, why shouldn’t we give that to her? (Never mind that she had been falling asleep on her own since she was a baby.)

There was something else going on at this time, too. I thought that maybe Cee’s struggles with sleep were because I wasn’t there enough for her in the day. I was going through a really tough period, approaching the 1-year anniversary of our first miscarriage and beginning some fertility testing. Continue reading

Two Mom-Driven Media Ventures You Should Follow (and Support!)

I want to take a minute to highlight a couple of newish media ventures that I think readers of this blog would love. Funnily enough, both are a little old-fashioned. One is a literary magazine, printed on real, honest-to-god, paper. It arrives in my mailbox, and I know I need to clear my evening – put away my laptop and phone and snuggle into my bed a few hours before I actually intend to go to sleep. And the other is a podcast. Maybe that doesn’t count as old-fashioned, but as I listen, this form brings all the warmth and comfort of a radio show that makes me want to slow down, close my eyes, and just listen.

Both of these projects are doing something special and filling our need for real parenting voices amidst the chatter from popular websites and advice-filled magazines.  After every installment, they leave me wanting more.

longest shortest time headerThe Longest Shortest Time is a podcast and accompanying blog created by Hillary Frank. Hillary is a writer and a professional radio producer, and her experience shows in the podcast. I love good radio, and this is good radio. I just discovered the Longest Shortest Time last summer, at the recommendation of a friend. I was immediately hooked, and I plowed through the 20 existing episodes, recorded over the last three years, while I packed up our house in preparation for our move.

The Longest Shortest Time is about stories. But stories are different when they’re told from one friend to another, or one mother to another, empathetic mother. That’s something that Hillary recognized. She says:

“Something I did know from having been a radio producer for about 15 years, is – if you have a microphone, and you stick a microphone in someone’s face, they will tell you just about anything, and it’s not awkward. I just started sitting down with moms and calling moms, and dads too, to hear their stories of struggles in early parenthood.”

These are some incredible stories. The most memorable is Hillary’s conversation with her friend Kelly McEvers, an NPR war correspondent, about what it was like to combine early motherhood with her very dangerous line of work. That’s a perspective that I’d never heard before. I am nothing like a war correspondent, in my personality or work, and my experience with motherhood is nothing like Kelly’s. But still, I felt a certain amount of kinship with Kelly when she said this:

LST kelly quote

Continue reading

The Magic and the Mystery of Skin-to-Skin

I meant to do skin-to-skin with Cee after her birth, I swear. It was in my birth plan. But after a long labor, Cee was born blue and limp, and the understandable concern about her health trumped any ideas I’d had about optimizing our postpartum experience. Cee was whisked away to a warmer on the other side of the room and encircled by the NICU team. Thankfully, I heard her cry within a few moments, and she was in my arms soon after. But by then, she was wrapped in a pink and blue flannel blanket, and I was too overwhelmed and taken with her to think of unwrapping her. Instead, I held her, and we gazed into each other’s eyes. She started rooting and was nursing within a couple of minutes. It was a magical first meeting, and it wasn’t until later that I realized that I’d screwed up and forgotten to do skin-to-skin.

IMG_3113

What’s wrong with this picture? (besides the fact that I hadn’t slept or brushed my hair in 48 hours)

I’ve been researching this topic for a chapter in my book about the postpartum period. I’m writing about what we know and don’t know about getting to know our newborns, establishing breastfeeding, rooming in, and yes, skin-to-skin. When I started working on this chapter, I thought the skin-to-skin thing was a slam-dunk, maybe even too obvious to be of much interest to my readers.

Modern-day interest in skin-to-skin, also called kangaroo care, began in 1978 in the NICU at San Juan de Dios hospital in Bogotá, Columbia. For every 10 premature babies born there, only 3 survived. There weren’t enough incubators or nurses. Babies were tucked two to three at a time in incubators, and infections were rampant. Parents weren’t encouraged to be involved in the babies’ care, and having little emotional connection to them, many abandoned their sickly babies at the hospital. Kangaroo care was a desperate attempt to care for these vulnerable babies. Mothers were essentially asked to be their babies’ incubators, holding them skin-to-skin 24 hours per day and breastfeeding on demand.

The results were astounding. The kangaroo care babies in Bogotá grew well, were more likely to be breastfed, and were less likely to get severe infections or be abandoned. The power of kangaroo care for low birth weight babies has since been confirmed in multiple studies. A 2011 Cochrane review concluded that skin-to-skin helps stabilize premature newborns, reduces mortality, infections, hypothermia, and length of stay in the hospital. These benefits are particularly clear in developing countries, but many hold in industrialized nations as well.

With the impressive success of skin-to-skin care for preemies, it seemed natural to assume that full term babies would benefit from it as well. But the research in this area is disappointing. Continue reading

Traveling with Kids: It Isn’t All Bad (plus 7 tips to keep it that way)

I apologize for my long absence from the blog. It’s been a busy couple of months. We finally bought a house, and with the help of many friends, got moved to our new home. Then the projects began – and continue. Summer school term wrapped up, and I’m prepping for fall term to begin in a couple of weeks. My book is coming along slowly what with all of the above. The blog has been completely neglected.

But I need to get back here. It’s like running and yoga for me; once I get out of the habit of lacing up my shoes or rolling out my mat or actually hitting “publish” on a blog post, these things I love seem to get a bit harder to do. So today,  I thought I’d share my latest installment of Things I’ve Learned About Traveling with Children. (Follow the links to previous installments on traveling with babies and toddlers).

Last week, Cee and I traveled together to Kentucky, where I grew up. It was a last-minute trip, tickets booked just days before our flight. Husband was working and couldn’t leave on such short notice. The reason for our trip was bittersweet. A dear friend died unexpectedly, and we went to mourn her loss and celebrate her life. Despite the sadness, it was a special trip with Cee. It was her first visit to Kentucky, so she met (and vice versa) lots of old friends, many of whom now have kids of their own. (I no longer have immediate family in Kentucky, so we don’t visit there often.) Together, we explored the little house where I grew up, touched the grave of my father, and splashed in the creek where I spent the summers. My mom and my brother also came, so it was full reunion of family and friends.apple tree kids

Something else made this trip special: Cee was an absolute joy as a travel companion. Until this trip, travel always felt like a scary limbo – so long as we were in airports or on planes, until we had a bed and a home base, I carried the knowledge that everything might fall apart at any moment. There could be a poop explosion on the plane or projectile vomit upon landing. My bare boobs might fly out of my shirt as my nursing baby squirmed, the two of us wedged in the middle seat between two strange men.There could be two hours of inconsolable crying on a fully booked red eye from Oregon to New York. I say this because all of these things have happened over the last few years of traveling with Cee. We’re experienced travelers, we know the tricks, and we roll with the punches when things get messy. And they usually do, so I don’t much look forward to traveling.

But now… Cee is potty trained, so no poop explosions (although she did wear a pull-up while we were flying, just in case). She can now tell me when she feels nauseous, so we had plenty of time to get out the little complimentary motion sickness bag. And she’s weaned, so no need to lift my shirt. She sleeps when she’s tired, avoiding that dangerous over-tired state. sleepy headCee is two, but when people ask how old she is, I now feel the need to add that she’ll be three in November. Especially after this trip, she doesn’t feel like a toddler anymore. Continue reading

What’s Your Feeding Style? (Fearless Feeding Review and Giveaway)

Do you have a feeding philosophy? What’s your feeding style?

These are not the most common topics in parenting discussions. We’re often too busy talking breast and bottle, baby led weaning or purees, organic or conventional, and how to get our kids to eat more vegetables. But the question of feeding style, I believe, matters more to children than any of these oft-discussed topics.

I am really pleased to have a new book on my shelf that covers the HOW and WHY of feeding children just as well as it covers WHAT to feed: Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School, by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen. Both authors are registered dieticians, mothers, and bloggers. They take a long-term view on feeding – that we shouldn’t just be concerned with what our kids are eating today, but also about teaching kids to eat well for a lifetime.

9781118308592_Castle.inddFeeding style is one of the first topics in Fearless Feeding, so if you’re not sure how to describe your own feeding style, here’s your chance to give it some thought. Castle and Jacobsen discuss 4 feeding styles, analogous to parenting styles that may be familiar to you: Continue reading

Potty Training: 7 Lessons Learned

Cee has been wearing undies for six months, and I think I’ve drafted a potty post for each of those months. Each time, before I had a chance to edit and publish it, something would change, and the post would seem irrelevant. Potty training is truly one of the hardest things I’ve done as a parent, but not in any of the ways that I expected. I thought I’d finally share some of the lessons I’ve learned so far. In other words, this post is mainly about my missteps and mistakes.

I write this knowing that your process, and the challenges that you face along the way, might be very different. Every kid is different, as is every parent. Like any two-year-old, Cee really wants to do things herself, but she is also a really sensitive kid. And as she’s been learning to use the potty, I’ve been learning more and more about her and how she ticks.

1. Begin when your child is ready.

Okay, I actually think that we got this part right. Cee started showing some interest in using the potty around 18 months. When she started daycare last fall, she jumped into the potty rotation with the bigger kids. By January, she was coming home at lunchtime in the same diaper (dry!) as when I dropped her off in the morning. And in February, after admiring her friends’ underwear, Cee told me that she wanted some too.

Cee was around 27 months when we made the switch to undies. Some would say that’s late, and some would say that’s early. I don’t think there’s a magic age, but I can’t imagine starting this process if Cee wasn’t interested in it. It’s been challenging enough as it is.

Of course, I did dig into the scientific literature to see if I could find some guidance on optimal timing and “methods.” But I think this is an area where the science is just not that helpful. Melinda Wenner Moyer recently wrote a review of scientific support for different methods of potty training at Slate, and she concluded that there’s decent support for parent-led and child-led and quick and gradual methods. This is true, but I also think that the potty training research is limited by the bias of the authors. Potty training is a culturally diverse practice, and a study conducted in a given place at a given time is always going to be framed by the norms of that place and time. Lacking good science, and considering that Cee is not interested in doing things just because I want her to, I waited until it was her bright idea to try going diaper-free. I began with the simple strategy of following her lead, praising her successes, and responding to accidents in a neutral way. Easy, right?

2. Ultimatums don’t work.

Here’s where I made my first mistake. Continue reading

Preparing Your Child for a Big Move (Book Giveaway!)

So, we’re moving this summer. At least, we think we are. The deal isn’t done yet, and we’re not even sure of our exact closing date, which is maddening. But probably, by the end of the summer, our little family will move to our first-ever, very-own home, just about a mile away from our current rental.

Talking about a move with Cee has been interesting. She’s been coming to look at houses with us from the beginning, starting in February. We struggled to explain to her why we were spending so much time dragging her through empty houses. We talked about moving to a new house, and she just looked confused. “Why, Mama?” Why, indeed, would we want to leave the only home she likely remembers? (We moved from Arizona to Oregon when she was 7 months.) What could be better than this house, the place of warm memories and celebrated milestones?

Cee thrives on the familiar. Even though we’ll still be living in the same neighborhood and not much else about her life will change, I know this move will be stressful for her. Heck, moving is stressful for everyone. So what can we do to ease the transition? I’ve had this question at the back of my head all summer.

I received the following guest post a couple of weeks back from the folks at Twigtale, a small parent-owned company that makes custom photo books to help kids with transitions. The Twigtale books are really cool, and I encourage you to check them out. Putting together a custom photo book for a big event is the kind of thing I might intend to do for Cee but never get around to, but Twigtale makes it easy with with a template and text written by child development experts. (Cee loves looking at our photo albums, but you know how long those take to put together. I’m still working on our 2012 family photo book!) So, I’m posting this article for those of you who, like us, might be approaching a move and as a sort of shout-out to Twigtale. They’ve also kindly offered to give away any custom photo book (about moving or any other topic they cover) to one Science of Mom reader. See the end of the post for more details!

Moving Guide – Preparing Your Child for a Big Move

By Allison LaTona, MFT

Summer is here, and with the warm weather and sunshine comes a lot of change for families.  The structure of the year gives way to more down time and loose fun.

Kids may be anticipating a new school year, with new teachers and classrooms, or perhaps starting school for the very first time.  Some parents decide to work on potty learning in the summer, as they can take advantage of the warmth outside providing more “naked time” for their children to better listen to their bodies.  And perhaps most stressful of all, you may be moving this summer.

So the burning question is, how to best prepare your young children for the move? Continue reading

My Favorite Parenting Strategy

A few weeks ago, I blogged about Cee’s long, drawn-out process of getting ready in the morning. She was maddeningly slow at changing from pajamas to her clothes for the day, but she also insisted on doing it herself. If I tried to help, the pace of progress slowed even more. If I tried to take over, it became a physical battle, and I was sure that wasn’t worth it. I tried a few strategies to keep our mornings moving, and readers offered more great ideas in comments on my post.

One of my more brilliant ideas, I thought, was a hand-drawn morning schedule for Cee. I drew a step-by-step diagram of what she needed to do each morning – get dressed, go potty, brush teeth – and then I showed that we could have a few minutes to read a book or play together before leaving the house, assuming she could move through her schedule at a reasonable pace. We drew out the schedule and discussed it the night before, and she was really into it. She showed it to Daddy and carried it around for her bedtime routine, then carefully placed it by her bed before she went to sleep. In the morning, she was excited to follow the schedule and get to book time, and she did it! I thought it was quite a success story. But, by the next morning, Cee was bored with the schedule idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure she saw right through it as one more pressure tactic from me. Cee doesn’t respond well to pressure, thinly disguised or not.

So. I settled on my favorite parenting strategy: patience. Honestly, I can’t think of a more important asset to the parent of a toddler.

I did a lot of little things to ease our morning crunch. I got as much ready the night before as I could; I went to bed and got up earlier to get some work done before Cee woke; and I asked Husband to take over on mornings when he could squeeze it in his schedule, just to ease my nerves. And then, I tried to summon more patience and relax. I trusted that this was a phase that wouldn’t last forever.

dressed and ready

Dressed and ready to go

I’m happy to report that I was right. For the last few mornings, I have woken to the sound of little feet running down the hall. Cee has been waking early, dressing herself, and then coming to wake me up with bed head and a big smile. That whole dressing fiasco? It’s gone. She’s getting dressed on her own, while I’m still snoozing.

Why the change? It isn’t anything I did. Me telling her that she needed to get dressed faster had zero impact, I can assure you. It’s more likely that it prolonged the process. Maybe she’s discovered that it’s more pleasant to get dressed without me breathing down her neck. Maybe she herself got bored with the snail-paced process and figured she’d rather get on with more interesting things in her day. But whatever it is, she is very proud of herself, and I am too. We’re both relishing her autonomy.

But now Cee has moved on to other time-consuming projects. Lately, she’s been wanting to buckle her own car seat. She can do this, but it takes long minutes of sitting in the car waiting for her. Sometimes we’re in a hurry, and I tell her that I have to do it this time, and sometimes that causes a meltdown. But if I can, I try to find my patience and let her do it herself. Just like the dressing process, the learning part takes time – much longer than if I did it myself. But I trust that at some point she’ll get really good at buckling her own seatbelt (always followed by my check). And then she’ll feel proud and independent, and ultimately that means that she does more things for herself. So again, patience.

Patience tells a toddler: You don’t have to be more than you are right now. And when I choose the patience strategy, I’m telling myself the same thing: You don’t have to fix this. You don’t have to have an answer. Staying calm is enough.

It’s tempting to try to fix the little challenges of every stage, but so much of childhood we really can’t control. We can try to prevent meltdowns with attention to sleep, food, daily rhythms, and choices, but when it comes right down to it, the meltdowns are bound to happen at some point. We can do everything right (whatever that means) in the transition from diapers to undies, but we’re probably still going to have some accidents and setbacks along the way.  We can cosleep or sleep train or something in between, and we’re still going to have days when we’re dead tired. So much of parenting is riding out the stages, focusing on the parts of each that we love and then coping with the tough parts as best we can. And then waiting, with patience, trusting that we’ll come out the other side with our kids, who will be moving on to new challenges before we know it.

What are your kids working on that is requiring your patience? And maybe more importantly, where do you find more patience when you’re running low?