The “Baby Tax” List

So your sweet little cherub finally came into this world and has subsequently turned it upside down! You’re not sure what time it is, let alone what day. You think you showered yesterday but can’t remember for sure. And those leftovers in the fridge — are those from two days ago or two weeks ago? You know that you should sleep while the baby is sleeping, but if you could just wash the dishes flowing all over the countertop everything would feel a little better.

You finally lie down, mentally calculating how much sleep you will get if you fall asleep instantaneously (I call this Sleep Math), and your phone rings. You’re immediately annoyed because who has the audacity to call a new parent who is trying to sleep?! Then a heavy dose of guilt shimmies up your spine because it is your wonderful auntie who would like to come and meet the baby. “Sure,” you sigh, when she asks if now is an OK time to visit. “Can I help with anything while I’m there?” she graciously offers, because although it has been many years, she too was once a new momma.

Any savvy new parent understands that they have in their home something powerful: a baby. Like a moth to a flame, friends and family flock to the sweet smell of a tiny baby head. Many members of our “village” are undeterred by sleeping parents and feeding schedules; they are jonesing for some time snuggling your new bundle of joy.

While I always advocate for healthy boundaries in the postpartum period, I believe this is a wonderful opportunity to harness your power! Now is the time to leverage it to help meet your needs. Enter the “Baby Tax” List! Believe it or not, this very simple concept can pay huge dividends for new parents.

In a visible place in your home (like a chalkboard or a piece of paper on your fridge), write down some things that you need done. Think of this as a chore list where your visitors earn the reward of time spent with you and/or your baby. In other words, your visitor pays you a “baby tax” by folding some laundry first before getting to hold the baby.

This is a handy tool for everyone involved. In the early postpartum days, many members of our support network make offers saying things like, “Let me know if I can help,” and “Call me if you need anything.” But in our foggy, sleep-deprived, new parent minds, it can be hard to ask for help. Plus, we want everyone to know we’ve got everything under control, right?!

The reality is life postpartum is really difficult and it is in our (and our babies’) best interest to access and use our resources. It is OK to accept offers of support! A Baby Tax List takes the awkwardness away from asking for help. In fact, the really savvy members of your village will see the list and complete some items without having been asked.

You’ve got a lot on your plate, friends! Share the burden of your load and you will appreciate the small reprieve. Besides, that sweet auntie of yours wants to help. If you think about it, you just might be doing her the favor.

Here are some ideas to get your list started:

  • Bring a healthy prepared or frozen meal
  • Order carry-out
  • Make mom/dad a hot meal and let them eat it while it’s hot!
    (**Bonus points if the visitor makes a hot cup of coffee too.)
  • Take out the trash
  • Launder baby’s clothes or help with other laundry
  • Vacuum
  • Wash the dishes
  • Sterilize bottles and/or pump parts
  • Shovel the drive/walkway (Ugh! Winter is here.)
  • Walk the dog
  • Clean the bathroom
  • Change the bedding
  • Rub mom’s feet
  • Hold the baby while I shower/sleep/read/eat bon bons in the closet
  • Take big brother/sister out for a special treat
  • Hang out with baby while I go for a walk alone
  • Let me go to the gym without the added workout of carrying a car seat
  • Pick up ___________ from the grocery store (Insert 1 or 100 things that you need/want)
  • Run errands
  • Fix the leaky faucet in the bathroom
  • If you love me, let me nap!

As you can see, the list is only limited by your own imagination! The Baby Tax List is a light-hearted, cheeky way to remind our friends and family that we love them and we need/appreciate their support. What would you like some help with? Add it to the list and share this with all the parents that could use some help.

– Nichole Enerson is the Parenting Program postpartum adjustment coordinator in Royal Oak. She adores her teenage children who finally sleep more than she does. She survived postpartum anxiety through the support and grace of her beloved husband and family!

The Calm Before the Storm: Parenting My Anxious Child

image: Tobias Wahlqvist, Pixabay.

The call always and only comes on Monday mornings. The school counselor assures me it’s never an emergency. There’s just a teary boy on the other end missing his mom. And he’s worried. Worried that something is going to happen to me when he’s at school.

And occasionally, the worry storm starts brewing Sunday nights as the end of the weekend starts to draw near. And he can’t articulate why he’s crying, but he knows he feels worried about being at school the next day and that something might happen to me.

His worry is not founded on any truth. Nothing has ever happened to me while he’s been at school. But that’s beside the point. Any parent of an anxious child knows too well that the rational brain is not in charge of the worrying one, and that all the reassurance in the world just isn’t enough to calm it down.

And so, the therapist had to become the client. And with courage and a lot of patience, I built a small toolkit of strategies that I know he responds to because lately, I’m not getting any Monday calls. And Sunday evening storms aren’t passing over our house for the time being.

  • My mantra: You have to push through it to get out of it.

The hardest part of the Monday calls are balancing his need for reassurance that I’m OK with my desire to get him back into his day. But the key for me is always to get him back into his day because the more he practices pushing through the uncomfortable feelings, the more confident he becomes in his abilities to self-manage when he feels anxious.

  • His mantra: You got this!

Self-talk is a powerful way for him to recruit his inner resources.

  • A “coping” card

On an index card, we made a list of all the things he can think about when he starts to worry about me. This process helps him counter that worry thought with more comforting and productive thoughts like, “Nothing has ever happened to mom when I’ve been at school so she’ll probably be fine,” or “I can’t wait to see her when I get off the bus.” He keeps this card tucked away in his backpack so he can look at it when he’s at school.

  • Model confidence.

I try to counter his worry voice with a calm and confident response. I don’t want to feed his anxiety with mine. In this way, I am sending him the message that I believe he can handle this (even when I am dying inside!).

Parenting an anxious child can be really hard. But if we can remind ourselves of the influence we have in this space before the storm hits, it will help us feel empowered in a situation that often feels so out of our control.

– Andree Palmgren, LPC, is a therapist with a private practice in Westport, CT and is a parent to 4 kids ages 16, 14, 11 and 7.

Coping with Christmas after loss

sad child wearing Santa hat looking out window at rain

The tree is decorated, stockings hung, twinkling lights and vibrant colors are everywhere. Your calendar is full of holiday parties, the to-do list is long, and the music of the season speaks of joy to the world and how it’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yet all that fills your mind is the void of someone you loved and lost. In the past two years, the Parenting Program team of staff, students and volunteers have experienced some significant, sudden and tragic losses. The Christmas season after loss can bring a tremendous amount of grief, during a time when the general expectation is that everyone is feeling holly jolly and full of the holiday spirit. Everyone copes differently; for some people, surrounding themselves with family and their traditions is a comfort, for others it magnifies the loss.

Here are some tips for coping with grief during the holidays. Some you may love, others not so much. My hope is that you may find something here that makes this difficult season a tiny bit more tolerable, and that there are moments of joy even amid missing those who are gone.

“Someday soon, we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow.”

  • Acknowledge that the holidays will be tough and verbalize this to friends and family.
  • Consider what traditions you would like to keep, and what traditions you may want to change, even if just temporarily.
  • Create a new tradition to honor the memory of your loved one.
  • Purchase a candle and when you turn on the lights of your Christmas tree, light the candle in memory of the person you lost.
  • Think about the location of your holiday celebration. Make a conscious decision whether you want to keep it the same or make a change.
  • Keep in mind that not everyone will be grieving the same way you are.
  • Put out a memory box with small slips of paper and pens so people can write a treasured memory. Take some time to read the memories aloud, or invite guests to read them individually.
  • Prepare one of your loved one’s special recipes, or something that was a favorite of theirs.
  • Be honest about how you are feeling, and what you do and do not want to do when it comes to holiday gatherings and celebrations.
  • Participate in a service project or activity in honor of your loved one.
  • Make an appointment with a counselor or therapist. Maybe this has been something you have putting off, but with the holidays bringing grief even closer to the surface, it may be a perfect time.
  • Consider choosing a few of your loved one’s belongings and gifting them to someone else who is grieving the loss.
  • Visit your loved one’s final resting place and leave a wreath or poinsettia.
  • Ask for and accept help, whether it is assistance cooking a holiday meal, shopping or emotional support.
  • Give yourself a gift. Treat yourself to something you have had your eye on.
  • Focus on gratitude. Even if it is something tiny, make a point to write down one thing you are grateful for each day.
  • If you have children who are grieving along with you, be sure to talk to them about what they may be feeling and consider doing a memorial grief activity or craft together.
  • Say no. If a certain event or gathering just seems too much, give yourself permission to skip it.
  • Don’t feel guilty for the moments of happiness and joy you may feel throughout the season; it doesn’t mean you don’t love or miss the person who is not with you this holiday season.

– Kelly Ryan, LMSW, Beaumont Parenting Program Director

Digital diet for your family

little boy using phone

Children are growing up in media-rich environments that include television, computers, phones, tablets, video games, and other mobile devices. Although these technologies open doors to a wide range of education and fun, there are risks associated with overuse, especially for young children.

Researchers found that increases in media use during childhood led to increases in BMI; fewer minutes of sleep per night; delays in cognitive, language, and social development; and poorer executive functioning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children younger than 18 to 24 months have no screen time at all. At around 18 months, the possible exception becomes video chatting with relatives and friends. From about 1½ to 5 years, the AAP recommends allowing no more than one hour of screen time. After age 5, the recommendation is that screen time decisions be made factoring in the educational value and interactive quality of the activities, and that screen time doesn’t interfere with sleep or exercise.

Under the age of 2 years, children’s brains are developing fast. They need communication, hands-on exploration, and social interactions to help develop cognitive, language, motor, social and emotional skills. They are not able to generalize images from a TV or iPad to a real-life experience.

Preschool-age children are developing higher-level skills, including task persistence, impulse control, emotion regulation, and creative, flexible thinking. These skills are best taught through unstructured play and parent-child interactions.

Remember that all children are learning from their family members’ examples, so think about your own screen use. Increased use of mobile devices by parents is associated with fewer verbal and nonverbal interactions with their children. Over 40 percent of parents report that their children ask them to put down their devices, and about half indicate that screen time takes time away from reading and other activities.

Of course, tablets and phones are a good way to calm your child in the airport or while checking out at a store, but try to avoid using media as the only way to calm your child. Finding the right balance of real-life interactions and technology is important for children to learn and grow.

When you do use screens in your home, make them interactive:

  • Pause a video and talk about what you see.
  • Use the same toys, or do the same activities as what is on screen.
  • Apply information to real life.
  • Sing songs from shows during those routines at home.

Experts recommend a Digital Diet for children, customized to your family. Consider the following ideas for creating rules and sticking to them:

  1. Earn screen time by completing a non-screen activity:
    • Worksheet/summer homework page
    • Real play with siblings for 20 minutes
    • Exercise or outdoor play for 20 minutes
    • Completing a household chore
  2. Require siblings to agree on a show before watching.
  3. No screens before or after certain times (e.g., not before breakfast, not after dinner, etc.).
  4. Avoid screens in the evening, as this is related to poorer sleep.
  5. Create media-free zones in your home (e.g., no technology at the dinner table).
  6. Don’t leave the TV on in the background.

For the American Academy of Pediatrics Policy Statement on Media and Young Minds, visit:

Additional information can be found here.

– Kellie Bouren, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech and Language Pathologist, Children’s Speech and Language Pathology Department, Beaumont Health

Summer slide: It’s not a dance

boy reading

We’re all excited as the school year ends and summer is upon us. Most children are so happy on the last day of school as it means sleeping in, staying up late, and best of all: no homework! But many parents know that we must keep our children reading, writing and doing math to prevent the “summer slide.”

What is the summer slide?

This is the slide in academic skills that happens over the summer. When our children return to school, they’ve fallen to a level lower than they were at when they left school in June. Typically, students can lose up to two months of learning in the summer and it takes the next grade’s teacher four to six weeks to get students back to the level where they previously were. The most profound thing about summer slide is that it is cumulative.

Over the years, the one- to two-month slide adds up and creates a gap by the time the child reaches high school. However, a parent can help your student avoid the “summer slide,” provide the opportunity to step right into the new grade level, and even learn the new grade level materials.

Summer slide is more common in lower-income levels, although no student is exempt.

Reading over the summer

Research shows that the amount of time that students spend reading outside of school is linked to gains in reading achievement. In fact, it shows that if your child reads just six books during the summer months, the summer slide can be avoided!

However, these books need to be “just right fit” books. Talk with your child’s teacher before the end of the year to find the right reading level. The books can’t be too hard or too easy; they need to be just right. This video can help determine a “just right” book.

A child is most likely to read books that he or she selects. We need to give children the time needed to select books that will motivate them to continue to read all summer.

Summer reading programs

  • Most libraries offer free reading programs that are motivating and fun. Check out your library online or at your next visit, so your child is signed up and ready to participate. Libraries are meant to be a place to read, have fun and learn as a family. When my children were little, I packed a lunch, went to the library, then headed to the park to spend some time both playing and reading.
  • Some bookstores offer summer reading programs and discounts on books. One chain even rewards summer reading with a free book at the end of the summer. Also, purchasing books for your own home library may be fun for your child, especially for high interest books. Many stores have a book list for each age and grade that children love, as well as the top picks for different age groups.

Just keep on reading

One of the most important tips that I can offer to parents is to keep reading! It isn’t meant to be something we do for a half an hour a day. It can be done all day and every day.

In the morning, grab a newspaper and read the comics, the headlines or weather. In the afternoon, provide time for your child to read the “just right” books that they selected. In the evening, find time to read with your child and encourage them to read aloud to you. Talk about the vocabulary that you encounter in your reading. Reading together helps build listening skills, as well.

When your child was an infant, you may have had books all around the house. As children grow, we tend to keep books in a central location. Instead, I suggest keeping high-interest books all around the house because kids are more likely to pick up a book and read if they are conveniently set around the house. You might also keep some books in the car; children spend a lot of time while moms drive them from here to there. It’s the perfect place to keep a few books for them to read.

There are many online reading programs that find a student’s level and provide motivational activities and books for your child. Talk to your school to see if this is available for you to purchase.

Another idea is ordering a magazine that your child enjoys. It gets delivered right to your house each week or month. They can be very motivational and can keep kids reading.

Don’t forget about math

Math is another area where students slide during the summer. Provide level-appropriate workbooks to practice the skills that your children learned during the school year.

Estimation is an important skill that can be practiced whenever you can. It can be how many miles to you think it is to grandma’s house, how long you think it will take to get somewhere, how many M & M’s are in the jar. Whatever you think of to support this skill will benefit to your child.

Write, write, write

Writing over the summer is also important. Provide a fun summer journal. Each day, have your child take time to write. It can be a journal of what they are reading, or maybe a place to write a story or poem. It is often fun to reflect in writing what they have done that day. Of course, a letter to grandma is always loved and appreciated. Just find time to practice writing.

Enjoy your summer!

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.