Stumbling Through the Woods: A tale of my postpartum depression

Things were not all terrible. Not even a little bit.

I couldn’t find a pair of pajamas for Daphne that fit.

That was all it took.

Chris was changing her diaper, complained a little about the straps on the diaper sticking, so I took a diaper out, screamed as loud as I could, and proceeded to hit the diaper against the dresser over and over and over again until it had quite literally dissolved in my hands and I was covered in absorbent cotton diaper innards. I overturned the entire bin of baby clothes onto the floor until I found a pair of pajamas, all the while screaming word combinations I didn’t even know I knew.

Then I started sobbing. Continue reading

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Woe be unto all mothers who enter the Hanna Andersson store

A warning tale if you ever find yourself near a Hanna Andersson store

(An entry into “The Motherbury Tales: Parenting as told in rhyming couplets,” an imaginary book I have started composing while waiting in line questioning my life’s decisions)

Perhaps Hanna Andersson can hire my child as a model and pay her in clothes?

As I go to Hanna Andersson to make a return,
I get nervous. My heart will yearn
For ALL the clothes in the store.
I know myself; this has happened before.
Lord give me strength not to buy
Everything that I spy.

This errand comes as I surmise
Both my children have gone up in size.
And, oh my goodness, it’s a new season…
I seem to be losing all my reason
NOT to buy out all their stock
Of their colorful clothes, and even their socks.
Alas, our budget simply doesn’t allow
For me to go and have a cow.
So as I go and make this return
Maybe this will be the time I learn
To play this errand simple and straight:
Go in, go out, don’t hesitate.

Don’t look at the dresses, don’t peek at the tops –
Once you do you know you can’t stop.
Well…just one quick look, it can’t hurt?
(Since both my kids just had a growth spurt?)
Oh Hanna, you have me once again!
All my money, down the drain!
My kids will look like definite winners
(But it’s beans and franks for all our dinners).

It’s this mom gene I seem to now possess
Where I can’t resist buying that dress
And those pants, and that shirt…
Oh, and fine, just throw in that skirt.
As I stand here, my arms full of clothes
To don my kids’ bodies, heads, and toes.
I recite to myself this infamous line:
“I really won’t let this happen NEXT time.”

My life described in exactly 6 charts

It has been almost 5 (!!!) months since I walked over half a mile while in labor to the hospital to deliver my littlest humanchild Daphne.

I have learned a few things in this period of time, such as:

  • There is a rogue fifth person in our house, and I say that only because that would explain the amount of laundry I do*.
  • Two children is, in fact, much harder than one.

Okay, so maybe learning things isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse right now.

A question I seem to come across and yet have no answer for is what my life looks like these days. For being as exhausted as I am, surely I must have an answer to this simple quandary, yet I am continuously at a loss for what to tell people when asked what I do at home. I realized recently instead of trying to produce words out of my face (you know, also known as speaking coherently) perhaps I could instead show everyone what I’ve been up to lately.

And so, I present to you fine folks these 6 graphs describing my life at any given moment these days. Please enjoy.


On choices:


On past lives lived:


On being forced to confront your own limitations:


On time management:


On discipline:

 


On making conversation:

 

 


*E.T., if you’re reading this, just come out, dude. I’m not going to turn you in, I promise**!
**Unless your clothes are dry-clean only. In that case the gloves are off.

Toddlers are actually velociraptors. Here’s why.

Toddlers : macarons :: Velociraptors : Muldoons

Have you ever seen Jurassic Park? I want to be crystal clear here: not the latest Jurassic-this-is-my-excuse-to-stare-at-Chris Pratt-for-two-hours-electric-boogaloo Park. I’m talking OG JP. The indisputable best JP. The 1993 groundbreaking dinosaur adventure extravaganza that forever made learning about dinosaurs cool JP. That JP.

Have you seen it?

Of course you have.

Now, think back while I ask you a simple question: who are the scariest beasts in that film?

If you answered anything other than “velociraptors” you’re wrong. No no, it’s okay, I’m not judging you, I’m just gently informing you…you’re wrong. Sure, the T. rex has the famous Jell-O-on-the-spoon-jiggling scene. And yeah yeah yeah, the T. rex is fierce and big and scary and causes all sorts of shenanigans. But at whom did Muldoon marvel and utter the now-infamous, “Clever girl?” Who was it that figured out the kitchen could be a festivus of potential death for humans? See where I’m going with this? It’s the raptors.

THE RAPTORS.

Recently it occurred to me that perhaps I had been approaching thinking about velociraptors all wrong. Perhaps the reason they are so terrifying is that they are not just fierce, but they resemble something I know well. There’s something eerily familiar about them.

And then it hit me.

I live with one.

Every day.

Ding! Like a lightbulb over my head.

Toddlers are actually velociraptors.

I shall make my case. And Muldoon, feel free to call me a “clever girl” any time.

They can escape from anything

On Easter my 2.5-year-old learned how to undo the childproof doorknob covers on his door and escape from his room*. While I do admire his willingness to take the “escape from the cave” lesson of Easter to heart, this was actually a terrifying development. Connor can also open deadbolts, undo the little sliding bar locky thingy (technical term) on bathroom doors, and open heavy doors that give grown adults hernias. He can operate revolving doors. He knows what the handicap-accessible door opening button mechanisms do and can find them with astounding swiftness.

Now, if Jurassic Park gave me one lesson in dinosaur evolution** it was that velociraptors also can figure out how to escape. From anything. Cages? Forget cages. Those raptors laugh at your cages just like my toddler laughs at your “childproof” doorknob covers.

The sound. Oh my god, the sound.

You probably don’t remember with astounding accuracy what the velociraptors actually sound like in Jurassic Park but in case you’re wondering, they sound like this.

That screeching, growling, constant hum that eventually turns into a high-pitched roar? Velociraptors and my son would probably have one heck of a conversation when put together in a room. There is no telling who would cause more eardrum damage.

They can find the single deadliest object in any room in a matter of seconds

Punk rock Sit ‘n Spin? Foiled on his way to certain destruction? The world may never know.

Granted, velociraptors don’t really need to find the deadliest objects in rooms as they are the deadliest objects in the room, but I still feel their ability to trap humans in precarious situations is notable. One time I answered a phone call and by the time I had answered “hello” I turned back around and found Connor holding a pair of full-sized adult scissors in one hand and a box cutter (not extended) in the other.

Where did he find these objects, you might ask? Well, friend, where else would a toddler logically think to look for something in a matter of 15 seconds? He had scaled onto the counter, climbed over the stove, traversed over the sink, and grabbed them off the top of the refrigerator.

As one does.

On the one hand, I was terrified, yet on the other hand, I was thoroughly impressed with not only his agility but his fortitude and problem-solving skills, which is exactly the description I give to the raptors.

They exceed all speed expectations

According to the annals of Jurassic Park raptors can reach a top speed of approximately 3,000 mph. It turns out toddlers are almost as swift, despite their short legs and general tendency to fall down simply because they have been standing up for too long.

If you don’t believe me regarding toddler top speed I would like to invite you to the grocery store with me at some point and challenge you to keep up with my son while I’m unloading groceries at the checkout line. One time I swear I heard a sonic boom erupt as I was unloading all my organic kale and zucchini*** onto the conveyer belt.

They are simply impressive

Sure, velociraptors are terrifying – almost as terrifying as spirited toddlers. And sure, they “keep you on your toes,” which in velociraptor terms means, “they very well might try to kill you” and in parenting terms conveniently also means the same thing.

But on the other hand, sometimes it’s impressive what toddlers and velociraptors can accomplish when they put their minds to it. Toddlers and velociraptors don’t just think outside the box, they first escape from the box, use the box to scale the bookcase, and then attempt to eat all the cat food you so cleverly hid “way up high so the toddler can’t eat it.****” In my calmer moments I love seeing what my toddler notices on our walks around the neighborhood. (In my not-so-calm moments I don’t particularly love seeing what kind of velociraptor noises he can make in front of Wrigley Field right at game time because he doesn’t want to turn back home to go get lunch*****.)

Toddlers are stubborn, loud, destructive, creative, hilarious, beautiful creatures. Calling them velociraptors is a complement of the highest regard. Now the trick I think is to eventually turn my son’s raptor energies into a force for good in the world. Does anyone have any ideas on how to do that?

 

*Yes, we have childproof doorknob covers on the inside of his door so we can prevent his imminent escape during designated “please for the love of all that is holy and good in this world sleep, please” times. Or as people in normal houses might call them, “nap and bedtimes.”

**Read as: all my lessons

***Wine. It was wine.

****We all know that’s not a hypothetical scenario, right?

*****You get the hang of it. Not hypothetical. 

Please play the velociraptor sound video while looking at this picture for full effect.

Just pack the d*mn bag already: a lesson in how not to go into labor

Yes, I fell for the hospital-provided professional newborn pictures. Hook, line, and hormone-induced sinker.

About three weeks ago I had a new baby. (Hooray! Go me!)

Baby Daphne arrived 10 days before her due date, healthy, happy (sleepy, rather, which equates to happy for her parents), and weighing in at exactly to the ounce the same birth weight as her big brother. Apparently my uterus has a very strict weight and size capacity for humans growing in it, and, as it turns out, I appreciate its fastidiousness in adhering to the rules.

Since Wee Connor was born in Charlotte and Baby Daphne in Chicago I knew there would be a few differences in the birth experiences. And while I won’t go into gory details of the actual birth, the basics are that I had a planned c-section with Baby Daphne since Connor was an emergency c-section after 26 hours of back labor. (For the record, that is not what we call in the business a “fun time.”) Continue reading

You’ll be receiving Christmas cards in February this year.

Dear Everyone On My Christmas/Holiday Card List,

shame gif.gifI’m sorry. I really am. I’m sitting here eating Valentine’s Day candy and there is just nothing I can do other than apologize.

But the fact of the matter remains: you will be receiving your Christmas cards from us this year in February.

I am fully aware how ridiculous this is.

I am fully aware that nobody does this.

I am also more than fully aware that many people have more on their plates than I do who still manage to get their cards out in a reasonable timeframe.

I can assure you with every fiber of my being: I am aware.

But, again, it doesn’t change the fact that you will be receiving a lovely holiday card with the words “Merry Christmas” on it and our lovely faces plastered all over over the front with a nice little family update printed on the back. In February.

“But why?” You say. “Couldn’t you just not send them instead?”

Well, sure. Yes. Technically, that is an option. But they’re here. They’re printed. They’re gorgeous. I spent time on them. And, more to the point: I spent money on them.

So you’re getting your Christmas cards in February.

How did this happen? Well, I can actually explain that, too.

When I got the Christmas cards I was so excited, I finished the return labels, sealed them up, and had them ready to go. Only then I realized I didn’t have stamps.

Then, thinking  I had plenty of time I procrastinated getting stamps. This was the fatal error. Obviously I should have just gone to the post office one day while Connor was at school and gotten the damn stamps. Probably like the day the cards arrived. Again, I am aware.

All of a sudden Christmas started coming really fast. Like, really, really fast. I was ill-prepared and found myself scrambling between OB appointments and shopping and decorating and family coming in that, well, it just kept getting pushed off.

During this time we also rearranged our house a bit for Baby Daphne’s impending arrival. Because Wee Connor started crawling out of his crib (remember this, as it becomes important later!) we put him in a big-boy bed (which I believe used to be just known as a “bed”, but modern vernacular now dictates it be called a “big-boy bed”, apparently). Then due to the layout of our house, we moved our bedroom into the front living room (in a somewhat common Chicago layout, our condo has a front living room and a back living room) that is also next to the nursery and put Connor into our bedroom.

We also made a large-scale “KonMari clean out our crap” effort during this time in order to make room for this rearranging nonsense. It’s still a work in progress but it truly is freeing. I emptied out two closets’ worth of stuff we had been dragging from house to house to house. But this all took a lot of our holiday time while we had family babysitters available and in town. This was made more exhausting by the fact that I was starting to go from, “Eh, I’m pregnant, I guess” to, “Oh, no, 6 months pregnant is actually legitimately pregnant now.”

No worries, I kept telling myself, I’ll just send the cards out around New Year’s. That’s still in the limits.

Then we found out that our dog Brinkley’s cancer was back much sooner than expected, and it was spreading everywhere. We gave him one last treatment as a palliative measure hoping his last few months would be good, instead of having him slowly decline. However, we knew at most he would only have a few more months and this cast a shadow on my entire existence.

And then Connor stopped sleeping.

A quick elaboration before I go on. This “stopped sleeping” thing was not a cutesy, “Oh, he’s going through a regression, he’ll be back to normal soon,” kind of thing. It was a, “he literally comes out to come get us 15 times in 2 hours in the middle of the night” kind of thing. It was a, “he will not sleep until one of us is lying down with him, and toddlers do not care if they sleep perpendicular to the direction of the bed” thing. It was a, “how can such a tiny human being take up so much space in a bed?!” thing. And remember that whole bit I told you before about how he was now in a big-boy bed? Well, turns out that kids who can climb out of their cribs before they’re ready to understand how to stay in their rooms have trouble staying in their rooms. Chris and I started taking turns cramming our gigantic adult bodies into Connor’s twin bed with him just to get a few hours’ rest each night. It was, quite literally, worse than having a newborn. Also, he wouldn’t take naps.

There was no joy in Mudville.

It was mid-January at this point. The cards still weren’t sent. Chris and I were, to be frank, unraveling.

We hired a “sleep consultant” because it’s 2017, we live in a large city in America where sleep consultants are widely available, and there was no way we could possibly handle another minute of Connor not sleeping, let alone have him be so unable to sleep when the new baby came in April. She put us on a strict sleeping regimen to help Connor learn how to fall asleep on his own and for him to learn to stay in his room until he was allowed to come out again. This took about 10-12 days total.

Then our world fully came down around us.

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I love you, Brinkley Dog. And I always will.

We started realizing Brinkley’s palliative treatment had little effect on him. We could tell our time with him wouldn’t be the two months we had hoped for, but more a matter of weeks. His body started shutting down. The cancer ate his insides more and more. He could no longer control his bodily functions well, and he was in such pain he started getting periodically aggressive with us.

We gave him steak dinners. We took him to the park for some tennis ball chasing. We didn’t get angry if he got into the trash, or went to the bathroom inside. Sending out the cards dropped off my priority to-do list completely.

And then it was time. We had to let him go.

I still can’t talk about it without sobbing uncontrollably. Truth be told, I still can’t even really talk about it at all.

I was semi-nonfunctional for probably about 2 weeks after.

Slowly, I started getting back to semi-functional.

And now, all of a sudden, it’s the middle of February.

And my Christmas cards still are sitting on top of my built-in in my kitchen, waiting to be sent.

Which is why, my dearest friends and family, you will be receiving Christmas cards from us in February.

I hope you giggle at the absurdity of it. I have. It’s really the only way to overcome the complete and utter embarrassment of sending Christmas cards in February. And while, yes, I could just not send them, as any normal person probably would do at this point, I want to let everyone who is getting these cards know I love them and have thought about them through the year. I also hope they understand that sometimes if they need to send Christmas cards in February–figuratively or literally–I will never judge them, but rather embrace their struggles they’ve had, both big and small, alongside their successes and end-of-year summaries on the back of the cards with their smiling faces, just as I know you will do with us.

And so that, friends, is why you’re getting our Christmas cards in February.

The S-word (subtitled: why we don’t tell our kids they’re smart)

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Depending on your outlook, this is either a good or bad outcome of our general parenting approach.

Chris and I have one strict parenting rule in our house: we don’t say the “S” word to Connor (and we won’t to Daphne, either).

“Shenanigans!” You might say. “Surrender your silliness, you sly sycophant!” And while I doubt you’re actually saying that because weird, it’s none of those many S-words you just mentioned.

And it’s not that S-word. You know which one. (I know you know which one. And you know I know which one.)

The word I’m talking about here is: “smart.”

I can hear your questions and angry jeers now, and I’m starting to think this is all getting a little too interactive, especially considering these peanut gallery comments are entirely in my head. “Are you insane? Not telling your own son he’s smart? Do you want him to think he’s dumb? Do you want him to have a complex? Is this some sort of insane experiment? What do you think you’re doing?!?

To which I reply: whoa now, imaginary commenters. Calm down. You’re getting a little heated. Hear me out first.

This aversion to the s-word all started when I read this post/article on Khan Academy about why the author never tells his son he’s smart. After that I fell down the rabbit hole and came out with two very important concepts that, when connected, led to this one rule in our house.

Concept 1: Language Matters.

We know – and have known for a while – that how we speak and interact with our children matters. Many studies have shown that a large part of the education achievement gap has to do with the fact that disadvantaged children are exposed to far fewer words and less interactive language than their more advantaged counterparts in the earliest years of their life. And while that’s an entire discussion that has filled books written by people far above my pay grade with many socioeconomic factors at play (how we as a country treat new parents in the workforce/parental leave, school funding, culture wars, crime, health, education affordability and the growing disconnect between the education of the economic scales, etc. ad infinitum) that bag of beans is not what I’m actually here to talk about. What I do want you to take away from my research and my ramblings is this one thought: language matters. And what we say sinks into kids’ brains in ways we might not have realized.

I want to note many middle and upper-middle class parents have arguably taken this idea to a new overcorrected extreme and now narrate their child’s every move, all day, every day. “If disadvantaged children don’t get enough language, then my child will obviously benefit from the most language ever” seems to be a common ethos in modern (middle-to-upper-middle-class) parenting. I see this on the playground, and actually have written about it before here. Pamela Druckerman talks about this a lot in Bringing Up Bébé, as does Julie Lythcott-Haims in How to Raise an Adult. These are both books about parenting that struck deep chords with me, but also point out that while yes, language is good, children learning to be themselves in their own minds as well. It’s sort of like SPF in sunscreen: there are marked advantages to the SPF number in sunscreen to a point (SPF 30). After this, the advantages are negligible and probably not worth the cost of purchase. Talking and narrating to your children at points during the day indeed is advantageous, but after a point the costs of your sanity-prohibitive and both you and your child need some quiet time, too, since children also need the skill of self directing and experimentation on their own. Do you want someone chattering in your ear the entire time you’re trying to work out a problem? Neither do your kids. They need time to figure out problems for themselves as much as they need times of interaction and play with you.

(*I included an excerpt from Bringing Up Bébé at the bottom of this post that more clearly demonstrates this overcorrection. It is potentially my favorite passage of the entire book.)

But the overall point is language does matter. Children hear and understand more than they can express, and language comes with time over repeated instances and circumstances. So now that we have that down, let’s go on to the next foundational concept to our weird rule, and then I’ll connect them.

Concept 2: The difference between a “fixed” and “growth” mindset

First, the definitions.

I knew for sure that language is important, probably because it’s not particularly new information. What was new information for me was the concept between a “growth mindset” and a “fixed mindset.”

Stay with me. I know it sounds like jargon.

Essentially, when you praise someone (including yourself) for something they have done the praise is about one of two traits: a “fixed” trait or a “growth” trait. A fixed trait is one that exists no matter what you do: you’re born with it. Intelligence, physical attractiveness, and “natural talent” are all examples of this; you’re given a finite amount of this trait by the gods/your genes/luck and that’s what you have to work with your whole life. Growth traits are ones that, as the name implies, can be grown/cultured. Hard work, learning things, curiosity, stick-to-itiveness (real thing.), and “grit” (Angela Duckworth’s work about grit is fascinating, by the way) are all examples of growth traits.

When you start to tackle a problem or project and think to yourself, “I’m smart enough to do this,” that’s an example of a fixed mindset. You’re thinking about drawing from your pool of fixed amount of talent and using it. When you instead think, “I can work hard enough to do this,” or, “I can learn to do this,” both of those mentalities are utilizing a growth mindset. You’re thinking instead that you can grow to do something, regardless of innate talent or intelligence.

Next, why a fixed mindset is nicht so gut. 

“Okay, fine, cool, growth mindset is different. But why does it matter? If a person is smart or talented, then they’ll just succeed no matter what, right?” Well, it turns out that’s not necessarily true.

What actually happens when you have a fixed mindset is kind of fascinating yet also eventually debilitating**.

The first result is that with a fixed mindset you become less and less willing to try things that are increasingly difficult, which means less experimentation and much less willingness to stretch yourself. If you have been told repeatedly that your achievements are due solely to your intelligence (as opposed to your hard work, experimentation, trying again after you failed, etc.), you’ll go on fine for a while because your talent probably is enough to get you through what you need to do. Eventually, though, you will run into something difficult. It’s life, and it’s a sign of good things – you have progressed to a point where you need to be challenged and stretch your limits. However, if all you know is that you’re “smart”, what happens is you’re less likely to want to risk trying the difficult thing because your intelligence/talent/fixed trait might be called into question. “But, if I fail, that means I’m not actually smart,” is probably not the actual thought you’ll have, but it’s subconsciously there. You’ll be inclined to take the least risky/easiest path. And greatness isn’t achieved on that path, it’s achieved on the edges. It’s achieved in those places where the struggle is occurring. The hard thing is, though, those stretch zones are filled with mistakes and hard work. And if you’re never praised for having figured things out, or working hard, or, yes, failing and trying again, then you won’t know those are the qualities that will get you through them.

The second result of a fixed mindset is intrinsically tied to the first one but is worth breaking out on its own: people who are constantly praised for their intelligence/talent innately typically do not handle failure well. “Okay, like, who can?” you might be asking. Which, fair. Failure can feel like a punch in the gut, especially if you’ve tried hard at something. However, when you have a fixed mindset failure takes on an even bigger meaning. Instead of seeing failure as a sign to try something different or work harder, if all you’ve been praised for is your talent it means that you are a failure, not just what you did. It suddenly means that you’re not all that smart, after all, despite all praise previously indicating that you are. If you have a growth mindset, you’ll be able to frame it differently: you have found something that doesn’t work and can try something else. You can work harder. You have found yourself in a place where you need to stretch yourself, and that’s where greatness happens. When you fail, it’s not that you’re stupid or untalented, it’s simply an indication that something didn’t work. Doesn’t that seem better than you yourself not being intrinsically good enough? Of course it is – and is why when people with a fixed mindset fail it’s a catastrophe. A while back, Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, had a great video about how her father asked her every week what she had failed at, because he was determined for her to see failure as a good thing. It meant she was stretching herself. It meant she was trying something new and was challenged enough that she wasn’t able to sit comfortably on her laurels. It framed her entire view about failure not as a personal insult to her intelligence or talent, but that instead it meant that she was trying and working hard enough to be able to fail. I cannot encourage watching it enough.

(Finally) bringing it together

I’m pretty sure by now you know where I’m going with this.

We now know that language matters, and we also know that fixed mindsets aren’t good, but what does that mean in practical terms? What does that actually sound like? That’s where our rule comes in.

What we say to our kids impacts them tremendously, and while they won’t be able to express this for a long time, we can help frame their growth mindsets from the get-go through our language. When Connor figures out how to put the puzzle piece in his puzzle correctly, I don’t praise him for being smart, I praise him for working hard to figure that out, or trying, or working through it. Telling him he’s “smart” ends the conversation, and it’s a habit I certainly don’t want to fall into for when he’s older. Remember, language matters, and early language matters more than we may even realize. I wouldn’t ever tell him he’s stupid, but I also do not want “you’re so smart!” to be the only praise he hears and knows. When he fails at something I praise that, too. I tell him that means that he was trying something new, or that next time he’ll learn from it.

Look, I’m 30 years old and arguably better at building block towers than my two-year-old, but if I only praise him for being smart enough to build the tower, or – worse – if I prevent the tower from toppling I’m doing him a disservice. The learning in building block towers is twofold: the first part is the skills to build it, the second (arguably more important part) is learning that when it falls down – i.e., when it fails – what went wrong wasn’t life-ending, and that he can do something different next time to improve on it. I might show him or help him in the process, but I will not do it for him after that. He can stretch himself to his next level of greatness. If all I tell him is that he’s smart, he’ll never want to try anything new because he’s afraid of failing. He’ll only do what he knows he can do or has been shown to do with great amounts of assistance.

I want Connor to always know that working hard and figuring things out is what gets him ahead, not innate intelligence. Even if he is incredibly intelligent – which of course I believe with all my heart he is as I am a mom and have mommy goggles on no matter what – eventually he will get to a point in either his academic career or other career where he is met with people who are also all incredibly intelligent or talented. What will distinguish him then isn’t his past abilities to have easily done things, get good grades, or his intelligence. What will distinguish him is his ability to work through problems, accept failure as a barometer of what to do next time instead of as a defeat, and then try again with the new information at hand. No amount of intelligence can overcome a fear of failure or fear of being perceived as “not smart.”

Is it strange we do have this super harsh rule in our house? It sure seems like it sometimes. No matter how many books or articles I read (which I’ve listed a bunch at the bottom, if you’re interested) I sometimes feel very alone in this endeavor of not telling my child he’s smart. However, knowing that I can in some way help foster a growth mindset in my little one from literally birth is something so powerful I can’t help but try. I want him to know that he’s capable of doing anything, and not just capable of what his intelligence allows.

And so, with that, our shenanigans are up. We slyly subdued ourselves and stopped saying “smart” to our kiddo. Seriously.

 

*Footnote: Bringing Up Bébé excerpt

This is a quote about the constant narration and how far to the “other” extreme parenting in America has become from Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman that also brings in my favorite parenting reference book, The New Basics by Michel Cohen.

“American-style parenting and its accoutrements—the baby flash cards and competitive preschools—are by now clichés. There’s been both a backlash and a backlash to the backlash. So I’m stunned by what I see at a playground in New York City. It’s a special toddler area with a low-rise slide and some bouncy animals, separated from the rest of the park by a high metal gate. The playground is designed for toddlers to safely climb around and fall. A few nannies are sitting French-style on benches around the perimeter, chatting and watching their charges play.

Then a white, upper-middle-class mother walks in with her toddler. She follows him around the miniature equipment, while keeping up a nonstop monologue. “Do you want to go on the froggy, Caleb? Do you want to go on the swing?” Caleb ignores these questions. He evidently plans to just bumble around. But his mother tracks him, continuing to narrate his every move. “You’re stepping, Caleb!” she says at one point. I assume that Caleb just landed a particularly zealous mother. But then the next upper-middle-class woman walks through the gate, pushing a blond toddler in a black T-shirt. She immediately begins narrating all of her child’s actions, too. When the boy wanders over to the gate to stare out at the lawn, the mother evidently decides this isn’t stimulating enough. She rushes over and holds him upside down. “You’re upside down!” she shouts. Moments later, she lifts up her shirt to offer the boy a nip of milk. “We came to the park! We came to the park!” she chirps while he’s drinking. This scene keeps repeating itself with other moms and their kids. After about an hour I can predict with total accuracy whether a mother is going to do this “narrated play” simply by the price of her handbag. What’s most surprising to me is that these mothers aren’t ashamed of how batty they sound. They’re not whispering their commentaries; they’re broadcasting them.

When I describe this scene to Michel Cohen, the French pediatrician in New York, he knows immediately what I’m talking about. He says these mothers are speaking loudly to flaunt what good parents they are. The practice of narrated play is so common that Cohen included a section in his parenting book called Stimulation, which essentially tells mothers to cut it out. “Periods of playing and laughing should alternate naturally with periods of peace and quiet,” Cohen writes. “You don’t have to talk, sing, or entertain constantly.””

(Here’s a jump back for your convenience.)

 

**It is worth noting growth mindset thing is sometimes used as a panacea, especially around education. Let me be perfectly clear: it won’t help children being over-tested or put to sit in chairs for 8 hours a day without recesses. Or children who have increased lead in their blood because of the city’s drinking water (not just a Flint, MI problem, by the way). Or children who come in hungry because they might not get food in between leaving school and getting breakfast at school the next day. Or crumbling infrastructure. These are just a scant few of the structural problems facing our education system, and these are problems that no amount of a growth mindset will fix. Arguably, though, putting children into a constant fixed mindset puts them at a double disadvantage.

 

P.S. In case you’re interested in any of the articles or books about this that I linked above…

Books: 

  • Bringing Up Bébé: My favorite book about parenting that ties in food, sleep, praise, and everything in between in a completely delightful easy-to-read narrative.
  • How to Raise an Adult: Think Bringing Up Bébé but for Americans, with a strong focus on the back end about the push for the “best” colleges. Written by the former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford who realized all of a sudden these kids had little to no skills on their own without their parents, and how we got to that point.
  • Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance: Angela Duckworth is so charismatic but talks a lot about how to have more grit, and why it is so important in our lives, and how the hard times are where we find greatness.
  • The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success: This really goes into the “failing is a really, really, really good thing” idea and explores examples of failures of all sorts and then how we can all fail better.

Articles: 

Video: