Interrupting all these reflective posts on family culture for a regular old life update post, as May was a big month for our family. May5I tend to be leery about ushering in new seasons before we are fully into them. That results in premature excitement on warm days in February and cool days in September, only to be demoralized when it snows in March and scorches in October – which is always does in DC. But I have been crushing on summer hard since the first warm day in May. We survived winter, and I am really proud of our resilience in getting out every day in frigid weather followed by endless spring rain. But I am ready to thrive, the type of thriving that summer days bring. I know it gets so hot and humid, but I live for those long days, endless park and splash pad visits, and adventures around this swamp of a city. We started seeing those days this month, and had our inaugural splash pad visit with friends right before Memorial Day. Summer- we are so, so, so ready for you.May

Of course, my love of hotter days was tempered a little by being a thousand months pregnant. I surpassed my final weight with Henry at around 36 weeks with baby 2 and every day in May brought more physical discomfort and less sleep. People who tell pregnant women to “sleep now before the baby comes!” have obviously never been in the final sleepless throes of pregnancy and deserve every punch to the face that said hormonal and exhausted women restrain. But in spite of daily misery, there were lots of little joys in this last month. James and I made sure to sneak in some dates, I indulged in lots of pampering (haircut! pedicure! optimistically purchasing some new clothes that will most likely still not fit almost of the summer!) and a hearty dose of nesting (cleaned out the fridge! vacuumed out the car! washed my curtains! hired someone to deep clean my house for the first time ever!). May2

In the midst of it all, I graduated from my doctoral program. This past year has been so big both professionally, with finishing and defending my dissertation, and personally, with this endless and frequently miserable pregnancy, that I feel neither realm has gotten to have all the attention it deserved. Graduation seemed an afterthought. But then it finally rolled around, and I donned a robe that made me look like a sinister Catholic Cardinal from a Renaissance period drama, as well as a hat that made me look like Thomas Cromwell from Wolf Hall (yes, a strange and contradictory blend of religious regalia, I know), it did feel as monuments as it is. Walking across that stage and hearing Henry yell “YAY MOMMY!” out in the crowd made me so proud that graduate school has been a part of our family’s story the past 7 years. Graduation

And then May ended in the very best of all possible ways. We celebrated Henry’s birthday the Saturday before Memorial Day, in a morning spent eating donuts in the park with our friends before spending the rest of the day in some cleaning and baby prep interspersed with reflections and memories from Henry’s first two years. We went to bed tired and happy, even if physically I felt even more miserable than usual. But the night was short, as I was up with strange pain by 2:30 am and we headed to the hospital not too long after. By a little after 10, 2 weeks and 2 days early and almost sharing a birthday with her brother, she was here. Processed with VSCO with a6 presetMarietta Elizabeth. A first name from my grandmother and a middle name shared by her grandmother and aunt. May she grow into this amazing heritage. Our Etta, coming into this world so calmly and sweetly that I am forgiving the 37 weeks and 5 days of pain, fear, and difficulty that preceded her. Etta, the perfect end to May and perfect beginning to a new stage of life for our family. May4

PS: Sharing these pictures also made me very aware that Henry apparently wears that red striped shirt a lot. That capsule toddler wardrobe people- repeat alllllll the clothes till the fall apart.

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Sleep training: This is what we did.

Part 1 here!

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSometime recently James and I were trying to remember how we got here, how we got to the stage where the whole sleep thing feels like a very easy non-issue and to be honest… It’s really hard to think back and pinpoint how it happened. Maybe it’s because there is no way around some level of exhaustion, or maybe it’s because the new parent mind just blocks things out, but whatever the case- it was really helpful for me to proactively think back to the steps we took in those early months to get here.

Like all new parents, I had A Plan. I had read Baby Wise, and 10 days into Henry’s life, I decided to let him cry it out, as instructed by the book once you have had about 10 days to “adjust.” It was an unmitigated failure. I listened to my baby scream and cried so hard, until my mom reminded me that I did not need permission from any stupid book to snuggle my baby. She was right, and I decided that, while some fundamentals of Baby Wise were good, I needed to cast my research net and sleep approach further.

The key thing that my research (read: frantic sob-googling) revealed, is that baby sleep doesn’t mature linearly. So figuring out IF there is a problem is maddening, because sometimes what you think is THE END OF THE WORLD  is actually a normal developmental stage. But what you CAN do (because people telling you that a baby will grow out of it is like the least helpful thing ever), is figure out what good sleep skills you can be teaching at each age to work towards independent sleep. So, with the goal of independent sleep, a predictable schedule, and Henry putting himself down easily, here is what we did, broken down by age.

0-3 months

From 0-3ish months, babies are in the “4th trimester” and they just kind of sleep a lot, wherever, whenever, etc. People talk about how their 2 month old “sleeps great! Can sleep through anything, doesn’t need dark, ” etc.  Insert eye roll. Yes, they do, but that’s because they haven’t fully realized they are out of the womb yet. During this period, I relied a lot on the resources at Precious Little Sleep to confirm that babies don’t really “learn” much, nor will they have a schedule for more than a couple days before it changes. They need lots of soothing to sleep, so wearing them, rocking, using any combination of sleep props – all these things are awesome and helpful in getting newborns to sleep.

Still, I did follow the Baby Wise suggested cycle of eat-awake-sleep, meaning we did not use nursing to get Henry to sleep, unless it was a middle of the night feeding.  He slept in a Rock-n-play at night and for any naps where he wasn’t being worn or in the stroller, and the nap lengths were all over the place. We cranked that white noise machine as loud as it could go at home and he was swaddled. We tried to follow ideal wake times and put him to sleep before he was overtired- but it was a lot of guess work. At around 6 weeks, we established an actual bedtime (much later than it would later become- around 9ish), and around 2 months, we set an actual wake-up time (around 7:30). He was still waking up a couple times to eat in the night, but at least those two set times gave me some solid grounding.

Furthermore, we also started gently teaching him to put himself to sleep (though with the Rock-n-play, which helped). First, I would rock him till drowsy, set him down, and then stay beside him and pat him until he fell asleep. But slowly, I rocked and patted less. Around 2.5 months, we started allowing him to cry a little longer as he went down more awake. I did not use crying to try to prevent any sort of mid-nap wakings or night wakings, but we did let him fuss to sleep. After a very minimal period of this, he started going down initially with little to no crying. Naps were still unpredictable, nights were still interrupted for a couple nursing sessions, but bedtime became smooth.

So the takeaway, of what we found effective and teachable between 0-3 months to set us up for easy sleep training later: separating nursing from bedtime (this is the biggest thing!), and establishing that Henry was capable of putting himself to sleep, even if he couldn’t yet connect sleep cycles to stay there as long as I would like.

3-6 months

If you want to sleep train, this is the sweet spot. Much earlier than this and it will take a bunch longer/ be derailed by just normal development. But after 6 months you are fighting an uphill battle against object permanence.

Starting at 3 months, we did a couple things. First of all, we decided that Henry would fall asleep in his own room (in the RnP still), and then we would carry it into our room before bed because I still wanted him close. Yes, I know that is ridiculous- but it worked. He never woke up, and also learned to go to sleep in his room. At 4 months, we ditched the swaddle and the RnP in one fell swoop as he started rolling. It took approximately 2 nights, then he was back to putting himself to sleep quickly in the crib. He also started sucking his thumb, which was AWESOME, as one can’t lose a thumb as easily as a Paci.

We also used some crying to start eliminating night feeds, something which received the green-light from our pediatrician as his weight gain was fine. Our bedtime routine was solid and consistent: bath, bottle (formula- I breast fed the rest of the time, but some early weight gain issues prompted addition of one formula bottle a day, and I am all about it. It let me pump at bedtime, and allowed James to participate in feeding. Also meant we knew he went to bed FULL), books, sleep sack, one song in the rocking chair, down awake. Blackout blinds closed, sound machine cranked. He would then be nursed again when he woke up after 3 am, and then not again until 7. If he woke earlier, James was sent in to rock and soothe him initially, and then we allowed him to cry some too. This was not pleasant. It also was very short lived and did not scar him. Starting at 4.5 months, we started slowly tackling that last feeding. I didn’t want to just eliminate it like the others (which had been inconsistent and slowly disappearing on their own, thus were easier to drop). Instead, I started timing it and shaving off 30 seconds every couple nights. It took a month, but then he just stopped waking up once the feed was only a few minutes. At 5.5 months he was started sleeping 11 hours a night without waking. And all the tired mamas said AMEN.

As for naps… these became so much harder than night sleep, as most people with a baby will find. The length of an infant sleepcycle at this age is approximately 45 minutes, and until they learn to connect 2 or 3 into one long nap, they will wake after the first cycle (almost) every. single. time. It is the worst, and you want to lose your mind, and start trying everyyyyythhhinnnnggg to fix it.  Finally, I read this very helpful article. Inspired by it, I decided that the battle would eventually be won by Henry growing into connecting sleep cycles since he had learned to initially go down awake. In the meantime, I would cling to the semblance of a schedule by going in when he woke mid-nap and soothing him back to sleep through patting or rocking. It worked. For 2 months, I had to intervene almost every nap. But then one day- it clicked, right around 5 months. Yes, I realize this will be impossible with a second baby, as a toddler doesn’t give you the freedom to cater to every nap. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

If you are a schedule lover like me, between 3-5 months, Henry had 3 naps a day, 2 that were 1.5ish hours in length (usually with a rock down in the middle) and one that was 45 min. I went on waketimes between naps instead of a fixed schedule. At about 5 months, I moved to a set schedule, so I would keep him up/wake him early to stay on it. Yes, there were hiccups, like around 6 months when naps sucked again and I had to drop the end of the day catnap to get them back on track.

6-15 months

The hard work was done! Once we sleep trained, we rarely had to redo it. Illness, travel, etc. might throw us off for a couple days, but the groundwork was there. Yes, there were (and are!) inexplicable nights where we were all up. There is no short cut to sleepless nights as a parent, because children are humans who sometimes need something other than a sleep schedule. I have had to learn that over and over again. But on the whole, the work we put in those first 6 months gave us a really wonderful sleep system that bends and flexes as we need and delivers us all a lot of rest.

If there were more than a couple nights or days that got wonky, I did check in with sleep resources and some great panting forums I am on to seek out advice. Often a tiny schedule tweak was needed as he grew older and needed less sleep. Around 10ish months I started capping the first nap a little to allow the second to be longer and nights to still go smoothly. Between 13-15 months I had to cap it more and more until Henry finally dropped to 1 nap around 15 months. Bedtime had to move back and forth a little bit as naps shifted.  As he got older, he stopped accidentally falling asleep in the car coming home from places and “ruining” naps, which also allowed our schedule more flexibility.

For the schedule lovers! We embraced a 2-3-4 wake time schedule, with naps starting at 2 hours each (so wake up at 7am, nap from 9-11 and 2-4, bedtime 8) and slowly nap 1 shrunk. When we dropped to 1 nap, our schedule became 7ish wakeup, nap 12:30-3:30, bedtime 7:30. Now that he naps a little less, we do wake up 7-7:30 (he is not allowed out of his crib before 7 even if he randomly wakes early), nap 12:30/1-3, bedtime a little before 8. He often talks, sings, or applauds in his crib awhile before falling asleep for naps or nights.

To close…

Henry loves sleep. He loves his routine, his schedule, his crib. Because he knows those things so well, he also goes to sleep pretty much anywhere as long as I put him in his sleep sack, crank the sound machine, and go through our rhythms. He does not ever skip naps, because he knows that he isn’t getting out of it. Sometimes now he will talk to himself for 30 minutes before falling asleep, and that is totally fine. We recently went through some random night wakings, and I actually was able to explain to him that it wasn’t morning, and he had to lie down and sleep… and he did. I know there will be issues when we drop the sleep sack and he realizes he can climb out of his crib, or when we add baby sister to his room. But the fundamentals of good sleep are there.

Most importantly, embracing this approach to sleep is what allowed our family to thrive. It gave us predictability that I desperately craved and professionally needed. It facilitated my extroverted love of social nights out, as Henry will go to bed anywhere and can be transferred home without a problem. It allowed him to get rest at his babysitter’s house, which allowed me to go to work without worry. It restored a calm to our evenings and gave James and I sleep early on. It allowed me to have big chunks of time to write my dissertation.

But again…having your baby sleep well/long/anywhere/predictable is not a moral good, like teaching your kid to love the Lord or even making them eat vegetables or something. If you love __________ (nursing to sleep, co-sleeping, lengthy bedtime routines- anything deemed “bad sleep hygiene” by judgey websites) then it is up to you to decide if the pros of independent sleep are worth the cons. Sleep training is one element of what helped our family thrive, so we could stop stressing about sleep and get on with the business of cultivating family culture. Sleep is not the end goal, but rather a daily discipline that facilitates bigger goals.

And now… if any of you have great success stories about sleep training second babies who shared a room and a very small living space… by all means, SHARE AWAY.

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Sleep training: This is what works.

SPring2018-30I hesitated a really long time to write about sleep training, as baby sleep somehow proves ridiculously controversial. People transform an impression of how you get your baby to sleep into an entire judgement not only of parenting, but of your very love for your child and decency as a human.  Every camp has their own studies to support their methods and demonize the other side… in spite of the fact that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that how your baby sleeps has very little to do with their ability to attach, love, function, thrive, etc. as an adult. Google it, if you want. Or Google the opinion you already hold and let the echo chamber of the internet confirm your internal bias, because that’s what everyone wants to do anyways.

I have mentioned sleep training a couple times on this blog and Instagram, and every time, the emails and the messages pour in from desperately tired parents who have questions. I decided to devote two posts to this topic, squarely in the middle of a collection of writings on intentional family culture, which may seem like an odd decision. I do not think that baby sleep defines family culture. I do not think there is one right (or universally successful) method of getting children to sleep. But I do think that sleep becomes something in those early years that defines so much of a family’s schedule. It is often a top preoccupation of parents in the first couple years- and rightly so. When we are tired, we can’t function, much less intentionally parent. How we sleep, how we fill those precious nap times when our children sleep- these are things that take on an outsized importance. And so, we are going to talk about sleep this week.

In the next couple of days (or tomorrow, if I manage not to nap this afternoon and actually write it), I will tell you the steps that we went through to achieve independent sleep, long naps on schedule, and peaceful nights. These steps might help you, or they might not. I mean, they might not even help me when I try to implement them again with a second kid. But they worked once.

You cannot control the sleep of another person, cannot make someone sleep. But what every parent can do is think about what ideally works for their family. You might struggle to get there, but having an idea of what you want out of baby sleep can be really helpful in those exhausting early months. I don’t just mean the generic “we need to all get sleep,” nor do I mean the unrealistic “I want my newborn to sleep through the night and I want to be able to sleep in with a toddler.” I mean the concrete sleep needs of the entire family.

For instance, I knew that I am a terrible sleeper who routinely wakes up multiple times a night, struggles to fall asleep, and doesn’t like being touched as I sleep. I also knew that I would be returning to work part time after having Henry and therefore it was vital that other people could put him to sleep easily and consistently in my absence. I knew that I thrive, and our family thrives, on a schedule and predictability. I knew that I needed long  and certain naps to eventually become a reality, because I had a dissertation to write during them.

In looking at what was necessary for the needs and goals of our family, I knew that we needed some method of sleep training that involved Henry sleeping independently, not in our bed, able to put himself to sleep/be put down by others, and a whole lot of structure. I set out researching how to accomplish that as quickly as possible. Which, as you will see in a later post, still wasn’t “quick.” Newborns don’t sleep as well as we like- this is a fact. Our magic sleep goals of Henry putting himself to sleep, sleeping all night  without interruption or nursing, and taking predictably long naps on schedule clicked around 5.5 months.

This is not a post to judge those who take a different sleep route, nor is it a post to argue about safe sleep. There are safe and unsafe ways to do any style of baby sleep. I have friends who co-slept, still co-sleep, nursed to sleep until their children were 2, etc. In spite of what sleep training die-hards will tell you- these parents are not miserable and exhausted. Many of them love the hours that they spend cuddling their children to sleep. They cherish the bond of co-sleeping or toddler nursing, and you know what? I get that. The few times Henry has ended up in bed with us have been impossibly precious. I wasn’t able to sleep a wink, confirming that it wasn’t a good fit for us, but they were moments that helped me understand why parents “put up” with 1 year olds who still don’t sleep through the night or need lengthy rocking before naps. Those parents have found what works… for them.

Sleep training, like any decision in parenting, is about finding the path that fits your family’s unique needs and being willing to shrug at the scoffers and say, “this is what works.” Maybe not for you, maybe not for always, but in this moment, for this family, it works. And isn’t that what family culture is about? Finding what works for you, and then continuing on so you can all thrive. It’s about having the confidence to be your family and not anyone else’s.

So if whatever you are doing in the baby sleep department is working for you- that’s awesome. Don’t bother reading the follow up to this post. But if you are exhausted, anxious, resenting your baby when they wake in the nap or don’t nap, and generally falling apart over sleep- then something is not working, and maybe some nugget of what we gleaned will help you.

And now, some practical disclaimers:

  • I have succeeded in sleep training exactly one child, with honorable mention going to a few others whose parents I have talked with a lot. Thus, I know approximately  nothing. I am also not really sure how we will do it the second time around, as it will be harder with kids sharing a room. But I have talked with so many of you about it that I thought I might as well put my pointers in a post so I can stop sending them in individual emails. I poured myself into sleep research with a fervor that matched my dissertation research, and even if it didn’t always result in making Henry sleep, it at least explained why he wasn’t sleeping, which helped me not lose my mind in those early months.
  • Henry was not naturally a good sleeper, something that people love to contradict when I say sleep training worked for us. There are good sleepers, and I hope to get one the second time around, but I didn’t the first. He was up every 1-2 hours to nurse for weeks, cried if I put him down the first two months, crap napped like a pro, and emphatically was not going to give up nightly nursing sessions on his own. Which is to say, he was a very normal baby.
  • I read, and implemented, some of the highly controversial BabyWise method. Other parts of it I dismissed as totally BS that just isn’t in line with baby sleep science or common sense. I also really relied on the wisdom of this website and it is pure gold.
  • I am not going to link to all the scientific studies showing that it doesn’t kill your child if they cry a little, but I promise- it doesn’t.
  • If anyone wants to buy me this so that my next infant can magically sleep for hours- I will happily send you my shipping address.

And now I’m curious… what is the sleep situation that is working for your family?



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Pick a hill to die.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetMy sister-in-law and I were recently texting about the abundance of encouragement that exists on social media for moms who just don’t have it together. If you are a mom, and follow moms, you know what I’m talking about. The long confessions of fast-food meals, messy houses, unfolded laundry, ignored children, lengthy Daniel Tiger binge watching, etc. In the name of sanity and self-care (both really awesome things!), moms are pushing back against #momguilt by confessing that some days we all just can’t take it anymore and phone it in on a whole list of home and hearth responsibilities,  but these days- they do not define us. The unite us, in the fraternity of human moms trying to make it in the real world.

This can be really positive for those moments, days, and seasons that are just hard, where we survive, but only barely, and thriving just isn’t an option. But as my SIL and I were texting, she pointed out that in no other “profession” can we revel in excuses and failure without feel some sort of healthy shame. Many moms at home are quick to defend it as a full time job, but equally quick to revel in not always loving it. She said that we need “real grace, which is something like a slap of honesty, a hug of forgiveness, and the hope of actually getting a chance to be better tomorrow and eventually grow.” Because the truth is that if those moments, days, and seasons where the hardness of life becomes the excuse for all the ways we are failing our families turns into a perpetual state – something needs to change. We oscillate between the picture perfect social media mom who has it all together, and the one who is reveling in having nothing together. Both are unhealthy.

Instead, I’ve decided that we all need to pick a couple hills on which we die. I blogged last about creating an intentional family culture, and one of the practical ways that happens is deciding proactively what daily battles are and are not worth fighting. I hear it so often among parents, and I say it too, that some things aren’t worth fighting or correcting, that some lofty aspirations are no longer our hill to die on, that certain rules we wanted to adhere to aren’t worth the battle. It is a wise thing to be realistic in expectations and let some things go. But we shouldn’t let them all go, and somehow it seems like the dominant social media mom discourse has forgotten this. When we deviate from what we know to be best for our family and ourselves on a regular and habitual basis, we should feel guilt, and that guilt should propel us to getting back on track.

As I’ve been thinking about our intentional family culture, I’ve also been thinking about the hills that I’m willing to die on. The behaviors, rules, household practices, and principles that I am willing to dig in and fight for, as well as those that I have decided to recognize as good- but also not essential to what I want for my  family. Choosing these hills allows me to sort what I should be striving for, and thus what guilt is good and real when I fail, and what I am just not trying to accomplish, and thus what guilt is silly and pointless and should be rejected.

For our family, a daily hill that I am willing to hurl myself on and die is TV. As a general rule, Henry does not watch TV. There are rare exceptions, like the occasional family “movie” night, where we cuddle up and watch about 20 minutes of a movie, which is why it took us a over a month to finish Moana. We break our TV rule for major sporting events, because James is intent on being a sports family, and Henry actively tries to play the sport in the living room as it shows up on the screen, something which provides no end of entertainment. We break it if we need to cut his hair, or if he is staying with a babysitter and needs a short distraction as we slip out. And there are even rarer exceptions where it was “needed” due to illness, but I am pretty hard on what constitutes that need. When Henry had HFM, we watched some TV, and one day my morning sickness was so bad that I couldn’t stop vomiting and finally turned it on so that he would stop crying behind me on the bathroom floor and trying to “help.”  But TV is something we only allow for a designated and finite purpose, and boredom or bad weather or cranky attitudes or me needing a cyber-babysitter do not fit the bill.

Like all good hills, mine is chosen based on a combination of research, passion, and the particular weaknesses and strengths of our family. I have read the research about how early TV exposure correlates to delayed verbal skills, lower cognitive abilities, foreshadows later screen addiction (which has its own terrifying correlation to adolescent depression, suicide, and whole host of issues), and lowers creativity. But on a more practical note, I have seen how it turns my playful boy into a whiny beast and I cannot stand whining. 20 minutes of screen calm earns me seemingly endless days of whining.

And so, we go out. Day in, day out, in any weather, in every circumstance. We ride public transport and walk for miles, leave as soon as we can after breakfast and only come back for naps. We play hard in this city, and I feel insanely proud of the adventurer I am raising. I see the benefits daily. Some days it feels hard, like when it was sub 10-degrees for weeks in January and I really wanted to just turn on that TV. But by deciding ahead of time some of the things that are just Rules For Our Family, the decision is easy in the moment because it is already made. That’s what intentional family culture, and well-selected hills is all about: knowing who you are and knowing what you do and don’t do.

I am intentionally not linking to all those studies mentioned above, because you know what- there are other studies I ignore, ones that relate to different hills, different priorities. And that’s probably, hopefully, what you do to. We all find the data to support what we often instinctively feel to be best for our family. I know lots of amazing moms who show more TV than I do. Their children are different, the dynamics of their home and their needs are different, and they have different priorities that they have chosen to fight for. They are really great mothers, they just happen to be different mothers, with different hills. And I also know that this summer, as I struggle to juggle an infant (not my parenting strength) and a toddler, I will probably resort to some TV. But I hope that I feel that sharp prick of guilt, that reminder that this is ok for a season, but then we need to learn to thrive again the way that is best.

Here is the thing: picking your hills to die is about deciding who you are as a family. You cannot be everything. You should be some things, should have some hills that structure what your family values. I have spent these first years of motherhood deciding who I am and who I am not, and that allows me to prioritize.

I am the mom who does not use TV to entertain or babysit my child. I am the mom who will get us outside and moving every single day, no matter the weather or circumstances. I am the mom who insists that my child not take a bite until he has prayed, put his napkin in his lap, and allowed the cook to take a bite first. I am the mom who requires that he bus his own dishes and empty scraps in the trash. I am the mom who makes sure that meals are balanced approximately 65 percent of the time. I am the mom who lets veggie pouches and cheese sticks on the go count as lunch rest of the time so we can get out and about. I am the mom who really doesn’t care too much about snacking anymore. I am the mom who will not budge unless there is a please before commands and a thank you after. I am the mom who doles out childrens’ Mortin without hesitation. I am the mom who is a little neurotic about the schedule. I am the mom who makes sure her house is picked up and vacuumed each day. I am also the mom who lets my child make ridiculous messes, of himself and our house. I am the mom who cleans those messes and endless stains with mainstream, chemical-laden, cleaning supplies. I am the mom who mandates minimalism as a necessity more than a preference. I am the mom who lets my kid have plastic crap because he really loves it. I am the mom who loves her career and knows she is a better mom, wife, and person when she has a professional outlet.

I am not the mom who wakes up before her kids. I am not the mom who is good at getting in workouts. I am not the organic mom or the grain-free mom or the make-your-own bread mom. I am not the bone broth mom or the essential oil mom or the sustainable living mom. I am not the mom who requires all snacks to be eaten at the table. I am not even the mom who requires my toddler to stay at the table that long during meals. I am not the mom who loved nursing. I am not the DIY mom. I am not the mom who has an inside voice, and so I am not the mom who requires one. I am not the chill mom, who manages to be flexible with all things. I am not the mom who thrived with an infant. I am not the mom who will be cool with cancelling nap time to make fun happen. I am not the mom who manages to have her kid looking cute all the time. I am definitely not the mom who gets haircuts on a regular basis or remembers to change the sheets every week.

I know a lot of these moms and I am so glad they are in my life. I see them picking fights that I pass up, setting standards to which I fall short, and I have decided to be ok with that. Sometimes, their own zeal gives me pause and I do decide to reevaluate some standards I let slip. Other times, I shrug and thing, good for you, not for me. I do not have to die on their hills, but I should be ready to establish my own. Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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Creating an intentional family culture.

SPring2018-1I am not prone to waxing poetic about the newborn stage, as I would unequivocally take these wild toddler days over that unpredictable and bleary-eyed period of months where I felt like all I did was nurse and will sleep to happen. But one thing that is nice about the first months/ almost year of parenting is that every day is a clean slate. So you failed at everything – your baby has no memory of it. So you lost your cool and cry-yelled while your infant wailed and ate nothing but ice-cream straight from the freezer and didn’t put on clean clothes- they have no clue what is happening. You can get everything wrong almost every day for a very long period of time and your child has absolutely no clue that they are in the presence of a total failure.

But eventually, that ends. This past fall I became increasingly aware that Henry was mimicking my actions, anticipating repetition, awaiting routine. I realized, with a mixture of delight and horror, that everything in our home and our lives was seeping into his sponge-like brain and defining how he understood not just our family, but our world. And with that realization came a second one, even more terrifying: we were still winging it.

I like to think that family culture just happens, that the lessons and values inculcated in children stem from a cheery outflow of their parents’ balanced and ordered lives. I like to imagine that my children will glean all I want to teach them by osmosis and observation with a dash of rational reasoning – that they will hear me yell angrily at the driver who cut me off and internalize “mother prioritizes quality motor skills,” instead of “MOM IS LOSING IT!” But that isn’t how it works. What I awoke to last fall was the terrifying task of parenting, not in the sense of keeping Henry alive and fed, but the whole task of building a family culture that inspires the right values and habits, and admonishes the wrong. This, for the majority of people, doesn’t just “happen.”

And so, James and I started having conversations about the family culture we want to intentionally craft. We talked first about some of the disciplines we wanted our children to have learned by the time they leave our house, and then worked backwards to what habits need to happen now for that to happen. For example, I hope our kids choose to invest in meaningful church community once they are no longer dragged to services every week with us. That means establishing Sabbath rituals now, and talking about them as a gift and joy, not a task. It means making attendance an absolute priority and modeling involvement.

We talked about concrete goals that would stem from a larger family culture  that communicates the value of people, both to our own family and to God. A family culture centered around time with each other, time spent investing in our faith, and time spent extending hospitality. I want our family culture to nurture creativity, independence, health, and adventure (helloooooo- playing outside in any weather!). That is the lofty bit, and it sure sounds pretty. But in reality, it has meant a lot of hard conversations about what this actually looks like, and how to get there. Imagining the family culture you want to intentionally cultivate involves a lot of careful thought, but implementing it is the bigger issue. I find there are two major obstacles.

First of all, we all live less-than-ideal lives. We imagine that our families would communicate our values if only our lives were more conducive to that. We could be patient if only our kids slept better, and they would sleep better if only we had more space and everything was quiet, and we would have more space if only we made more money, and we could make more money if only we lived in a cheaper city, and we would move if only the perfect career existed elsewhere… and so in, indefinitely. We imagine that we will start building intentional family culture once we have finished school, switched jobs, saved more money, moved, gotten past a big work deadline, made better friends… and that list goes on too, indefinitely.

But the truth is that I look at Henry and I realize that he is absorbing everything now. You can either create an intentional culture, or let life create it for you while you wait for things to change, but you can’t push pause on children soaking up the environments we place them in.

And the fact of the matter is that it is easy for me to imagine the things that block the family culture I want. I, like many people, have internalized the idea that family culture happens around the dinner table, and everyone being able to say good night to each other after hours where all phones were cast far from our sight, and lots of quality time having cookouts on summer evenings. This is not a reality in our lives. James works a job that demands really late hours. We do not eat dinner as a family most nights of the week. I do a lot of solo parenting on weekdays, and the concept of banning all phones from our hands while our kids are around is simply not currently possible for his work especially.  We don’t have a yard to fill with friends on summer evenings. We are not unique in this city, as many of our friends share similar work schedules and difficulties. The first step of establishing our intentional family culture meant looking at what we can’t change, and finding a way to carve out space all the same. It meant, for instance, that we have made breakfast the family meal- even if James doesn’t actually like to eat breakfast and sometimes it is cups of coffee over Cheerio’s. I don’t hold breakfast to the same standard as dinner, and we eat simple food with no fuss- but we are there, all three of us, starting our day together with prayer and scripture and a moment to remind us of what our family values.

The second enemy to intentional family culture is simply letting our lives become consumed by other stuff. Once you reconcile the reality of your family logistics with the culture you want, you have to look at the more pernicious obstacle of daily frustrations and stress. Because the truth is that while we would probably all love to fill our days with intentional efforts in regards to raising our children – we’re tired and there are mountains of laundry and dishes and messes and tantrums and groceries and work and  those things become the focus of our days because they are the focus of our energy.

Simply put, our family cannot uphold and teach what I want it to if our life is governed by stress, exhaustion, irritation, and anxiety — all of which are qualities that dominate more of our lives than we want to admit.

Over the past couple months, James and I have been having lots of conversations about how to proactively protect and promote our family culture, and a lot of them have actually been about really mundane household things and parenting practices that make our lives feel less out of control and more rooted in the values we want to teach. The daily success of intentional family culture is found in developing a laundry system, in scheduling grocery delivery, in figuring out a simple meal planning routine, in having set routines to when we clean and sleep and play. Yes, it is also found in bigger decisions, like some things we have decided about my career goals to make our family function the way we want. But I think we often let those big gestures obscure the million ways every day that we make decisions that either help or hurt our ability to have our families look the way we wish they could.

And so, I wanted to devote some posts to the unexciting and undramatic pillars of daily life that allow us to have the intentional family culture we want. Things like everyday life hacks, meal planning methods, picking your parenting hill to die on, and maybe even the much-debated topic of sleep training. My blogging as of late has not exactly been consistent, but these are things I’ve been mulling over lately and want to sort out. Obviously, this is a highly personal subject in the sense that every family can and should make different decisions about what makes them achieve their intentional family culture. But hopefully in the process of sharing really unlofty things that are working to make our lives easier in support of how we want our family to function, they shed a little light for you too.


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A morning at the Wharf.

This week it feels like we are back in the throes of winter, but on Saturday, for one glorious day, it became summer so quickly that the oppressive DC humidity and mosquitoes didn’t have time to catch up and so we got the best of summer with the residual blessings of winter.

It is no secret how much I love this city in the summer, even with its swamp-like nature. We spent much of last summer living at Navy Yard, and I can’t wait to get back to the splash pad, though I know an infant will make summer outings a little more complicated. A new waterfront area opened up a couple months ago called District Wharf, but I hadn’t made it down yet. A perk of young children is that you can beat most brunch crowds by making it out around tiny person schedules, so we headed down early with my brother and sister-in-law to wander the Wharf, soak in the sun, and eat all the tasty treats.

Here are some pictures from our summer morning in the middle of April… just a glimpse of what is to come in a couple months and I couldn’t be more excited.SPring2018-2Of course, since it has been not at all spring-like, I hadn’t even thought about getting summer clothes for Henry. When the temperature was supposed to be in the 80’s, I dug around and finally found one pair of still way-too-big overall shorts, which meant that Henry looked like an adorable cartoon character from the 80’s going to summer camp and I LOVE IT.SPring2018-4Guys. THE WHARF. Splash pad! Shady area with aesthetic rocking horse things! Pier with giant swings! Boats! Airplanes constantly flying overhead! Free ferry over to Haines Point! Allllll the tasty treats! SPring2018-5SPring2018-8Ok, also a total absence of barriers to stop your toddler from diving into the water, which makes things exciting.SPring2018-9This kid is ridiculously lucky in the aunt and uncle department.SPring2018-12SPring2018-14SPring2018-15When you think you are taking a dreamy family photo but actually it looks like you’re eating your hair and you kept the lens cap in your pocket. Oops. SPring2018-17Also, James could give a tutorial on never changing your facial expressions during photos. It’s scarily impressive.SPring2018-18SPring2018-19SPring2018-20Maybe because the Wharf has been under construction the whole time we have lived here, or maybe because we are both from landlocked states, and thus very timid about seafood, but we had never been down to the fish market that predates the Wharf renovations. I always see it when we drive over the 395 bridge, but had never ventured down. So fun! Henry kept asking to “Hold fish! Pet it!!”SPring2018-21Ruth insists that these were some of the best oysters she had ever eaten…SPring2018-22…while Henry and James remain skeptical.SPring2018-23SPring2018-24That kid and his cheeks. I want to EAT HIS FACE.SPring2018-25After checking out all the options, we impulsively got brunch at Dolcezza after seeing two girls carrying out tater-tots. It did not disappoint. Because frankly, Henry’s face is how we all secretly feel when faced with tater tots:SPring2018-27SPring2018-28New favorite picture of my boys? Absolutely. SPring2018-29We went back outside after Henry woke up from his long post-Wharf nap. We stayed out past bedtime, playing in parks and talking with friends, and Henry had skinned knees and smelled like sunscreen. The whole day was so good for my soul and had all the things I love about life right now. Looking forward to more days like this in the months to come!

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An Easter Egg Hunt.

Easter2018-2Eastertide is upon us!

We have camped out on our early morning Easter breakfast tradition for the past 5 years, feasting on monkey bread with the same posse of friends and family. But this year the majority of people who usually join us were out of town, and we switched to the earlier service when Henry dropped to one nap, so the logistics looked a little tricky. We decided instead to haul the monkey bread along to a laid-back brunch with friends who also have toddlers. I find that the best way to manage little person chaos is just to multiple the numbers and create such a ruckus that everyone ceases to care.

Our Easter morning was chaotic in another sense. The Hot Cross buns I made to deliver to neighbors turned out barely edible (good recipe anyone?), and we missed the change in service times, barely making it to church on time… only to find out we were half an hour late already and had missed the marvelous Easter hymns I anticipate all year. I was pretty crushed, though we stuck around for the opening of the following family service, and Henry breaking it down with an egg shaker and then trying to rush the stage twice did almost  make up for it.

After church we headed to brunch and managed to only get one photo of us together to prove we can clean up, and even then Henry isn’t really smiling. But as he’s not grimacing, I call it a win. I didn’t snap any pictures of the awesome food, as the kids (ok, and pregnant/recently postpartum moms) started snacking before we even finished putting out food and ruined the tablescape. We weren’t sure if the kids, most of whom are around 2, would be able to figure out the concept of finding Easter eggs, but we were mistaken. It’s like the need for sugar is engrained in them and even kids who usually avoid following instructions (Henry) were intent on gathering those eggs. They also managed to eat way more candy than any of us realized, and we ended the day with some seriously wired kids.

Easter2018-4Easter2018-5Easter2018-6Easter2018-7Easter2018-8Easter2018-9Easter2018-10 Henry was content to search for eggs until he found a tennis ball, and then abandoned his basket to go give the “egg” to the dog, very pleased that he had discovered a special puppy egg.Easter2018-11Easter2018-12Easter2018-20This picture makes me so happy, as we have an almost identical one of James from my brother’s wedding:View More: boys. They make my heart explode. Especially when they are in bowties.Easter2018-18Easter2018-16Easter2018-13Easter2018-32Easter2018-24And now begin the attempts at wrangling all four kids into one picture.Easter2018-29Easter2018-25Easter2018-27I guess we will call that a success?

Happy Easter!

PS: Loved this article about “The Easter Effect” in the Wall Street Journal, and some of my favorite Easter quotes here, as well as my favorite Good Friday quote.

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