October 5, 2023
By Courtney Wise
Good morning, MindSite News readers! Today we bring you an in-depth New Yorker interview with pediatrician Harvey Karp of the Happiest Baby on the Block fame. Also in this edition: How do we keep from becoming our parents (unless we want to), the potential problem with grandparent day care, postpartum depression isn’t just for moms, and a primer on raising resilient kids.
Pediatrician and ‘happy baby’ expert Harvey Karp on soothing babies
Dr. Harvey Karp has long been a saint to scores of sleep-deprived parents (and has helped saved their mental health, according to many) by helping them get their baby to sleep through the night. The author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, Baby Bliss, and The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep (not to mention The Happiest Toddler on the Block) enthusiastically recommends the 5 S’s to help babies stop wailing and drift off to sleep – swaddling, holding them in a side/stomach position, making shushing sounds that mimic those in the womb, swinging them gently in your arms and let them suck, either by nursing, bottle-feeding or sucking on your finger, all of which trigger a calming reflex.
But as Karp reiterates throughout his conversation with The New Yorker, none of the advice he offers to parents is new: Mothers and caregivers have done this for millennia. Where sleep (the most coveted and desired activity of new parents) is concerned, it’s not so much a baby’s problem that they want to be held and cuddled and rocked to sleep, it’s our culture and how it fails to support caregiving.
“You should hold your baby as much as you can. But, honestly, mothers really don’t hold their babies very much in other cultures,” Karp says. “Grandmother does. The older sister does. The next-door neighbor’s older daughter. It does take a village, and it’s a big lie in our culture that the mother should be, for twenty-four hours a day, the only support of that type of rhythmic stimulation. It’s not realistic.” So for parents who may be too tired or worn-out for the 5 S’s every night, he has recently developed Snoo, a $1700 bassinet that uses white noise and gentle womb-like rocking to soothe the baby to sleep. Snoo becomes a tool to treat the deficiency of extended family support. “From that point of view, Snoo is trying to be a Band-Aid…to help the parents expand their capabilities,” he said, adding that he is working with state agencies to make it accessible to people using Medicaid.
The conversation is well worth the read beyond that point as well. Readers may be fascinated to learn that, despite Karp’s gift for soothing babies, he doesn’t have any biological children of his own. He’s been stepfather to his daughter since she was seven, making his expertise about infants so far useless in his personal parenting journey. (Any part of you delight in finding out the super doc has parenting challenges, too?) “I’ve learned that it’s harder to carry out things than it is to tell people to carry out things,” Karp said. “If you’re doing it right fifty per cent of the time, you’re really successful.”
Parenting your children while reparenting yourself
Last week, while helping my daughter get ready, my mother jumped out. I used the same words she used with me: “The shirt you wear this morning is your own choice, but refusing to brush your teeth is not an option. Good hygiene is important for good health.” And just like I did, my daughter boldly rolled her eyes as she sulked to the bathroom sink. Whether a welcome reality or not, our parents influence our parenting. “Children don’t enter the world as a blank slate. The generations that came before shape them from the start,” wrote Faith Hill in The Atlantic. It’s impossible to argue.
Beyond mimicking our parents’ daily habits, there are various indirect influences many of us carry from our upbringing as well. Hill notes class status and alludes to the concept of epigenetics too. That’s the idea that what we do – our behaviors – and where we do it – our environment – can impact how our genes respond. Then there’s that ever-present subconscious. Clinical psychologist Becky Kennedy, popular on social media as Dr. Becky, says that most of the time, the reactions we parents have to our children’s behavior is really a reaction to our own childhood memories. When we fail to come to terms with what we have to unlearn, reacting harshly when your kid asks why, for instance, it’s likely because we learned that it’s wrong to “talk back” and are struggling to let the idea go.
Accepting that we repeat some of our parents’ behaviors is difficult to accept for some, especially folks whose childhoods featured a hefty dose of trauma. But self awareness may also lead us into the trap of overcorrecting what we don’t like from our parents. “When we parent from fear or guilt, we don’t make the best parenting decisions,” said parenting coach Elisabeth Stitt.
What to do then? Build your parenting tribe. “It takes a village to raise a child” isn’t a cliché for nothing. Find people who model the behaviors you want to practice in parenting yourself and learn from them. Do the work of self reflection to release whatever you must from your own childhood. Then, customize what works best for your children and family. Finally, let go of the idea that you’ll ever be the perfect parent. As far as I’m concerned, my mother was designed by the heavens, just for me, yet I’ve still spent at least two hours in therapy fussing about her. She is my mom, after all. As her kid, a proverbial eyeroll or two is inevitable.
Grandparent Day Care sounds great, but what if they’re across the country?
Since March 2020, our collective mental health has deteriorated, there are ongoing labor strikes because so many of us don’t earn enough at our jobs, and now scores of parents across the nation have lost the emergency federal funding Congress provided for childcare during the pandemic. One solution? Extended family. More specifically, grandparents are making themselves available to help care for grandchildren.
William Grimm is a retired high school counselor, now in his mid-60s, who expected to spend most of his days gardening or hiking with friends since he no longer has to go to work. Instead, he is working from 8:30-5pm, five days per week, caring for his grandchildren. “This is my first full-time interaction with little bitty ones, and having two is much more tiring than having just one,” he told Yes magazine. Though the image of Grimm with his grandbabies is sweet, Hot Wheels and board books all around, the reality isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
The truth is, childcare is largely unaffordable for scores of families across the nation, evidenced by the anticipated closure of 70,000 child care centers within the next year and the estimated 3 million children who returned to poverty in 2022 as a result of the child tax credit reduction. Working parents without extended family to offer free or low cost childcare are left in a lurch, under extreme stress, and some grandparents still need to earn money to get by. Childcare is not an individual family problem, but rather a problem for the nation to address.
“We must recognize it as a public good, care that nurtures young children’s development, enables parents to work and go to school, and that supports local employers and the community as a whole,” said Natalie Renew, executive director of Home Grown, an organization that supports home-based daycares across the country. “And we should fund it as a public good, through programs that strengthen the infrastructure for child care, including subsidies and supports for grandparents who are taking care of their children’s children.”
In other news…
Raising resilient kids: However challenging your personal circumstances, the American Psychological Association asserts there are ways to nurture a sense of resilience within children, or the ability to thrive despite stresses outside of their control, like concerns over transportation and housing. But what parent has the time to suss those lessons in the thick of trials? To read over when the kids are napping or during a brief respite, the APA created this Reselience Booster: Parent Tip Tool.
Resurrecting your childhood hobbies for mental health: Psychologist and social media influencer Dr. Becky says that the reactions we parents have to our children’s behavior is really a reaction to our own childhood memories. So why not dredge up some of your faves for the sake of your own well-being? These young adults highlighted in Teen Vogue aren’t necessarily parents themselves, but they are finding success “healing their inner child” by taking back the hobbies they left behind.
Postpartum depression isn’t restricted to moms: A recent systematic review and meta-analysis 16 studies examining more than 7 million father-child pairs found evidence of paternal depression. In addition, researchers said that the condition is associated with a 42 percent increased risk of depression in the child, USA Today reports. “Thinking about child outcomes, we thought historically that if mom is better, then the child is safe and well, and they will go through a normal development,” said Sheehan Fisher, a psychiatrist and behavioral sciences researcher unaffiliated with the study. “But if we treat the mom and the father is not well, then the child is at risk for mental health issues.”
Dolphin parenting: There’s a mammal for all of us parents, eh? This time, Fatherly shares the scoop on dolphin parenting, described as authoritative parenting with a heavy emphasis on exploration, discovery, and emotional intelligence.
If you or someone you know is in crisis or experiencing suicidal thoughts, call or text 988 to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline and connect in English or Spanish. If you’re a veteran press 1. If you’re deaf or hard of hearing dial 711, then 988. Services are free and available 24/7.
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