Why mommy drinks: The scary truth about #WineMom

We joke about using wine to cope with all the whine. But what if the thing that makes everything better poses serious health risks? Is it still funny?

Photo: Roberto Caruso, On-figure styling: Shea Hurley, Hair + makeup: Sophie Hsin for Charlotte Tilbury, Special thanks to GAP + Banana Republic

It wasn’t until five months in, when I had a solid mom friend and the confidence to walk the city, that I hit upon a mat-leave milestone: day drinking. Lisa and I usually spent hours in the park, on a blanket laid with hummus and rice crackers and water bottles. But it was raining, the pub was right there, and we were leg-numbingly tired. It was dark and empty inside. We slid into a booth, laid our sleeping babies on the velvet banquette and ordered pints. We giggled, kind of incredulous that this was even allowed. Those watery beers sent us into another dimension, where we could drink and talk like people who didn’t have to think about the next diaper change or whether the alcohol would be out of our systems by the next feed. It was a strange and delightful pocket of time and the start of a beautiful thing: With this drink, I could escape. Or was it a return to something?

This is a story about moms who drink. A generous pour as we prep dinner, sipping as we slide something into the microwave or drop it frozen from a bag onto a tray. We hate the food a little less when we top up our glasses. The kids’ bickering doesn’t sound as shrill. The rush, the race—it all slows down, slides away. We exhale. We feel alternately relaxed, guilty, lulled, defensive. Childless drinkers, cherish your cheap shots. Daddies, cheers to your craft beer. Moms everywhere, with your bourbon, your cider, your Prosecco: I wish it were that simple.

A couple doing the dishesTill chores do us partMommy needs her wine” is a phrase I hate. It couldn’t be more infantilizing. It sounds like you’re trying to appease a fussy baby: Do you need your bum changed? A nap? Your soother? But whether we need it or want it, whether it’s a substitute for that yoga class pass we paid for but never use or the fact we haven’t been to a restaurant in months, we’re drinking it up. Women are consuming more alcohol more frequently than ever before—the numbers of those who report casual drinking, binge drinking and dependence are spiking, particularly for women older than 35. You know, around the time we’re white-knuckling motherhood. This is one area where the gap between women and men is closing, but since the health risks are much graver for women, I’m not sure I want to catch up. The state of women’s drinking has been called a public health crisis, while jokes about it adorn fridge magnets and baby onesies. This is normalization. It’s delicious. It’s transporting. It may also be a problem.

Is something a problem if everyone does it?
Like me, my friends will pour a drink before starting dinner, take it to the bathroom to sip while they bathe their kids, set it on the nightstand during storytime. One friend I exercise with, who’s currently on mat leave, says she finds it hard not to drink during the day. Every day. We’re not drinking so much that we tumble down the stairs or black out while reading Robert Munsch (though sometimes I wish, wish, wish, wish, wish that would happen), but this dependence can, and does, escalate.

Leda Vitalis* was home alone every night during her baby’s first year—so the wine became her buddy. Georgia was a difficult baby, and her husband worked the late shift. None of them slept for the first gruelling 90 days, so they sleep-trained Georgia early, and by the time she was four months old, they’d found a schedule that worked: Georgia was in bed by 5 p.m. every night, which left Leda exhausted from the day with no one to hash it out with. She’d open a bottle of red. “I’d have a glass with dinner, and then I’d think, Well, I still have a few hours. I might as well have another glass while I do the dishes—again. And then, God, my back hurts. I’ll have another glass while I watch TV—this one’s for my back. And then my husband would come home—let’s have another glass together and catch up,” she says. “And all of a sudden, I realized I was consuming a ridiculous amount of booze.” She’d never been the type to drink alone. Before Georgia, she and her husband went out and drank socially with friends, but it had gotten to the point where they were consuming more alcohol—far more frequently—as parents than they ever had in those carefree days. It hit Leda one night, she recounts, rolling her eyes at the cliché, while she was watching a makeover show.

A mom holding a child throwing a tantrum and a glass of alcohol
Photo: Roberto Caruso, On-figure styling: Shea Hurley, Hair + makeup: Sophie Hsin for Charlotte Tilbury, Special thanks to GAP + Banana Republic

“It was the part where Paul, the host, goes to the woman’s house and rummages through her cupboards, looks at what she eats and throws stuff out. And then he opened her fridge and asked her, ‘How much do you drink?’ And she said, ‘Like, three drinks a day?’ And Paul said, ‘That’s 21 drinks a week! Do you realize how much alcohol that is?!’ And I was literally sitting there on the couch with my third glass of wine, and I was like, Whoa, that woman drinks a lot,” she says. “And then I stopped. I thought about how much I’d had to drink that week and how regular this behaviour had become. It wasn’t complex math: I was drinking 28 drinks a week—an amount I’d never consumed in my life. I had just gotten into this routine, thinking that I deserved a bit of relaxation at the end of the day.”

As with any habit, the more you do it, the easier it is—and the more automatic it becomes. “Regular drinking on a daily basis builds tolerance,” says Catherine Paradis, senior research and policy analyst at the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction in Ottawa. “What happens when you want to celebrate something? You’ll have to drink more.” Habitual drinking, three or four times a week, increases tolerance and our risk of bingeing. And the stats bear this out.

Among women in Canada, risky drinking (defined as having four or more drinks on one occasion at least once a month) is on the rise, particularly in women above the age of 35. In 2018, Canada’s chief public health officer’s Report on the State of Public Health identified alcohol use in women as one of the most pressing concerns of our time, highlighting that, from 2011 to 2017, deaths attributed to alcohol increased by 26 percent among Canadian women, while alcohol-related deaths in men increased just five percent.

An August 2017 study published in JAMA Psychiatry reveals that between 2002 and 2013, the number of women who demonstrated problem drinking—this includes alcohol abuse (when it causes recurrent problems) and dependence (the inability to quit)—soared by 84 percent. High-risk drinking among women increased by 58 percent over the same period. Women are less likely to admit problematic drinking, but we have no filter when it comes to stress.

Statistics Canada data shows that in 2014, 25 to 30 percent of women ages 20 to 64 felt most days in their lives were quite a bit or extremely stressful, and 34 percent of working women reported the same about their jobs. What’s more, the number of women who rate their mental health as fair or poor, or who have been diagnosed with a mood disorder, keeps rising. The more hours you give to your job, the more you drink. The more depressed you are, the more you drink—or is it the more you drink, the deeper into depression you sink? The two are so tangled up, it’s often hard to tell which came first. We know heavy drinking is linked with an increased risk for major depression, especially for women.

But it’s all fine—there’s no problem here!—especially if you trade in quippy meme culture. Google “wine mom memes” and you may start to feel a little woozy.

“The most expensive part of having kids is all the wine you have to drink.”

“Motherhood: Powered by love. Fuelled by coffee. Sustained by wine.”

“I can’t wait for the day when I can drink with my kids instead of because of them.”

“I want my kids to be good at math but not so good that they can count how many glasses of wine I’ve had.”

“Technically, you’re not drinking alone if your kids are home.”

Stripped of their ironic illustrations of moms in ’50s housedresses, these playful “Mommy Juice” memes are dark. They’re printed on wall hangings, aprons, stemware. There’s a brand of American wine called Mommy’s Time Out. These messages prop us up and egg us on. Parenting is so hard we can’t (or don’t know why we should) do it sober—#sendwine tops nearly 17,000 posts on Instagram, most of them starring a wild-eyed mom and/or child. The joke is everywhere, and it’s totally messed up. How did we get here?

Pan out a few decades, or maybe think back to the coolers you were drinking in the ’90s. Wine and spirits brands were flagging, as most men were swilling beer and women weren’t drinking nearly enough of anything. Like any smart multi-billion-dollar industry, it pivoted. Store shelves flooded with flavoured vodkas, colourful coolers and fizzy wines with prettier labels—gateway drinks. The plan worked like a charm. And as we’ve matured, our buzz of choice has, too, and we have more money to spend. Today, women make 85 percent of all consumer purchases, and our take-home pay is increasing faster than men’s. Women drink more wine—the rosé renaissance is being led by older millennial women (ages 30 to 38)—prefer “skinny” pre-made cocktails and are choosing more potent brown liquors, like bourbon and whisky. “This positioning of alcohol as liberating and empowering for women is not an accident,” says Ashley Wettlaufer, a researcher at Toronto’s Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). Hell yeah, women can drink like men.

But we actually can’t. On average, women drink less than half of what men do. But despite this, we’re more likely to get alcohol-related diseases and we’re twice as likely to die from them. And the numbers are high. Last year, alcohol-related hospitalizations for all Canadians (77,000) outnumbered heart attacks (75,000), and 5,000 deaths were attributable to alcohol. Given equal amounts of alcohol, women metabolize more of it and absorb higher concentrations in our blood than men, says Svetlana Popova, senior scientist at the Institute for Mental Health Policy Research at CAMH. Women are more vulnerable to organ damage, heart disease and several types of cancer involving the digestive system (including the mouth, esophagus, colon and rectum). And breast cancer, because our hormones like to get in on the action, too (of course they do).

It doesn’t matter whether it’s tequila or shiraz, it’s not the type of alcohol that causes cancer but the amount and frequency. According to the National Cancer Institute, a meta-analysis of 53 studies (including 58,000 women with breast cancer) showed that one small drink (10 grams of alcohol) can nudge the relative risk of breast cancer up by seven percent—if a woman’s usual risk stands at 12 percent, one drink a day would push it to 12.84 percent. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation reports that approximately 4 percent of new breast cancers cases a year in Canada may be linked to alcohol consumption—and the more you drink, the higher the risk.

The long-term hazards are somewhat unfathomable. I just want to have a glass to feel nice and sleepy by the time I’m done bingeing Stranger Things. How scary is that, really? Sadly, alcohol is a dubious remedy for my daily stresses—and it’s doing the opposite of what I intend. “Alcohol is a depressant, so while you might feel some relief, even one drink per day for women can increase anxiety within just a few hours of consumption,” Popova says. “This could lead to more drinking and poor sleep quality, interfere with everyday tasks and even increase the risk of suicide.” And yet we continue to self-medicate with it.

Mother with three kids holding a glass of wine
Photo: Roberto Caruso, On-figure styling: Shea Hurley, Hair + makeup: Sophie Hsin for Charlotte Tilbury, Special thanks to GAP + Banana Republic

The case for day drinking
The brunch mimosa is so basic. Alcohol has now been pushed into service for all manner of daytime pursuits. Now that I’m looking, I see it everywhere. “There’s the stealth marketing of alcohol and the not-so-stealth,” says Wettlaufer. “So many everyday activities now have alcohol in the mix: book clubs, playdates, mom meet-ups, yoga with beer, marathons that involve literally chasing a keg on the back of a truck to the finish line. And all these events are advertised on social media, where mothers happen to spend a lot of their time.”

In Canada, alcohol marketing regulations exist only for TV and radio, but everything is on social media, including booze, and there are no rules. “The ads are made to appeal to your lifestyle, and they are precisely targeted—we voluntarily share our age, family information, things we like, things we search. And those are just the static ads you just scroll past,” Wettlaufer says. Brands also want to be your Facebook friend, insert ads to interrupt your Instagram stories and post extended commercials to YouTube, where they collect millions of views.

The promotion for the Very Mommy Wine Festival, put on by Toronto mat-leave group MomsTO last fall, was a social media play—I first saw it shared across a few of my groups on Facebook. The event’s tag line, “babes on the hips, wine on the lips,” left no room for misinterpretation. For a $65 ticket, you were free to sample all the drinks (wine, beer and vodka) and canapés (if you were lucky enough to snag one), shop the high-end vendors, listen to speakers and connect with other moms.

Media condemnation swiftly followed: An all-you-can-drink daytime event is problematic for new moms who are at risk for postpartum depression and anxiety, the critics said. The organizer, 33-year-old mom Alana Kayfetz, clapped back: The name is tongue-in-cheek; the event is meant to be fun; they tried “Mommies that Like to Drink Tea,” she told the Toronto Star, “but no one came.”

It’s true, there are no delicious bourbon-soaked cherries at the bottom of a cup of oolong. But there’s something about this response that bothers me. On the MomsTO home page, you’ll read, “This is the millennial mom movement.… We want to give moms a better mat leave. We want to increase your happiness, give you permission to be real and connect with others. Wine/beer always offered but never pushed.” To me? The language feels a little pushy. But the spirit behind it, providing women with community and connection, is crucial. Should we really be shaming women for attending an event like Kayfetz’s?

Afterwards, I heard from many indignant moms who felt the critics (many of them addiction specialists) assumed all mothers in attendance were out to get sloppy drunk—just one cold can of Ace Hill away from rehab. “We’re encouraged to drink: Here, mama, relax! But wait—don’t relax too much!” says one friend. “We’re policed at the same time. It’s just one more thing to worry about.” A colleague of a friend, a new mom on mat leave, seemed annoyed that this was even up for discussion: “Leave women alone to do what they want,” was her curt reply. I completely understand the defiance: We’re grown women, and this is legal. We do it because we can—and because we can’t do the things we did in our pre-kid lives so easily. Because we like it, and pleasure is important. Because for a while now, our bodies and our lives have not been our own. It’s more than a drink: It’s a taste of freedom.

“It’s an accessible and delicious pastime that easily fits into the chaos of our lives,” a close friend, a mom of two, tells me. “It also makes the grind seem a lot less mundane—you lose a lot of choice when you become a parent. Sometimes I’m just so tired of doing so much in a day. The wine helps me become a smoother version of myself.”

Three glasses of wine into each night, Leda Vitalis felt pretty chill by the time her husband got home from work. “Had I not loosened up a bit beforehand, I would’ve lost it,” she says. “There was a certain amount of let me exhale so I’m happier when my person comes home. And then we’d inevitably have another drink together, because that’s what our lives used to look like. I wasn’t giving this up.”

Essentially, our defensiveness boils down to this: Don’t take this one nice thing away from us.

To your health
Growing up in an Italian family, I’d always believed that a small but steady stream of alcohol—aperitivo before dinner, wine with your pasta, grappa with your espresso—was not only proper but also good for you in some ephemeral way. Saluti! To your health! But Tim Stockwell, director of the Centre for Addictions Research of BC in Victoria, sets me straight: “The benefits of moderate consumption have certainly been exaggerated and may have even been created when they weren’t genuine,” he says.

Over the years, alcohol, red wine in particular, has been reported to reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and even protect against the common cold. “There’s a growing chorus of skepticism around these claims in the science community. We’re all scratching our heads, asking ourselves if it isn’t all too good to be true.”

It is, pretty much. Stockwell led a massive meta-analysis of 87 long-term studies on alcohol and mortality involving nearly four million people, the results of which were published in the March 2017 issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Once his team adjusted for errors in the research (and there were many), any perks of light drinking evaporated.

One of the main flaws in a lot of the studies lies with what Stockwell calls “abstainer bias.” Moderate drinkers were being compared to a group of abstainers consisting mostly of people who either quit drinking due to health problems or were unable to drink at all for health reasons—so, of course, they’re unhealthy. It’s also a self-selecting group, he continues. As they grow older, healthy drinkers who are fairly immune to the effects of alcohol and other ailments are being compared to an increasingly unhealthy aging group of abstainers.

A mom holding a beer
Photo: Roberto Caruso, On-figure styling: Shea Hurley, Hair + makeup: Sophie Hsin for Charlotte Tilbury, Special thanks to GAP + Banana Republic

Any benefits from moderate drinking may have less to do with alcohol and more to do with lifestyle, Stockwell says. People who drink discreetly tend to be more educated and better paid. They have gym memberships and health benefits; they jog, eat more quinoa and kale—and just happen to also drink alcohol. “So the whole thing is possibly a magnificent mirage. Add a bit of wishful thinking and a massive profit motive, and you can see how this idea has captured the collective imagination of the alcohol-consuming world,” he says. “We’re all comforted by the idea that it might be doing us good.”

Of course I have to rationalize the benefits. I don’t want to face the consequences and guilt that come with doing something I enjoy so very much. Stockwell doesn’t blame me for buying into all of it, but he’d like to see some changes. “We’re all grown-ups, but we need better information to make our decisions. At the moment, there’s no information on labels and no media awareness campaign telling us that the substance 80 percent of us drink on a regular basis is carcinogenic—70 percent of Canadians are unaware of that,” he says. Maybe it shouldn’t be available wherever and whenever—like bookstores and farmers’ markets. And we absolutely need to stop joking about it as the salve for every mother’s stress.

There are healthier rewards and ways to cope, sure. But what if alcohol is the only one available to you at this time? What if you like it more than all the others? When I’m racing the clock on my way to school pickup, I often think about that drink. My fists unclench as I conjure the bourbon, the oversized ice cube and those cherries. On a weekend trip to the liquor store, I might choose something nice specifically for Monday night. I love a drink on bad days as much as I do on good ones. Or totally indistinguishable ones. I love a drink. Don’t we all deserve this?

“The ‘I deserve this’ is all marketing,” says Paradis. “Alcohol has cornered the market on me time, on fun and relaxation. But there are a lot of other things we could say we deserve. Why don’t mothers deserve free gym memberships? I deserve one hour of exercise on my own without my children. Someone somewhere should make that easy for me. That would be a much more constructive message than ‘I deserve a bottle of wine.’”

A close friend, a mom of two with an intense job, admits her first glass of wine is a treat. And it’s satisfying, but not quite enough. She wants to feel more satisfied—and that’s when a second and maybe a third glass happen. If it’s not wine, then it’s chocolate. Or ice cream. Moderation is hard when you’re striving to overachieve in every other area of life.

I’m attempting a treat-replacement program. And I’ve recently gotten excited about sparkling water. During 6 a.m. jump squats, my workout buddy, a mom of two, tells me she does the same thing: “Every night, I would come home from work and immediately pour myself a glass of wine. But I’ve cut it out during the week for my health—I feel better and I sleep better without it. But I miss the routine,” she says. “So, I’ll use a highball glass, add ice and a squeeze of lime. It feels like a treat after a long day. It’s not really the drink—it’s the ritual.”

As her daughter has gotten older, Leda has eased up on her nightly wine. She tries to stay dry Monday to Friday, but some weeks are harder than others. “When life gets difficult, it’s really easy to slip back into the habit,” she says. “It’s an addiction to the ritual and the psychological need. Parents, especially in those early months and years, need to hang on to those moments of calm however they can. A glass of wine is an easy way to facilitate that. It’s the demarcation of my day. I’m going to take however long it takes me to drink this glass and just let my body exhale.”

We can talk all we want about how mothers need more time for themselves, more support for their families and better work-life balance. We know the fixes that could and should be made. If only I could easily swap hitting the snooze button for sit-ups or mindless pouring for mindful breathing. I could use that meditation app I downloaded in 2013 or try harder to get my 10,000 steps every day. But when? When I’m working through my lunch so I have more time to get a better dinner on the table? It just feels like more effort, and it’s on me to make it happen, to channel the willpower and dig for the discipline.

I’ll try for it tomorrow. Tonight though, I will pour a drink.

* name has been changed

** Editor’s note: Alcohol consumption does not appear to increase breast cancer risk in women carrying a BRCA gene mutation as an earlier version of this story suggested.

Read more:
4 facts you need to know about drinking and breastfeeding
Have a uterus? Then say goodbye to alcohol—forever!

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This is the best age gap between kids

There are pros and cons to back-to-back pregnancies, or waiting a few more years before diving back into baby land. We weigh all of the options.

Photo: @watermeloneggrolls via Instagram

Back-to-back pregnancies mean putting your head down and pushing through another round of diapers and sleep deprivation. Or you could experience life on the other side for a year or two before plunging back into baby land

Pros of having kids close in age

—You’re done with the baby gear faster and can get rid of it sooner, instead of storing or stumbling over it for years.
—Your kids are close enough in age to entertain each other, go to the same movies, read the same books, go to the same summer camps, and so on.
—They’ll always be friends and can confide in one another (though this depends)
—They can share a room— maybe even a bunk bed.
—You get all the early-years chaos and stress over with, in a compressed timeline. It’s intense, but at least it’s done!

Cons of having kids close in age

—Your life is a whole lot of chaos (and poop! So. Much. Poop) for three solid years.
—You’ll have to pay for double the daycare fees, if you’re not staying home with the kids (and—looking ahead— possibly two university tuitions at once).
—You might feel like your body hasn’t recovered between pregnancies.
—You’re nursing or pregnant for three or four years straight.
—If you take full year-long mat leaves, lots of time away from your career in a short period of time (as opposed to interruptions a few years apart).

Pros of having kids with a big age gap

—Selective amnesia about childbirth has long since set in, and the horrors of sleep deprivation during the newborn months are a very distant memory.
—It may be easier to find special time with the new baby if your kids are more than four years apart and your eldest is already in school, with a routine and friends of her own.
—Your kids won’t be intensely competitive or be compared so closely in school.
—Your eldest can help potty train your youngest, assist with feedings or yell for you if the baby is getting into something he shouldn’t while you’re in the other room for 60 seconds.
—Your baby always has a built- in mentor and role model.

Cons of having kids with a big age gap

—You will be dealing with poop, potty training and diapers for a longer period of time, drawn out over many years.
—The sleepless nights seem to last forever instead of being one hellish period of exhaustion.
—Doing drop-offs and pickups at different schools or daycares is hard to juggle, especially as your kids grow older.
—Activities are also pretty incompatible. Your eight-year-old wants to go to the movies, but your three-year-old can’t make it through a matinee.
–All the rules about starting solids and safe sleep have changed since you had your first.
—The other moms on mat leave are 10 years younger than you.

Read more:
How do you know you’re ready for a second baby?
7 milestones for parents of two
Secret tricks and tips from parents of more than one kid

 

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Your messy house doesn't mean you don't measure up as a new mom

All the perfectly designed nurseries I saw on Instagram twisted my perception of reality and whether I was a good-enough mom.

PHOTO BY CARMEN CHEUNG

Before I had a baby, I had dreamed of what my days as a new mother would look like. As far as I could tell from magazines and social media, it looked like playgrounds, mom groups and cozy cuddles with my newborn.

In actuality, the first few days with my baby were indeed pretty magical: Family came and went showering us with gifts, well-wishes and advice. I never felt so loved and content. But after the visits stopped, and my partner went back to work, I was home alone with a mysterious creature who cried, ate, pooped and slept. I didn’t have time to shower and feed myself, let alone worry about my messy house. And more than anything, I felt excruciatingly lonely. As I scrolled through the endless pictures of glowing mothers in pristine, Pinterest-perfect themed nurseries, I shut the cover of my laptop and cried right along with my son.

My version of motherhood looked nothing like what I’d seen on social media. Dishes littered the sink, laundry overflowed, and in the middle of the messy house, my son spit up all over his last clean sleeper. I couldn’t figure out how to keep my home as clean and together as every other mom’s appeared online while also taking care of a very helpless, always hungry human. My husband and I were focused on feedings and getting more than two hours of sleep in a row at night; we barely had the energy to accomplish basic tasks like getting groceries and making ourselves dinner.

A week after bursting into tears while scrolling Pinterest, I decided to try a local weekly moms’ group I’d been invited to. As I drove up to the host’s house, I noticed that even the lawn was perfectly manicured. And when the other new mom opened the door, I swore I heard angels sing. Just like the images I’d seen online, this space was perfect too, but this was IRL. Her home was immaculate. I wondered what she thought of my mismatched socks as I took off my winter boots, left them on the mat by the door and followed her into the kitchen. The floors were shining, the trendy farmhouse sink didn’t have a dish in it and she looked rested and sane. Her adorable baby was dressed in a cute matching outfit I’d seen in a magazine. I followed her into the living room, sure I didn’t measure up.

Once I heard that the plan was to rotate who hosted the group every week, I made some excuse, bundled up the baby again and high-tailed it out of there. The thought of those mothers coming into my messy house—and pushing laundry off the couch to sit down and nurse their babies—was horrifying. I knew that I could never volunteer to host, and so I never went back.

tired mom does laundry holding crying baby An open letter to the mom who feels like she did nothing today Growing up, my family believed cleanliness was next to godliness. Saturdays were spent scouring the house. I carried that same compulsive neatnik gene into my own life as an adult—until motherhood threw me for a loop. When my family was planning a visit, I’d knock myself out, spending an entire week cleaning before their arrival: vacuuming the floors with the baby strapped to my body, shushing and bouncing to lull him to sleep. I’d forego my few-and-far-between opportunities to shower or sleep while the baby slept (ha!), choosing instead to spend that time organizing cabinets and washing clothes so that I’d appear more together than I actually was. When my family finally arrived, I was so exhausted from the cleaning frenzy that it was hard to enjoy the visit.

I’m not imagining this cultural pressure for women to keep a clean house. One May 2019 study from the Journal of Sociological Methods & Research found that women are indeed judged on the cleanliness of their home, while men are not. The barrage of perfect Instagram images further perpetuates the myth that motherhood should be clean and clutter-free, with serene women cuddling their peaceful offspring in design-blog-worthy homes. My social media streams definitely twisted my perception of reality and how I measured up as a mom: I was so afraid of being judged for my messy house, I chose loneliness at a time when I needed companionship so much.

Luckily, with the birth of my second child, less than two years later, I discovered the truth. By then, I’d met other women who were real and honest—who revelled in their imperfect homes and chaotic families—and I learned to ease up on myself. I unfollowed some of the picture-perfect mommy blogs and accounts that were eating away at my self-worth. And honestly, as a mom of two, I also just didn’t have the time. It was either keep a clean home, or keep my sanity. Once you add two children to the mix, life gets complicated. It’s impossible to balance all the demands. And while the societal judgement is real, now I know that there are so many women who live like I do—surrounded by hampers they can’t find the bottom of, and sinks with endless dishes. I learned to spot these women out in the real world, too: at the grocery store, fumbling through aisles with their own screaming children, and at the library circle time, trying to sing along with drool-covered shirts and deep under-eye circles. They became the women who saved me.

The key for me was finding my people—the women I could open up with. I could let them see my disaster of a home because it mirrored their own. Once I did, I realized that motherhood doesn’t have to be so solitary and self-critical. A spotless house does not make you a good mother, just as a dirty one doesn’t make you a bad mom. In fact, the disorder at home probably means you’re prioritizing the big stuff, and doing what you need to take care of yourself and your children. Instead of cleaning, you can take a walk, read a book, watch a show, or invite a group of friends over—the kind of friends who know our worth as mothers is not determined by the way our homes look. Motherhood is messy—and it’s OK to show it.

Read more:
3 reasons why a messy bedroom is actually good for kids
My house is messy—and I’m not ashamed of it

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I quit my job to help save the earth for my kid

Deniers have tried to claim that informing kids about the climate crisis amounts to child abuse. But actual child abuse would be doing nothing to prevent it. So, I did something.

Courtesy of Joshua Ostroff

One of my earliest childhood memories is marching against the apocalypse with my parents. It was Vancouver in the mid-’80s. I was around 10 years old—the age my son is now—and very anxious about the end of the world. (Around the same time, my parents had, perhaps foolishly, let me and my older sister watch The Day After, a TV movie set in the wake of a nuclear holocaust.) With Cold War tensions between the US and USSR pushing the Doomsday Clock toward three minutes to midnight, annual peace marches brought hundreds of thousands downtown demanding nuclear disarmament.

Back then, it was easy for people of all ages to grasp the possibility of World War III—a pair of powerful men could end humanity instantly with one misunderstanding and two turned keys. Today’s climate crisis, on the other hand, is a slow-motion apocalypse that we’ve known about for decades—the term “global warming” was coined way back in 1975, the year I was born—yet kids are somehow far more capable than grown-ups of comprehending the coming threat. 

Climate change and kids: kid's hands hugging a tree with a heart on the trunkHow to raise a green kid without freaking them out That’s why students around the world have spent the past year marching against it in massive climate strikes. And it’s why covering these youth protests as a journalist—who also happens to be a father—inspired me to quit my beloved job to join an environmental non-profit organization. My top priority is protecting my child, which includes his present and future. This past summer, I left behind the only career I’ve ever had—one I decided on at age 15—to work for World Wildlife Fund Canada (WWF-Canada) so that I could be part of the climate fight rather than just report on it.

I’ve always been concerned about the environment. Growing up among giant evergreens on the West Coast will do that to a kid (as will being raised by hippies). My dad was even part of an environmental theatre troupe called the Ozone Players that did sketches about the then-gaping hole in the ozone layer. (Yes, I was utterly embarrassed by it at the time. Now, I respect both the politics and the pun.)

Parental and climate anxiety

I first learned about global warming around 25 years ago, back when the United Nations started organizing annual conferences to discuss doing something about it. But, like those world leaders and most everyone else, I grew accustomed to the climate crisis percolating in the background. 

The danger remained a distant abstraction, even after I started writing about it as a journalist at HuffPost, until a family trip home in the summer of 2017, when climate-related “extreme fire weather” set the province ablaze. (It was British Columbia’s worst wildfire season in recorded history—until the following summer.) A year later, I found myself on a polar expedition work trip to Nunavut, a life-changing experience where I got up close to threatened ice-dependent species and spoke to Inuit about their way of life being at risk of melting away after thousands of years.

In January, I joined CBC Kids News. While researching young newsmakers for a tween audience, I discovered Greta Thunberg, who had begun her then-lonely climate strike outside the Swedish parliament in August, and Sophia Mathur, an 11-year-old from Sudbury who began her own solo climate strike—the first outside of Europe—a couple of months later.

 Thunberg’s fledgling Fridays for Future movement kept growing over the course of the winter, leading to the first global climate strike in March. I embedded with the Toronto group, spending the day with adorable and whip-smart elementary-school-aged strikers as they drew posters and practised chants and dance moves before hitting the streets. They shared their fears for the future with me and their optimism that it could still be saved—if only grown-ups would listen.

Though they had no idea at the time that 1.5 million other students were doing the same thing around the globe, these young kids stood in front of Queen’s Park, yelling at the top of their lungs, “The youth have risen! The youth have risen! The youth have risen!”

It was powerful to witness while assembling the rough cut and adding footage of Thunberg’s steely-eyed “I Want You to Panic” speech and a montage of YouTube clips of kids from all over the world coming together en masse to demand climate action. Emotions kept overwhelming me—an involuntary and embarrassing-at-work physical reaction. I’m a relatively reserved person who almost never cries, but this potent mix of parental and climate anxiety was too much. It’s happening even now as I type this, as I remember that day. 

Turning climate fears into action

I continued to cover climate change as a reporter and producer, hearing from experts about what was coming and what we still had time to do about it. One scientist broke down future scenarios for our young audience. She explained that, within their lifetime, unless the world changes its current carbon-emissions trajectory, Canada will experience flooding on the coasts, droughts in the prairies, melted ice and permafrost in the Arctic, deadly heatwaves in the cities and the Endor-like rainforests of my BC homeland burning away into grasslands. Oh, and the beach town where I’m from will be under water. I might see some of this. My son could see it all. 

During the second global climate strike in May, I got student strikers across the country to film their protests and make their demands. They sent me 148 videos. Again, emotions unwillingly welled, especially when I watched a speech by Jessica, a 13-year-old from Halifax.

 “I’m sure a lot of you, when you were younger, thought about your future,” she said. “In elementary school, you always thought, ‘What am I going to be when I grow up? How many kids am I going to have? What am I going to name them?’”

“But today, that’s changed,” she said into the microphone, her voice catching. “Because every time one of those issues comes up, my brain goes to ‘What if that never happens?’ And I’m still 13. Everyone younger than me is going to have even more fear than I do now. I don’t want a future to be questionable. I don’t want it to be ‘maybe if.’”

I know that “maybe if” fear because I felt it, too, as a kid, worried that nukes aimed at Seattle might miss and hit my house in Ocean Park, BC, near the US border. Deniers have tried claiming that informing kids about the climate crisis amounts to child abuse. But actual child abuse would be doing nothing to prevent it.

So, I did something.

When an opportunity serendipitously presented itself, I went for a job interview for senior editorial specialist at WWF-Canada, the local branch of the world’s biggest conservation organization. With scientist-filled offices from St. John’s to Victoria and Toronto to Iqaluit, WWF-Canada focuses on protecting nature and fighting climate change. 

That same morning, a UN biodiversity report revealed that a million species are at risk of extinction.

I took the job. Soon, I was mobilizing WWF-Canada staff and supporters for the historic September 27 climate strike—the one that brought 7.6 million people into the streets of more than 2,000 cities around the world—while handling communications around UN climate reports on land use, melting ice and rising seas. 

A meaningful mission

I now spend my days helping conservation scientists, who work on “nature-based solutions” that use carbon sinks like forests, wetlands and coastal restoration to reduce emissions and their impact while protecting at-risk species. I still have a “beat,” primarily Arctic and climate, and my job is still factual storytelling, which includes producing a newsletter; translating science into articles, press releases and presentations; writing and editing briefing notes and op-eds; and overseeing video and social media. But our wins here are different because our mission-driven goals go beyond informing people to influencing policy and industry.

Our biggest success this summer, for instance, was helping to secure interim federal protection for Nunavut’s Tuvaijuittuq, a Germany-sized section of what we’ve coined as “the Last Ice Area” above Canada and Greenland, where scientists project that sea ice will persist the longest. Safe from future development after a decade of science, advocacy and negotiation support for the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, it can now provide a future climate refuge for High Arctic species and the communities who rely on them. 

When my son marched against the apocalypse at the September strike, he hand-painted his sign with a Thunberg slogan from her UN speech the week before: “How dare you!” Her target—and his? The grown-ups who won’t take action.

Look, I’m as anxious as ever—maybe more so now that I know more, especially about the magnitude of wildlife loss. And that Doomsday Clock, which also takes climate change into account, is actually now at two minutes to midnight. But I took action. So, though I can’t wave my hands and make my son’s climate fears go away, he knows that his dad leaves the house every day to go and work on it. 

Read more:
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New Year's resolutions for the whole family

Here’s a roundup of the resolutions you and your family should make now to ensure a fabulous 2019.

Photo: iStockphoto

Making your family better, stronger, more harmonious may not require a complete overhaul, but rather a few strategic tweaks. Here’s a roundup of the resolutions you and your family should make now to ensure a fabulous 2019!

1. Hold family meetings.

Give everyone in the family—including the kids—an opportunity to be heard. Provide the space for feuding family members to voice their feelings in a setting that models respectful communication and conflict resolution. Brainstorm beefs. Strategize solutions to stumbling blocks. You’ll get greater cooperation when decisions are made mutually.

2. Say no to sarcasm.

Scorn is just anger thinly disguised with a sneer. So, cut the contempt. If you’re mad, be mad. Communicating your feelings honestly and openly makes room for problem solving. Sarcasm complicates true communication and squeezes out solutions.

3. Laugh. A lot.

Laughter fills up the family’s good-will tank, making your family more resilient in tough times. It also paves the way for positive parenting. What was it Mary Poppins said? “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” Well, corrections are more easily digested when coated in honey. So, lighten up a little.

4. Focus on quality, not quantity.

If I told you to spend more time together as a family, you’d probably retort that with, “There’s just no time.” I get it. Life is busy. But, building those vital bonds of belonging—whether with your kids or your spouse—is accomplished in moments, not hours. However, you’ve got to make those moments count. Be mindful. Put away your smart phone, and be fully present and engaged for a short while.

5. Don’t forget date nights.

In our efforts to put “family first,” we inadvertently put our marriages last. That’s a problem. Our partnership is of primary importance—parents are the bedrock of family life, the executives heading the corporation. So, you two need to stay tight. And in order to stay connected as loving partners, you need to put in the time away from the kids. And, on that note…

6. Practice some self-care.

You can’t be a good parent, or a good partner, if your tank is empty. We don’t fully appreciate how depleted we can get—and how drastically that can affect our interactions with others in our family. We start to sweat the small stuff, harbour resentment, become bitter when we’ve denied our own needs. There’s nothing that a good yoga class or night out with friends can’t fix. So, re-fuel frequently, and you’ll get more mileage as a parent.

Read more:
14 ways to celebrate New Year’s Eve with kids
How to handle the top holiday stress triggers

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7 mistakes parents make when taking baby pictures

Instantly improve your photos by reading up on what our panel of experts say are the most common mistakes parents make when taking pictures of their baby.

Photo: Nicole Duplantis

From the moment your baby is born, your smartphone or camera is out, snapping shots multiple times a day. No parent can resist capturing those moments! But when the time comes to set up a DIY photoshoot for some more formal, less candid shots, there are some best practices to follow—as well as some big mistakes. Here are the common mistakes parents make when taking baby pictures.

1. Only taking pictures of your baby’s face

Of course, you want plenty of pictures of your baby’s sweet, smiling face, but don’t forget about all of their other adorable features. Knee dimples, leg rolls, chubby feet and fingers also deserve to be well-documented, says Alyssa Kellert, a family and birth photographer based near Vancouver. This cute baby phase only lasts so long—sniff, sniff.

2. Setting up a shoot during naptime

“Choosing a time of day when your baby is tired or hungry probably isn’t the best idea,” says Kellert. You are much more likely to have a happy baby—and end up with the photos you want—if you wait until after nap or meal times. And the witching hour should be avoided at all costs!

3. Not bringing a backup outfit

You probably have the cutest outfit picked out for your shoot, but you should have a second (or even a third) option handy, advises Kellert, who has seen her fair share of blow-outs and spit up at shoots. “Babies can be messy.”

Alt text 16 tips for taking way better pictures of your baby

4. Forcing the photo

You might have an idea pinned to Pinterest that you want to recreate, but if it’s not working for your baby, don’t push it, says Roberto Caruso, a staff photographer at Today’s Parent. Instead, adjust your location, baby’s clothing or whatever else is necessary to make them happy. “You might end up with a photo that’s different from your vision, but you’ll have something that’s better than endless snaps of a screaming baby.”

5. Overstimulating your baby

“I ban nannies, grandparents and anyone else from set,” says Scarlet O’Neill, a baby photographer based in Toronto. If there are too many people shouting “look here!” or just moving around behind the scenes, baby can become distracted or even anxious. “You want them to be focused on the person holding them in the picture or looking at Mom behind the camera—that’s how you get a really good shot,” she says.

6. Getting too close

Close-up shots of your baby can be really sweet—but not when they’re out of focus. “Unless it has a macro lens, the camera on your phone isn’t made for getting super close,” says O’Neill. As a result, the edges of your picture can look fuzzy. For best results, take a step back when taking your shot.

7. Arriving at the very last minute

Taking your shots somewhere outside the home? New spaces are overwhelming to little ones. Arrive early to your photoshoot location so your tot has time to adjust before you start snapping.

Read more: 
What to do with all those kid pictures and videos on your smartphone
I’m going to stop sharing photos of my daughter on social media when she turns 2

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ICYMI: These were our most-read stories in 2019

From proud postpartum selfies to chronic mom rage, our top stories of 2019 drove tons of clicks and lots of conversation among our readers this year.

Photo: Courtesy of @SHE_PLUSFIVE

As the year comes to a close, we’re taking a look back at our top stories of 2019. What were we clicking on the most? And what does that say about the state of modern parenting? Turns out, we’re proudly celebrating our postpartum bodies, confessing our underlying mom rage, and trying to figure out how to get our babies to actually sleep. (Hmm, those last two are probably related!) Our favourite royal moms across the pond, Meghan and Kate, also held our interest in 2019.

Here are the stories that were conversation starters with our readers this year.

1. We love our “imperfect” post-baby bodies

When we put a “real” mom on the cover of our May/June 2019 issue, you guys loved it. Canadian mom of three Sara Nicole Landry (@thebirdspapaya) proudly bared her stretch-marked midriff, slightly saggy skin and all, and looked gorgeous doing so. Finally, moms were seeing more realistic body types of all shapes and sizes reflected in a magazine. This online post, sharing 10 photos that celebrate and honour ‘imperfect’ post-baby bodies, is still one of the most shared stories we’ve ever published. Meanwhile, unfiltered belly pics were also popular on Reddit, and the smart think piece Olivia Stren wrote about postpartum body image and sharing our “mom bods” on social media unpacked this fascinating trend.

2. Vaginas—of all types—should be celebrated, too

The body positivity movement isn’t only a waist-up phenomenon. This lovely illustration of what vaginas and vulvas really look like—a collaboration between an artist and a pelvic floor physiotherapist—went viral on Facebook in May 2019. The illustration shows that all vulvas are different—they’re as unique as our individually quirky and beautiful faces—and yet the shame we carry about this misrepresented body part runs deep. “We cringe at the thought of OBs, midwives or other healthcare professionals getting a good look at our nether regions during pelvic exams and labour, and we’re mortified by our own pubic hair,” writes Claire Sibonney. It’s especially heartbreaking that as we’re becoming mothers—a time when we should be truly celebrating the mind-blowing magic of our bodies—we’re instead apologizing for what we’ve got. The overwhelming number of clicks and shares on this image proves that women are pushing back against unrealistic standards and beginning to open up about what our bodies really look like.

3. Viral parenting “tricks” sometimes take it too far

We always keep an eye on parenting hacks, photos and videos that are bubbling up on Reddit or trending on Twitter. In March, parents were tossing cheese slices at their adorable babies’ foreheads. (Relatively harmless, though not everyone found it funny.) In November, parents were trying out a Snapchat spider filter app on their unsuspecting kids, and some people thought it was more cruel than hilarious. But this so-called trick to get picky kids to actually eat their meals, which went viral back in June, is a disturbingly violent tactic. In our opinion, it qualifies as child abuse. (Be warned: the videos being posted by parents are pretty hard to watch, even if it’s only teddy bears and stuffies being harmed.)

4. We need to talk about mom rage

Speaking of anger management issues: our feature about one mom’s problem with chronic mom rage also resonated with our readers this year. Losing your patience, yelling at your kids too much and generally feeling overwhelmed by life is common—and we’re finally talking about it. “Moms can be prone to rage because the transition to motherhood is, frankly, way harder than most of us think it will be,” writes Colleen Seto in her story, “Mom rage is a real thing— here’s how to deal with it.” We take care of everyone else, don’t have time for self-care, and put our own needs aside. “If basic needs like getting enough sleep and eating properly aren’t being met, you’re going to have a hard time dealing with any emotion, let alone rage.” Check out our tips for understanding your triggers and feeling less angry if mom rage is something you’re hoping to curb in 2020.

5. We’re desperate for more sleep

All parents know that sleep deprivation is a common cause of frustration: it robs us of our patience, makes us irritable, and raises our anxiety levels. It’s no surprise, then, that one of the most popular stories we published in 2019 was our super simple breakdown of the most common sleep training methods. When you’re operating on less than four consecutive hours of shut-eye, it’s impossible to read through all the sleep books or keep a bajillion different sleep-training approaches straight. Bookmark our guide now (and please send it to your exhausted new-mom friend): 6 most popular baby sleep-training methods explained.

6. We love celebs who clap-back for a good cause

mother holiding her kid while kissing them on the head These parents totally won 2019 Our readers love it when celebrity parents use their fame to advocate for others. In August, an Instagram commenter asked Amy Schumer how she’d cope if her baby son had autism, and she had the best comeback. “How I cope? I don’t see being on the spectrum as a negative thing. My husband is my favorite person I’ve ever met. He’s kind, hilarious, interesting and talented and I admire him,” she wrote in response. “Am I supposed to hope my son isn’t like that? I’d be disappointed if he liked The Big Bang Theory and Nascar, not if he has ASD,” she added.

7. The modern royals are redefining motherhood

All eyes were on the British Royal Family in 2019 as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle welcomed their first baby. We loved watching Meghan Markle’s elegant maternity style as her pregnancy progressed, and our readers really wanted to know which 5 strange royal birth traditions she’d get to skip.  Since baby Archie arrived, we’ve applauded her honesty about how tough new motherhood can be, especially when you’re living in the public eye. Of course, we still can’t get enough of Kate Middleton, either. From her comments on how hard breastfeeding is to whether she’s getting broody about baby number four, you guys were here for it.

8. Developmental trauma disorder has long-term consequences for kids

This tough story about developmental trauma disorder went viral for us earlier in the year. It’s a heavy topic, but an important one: significant adverse experiences, particularly in the first three years of a child’s life, have an impact on the physical development of their brain, and have lasting effects on their relationship-building skills, their behaviour and their sense of self. Parents who are familiar with the foster-care system, and anyone who works with kids with special needs, were sharing this post over and over again in 2019.

9. Infant car seats aren’t necessarily safe for sleep

This headline probably surprised many parents. The recommendation certainly surprised the moms on staff here, since so many of us used to click our infant bucket seats into the stroller without a second thought. But according to a study published in Pediatrics in July 2019, letting your baby sleep in their car seat is super risky—here’s why. While a quick, unavoidable nap while driving from point A to point B is probably OK, babies should not be sleeping in a car seat regularly, they concluded. The upright seated position can cause something called positional asphyxiation.

10. Measles outbreaks are still a thing

Measles outbreaks continued throughout 2019, and parents clearly want to know how to keep their kids safe from this scary disease. Our explainer on the most frequently-asked measles questions saw a lot of traffic this year. Can babies as young as six months old get the MMR vaccine? When do kids get their measles booster shots? Should you avoid travelling to places with low vaccination rates? What are the symptoms of measles? You’ll find answers to all these questions here. 

Read more: 
19 trends that will affect parents in 2020
The most popular recipes of 2019

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How to manage your baby or toddler's sleep schedule over the holidays

During the holidays, family events can result in overtired, tantrummy kids—and sleep-deprived, short-on-patience parents. Here’s how to survive without everyone’s sleep going sideways.

Illustration of an exhausted couple sitting on the couch at a family Christmas party
Illustration by Michael Byers

When Karina Sadu’s daughter was two and a half, she took her to a big family dinner at her sister’s house. Little Marcela had missed her nap, staying up during the two-hour car ride there, but Sadu thought it was going well. That is, until she looked over and saw Marcela nodding off, about to face plant into her mashed potatoes.“I caught her head in my hand just before it went down. She even had a little bit of mashed potato on her cheek and nose,” she says. “I picked her up and gently put her down on the carpet under the table, and she slept at our feet for hours while we ate our dinner.”

It doesn’t always happen so dramatically, but holiday events often clash with kids’ sleep routines. And it can be hard to know what to prioritize. After all, it’s important for kids to have quality time with their extended family.

“A little bit of indulgence once in a while, with the goal of delighting the child or allowing the child to connect with people or a family tradition—that’s great. That’s as important as your routine,” says Jillian Roberts, a child psychologist and author based in Victoria. She’s also a co-founder of FamilySparks, an organization that provides mental health services for families.

Many parents, like Sadu, live by this philosophy. Samantha Halvorson, a 35-year-old mom in Calgary, says her kids, who are three and one, often hang out with extended family past their bedtimes. She changes her kids into their PJs and encourages them to come for snuggles if they get tired before leaving for the 20-minute drive back home. “We are a close family, and I want my kids to have a relationship with their grandparents and great- grandparents. To me, that’s way more important than our schedule,” she says.

Other parents find it’s more difficult. Before I had my first kid, I believed I would never be “that kind of mom,” the Type A parent choosing a rigid schedule over more family time. But in reality, our toddler tantrummed if he was kept up past bed time, so we always left early. “If you want a really good visit, come by our house at 5:30 in the morning,” we used to joke. “He’s really happy then. We’ll make you pancakes!”

It was hard not to feel like I had failed at my pre-kid goals of being a chill parent. But Roberts says catering to the needs of young children is correct—and often unavoidable—and that includes honouring their sleep schedules. “With toddlers and very little children, I would give new parents complete permission to follow the needs of their children without question,” she says. No matter what your occasionally judgmental relative might think (or say). Prioritizing what you and your children need can be especially hard when you’re trying to sync up multiple families’ schedules during a stressful holiday season. Some relatives probably don’t understand that there are actual consequences to deviating from the usual nap schedule. They might not remember their own sleep struggles as young parents, and they don’t truly get how hard you’ve worked to develop a decent sleep routine, which is why you’re so worried about sliding back into bad habits (and having to deal with the sleep deprivation).

“I’ve had clients call me up almost crying, saying, ‘I don’t want to go on this trip,’” says Alanna McGinn, founder of the Good Night Sleep Site, a sleep consultant network. “Most of the parents aren’t worried about the child sleeping. They’re concerned with how others will make them feel because of what they do to ensure their child continues to sleep well.”

Follow the 80/20 rule

A grandmother wearing a santa hat and her grandson are celebrating Christmas morning together. The elderly woman is sitting on the floor with the little boy and holding him in a tight embrace as they play. A Christmas tree can be seen in the background and toys scattered around the floor 5 ways to set boundaries with family over the holidaysAs a compromise, McGinn advises parents of young kids to adopt the 80/20 rule. “Try to stick to your kids’ routine 80 percent of the time, and then if the nap is missed or their bedtime is later 20 percent of the time, it shouldn’t be a huge issue,” she says.

That might mean having a policy that you only let your schedule slide for special occasions—and not for too many days in a row. “If grandparents are visiting and you have a great big family gathering, you can allow your child to stay up late,” suggests Roberts. “But if it’s the next day and the grandparents want the child to stay up late again, then you can put your foot down.”

If your kid still naps during the day, you might focus on getting in a solid daytime sleep when you know bedtime will be later. For a baby on a two- or three-nap schedule, the first nap of the day is the one to prioritize, says Janey Reilly, the CEO of WeeSleep, a Toronto-based sleep consulting company. “The morning nap is usually the longest and strongest nap of the day, so if they’ve had a good start to the day, they’re more apt to be able to handle a nap on the go later, or bedtime being a little bit later.” That might mean doing the first nap at home and then driving to the party around the time of the second nap, so your baby or toddler can sleep in the car on the way.

Or it might be best to arrive early and set up a Pack ’n Play or travel crib in another room for naptime. Try to keep their sleep habits as similar to home as possible: a familiar travel crib, a sleep sack, a beloved stuffed animal (if they’re old enough to have a stuffie in the crib) and, most important, a white noise machine to drown out any party sounds from down the hall. A dark room that’s far from the festivities is ideal. (A large closet with the door cracked open can be a great option.)

If you’ve already sleep trained your baby, don’t nurse them down or rock them to sleep on vacation or while staying somewhere new. If they fall asleep independently at home, they should be able to do so at a different house too, provided they have a quiet room and a few extra minutes of wind-down time. (And yes, that might mean letting them cry in their crib for five minutes while you sit in the living room, enduring withering looks from Grandma, who’s itching to go scoop up that baby.) If you do revert to old habits, like nursing or rocking the baby to sleep, you might have to spend a few nights re-sleep training your child when you return from your trip, but don’t worry about it too much. (It’s quite common, especially if there’s been a time-zone change during your travels.)

Enlist help

If there’s no chance your baby or toddler will nap alone in an unfamiliar bedroom, you can go to Plan B: Try a stroller walk or carrier nap instead. Sometimes leaving a bustling, boisterous house during the holidays and getting a little fresh air can be therapeutic for both you and the baby. If nosey Great Aunt Nancy has been chiming in with opinions on your parenting, ask her to help out. Maybe she’d love to take the baby on a long stroller nap around the neighbourhood, weather-permitting.

Take a breather

Remember that even little kids who don’t nap anymore can benefit from a block of midday downtime during or before a big event. “Kids under six often get overstimulated, and they don’t know it,” says Jennifer Kolari, a child and family therapist. “There’s a lot going on, and they get anxious,” she says. The chaos and excitement of big gatherings and multiple present-opening sessions can leave kids cruising on adrenaline and sugar highs, and then crashing at the end of the day. Finding some time to retreat to a room and read for a little bit, or going for a walk with just your immediate family can help them regroup and stay regulated later.

The art of the car seat transfer

Some kids can handle being put down for bedtime in a travel crib and then, at the end of the night, their parents quietly transfer them to the car seat for the drive home without waking them, says McGinn. (But don’t let your baby sleep in the car seat after you get home, due to the risk of positional asphyxiation. Always move them to their cribs.) To increase your odds of success, change your little one into pyjamas and a fresh diaper before you put them down in the travel crib, so you don’t have to wake them for a change later. This technique is much easier with babies who are still in a detachable bucket seat that can be brought inside the house during the transfers. Sadly, it gets much trickier with a convertible car seat.

Do what works

Sometimes the answer is to just leave early. Sarah Langridge, from Orangeville, Ont., says she did that for years. “I have always had a strict bedtime schedule, and we would be home by seven. My kids craved routine, and life was torture if we were off by even half an hour,” she says. Missing bedtime always ended in tantrums, and it would even make bedtime more difficult the next night.

Others just say no. There’s zero shame in taking a year or two off from big family parties or deciding you can only do one key gathering. Or you can offer to host this year, so your kids can sleep upstairs in their own rooms while the adults stay up.

“At the end of the day, there’s no right or wrong,” says McGinn. “It’s what works for each family.”

Lindsay Tucker, a mother of two in Aurora, Ont., came up with another solution. She found that trying to get together with extended family during the dinner hour was just too stressful, so they switched to brunches instead. Now, all the grandparents, parents and kids meet up to play in a park or go for a walk, then spend the afternoon grazing, chatting and hanging out. “It’s been amazing,” she says. “The kids are fresh and happy, and we’ve found my brother and cousins [who are also parents] aren’t as tired either. I feel like we’ve connected more deeply with my family.”

How to have the conversation

To set boundaries around your sleep schedule without hurting any feelings, let your hosts know your limitations right when you accept the invitation. If you’d prefer to leave by 7:30 p.m., be upfront about it. (It’s often easier for your partner to take charge of initiating this conversation with their own family.) And then in the moment, soften the impact by sharing what you appreciate and empathizing with the other person’s point of view before reaffirming that you have to go.

For example, if you’re talking to your mother about leaving before dessert, you might say something like, “You’ve put so much into this, and it’s such a beautiful dinner. You have no idea how much we want to be able to stay here for the whole evening—but we need to go,’” says Kolari. If you start with where the other person is coming from, they’re more likely to stay calm and less likely to feel offended. If it doesn’t smooth things over, stand firm.

“I often just say, ‘You know what? We’ve worked really hard on sleep, and it’s something that is really important to us. I know my kids might not be tired now, but trust me, in half an hour, they’re going to be,’” says Reilly.

It may help to know that you won’t be having these conversations forever. My sleep-sensitive little guy turned four this year, and now we can let him stay up a bit later on occasion. His one-year-old sister, on the other hand, isn’t so flexible. But this time, I know it’s a phase, and I’m more confident in my choices as a mom.

Read more:
How to stop the holidays from screwing up your kid’s sleep
How to enjoy the holidays while nursing a newborn

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Kick your bad parenting habits in 2020

Snacks for dinner, screen-addicted kids, co-sleeping and So. Much. Yelling. How to pull yourself out of the most common parenting ruts.

Illustration by Sam Island

It’s easy to get stuck in a rut. Maybe you’ve been cooking the same five dinners on repeat (mealtime rut), or you spend your time at the gym listlessly pedalling on a stationary bicycle (workout rut). These patterns of behaviour are somewhat life sucking, but they’re also comfortable, so they can be hard to change.

Add kids to the mix, and it’s even more difficult to hit the reset button and break out of unhealthy or unproductive routines. Kids, after all, are creatures of habit, and they find it unsettling when there’s a shift in the daily program. And sometimes parents benefit from autoplay too. But there’s hope. Here are four common parenting ruts and how to get out of them.

1. Screen time rut

Any parent who’s ever set their kid up on Disney+ as an electronic babysitter or used a smartphone or tablet to occupy kids at a restaurant knows how easy it is to fall into a screen time rut.
The first time I plopped my son, then seven, down with an iPad open to YouTube, I did so to keep him busy while I cleaned up after dinner. I was thrilled when he navigated to another music video and hit play—it meant I could respond to a few emails. At the time, I thought it would be an easy way to occasionally keep him and his big sister occupied.

I was shocked how quickly it became an after-dinner expectation, and not just for my son. I came to rely on technology to carve out time for self-care.

“In most families that have established screen time routines, we use them to get things done or for time to yourself, which we all deserve,” says Matthew Johnson, director of education for MediaSmarts, an organization that teaches digital and media literacy. But he cautions, “As those routines get reinforced, it gets more difficult to change them.”

Brother and sister playing with toys at home I made my screen-addicted kids go cold turkey—here’s what happenedJohnson says the first step toward weaning kids from screens is to be aware of when and how they’re using connected devices—perhaps you’re handing over the phone without realizing it any time you’re in a waiting room. The second step is to understand what your kids are getting from time spent on a device so you can discriminate between what’s important (playing an educational game) and what’s just filler (mindlessly watching YouTube). The third step is to provide alternative activities instead of screen use.

“Where you’re going to get the most resistance is when you say, ‘Put it away,’ and you don’t offer anything else to fill in that space,” says Johnson. Depending on their age, reading, colouring or playing with toys like Lego are good options, but if kids push back, nudge them toward more positive screen activities first, such as playing an interactive video game together.

“You have to assess how big a step you can take at a time,” says Johnson.

You can also establish rules and expectations around screen usage, but make sure to follow them yourself, he says (like no screens or phones at the table). And don’t be afraid to be the parent—you’re in charge and you can always take away devices.

The good news is, it doesn’t take long for kids to establish a new routine. I cut my son off from YouTube cold turkey, and though there was an initial tantrum, after a few days he made jumping on the trampoline his new post-meal activity.

2. Junk food rut

We all love treats, so when your daughter asks if you can go to Starbucks after her swim lesson to get a cookie and hot chocolate, of course you say yes. When she asks again the following week, you know the better answer is no, but you could use a latte pick-me-up yourself, so you go. It soon becomes an every-week thing.

For Mary-Ann Kroeker, the slide into unhealthy eating was sparked by the family’s summer snack-fuelled camping trips.

“We bought a bunch of junk food to make life easy and we haven’t really gotten out of that summer eating rut,” says the mother of three.

Kroeker grows a lot of her own vegetables on their acreage near Priddis, Alta., and has always made healthy eating a priority. She envisioned her kids, ages 11, nine and four, snacking on raw veggies and plain yogurt sweetened with fruit. The reality is, they prefer sugary, packaged foods, especially her youngest. He won’t eat all day but then expects an afternoon snack of muffins and gummies. Kroeker has given in because it’s easier—planning healthy snacks takes time.

“It’s definitely an expectation that the quick foods are going to be there and that when they’re hungry they want to eat right now,” says Kroeker. What’s more, now that they’re accustomed to Paw Patrol-branded yogurt, her kids would rather go hungry than eat cucumbers.

Tristaca Curley, the owner of Fueling with Food, a nutrition counselling company in Kelowna, BC, sees families in junk food ruts all the time. Curley says the key to better eating habits is allowing children time to build up an appetite. Let them go a few hours between meals; then those cukes might start to look more appealing.

Next, talk about it with your kids. Explain your commitment to healthy eating; describe the role different types of food play in their body and what healthy eating entails. Tell them that instead of hitting Starbucks, you’re going to save the money and spend it on a family outing such as a visit to a science museum or the aquarium. Then stick with the plan.

If the problem is snack foods purchased from the store, take the children grocery shopping with a mandate to find parent- and kid-approved fruits, vegetables and protein options, such as a flavoured low-sugar yogurt. And don’t cave in to pressure to buy unhealthy items.

“If you don’t want your kids eating certain types of bars or junk food, then don’t have them in the house where they see them. And certainly don’t be eating them yourself! We really have to be role models for that,” says Curley.

The bad news is that breaking out of this rut takes a commitment from the entire family to meal and snack plan, which takes time.

“Feeding kids, like parenting in general, is really about the long game,” says Curley.

3. Bedtime rut

When my kids were little, I was terrified that if I ever caved at bedtime—snuggled my daughter in her bed after story time until she fell asleep, or let my son crawl into our king bed after a night terror—there would soon be four of us sharing a bed till they left for university. Turns out it wasn’t an entirely unfounded fear.

For Valérie Gagnon, a mom in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que., it started when her daughter’s dad left the family just before she turned two. “It was a big change, so she started coming into bed with me in the middle of the night. I would let her do it because she was small and needed comfort,” says Gagnon. Besides, she thought it would just be a short-term thing while they adjusted to their new family dynamic.

“Now she’s six and she’s doing it for other reasons—she’s scared of the dark and scared of monsters,” says Gagnon.

She recently redid her daughter’s room and now her daughter is finally sleeping in her own bed. “We’re just at the beginning of the transition and she seems excited to be a ‘big girl’ and sleep alone.” Gagnon says she’ll keep encouraging her.

Setting a sleep expectation is an important first step for parents looking to break out of a co-sleeping rut, says Alanna McGinn, founder of Good Night Sleep Site, a sleep consulting practice. The conversation—applicable to kids age three and older—should address who sleeps where, why a good night’s sleep is important and why the best sleep happens uninterrupted in their own bed.

“It’s really important to put those boundaries in place, and that might mean bringing the child back to bed,” says McGinn. This practice is called the “silent return” and involves walking a child back to her bed with minimal interaction, sometimes multiple times per night. No fuss, cuddling or story time.

“I know that we’re exhausted and it’s just so much easier to scoop them up, stick them in your bed and fall asleep that way. It might mean a couple nights of really bad sleep for everyone,” says McGinn.

If a child keeps boomeranging back to the master bedroom, parents can look at “cribbing” the room to contain the child—close the door, gate the door or add a childproof handle. The eventual payoff is that when the new sleep routine sticks, it means better sleep for everyone.

illustration of a woman yelling
Illustration by Sam Island

4. Yelling rut

You know the drill. It’s bedtime and you’ve told your kid to put on his pyjamas three times and yet here he is, still wearing day clothes, sitting on his bedroom floor and searching for a Playmobil lion that will complete the African safari set-up. So you scream, “I SAID, GET READY FOR BED!”

The first time Suzy Foster yelled at her three-year-old daughter, she thought it was a one-off. She raised her voice to get Ruby’s attention and it worked. Foster felt certain that the next time, her daughter would listen to Mom’s indoor voice (she didn’t).

“For some reason my daughter doesn’t hear me or listen until I yell,” says the Annapolis Royal, N.S., mom. “She’s at a phase right now where she’s pushing boundaries, and yelling feels like the only option,” Foster explains.

It also bothers her that she’s started yelling at her one-year-old son and that yelling at the kids is something she does in public.

Yelling makes parents feel bad and it can be scary for kids, but it also seems to get results in the short term, which is why we do it.

“Typically we yell when we feel like we’ve hit a wall,” explains Elana Sures, a registered clinical counsellor in Vancouver. “It’s important to take a step back and inspect the situation without judging yourself or your kids. Just look at what’s going on.”

If you do a “yelling audit,” you’ll likely find the culprit is either parental burnout or a family factor, she says. With parental burnout, typically one of the parents (or a single parent) is shouldered with the majority of parenting duties and is feeling the squeeze. If it’s a family problem, it might be that something isn’t working in the daily routine—perhaps after-school activities and late dinners mean the kids don’t have enough evening downtime, so they ignore bedtime. Other family factors could include a child who has not had appropriate boundaries set or has not acquired the necessary skills to carry out the behaviour that the parents want, or parents whose expectations are too high.

Once you know why you’re yelling, it’s easier to stop doing it in those situations. Set expectations around behaviours and routines. If the kids still won’t listen, try to take the emotion out of it. You can attempt to tame the roar in the moment—take a deep breath, reset and continue in a calm voice—or be proactive and practise mindfulness daily so you’re in the habit of cultivating Zen.

“You can even say out loud in front of your kids: ‘Whoa, look at us. We’re yelling so much at each other—I don’t want to yell at you guys,’” says Sures. “You can almost always stop the pattern by making it obvious.”

Read more:
10 proven ways to finally stop yelling at your kids
Why you shouldn’t panic if your kid won’t eat vegetables

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19 trends that will affect parents in 2020

From gender-neutral *everything* and normalizing anxiety to environmentally conscious kids and woke parents, here’s what to expect more of in 2020.

Photo: iStockPhoto

Parenting next year may look a bit different than 2019, thanks to these societal trends that are set to impact parents. Some are new, while some are older but growing in popularity or acceptance. Here are the trends we think will affect parents in 2020.

1. Gender-neutral everything

In a world that is starting to shift from the gender binary, do we really need to still enforce stereotypes on babies, kids and—worst of all—fetuses? Parents are starting to move away from gendered toys, clothing, pronouns, names—not to mention dramatic (and dangerous) gender-reveal announcements. Part of embracing this movement includes talking to even young kids about gender identity and everything from gender fluidity, to what it means to be gay or transgender.

2. Environmental consciousness

“Children understand the urgency of the climate change crisis—sometimes faster than adults,” writes Jason McBride in Today’s Parent. From taking part in local activism to connecting with nature or adopting a plant-based diet, parents in 2020 will help turn climate despair into action.

3. Tuning out mommy Instagram culture

While having an online community of other parents going through the trenches at the same time can be life-saving in many ways, sometimes that endless scroll is just too much to handle. Whether it’s because you find social media too distracting, invasive, narcissistic or FOMO-inducing, many parents are deciding to tune out the “mamasphere” (or at least take a break from it).

4. Education cuts

Canadian provinces such as Ontario and Alberta are facing education cuts in all levels of schooling and that is inspiring many parents and students to speak up and fight for the rights to public education. For example, this mom says the cuts have helped her to teach her 14-year-old son to become an activist.

5. Homeschooling and unschooling

Dad smiling beside his daughter helping her with homework. 10 things you should never say to parents who homeschoolDissatisfaction with the public system is just one of the reasons Canada is seeing the homeschooling (and unschooling) movement continue to grow across the country. While some people call it radical, parents willing to do it say there are many ways that homeschooling benefits kids creatively and academically.

6. Vaping crackdown

Vaping and vaping-related illnesses have become big headline grabbers in Canada in 2019 as the trend is dangerously rising among youth. The good news is that stricter government policies are starting to emerge to curb vaping products, such as Nova Scotia’s move to ban any kind of flavoured e-cigarettes and juices by April 2020.

7. Normalizing anxiety

With more and more parents and children feeling anxious these days, we’re also seeing less stigma about anxiety and more openness about how people cope with mental health issues. Take for example kids’ graphic novelist Raina Telgemeir, whose bestselling book Guts tackles things such as fourth-grade politics, phobias, panic attacks and therapy for a tween audience.

8. Acknowledging societal injustice

Being awoken or alert to injustices—especially racism and discrimination—will continue to be a parenting mantra in 2020 and the new decade. We will keep having hard conversations about everything from anti-Black sentiment in schools, to the possible harms of cultural appropriation (whether it’s buying a play teepee or dressing your white kid as Moana) to looking at the unconscious prejudice in the table manners we teach.

9. Being the boss

Of all the parenting philosophies we’re embracing in 2020, being the boss in the parent-child relationship is high on the list. If your kid seems more defiant and demanding than ever, you’re not alone. Many psychologists and child development experts insist that parents have to start growing up and taking the lead. Here are eight loving ways to show your kid you’re the boss.

10. Validating the right way

We know that validating kids’ feelings is one of the most important ways to connect with them and to help them recognize their own emotions during a meltdown, but why doesn’t it always make them feel better? It turns out that this one word we use may be the culprit. Here’s to getting rid of old habits in the new year and showing kids we’re really listening to what they’re trying to tell us.

11. Home births

A greater number of Canadian women than ever are choosing midwives as their primary care providers during pregnancy—especially in British Columbia and Ontario—and that means we’ll likely be seeing more births happen at home and at birthing centres. Still, there are a lot of myths about home-birthing, so knowing the facts will help you decide if it’s right for you.

12. Easier pumping

It’s a universal truth known to parents that pumping is a serious pain that’s needed more innovating for a long time. Thankfully we’re finally getting some gadgets that save the day, not to mention that hard-earned liquid gold, with products such as milk-savers, wireless and wearable breast-pumps and even private lactation pods in public spaces such as airports, stadiums and malls.

13. Embracing postpartum bods

The body positivity movement is finally reaching new moms in a big way and we are so here for it. Thanks to hashtags such as #this_is_postpartum and #everywomanisanangel, powerful images like these are normalizing postpartum bodies, while making us feel inspired and more beautiful every day.

14. Parent-friendly workplaces

While the trend of actually taking baby to work is more visible in the United States (due to pretty terrible parental leave policies), Canadian parents are also pushing for more flexibility and understanding from their employers—and for good reason. You’ll never meet a more loyal employee than a working mom with a good boss. Other 2020 trends in parenting we fully support? Child-friendly coworking spaces and a rise of stay-at-home dads.

15. Asking Google/Siri/Alexa

In some ways, parenting has never been easier. For better or worse, instead of your kid asking you “why?” approximately 237 times a day, they can now just ask the nice lady inside the computer. But honestly, some of kids’ questions (and answers) are pretty hilarious.

16. Less screen time, more audiobooks

For many parents, audiobooks are a win-win situation. Instead of screen time, you can just cue up a story or podcast—and the kids are effectively distracted and out of your hair, and they might even learn something new, which explains why they’re surging in popularity. They also help to develop crucial listening and concentration skills, without being nearly as addictive and dopamine-inducing as TV time.

17. Grandma and Grandpa baby names

In addition to more unisex and androgynous names, vintage names aren’t going anywhere in the new decade. While old-lady names are well into their comeback (think of names like Hazel, Evelyn, Lucy and Stella), now, the traditionally male names get a turn, thanks to the increasing popularity of names like Emmett, Wyatt, Arthur and Eli. Charming!

18. Sibling tattoos

Siblings may not always get along, but they can share a lifetime bond—especially if they get matching tatts. Family-inspired tattoos to honour kids or parents have been around for awhile now but the brother-and-sister fad is suddenly stronger. Take a look at these beautiful sibling tattoos that parents just can’t get mad about.

19. The ultimate mom power suit

Babies practically live in onesies, so why can’t moms? In case you haven’t discovered them yet, these trendy rompers, jumpsuits and one-piece wonders will be your go-to wardrobe staple before, during and after pregnancy.

Read more:
6 parenting trends we hope will finally die in 2019
These stock images show what parenting’s really like (NOT!)

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