Baby Dust Diaries

A Life Less Ordinary

Category: Featured (page 1 of 2)

Gypsies

Did you know my ancestors on my Dad’s side are Romani? No, not Romanian, Romani. And no, not like the Romny you see on My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding. But, yes, Romani are historically called Gypsies because people thought they were Egyptians. They are not. They are from the northern part of India and were forced out of their homes to wonder Asia and Europe. They are the ultimate wanderers.

So maybe it is my Rom blood? I’m not sure but I have it bad. Wander Lust. Always have. When I graduated high school and my parents wanted to buy me an expensive piece of commemorative jewelry I asked instead to go on vacation. Twice in college I got to take classes that traveled: I studied the geology of the Colorado Plateau in Utah and Arizona and I studied Phycology (study of algae) in San Salvador, Bahamas. My honeymoon was a month backpacking through Europe.

Having kids makes traveling harder. Money is tight and there is always family to visit when you have the time off of working 50 weeks a year. Pete and I have talked about our retirement dreams for years: buy an RV and travel the country.

Then I met a woman named Tara and she and her family – a husband and two kids – were traveling around Australia in a camper. I kept waiting for the end of that sentence…”until the money runs out” or “for work” or “for two weeks”  There had to be *something* after that sentence, right? You can’t just raise kids without a home can you?

That was 4 years ago and I didn’t think “yes! I’m going to do that!” on that very day. But, in my heart I dreamed that I had that life. Then, one day out of the blue, Pete said he dreamed of that life too! Here we were dreaming of something different but not pursuing it because it is SO CRAZY!

Families are supposed to “put down roots,” buy a house, have a steady job, save for college, and vacation occasionally if you are very lucky. We couldn’t just make travel part of our lives could we?

Then the last two years happened. I was forced out of my job after having kids which was a nightmare at the time. In hindsight, I don’t know that I would have ever left such a lucrative job on my own. Then our house went into foreclosure (not due to losing my job ironically but because of my time in the hospital with the twins). Pete couldn’t find work. He actually started driving to Boston for job interviews. Yet, here we were with a house we were trying to short sell which tied us to one place. That place had no jobs. It was a horrible catch 22. It seemed that owning this thing called property was an albatross.

We were able to move and downsize our lives but, strangely, we had gotten a taste of freedom. Freedom from a work-till-8-pm job and the mortgage that went with it. We hated the forced stationary quality of that life. We hated the live to work paradigm. We hated dreading Sunday nights. We hated spending Saturdays working on house stuff instead of having fun. We wanted something different.

1478954_10102028271020644_1208691901_nWe wanted to work to live. We wanted our weekdays to be so wonderful that the weekends hardly felt different. We didn’t want to count the days till our next vacation because our life was so wonderful it felt like vacation. We didn’t want our vacations to be a scurry of hitting every family member’s house with sight seeing thrown in. We didn’t want to come home from vacations needing a vacation from our vacation.

We didn’t want to be owned by stuff. We think we own it but then we are slaves to it. We have to maintain it and continue to pay for it. We are owned by the bank we pay each month. We fill our lives with things. I had a dozen pans for different uses. I had 3 different meat thermometers for different purposes. My kids had more toys that I ever wanted them to have. We were buried under stuff and the time the stuff took. All those toys needed tidied up and cleaned. All that house needed work and cleaning. The yard. The two cars. The bills.

So there it is. We are doing something different. We have sold everything we own. We have our clothes and necessities. We have keepsakes in storage. And…

We bought an RV. We are going to travel and work. Travel and live. Travel and raise our kids. Travel and school.

I was thinking of starting a new blog (and I probably will document what we learn as we travel here) but this is just more of our Baby Dust Diary so I’m going to stick with it. I’ll continue to post things about homeschooling, unschooling, and now ROADschoooling.

Maria Kang, Here Is My Excuse.

tdy_tren_excuse_131016.300w

Ok, this has been floating around and causing a bunch of nasty comments from all sides. Here’s my take.

First, her asking “what’s your excuse?” is just more mom-judging-mom-wars propaganda. You are not competing with other moms. It isn’t a race and there is no set definition of success (and if there were it would be at least 20-30 years in the future for Ms. Kang, since her kids are too young to say “I win!”). Stop being part of what drives women apart.

Second, her comment implies anyone would need an “excuse” not to have achieved the goal SHE set for HERSELF. Good for her for achieving her goal. But, why does she assumes her goal is the goal of all moms. I’m a goal setter by nature and I wonder what her excuse is for not meeting my goals? How far is she in finishing two manuscripts in 2013? Has she meditated at least 3 times a week? Has she read 50 non-fiction books this year? Are her kids able to explain why the government is shut down (her 3 year old could)? What’s her excuse for not reducing the amount of stuff she owns by 80% in 2013?

Do these sound absurd? They should. These are *my* goals and I don’t expect anyone else to be meeting them except me. So, for me to say, “hey what’s your excuse for not meeting this goal?” is so presumptuous that my goals are the most worth-while goals. Which is absurd.

But, of course, Ms. Kang doesn’t stand alone when it comes to finding her goal to be more important than anyone else’s. Thinness is the ultimate goal of human females and everything else you do pales in comparison to how taut your abs are. The supposition is that my goals are pointless if I’m doing it in a fat body. Which is also absurd.

Lastly, her image and message trot out the same old fat shaming (notice I didn’t put quotes around fat shaming like it is some quasi-thing) fallacies. People keep mentioning “good for her for being healthy and fit!” Um, no. This image tells us nothing about her health or her fitness. This image tells us she is skinny and has abs. She could pound cookie dough all night and never touch a salad. Her blood pressure could be through the roof. Her arteries could be lining with plaque. She could do sit ups and lift weights to get her tone but be incapable of running a mile. We know *nothing* about her fitness from this image. What we know is that she’s skinny.

We also know that our society INCORRECTLY conflates skinny with healthy and fat with unhealthy. We know that a mom who was overweight and said “what’s your excuse?” couldn’t possible be talking about her fitness even if the picture was of her crossing the finish line of a marathon. She must be talking about something else because there is NO WAY she’s PROUD of her disgusting, fat body. I mean, really? Ewww.

And if she wasn’t crossing the finish line of a marathon she’d be even more reviled. People would say she doesn’t deserve her kids because she’s going to raise them “fat.” Nevermind that a picture can’t tell you that she is an ER doc that saves lives or a volunteer at the local women’s shelter that many women owe their lives to. None of those things matter. She should quit those things and get her ass to the gym because Ewwww!

Because a woman’s most important goal in life is to make sure the space she occupies is a pretty as possible – oh, and as small as possible too, of course. I mean, it’s kinda nice if you also learn to read and write and save people, but for goodness sake: be pretty.

I hope Ms. Kang is a wonderful mother and also very healthy! AND I hope she also helps people meet their fitness goals in a positive, body affirming way because, of course, she wants them to be physically and mentally healthy. I hope people owe their lives to her and her positive influence. I hope she makes the world a better place.

But she didn’t do that with this image. This image makes the world a worse place. A place where more mother-shaming, mom wars, judgement, shaming, and lack of humility and acceptance are reinforced.

What’s my excuse? I’m busy making the world a better place.

5 Myths About Gender Neutral Parenting

This article was originally posted on Everyday Feminism.  This Thursday 4/4 I’ll be on EF Talk Radio taking questions about Gender Neutral Parenting! Tune in and learn more.

Practicing Gender Neutral Parenting – Thur, 4/4, 8 pm EST/5 pm PST

Credit: NAYEC

 

The day I found out the baby I was carrying was a girl, I bought a frilly, pink dress. It had taken me a long time to get pregnant and I wanted a girl. Yes, I wanted a “healthy baby” but I was honest enough with myself to say I preferred a girl.

In retrospect, it seems incongruent with my feminist views that I did something so “pigeonholing” to my 20 week old fetus. Shouldn’t I have rushed out to buy The Feminine Mystique to read her in-utero?

Everywhere you look, there are pink princesses and blue football shirts. The “gender neutral” section – defined by blank green and yellow onesies – of a store like Babies R Us is almost non-existent.

This is largely because most parents today know the sex of their child prior to birth thanks to ultrasound technology. The demand for clothes that are non-gendered is lower and companies step in with specialized clothing that increases their sales.

Parenting outside the mainstream boy/girl dichotomy can seem daunting to say the least. Am I not allowed to think that dress is cute? Is it ok if I put my baby boy in that jumper with the soccer ball on the butt? What do I do when the photographer calls my daughter “princess” for the millionth time?

The desire to not pigeonhole a child into a specific gender based solely on their biological sex is called Gender Neutral Parenting (GNP) and it isn’t easy to know what Gender Neutral Parenting is and is not.

Recently a psychologist named Dr. Keith Ablow stated on Fox & Friends that a woman was “nuts” for giving her son a doll (you can see the video here). Let’s just set aside for a moment the abelism of calling someone “nuts” because you don’t agree with them.

His view of “gender bending” couldn’t be further from the truth and he falls prey to several common myths about Gender Neutral Parenting.

So let’s set the record straight:

Myth #1: Gender Neutral Parenting Is About Androgyny

This myth posits that gender neutral parenting’s goal is to create a genderless world by abolishing all concepts of male or female. Parents only allow non-gendered toys in neutral colors and androgynous clothing.

Reality: Although the 1970s saw a smattering of articles claiming androgyny as the pinnacle of human evolution – the theory that gender roles are completely learned – we now tend to see gender as a blending of biological (nature) and cultural (nurture) influences. Dr. Ablow said parents “wrench [it] in to some kind of non-genderness.”

However, GNP does not seek to force androgyny on children any more than it wishes to force masculinity or femininity on children.

The whole point of GNP is that is doesn’t force any preconceived gender norms onto a child in the hopes that they can find their own comfort spot on the continuum we call gender.

Myth #2: Gender Neutral Parenting Will Make Your Kid Gay

Many organizations, such as Focus on the Family, specifically conflate gender-bending behavior in children as “signs of pre-homosexuality” and recommend interventions to promote “gender-proper” behaviors.

Reality: Most ongoing research points to a strong genetic component to homosexuality. Therefore, being gay is not something a parent can “train” a child to be. Even children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers aren’t more likely to be gay themselves.  A child’s sexual orientation will be what it will be. Nothing a parent does will change that.

GNP will not influence their final sexual preferences but it can have a profound effect on how traumatizing their upbringing is. A child with the freedom to choose their own comfort level on the gender spectrum and the sexuality spectrum will be less likely to be crushed under parental expectations that conflict with their inner life.

The whole point of GNP is that sex – e.g. the assignment at birth based on external genitalia – should not dictate “allowable” behaviors. If you like pink tutus, you should be able to like them with acceptance regardless of your sex.

According to TransActive, 85% of gender nonconforming children/youth are cisgender and identify as heterosexual in adulthood. So, you heard it here. Johnny (or Beckett) wearing nail polish will not make him gay.

Myth #3: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Anti-Feminine Or Anti-Masculine

Dr. Ablow also said, “What’s so bad about kids being able to be masculine and feminine?” His statement implies that GNP suppresses or shames feminine or masculine behaviors.

Reality: Gender Neutral Parenting isn’t “neutral” at all it is about diversity and removing limitations to gender expression.

If we limited girls from wearing pink or boys from playing football, then we would be replacing one set of artificial limits for another.

What we want to do is expose kids to a wide range of gender-types and give them the freedom to explore without judgment those that call to them.

Paige Schilt uses the term “gendery” to define this concept;

Rather than just begrudgingly allowing our children to play with “opposite gender” toys, the gendery parenting paradigm would encourage us to give children the language to think critically about gender binaries and gendered hierarchies.

With this in mind we would not pass judgment on a child’s choices but help them to think critically about the options society presents.

If your daughter proudly proclaims that “dolls are for girls” while playing, instead of correcting her, open a dialogue.

You might find that a friend at school told her dolls are for girls or that someone had teased her about playing with her dinosaur collection. Opening a dialogue is so much more powerful than a room full of gender neutral toys that raise no questions.

Myth #4: Gender Neutral Parenting Is Only For Trans* Kids

This myth supposes that Gender Neutral Parenting is only valuable or should only be employed after a child has displayed gender-bending behaviors. GNP helps trans* kids overcome the pain of being different but it has no value for a cisgender child.

Reality: First, no one knows when a child is born if he/she/they are trans*. According to Transgender Law and Policy Institute, 2-5% of all people are trans* and as mentioned above, most gender-bending kids will not be trans* as adults.

It is true that GNP will provide a safer and more nurturing environment that’s absent in most trans* childrens’ lives. However, cisgender children can also benefit greatly from GNP in two ways.

One, without strict gender rules children tend to find their place on the spectrum that is not so extreme as hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine but instead represent a spectrum of expression that allows children to find their own strengths and weaknesses.

A child might be amazing at construction and become a prominent architect but only if they have access to building toys and the freedom to explore with them.

Secondly, even stereotypically feminine/masculine children raised in a GNP environment will have the ability to critically question gender assumptions and to appreciate the diversity of gender roles.

Myth #5: Gender Neutral Parenting Is A Social Experiment

When families say they won’t divulge the gender of their child, some get in an uproar about “using” kids for political purposes or brainwashing them as some type of science experiment.

Reality: Everything we say and do with our kids is our attempt to teach them to function in the world at large. I want to raise my children to be good people. To me, this does not mean teaching them to tow the line and conform. It means them being strongly feminist with a passion for equality and social justice.

Traditional gendered parenting is every bit as much indoctrination. Gender-norms are taught to mold a kid into an adult that fits into society’s definition of the gender binary. Girls wear pink, like to nurture others, and are emotional. Boys don’t cry, play sports, and make money.

Even if you aren’t intentionally trying to train this into them you are by the default of gender suggestions that ubiquitously surround us everyday. Think Barbie saying “Math is Hard” and then ponder why so few women enter science, technology, engineering, and medicine. Think “boys don’t play with baby dolls” and then ponder why men don’t have the same skill level with newborns that women do.

GNP is trying to break down that narrow definition of what a child can be. If that is a political statement then it is one I’m proud to make.

So What Does This Look Like?

Was buying that pink dress anti-GNP? I don’t think so. As an introspective person, I had an awareness of my gender-laden choice. What if my daughter doesn’t like dresses? Doesn’t like pink? Doesn’t identify as a girl?

Practicing traditional, gender-biased parenting would be only letting your girls wear pink frilly frocks and making statements that subtly limit the choice. For example, “that’s not girly enough” or “you’d just look adorable in the pink one” all train her to know that mom (and society) expect her to be girly.

It would be just as gender-biased to tease my daughter for wanting to wear pink. For example, rolling my eyes with a “ugh, that is so frilly” could make her feel bad for liking feminine things.

The main way I strike a balance? I encourage her voice. I try to take my opinions out of the equation.

I’m always looking for an opening to say “which one do you like?” and respecting her choice. I let her tell me what she wants to do with her hair (no forced barrettes and uncomfortable headbands in the name of not being mistaken for a boy).

I engage her in conversations about people’s abilities (e.g. “Why is Alicia your favorite character on Go Diego, Go!”) so she can articulate things beside gender.

I don’t get bent out of shape when photographers call her “princess” but I make sure at home to comment on what a superhero she is when she lifts the garbage bag out of the trash can.

As she gets even older, I can ask “why do you like that one?” and start conversations based on stereotypical answers.

Most parents I know cringe when their seven year old says “that’s for girls.” But really, this is a great opportunity to start a dialog about gender. When the photographer calls her princess, we can later discuss why that is and what it means to be a princess.

And I can let her hear my voice. I’m girly. I own a pink hammer. Not sure if that is nature or nurture but I am self aware. I’ve let gender-expectations limit me in the past and my growing awareness of it has made me a better person.

Someday, if she asks why pictures of her at 3 months old are an explosion of pink, I’ll tell her that was my way of celebrating her.

Then I’ll tell her that now I celebrate her so much more by watching her learn to celebrate her own unique self.

What does gender neutral parenting look like in your house?

4 Things Easter Can Teach Us Non-Christians

I’ve decided I like the term Post-Christian instead of Ex-Christian.  “Ex” implies some type of break up with perhaps some lingering animosity or denial of the former path.  Like I said before I feel that my devout study of christianity led me here.  I think the bible is a wellspring of information and while I might not believe Jesus is the son of God I do think he was a wise man and path pointer.

Christmas this past year was a weird time of wistful melancholy as I mourned the loss of my belief.  For example, the first time I heard Do You Hear What I Hear, one of my favorites, I broke down crying.  I think toward the end of December I was able to hear the song and believe the beautiful things about it.

So, this Easter I’d like to share some of the great lessons that we, as non-Christians – whether post or ex or never – can learn from Easter.

1. Grace

One of the best things about the Easter story (which btw is Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans and the Sanhedrin (Jewish leaders) on what we call Good Friday and his subsequent rebirth from the dead three days later on Easter) is the concept of Grace.

Christians believe that Grace saves us.  Grace can mean a number of things but in this instance it is defined as, “unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.”

The key word here is unmerited.  There is nothing a Christian can ever do to deserve the salvation of Jesus.  You can’t give-to-charity your way out, help-your-neighbor yourself to the top, or pray your way to heaven.  The Christian view is that we could NEVER achieve the holiness of God.  Our only hope is in the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.  All the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were nulled with the death of God’s son, Jesus.

I no longer believe all of that but I think grace – undeserved assistance – is a valuable concept we could employ in our lives.

I went to a marriage retreat last weekend and they talked about how our society says marriages are performance based.  You receive love when your behavior matches the other person’s needs.  You already know how I feel about this type of conditional parenting.

What if we used more grace in our relationships? You know gave love, help, courtesy, whatever even when it is undeserved.  What if how we related to others was not based on merit or conditional upon their behavior at all?

 

2. Humility

Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God but also that he was God.  I always explained it to people like the triple point of water – that temperature at which water exists as a solid, liquid and gas simultaneously.

So, when the man Jesus hung on the cross he was in fact the all-powerful God of the Old Testament that stopped the sun, flooded the Earth, and rose a man from the dead.  I’m sure he could have managed getting off the cross and destroying his enemies.

However, he chose to accept his role with humility.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t take pride in our accomplishments but a balance with humility for your gifts is in order.

 

3. Forgiveness

Jesus said of his crucifiers “Forgive them, they know not what they do.”

A close sister to grace, forgiveness is often held close to our chests until someone deserves it.  What if we forgave more easily to the people in our life?

At Easter services Christians are often allowed to take their worries “to the cross” which means to literally write down you misdeeds or worries and pin them to a big wooden cross.  This symbolizes giving over your cares and sins to Jesus.

I think this relates to self-forgiveness. We are often much meaner to ourselves that others.  Maybe this Easter we could write down our worries or self-doubts and give them up to the cosmos and not let them sap the energy of our days any longer.

 

4. Rebirth

For Christians, the celebration of Easter is not the crucifixion (Good Friday) but the day Jesus overcame death and arose from the grave.

This is a recurrent theme throughout mythology.  There are many Jesus analogs throughout the ages such as Mithras and Osiris.  There are also myths like the Egyptian Benu bird, the Asian Fenghuang, or as it is best known in the Greek; the Phoenix.

All feature the same theme.  From complete and utter defeat when your enemies are celebrating their victory, you are reborn overcoming even death to start anew.

It is a beautiful belief and one of the reasons my tattoo design for my children (living and lost) is a phoenix.  I feel like motherhood after infertility was like rising from the ashes of defeat.

What a powerful concept that not only can we rise from our defeat but defeat is necessary for that rebirth.  What if when we struggle or have dark times we kept this in mind?

Respecting Diversity Means Respecting Religions

I think that we all can truly come together and learn and respect each others’ religions or beliefs. Mocking someone’s beliefs (like calling Easter “zombie Jesus” day) is hateful and drives people apart.  There is no reason that you can’t learn from something you don’t believe in.

I mean do we really think a tortoise and a hare once raced? Or do we know that ancient writings can have pearls of wisdom for us? Or that respecting diversity (in this case religion) makes the world a better place?

Happy Easter!

The Oxymoron of “Personhood” Legislation

I am one mad mama right now!  Watch out!

The ongoing list of atrocities to woman-kind that is the “personhood” movement is astounding.  Personhood is the name given by its proponents to legislation intending to circumnavigate the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision by granting full rights to a two-cell, microscopic zygote only moments after sperm penetrates egg.

North Dakota, Mississippi, and Oklahoma currently have personhood legislation in the pipeline.

These thinly-veiled attempts to curb the legal right to abortion have bled over into a litany of other anti-woman interpretations.

You see, if an embryo is a full-human, then what does that mean for the woman whose body the embryo is living in?

Well in some cases that woman has her personhood taken from her with forced abdominal surgery, murder charges for stillbirths, and forced pregnancy after rape. Sadly, many of these cases are possible through the perversion of laws meant to protect women from domestic abuse while pregnant, called Fetal Homicide Laws, which have been enacted in 38 states.

It couldn’t be more clear that the role of the woman in these situations is as publicly owned uterus with legs. For the 40 weeks you are carrying a fetus your rights are subsumed to the fetus.

But that’s not all!

This next part that really hits me in the heart. Personhood also affects infertile couples who are creating embryos through IVF (in vitro fertilization).  Embryos that, if personhood passes, have full rights.

See this?

This is my daughter* at 3 days old.  She is only 8 tiny cells and she isn’t even a “perfect” embryo (she was grade 3 out of 4 due to the extracellular bubbles you can see). The idea that she is a full and valuable life deserving of rights feels right in my heart.  Especially since I know what an amazing person she is today.

See this?

This is one of my twin sons at 5 days old.  Here he is hundreds of cells and the cells are even differentiated so that the clump you see in the bottom will be him and the rest will be the placenta.  Today he, and his twin brother, are happy and cuddly 2 year olds.

He, however, does not have full personhood rights.  You see, he was frozen (cryopreserved) at 3 days post fertilization and some personhood laws outlaw embryo freezing – I guess they’d call it “people freezing.”

This makes me feel so, so angry.  That a law could be passed that would make his way of coming to be illegal just feels insulting.  Not that they are going to make it retroactive and round up all the kids born from frozen embryos (oh my, they aren’t are they?) but still my sons’ birth story would forever be an anomaly, a thing that is now illegal and therefore must be wrong in some way.

So, in the name of personhood you would make my son a pariah?

I could remind you that studies show that cryo-embryos have a higher success rate because the woman’s body isn’t as overtaxed during a frozen cycle.  Or that babies born from cryo-embryos are healthier at birth. Or that criminalizing embryo freezing will force women to make more risky choices by putting back more embryos during their IVF resulting in higher numbers of high-order births and putting mother and babies life at risk (not to mention increased cost).

I could probably write up a nice little unemotional, very research-driven brief on the economic costs of personhood bills.

Nah, I probably couldn’t.  I’m too MAD!

I’d rather march my boys and the other nearly 9,000 babies born from frozen embryos in 2011 right into a state legislature and let them tell the kids that they don’t represent personhood.

Good Food v. Bad Food

Photobuckethostess_20120111064640_640_480Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!  I have two follow-up posts: Big Fat Myths About Fat and this one.

Many commenters had problems with #6 and #13 in my list;

  • Do not label foods as “good” and “bad”
  • Avoid talking about a nutrionalist approach to food – disassembling “food” into fat, carbs, calories, and other things that need to be obsessed about and counted (difficult since it is explicitly taught in many schools).

For example, one commenter said, “I think this is ignorant regarding food options. It is highly important to educate your children about proper food intake & nutrition.”

So, let’s talk about why you don’t want to label foods as good and bad and then I’ll look at if there actually are good and bad foods.

Why You Shouldn’t Call Foods Good/Bad

The dichotomy of Good v. Bad is one that children learn very early on.  If you have a preschooler you’ll hear them talk about the good guys and bad guys in tv programs.  My daughter has even said “my good” when she helps pick up toys and this is with a very strong intention on my part to NOT label her (or her behavior) as good or bad.  When she is “good” I’ll say “thank you! You were so helpful.”  And, when she does something “bad” I’d say “If we rip pages out of a book then we can’t read the story any more.  Let’s tape it back in.”  This isn’t a post about gentle parenting but needless to say labeling kids with value judgments is not a good thing.  Even good labels are bad (ha!) for two reasons; 1) kids know the opposite of good.  If you say they are good then they know that they have a capability of being bad, and 2) placing a value judgement as vague as good becomes an external pressure on your child.  If you want to read more about this concept you can start here.

What does this have to do with food?  Before we can get there we need to look at another aspect of child development called moral reasoning.  The pyramid on the left is Kohlberg’s Six Levels of Moral Development.  Children start at the bottom self-preservation and move up to adult moral reasoning at the top.  Up to age 10 children fall into the three lowest levels while middle schoolers tend to be very black and white in a “law and order mentality” it is only in the later teen years (or older) that principled morality, recognizing shades of gray, is developed.

A young child can clearly understand good and bad based on the effect it has on those around them but they can not differentiate between a good person and a bad deed.  The idea that the bad guy on Monday can do something very good on Tuesday is too complex.  You are either good OR bad.

When you say “Twinkies are bad” and your child thinks, “I think Twinkies taste good and Twinkies are bad therefore I must be bad.”  And, even worse, “well I’m bad so I might as well just eat bad foods.”

And don’t think just sticking to good works!  If you say “fruits and vegetables are good” they are going to deduce that other foods are bad.  AND they won’t eat their veggies.  Oh, and don’t think trading another word works.  Kids know the opposite of healthy is unhealthy and the connotation intended.

It is too important to me that my kids develop a self-image that is positive for me to label them even indirectly.

But Twinkies ARE Bad!

Twinkies are horrible.  They aren’t even food they are “food-like substances”.  I don’t want my kids to eat Twinkies.  I want them to eat fruits and veggies and lean protein, etc. The fear is that if you don’t scare your kids with “DOOM for all Twinkie eaters!!” then they will eat nothing but Twinkies forever and ever.

But the opposite is true: Research has shown that creating forbidden foods actually increases poor eating habits in kids (see twinkies are bad therefore I must be bad above).  Other studies have shown that authoritative feeding styles in caregivers increases children’s consumption of healthy foods.

How To Encourage Healthy Eating Without Labeling

Authoritative Feeding is a style of parenting the eating relationship with the ultimate goal being your child making healthy food choices.  Parent-controlled feeding (Authoritarian Feeding) has the opposite of desired effects (as in the forbidden food research).  If your goal is to make your child a good choice maker then you need to give them choice.  There are 3 great ways to do this:

1. Have a Division of Responsibility.

You are responsible for providing options, a place, and a time to eat.  Your child is solely responsible for what they eat and how much.  SOLELY RESPONSIBLE.  That means stop with the nagging or commenting on how much they eat or what choices they made.  Remember that children learn food likes and dislikes through nurture not nature.  They eat what they see eaten; what they see served.

2. Provide Choice.

With young kids a choice between two things is best.  “Do you want an apple or grapes for snack?”  This gives them control over their food choices. A caveat here that drives some parents batty: kids waste food.  My daughter eats half an apple a day…and leaves the other half to rot.  This drives my husband crazy!  But what are you going to do?  Tell them they can’t have an apple for snack?  Yell at them to finish their apple?  Anything you can do is counter intuitive   You could maybe give a sliced apple but my daughter likes to eat whole ones like a big girl.  I chalk up wasted food to the cost of raising a healthy eater.  Let it go.

3. Give Trust and Control When Possible.

I recommend having a “junk food” stash that your kids can get to.  Talk to them about how much candy they should be eating in a day (negotiate don’t tell) and then let them decide when to eat it.  With little kids it might be a “now or later” choice but as they get older it can be a weeks worth of candy that they are responsible for.  They can binge in one hour or make it last all week.  Little kids and those new to this control will always choose NOW and ALL but they won’t forever.  They will learn to delay gratification, space out treats, and trust their gut.  Stick firm to the limit and discuss the choice they made (“honey, you ate your candy for today this morning.  Maybe tomorrow you want to make a different decision and keep some for after dinner?”).

It is difficult to trust children when everything about our culture says they can’t be trusted and need to be controlled by adults.  But, remember, you are raising an adult not a child.  That means you want to nurture their strong decision making skills and they can’t do that if you control all the decisions.  

 But Are Some Foods Bad?

A Twinkie really is a bad food in my book because it isn’t food at all.  I’d rather make a fattening, sugary confection from real food and let my kids eat it than to let them eat a bunch of chemicals disguised as food.  My kids will learn from me about chemical dyes, artificial flavors, etc.  That is much more important to me than their ability to count calories or fat grams.  Humans can learn to trust their eating instincts – you won’t eat yourself to death with butter – but chemicals are like any drug in that they trick your body into thinking you need that non-food.  I trust humans but not drugs and that’s what food-like substances are.

I still won’t use labels of good and bad, and with all my kids being under 4, I don’t talk about this explicitly much but I will as they get older.  And even then, I will trust them to make their own choices.  (as long as they don’t have a dangerous sensitivity) I will let my kids pick the Twinkie if that is the choice they make.  Why? Because I’m not afraid.  Because bad foods don’t make bad people.  Because they love apples and eating is joy for them not a landmine field.  But mostly because their relationship with eating is so much more important than what they eat.

This concludes my follow-ups to the original article.  I know that our culture is firmly entrenched in;

a. fat is unhealthy
b. shame helps people get skinny
c. losing weight is easy with diet and exercise

so I’m probably not going to change anyone’s mind with three posts.  However, if you look at the research I’ve linked to and maybe read a few books you will see that the evidence is overwhelming in favor of intuitive eating and against the dangerous mentality we currently have toward food.  I hope I’ve piqued your interest to learn more.

Big Fat Myths About Fat Part I

source: http://scaddistrict.com/

Recently, my post 15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image, has received a lot of comments.  I’m so glad people are finding the post and discussing this important topic!

I’ve been reluctant to talk about some of the naysayers because I’m not primarily a size-acceptance blogger and there are so many great bloggers out there already doing the work.  However, I haven’t been able to reply to every comment so I figured it was time for a clarifying post.

First, the post in question was a revisit of a previous post “I Don’t Think of You As Fat!” Raising Size-Accepting Children where I provided a little more background on why shaming doesn’t work and how close most kids skate to an eating disorder.

  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives[1. Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2005). I’m, Like, SO Fat!. New York: The Guilford Press. pp. 5.]
  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner[2. Collins, M.E. (1991). Body figure perceptions and preferences among pre-adolescent children. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 199-208.]
  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat[3. Mellin, L., McNutt, S., Hu, Y., Schreiber, G.B., Crawford, P., & Obarzanek, E. (1991). A longitudinal study of the dietary practices of black and white girls 9 and 10 years old at enrollment: The NHLBI growth and health study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 27-37.
  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets[4. Gustafson-Larson, A.M., & Terry, R.D. (1992). Weight-related behaviors and concerns of fourth-grade children. Journal of American Dietetic Association, 818-822.]

Several comments left are completely off base and lacking in a factual basis.  For example,

Fat = Unhealthy

 the fact that you refute fat=unhealthy is completely off base. This is not just some beauty myth. Being overweight truly is unhealthy. It taxes our joints, our organs and every part of our body.

It’s absurd to think being overweight is as healthy as being ideal or average weight.

Uh, no. Sorry.  Not true.  This is an idea promoted by the diet industry not science.  Researchers at Case Western Reserve studied the idea that “fat” taxes our organs when in fact “the idea that fat strains the heart has no scientific basis“.  I recommend this series of articles from Junkfood Science for more information: 

Fat – aka adipose tissue – is not a disease.  It doesn’t cause disease.  It has even been shown to be healthy.  I love this quote from Kate Harding at Shapely Prose;

In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes.

Losing Weight is Easy

 Weight control is pretty simple – eat less and exercise more if you want to lose weight. Maybe they would do it if told/shown how…If I had an overweight child I would help them lose weight and it WOULD happen.

The hubris here defies logic.  Three words: Minnesota. Starvation. Study.  You can read about it here or here.  Of course scores of other researchers have found the same thing like this for example which has a fascinating follow-up where they tried to get thin people to gain weight;

subjects were prisoners at a nearby state prison who volunteered to gain weight. With great difficulty, they succeeded, increasing their weight by 20 percent to 25 percent. But it took them four to six months, eating as much as they could every day. Some consumed 10,000 calories a day, an amount so incredible that it would be hard to believe, were it not for the fact that there were attendants present at each meal who dutifully recorded everything the men ate.

Once the men were fat, their metabolisms increased by 50 percent.

They needed more than 2,700 calories per square meter of their body surface to stay fat but needed just 1,800 calories per square meter to maintain their normal weight.

Within months, they were back to normal and effortlessly stayed there.

So, no.  Losing weight is not easy, simple, or even beneficial in some cases.  Everyone’s body has a healthy size and trying to alter it is nearly impossible and a bad idea.

But I know a fat person that got skinny!  No, you probably know an out of shape person that got in shape.

Stay tuned for part II where I”ll look at the myths of Good vs. Bad Food and the myth of Nutritionism.

How to Not Potty Train in 3 Easy Phases

 

I’m deep in walk training right now.  Yesterday my kid got 3 stickers for walking across the kitchen but today he’s been crawling all day!  I keep admonishing him that we don’t crawl anymore and I make him get up and walk for 10 minutes every hour.  This is exhausting!  I can’t wait till he’s walk trained!

Sounds funny, huh?  We don’t walk train or talk train our kids so why do we potty train?  Kids learn to walk and talk because we walk and talk and they become ready to imitate us.  Why isn’t the same true for learning to potty?

Now, I acknowledge that outside influences might force you to “train” your child to use the potty (daycare).  If you do need to potty train check out Elizabeth Pantley’s No-Cry Potty Training Solution.  But, let’s admit that any potty training we do is for our (or another adult’s) convenience.  Using bribes or threats to get your kid to use the toilet benefits YOU in that you don’t have to buy diapers (or wash diapers) or spend time changing them.  I don’t believe there is any benefit to the child of potty training.  

Bodily Autonomy

In fact, I think there is great benefit in letting them lead the way.  Why?  To teach bodily autonomy.  Bodily autonomy means knowing that you are in charge of your own body.  The concept of bodily autonomy is so important to raising kids that respect their bodies and do not allow others to abuse it.  There are several ways to teach bodily autonomy but I think the biggest way is to LET THEM HAVE BODILY AUTONOMY.  That means they are in charge of what they wear, eat, and do with their bodies within safety guidelines.

What does this look like?  Well, my kids are naked a lot because what they wear in the house is not worth my trying to control.  Of course they have to be dressed to go outside but they can wear what they want.  My kids are not perfect little cuties in perfect little clothes (well, to me they are.)  It means I don’t force my daughter to have pigtails if she says no (although I do insist on a daily brushing).  It means they have access to food when they want and aren’t forced to eat something when I want them to.  It means I make bedtime enjoyable but they can go to sleep when they’re ready.  And it means that I am willing to change diapers until they don’t want me to anymore.

By 12 months old people (cough, Mom) started asking me about potty training.  Because Aellyn was “smart” she was clearly “ready”.  What they meant by that is she clearly had the communication skills and understanding for me to use behavioral conditioning to make her use the potty.  Behavioral conditioning (also called Operant conditioning – think Pavlov’s dog) is training someone to do something based on a consequence.  For example, use the potty and get a sticker or have an “accident” and get punished.  At this point, parents begin putting baby on the toilet often, asking if they have to go often, and giving rewards if they use the potty.

Since I had decided to not train we tried hard to ignore the naysayers.  This is hard!  I was often worried that she WOULD be the 18 year old in diapers!  But, I calmed down, trusted my instincts, and waited for Aellyn to be ready.  Here’s how it went.

Phase 1: Observation

Aellyn sees mommy and daddy use the potty often.  Some people are very private but I don’t think that serves well with kids.  My kids see me naked, see me shower and get dressed.  It isn’t like “now I”m going to show you how to sit on the potty” but just casual observation of how people do things normally.  Like walking and talking, kids want to do it because you are.

By 2.5 years old she was often saying “When I grow up I’ll go on the potty like mommy and daddy.”  She would also tell me BEFORE she went poop.  So, I’d ask calmly if she’d like to go on the potty.  She’d say “no” and go off to poo in her diaper and then come to me to change it.  She clearly had knowledge and control of her urges (the pressure to “train her, train her!” became stronger) but she said no and I respected that.

Phase 2: Responsibility (and Waiting)

I don’t know if this contributed to her finally going on the potty but I”ll put it in here in case you want to try it.  By 3 she could dress herself so we bought pull ups and she became responsible for changing her own pee diapers.  She was excited about this and I wouldn’t have done it if she had shown resistance.  She took off her own wet diaper, threw it away, got a new diaper and put it on.  When she had poops she came to me to change her.  During this time, since she’s often naked, she would run around “accident free” naked and then go get a diaper when she wanted to pee.  I would again ask her if she wanted to use the potty and she said no.  (I can literally hear my Mom saying “OMG TRAIN HER!”)

Phase 3: Click!

One day, when Aellyn was 39 months (3 yr. 3 mo.) her friend Caelan was visiting and she went potty on the toilet.  Aellyn watched.  After Caelan left Aellyn wanted to pee on the potty.  She did.  A few hours later she pooped on the potty.  I put a diaper on her that night and the next morning let her put on panties.  That was it.  She never wore another diaper.  Day or night.  She’s had 3 accidents.  She pooped once in her underpants and cried!  That was after we moved to the new house so I think she was holding it.  And twice she’s woken up wet; and really just a little wet and then she goes potty.  Better yet, she doesn’t need me at all.  She goes potty on her own and I never ask her if she needs to go.  She wipes herself and I decided not to intervene or “check” and a few times she had an itchy butt and we talked about wiping good and once she had an ouchy vagina and we talked about front to back and getting dry.  I’ve just been completely hands off about it.

Honestly, I’m not exaggerating!  It was in her time so when she was ready there was no training, or transition, or anything.  It was like walking – one day she did it and then she always did it.

I’m so glad we trusted her timing.  I had promised myself not to get worried until 4.5 years old (and I had to remind myself again and again).  Clearly, seeing a peer use the potty was her catalyst but I’m sure something would have eventually played that role if not Caelan (Thanks Caelan!).

(note: this post refers to traditional diapered kids and potty training.  I don’t consider Elimination Communication to be the same as potty training.  To learn more about EC check out these great posts.)

15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image

IMG_1081Don’t forget to check out the follow-up post Big Fat Myths About Fat.  Comments are closed on this post since I will be responding via the follow-up posts.  Please comment on the new posts.

I wish I could say the above images were designed by me to make a point about fat-phobia and how poorly kids are treated when they don’t fit society’s ideal of size.  Maybe I threw them together because I thought the SHOCK of seeing kids would help people understand how fat-shaming in adults can feel.

Alas, a group in Georgia actually produced these billboards in an attempt to end childhood obesity. Apparently they thought that shame was a good way to motivate kids to eat healthier and exercise.  Clearly, they also are working under the delusion that size can somehow magically tell you about a person’s health.

I just want to vomit when, in a time where anti-bullying campaigns are making headway, some kids, skinny or fat, had to see this hateful and erroneous message in their towns.  There are plenty of other bloggers that have written about how wrong these ads are (I love this one: What’s Wrong with Fat Shaming?).

Instead, I wanted to revisit a previous post of mine where I talked about how fat-shaming and the fallacy of size=health hurts everyone: skinny and fat.  These billboards didn’t just do a bang up job of making fat kids the target of hate but they also put “being fat” in the minds of kids as being the absolute worst thing that could happen.  Where do we think eating disorders come from?  A self-hatred and fear so strong that young people starve, vomit, over-exercise, take dangerous pills, and otherwise slowly kill themselves is the root of eating disorders.

When we say “fat is bad” we instill that fear.  And it works. Remember the study that showed 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat?  How do you think this billboard effected those numbers?

It is not too late.  As parents we have a powerful influence in how our kids grow up feeling about their bodies and their relationship to food.  Many of them are things we can say (or not say) that have a huge impact.

15 Tips for Raising Kids With a Positive Body Image

    1. Never use the word fat in a derogatory way.  Avoid media that does.
    2. Never imply that you can’t do something or wear something because of your size (“oh, not with these thighs!”)
    3. Never compliment others based on size (how many times is “you look so thin!” the ultimate compliment?)
    4. Point out the beauty of diversity in people and nature – nurture the idea that beauty is diversity.  I love to say “what would the word be if all the flowers looked the same?”
    5. Avoid making physical activity about size or based on what you ate (“I have to jog off that cake”).  Physical activity should be joyful.
    6. Do not label foods as “good” and “bad”
    7. Offer a variety of foods and model moderate indulgence and a wide consumption of foods. Eating should be joyful.
    8. Don’t make your kids eat if they say they aren’t hungry[1. Unless you suspect an eating disorder in which case contact your doctor].  The refrain “finish your dinner!” should be stricken from the mommy lexicon.  Better to let them trust their bodies than feel guilt about wasting food.
    9. Don’t deny your kids food if they say they are hungry.  Another area where we often ignore our kids opinions and feelings.  Try to make your pantry a “yes” pantry with a variety of healthy options that your kids can eat when they want.
    10. Never comment on the amount (too little or too much) that your kids eat.
    11. NEVER use food as a reward, incentive, or punishment!  (this is SO abused among parents!!)
    12. Guard your children against negative body-image media – stop your subscriptions to women’s mags, don’t watch Biggest Loser, Toddler and Tiaras (focusing on appearance), and any variety of shows promoting appearance as a route to happiness.
    13. Avoid talking about a nutrionalist approach to food – disassembling “food” into fat, carbs, calories, and other things that need to be obsessed about and counted (difficult since it is explicitly taught in many schools).
    14. Encourage alternative means of self-esteem besides appearance – spirituality, values, empathy, effort, etc.
    15. Volunteer!  It is much harder to think of something so superficial as size in the face of true plight.

The Presidential Election and Infertility Law

I think I deserve a pat on the back for not calling this post “Newt is an Ass”.  Newt Gingrich, the disgraced former speaker of the House that was pushed out in a ground–breaking censure by his own colleagues for ethics violations, is somehow inexplicably an actual contender for President of the United States of America.  Yes, in America we (at least some of us) love mediocrity – we love presidents that drop out of college and can’t even fulfill their obligations to their constituents.  I literally think I’m getting a repeated use injury from rolling my eyes this election cycle.  I don’t even know what I’ll do if November actually elects one of these degenerates.

Anyways…

Newt recently weighed in on IVF and the “problem” of excess embryos.  He said;

[box]I believe life begins at conception, and the question I was raising was what happens to embryos in fertility clinics, and I would favor a commission to look seriously at the ethics of how we manage fertility clinics. If you have in vitro fertilization, you are creating life; therefore, we should look seriously at what the rules should be for clinics that are doing that, because they are creating life.[/box]

First off, I completely agree that life begins at conception.  I certainly think my IVF cycle created 17 lives – 13 of which arrested and died.  Three of which were frozen.  I think those frozen embryos are my children – unique individual souls.  Two of them are now my flesh and blood sons while I have one more snowflake baby in cryo.

That’s what I believe.  Yeah, me.

I certainly don’t think that *my* beliefs should be forced on every other person in this free society.  There are plenty of people who see an embryo as a potential life only and as human tissue not a human being.  Since I also believe in religious freedom and individual medical choice I would never dream of forcing my beliefs on others.

Because, don’t be fooled.  This is 100% an abortion issue.  The only reason Newt pretends to care about IVF embryos or stem cell research is it strengthens his argument to control womens’ choice to have an abortion.  I detest the attempt by the religious right to control my body.

I detest even more politicians bringing infertile couples into their political posturing.  We’ve been through enough, thanks.  Why don’t you go call a pro-lifer a baby killer and get out of the infertility discussion.  (not that doing so isn’t also douche-y).

What Newt is apparently ignorant of is the existing, heavy regulation that governs IVF and embryology labs.

Furthermore, I take offense at his remark that “if you do IVF, you are creating life.”  First off, DUH. We are infertile we know more about the quest to create life than he could ever hope.  Second, NO.  Mainly, when you are doing IVF, you are treating a medical disorder.  IVF isn’t some spa treatment like the latest chemical peel.  It is a medical treatment for a medical disease.

The flippant way that he discusses this sounds like he thinks we are randomly pumping out embryos for fun.  I’m sure he thinks women who have abortions are doing it for fun too. The general lack of understanding about the HUGE physical and emotional difficulty of an IVF cycle really does a disservice to infertile couples.  Even if you are of the belief that an embryo is just tissue it is some pretty damn important tissue after the weeks of shots, dildocams, and half your life savings.

It is absurd to assume that patients or doctors would treat that tissue with anything but the greatest care and reverence.

I don’t think that further government scrutiny or regulation is a positive thing.  Look at the countries that have created more stringent laws about embryo creation.  In Italy or Sweden, for example, my precious boys would not have been possible because embryo cryopreservation is illegal.  Women must transfer all created embryos – up to 3 – even if they are 28 years old and otherwise fertile.  The chances of multiple pregnancy increases exponentially while patients are forced to do repeated fresh cycles which are exponentially harder on the woman’s body.  Some studies even show that cryo-embryos have a higher success rate because the woman’s body isn’t near overstimulation during a FET cycle.

Countries like the UK, Australia, France, and Germany all regulate by federal law their IVF more that the US – HOWEVER, they also cover it with their glorious socialized medical coverage.  In the US IVF is considered “experimental” and “elective” like a nose job (see, there goes that repetitive use injury).  If you are going to force a woman to only create 3 embryos (because you can’t freeze) or only transfer 1 embryo (despite your doctor’s advice) then it should only be when that woman isn’t paying $20,000 for their one and only chance to conceive.

If Newt, or any other political candidate, wants to discuss IVF they need to learn about the Disease of Infertility and the Treatment of IVF and not just discuss it as an afterthought from some pro-life argument.  Otherwise, please shut up.

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