A few days ago, I got an email from a reader named Katie who had this to say:
I was wondering if you would be interested in a post for us with kids or soon to be kids as in my case. I am currently 32 weeks pregnant and agree with a lot of things you do/believe when it comes to child rearing. I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about life in a couple of months and would love to hear more of your thoughts on things. Maybe a post about “What I wish I could have told myself when I was pregnant” from what you have learned now or even a summary of what you did that worked well or wouldn’t do again. I hope that makes sense. I fight a lot of the consumerism that is thrown at you, but still feel like I am getting too much of what I don’t need and maybe not enough of what I do need.
Also, what did you do for toys for your boys their first year? I firmly believe in no noise making, lights flashing toys as they just over stimulate. I am going to load up on books and other simple toys.
Thanks in advance! I don’t always do the things you do, but really appreciate your ideas and putting yourself out there. As I have simplified my life, it has been really wonderful reading about what others do for ideas and overall support!
None of us can go back and get a “do-over”, but since we have two boys who were born three years apart, we’re sort of getting to do things over with our second little guy. We have done some things differently, although we’ve also repeated a lot of what we did the first time around. In general, I’m more focused on “less is more” now than I was four years ago. If you haven’t read The Minimalist Mom’s Guide To Baby’s First Year, I highly recommend it. I even got to contribute a section to it, which was definitely an honor. Her site is a great resource.
Here are some of my thoughts on the early years of parenting, in no particular order:
We use the sling much more frequently now than we did when our first son was a baby. We use it on walks (just like the first time around) but I also use it when we’re grocery shopping and just around the house when our son is fussy and needs to be held. I have a sling that I can use for front or back carry, so I just put him in it on my back and I can go about whatever I need to get done. He’s often on my back while I work in the garden or wash the dishes. It’s a great way to get him to fall asleep, and I don’t have to worry about whether he’s safe or getting into anything. One-year-olds have to be watched pretty much constantly, and the sling takes away any concerns about his safety during times when I’m very busy.
We also don’t use a crib at all anymore. We used one with our older son – he slept in it until he was about two. When he started climbing out of it, we switched him to a toddler bed (found on Craigslist) so that we could keep using our organic crib mattress. We still have that toddler bed in our room, although our son now has a big boy bed in his room too. Most nights he opts to sleep in the toddler bed in our room. For the past year, we’ve had the crib in the bedroom with the big boy bed, but we weren’t using it. Our baby sleeps with us at night. I cannot even express how much easier that is for us. Instead of one of us having to jump out of bed in the middle of the night and go to another room to get a crying baby, all I have to do is wake up (barely) for just a second when he starts moving around. I get him nursing and then I can go right back to sleep. He falls asleep when he’s finished eating, and we all get a great night’s sleep. Since he doesn’t have to wake all the way up and start crying to get our attention, he’s still half asleep through the whole process too, which means he falls back asleep very quickly. Naptime during the day happens either in the sling (or jogging stroller if we’re out on a walk and our older boy is riding his bike – I have to jog to keep up with him now, so no sling), or in the toddler bed. So we recently passed our crib on to another local family who needed one.
EDIT: Although we’re big fans of co-sleeping and have seen how well it’s worked for our family, there are some situations where it’s not safe. Co-sleeping is not a good idea if either parent is a smoker or very obese, or if either parent is under the influence of drugs or alcohol when going to bed. Also, bedding should be firm and free of things like fluffy comforters. If you’re a very sound sleeper and worry about the possibility that you might roll onto your baby, trust your instincts and put your baby in a crib or bassinet close to your bed. There’s more information here on the pros and cons of co-sleeping. And as with anything else, make your own decisions based on your own research and what feels right to you, rather than what anyone else does.
We got rid of a lot of our baby clothes before our second son was born. We had tons. I had purchased some stuff at Goodwill; we had received lots of clothing gifts, and I also have a friend with a little boy who is 8 months older than our first son – she had given me several bags full of clothes over the years. We just had too much clothing. How many swim trunks does one little kid need? So before our baby arrived last year, and then again when he was a few months old, I sorted through the baby and kid clothing we had and donated several bags of stuff. Last week I was getting out the 12 – 18 month shorts from our clothing stash, and I found about 12 pairs. Given that I wash laundry several times a week, there is no possible need for that many shorts. So I donated half of them – better that they be used by someone else than just take up space in our drawers.
I’m not a fan of toys with blinking lights and batteries either. But my MIL likes them, and so our boys occasionally get them. I’m certainly not going to tell her what she can and can’t buy for our boys. Some of the gifts we get end up being donated, but some of them turn into things that our boys enjoy – blinking lights and all. Although my ideal toy box would mostly have just simple wooden and cloth toys, and books, I have to remind myself that I’m not the one playing with them. So within reason, our boys are allowed to keep toys they get as gifts, regardless of whether those toys are things we would have picked out for them. We do have a “one in, one out” rule for toys that we instituted about a year ago. It’s been a great way to keep toy clutter at bay. If our son sees a toy he wants at Goodwill (we only buy toys at thrift stores), I remind him that he’ll have to pick out a toy at home to donate. As soon as we get home – before he gets to play with the new toy – the first thing he does is go to his room and get a toy that we put straight into the donation box.
Our favorite toys (and the ones that our sons have enjoyed the most) are blocks, Legos, books, a train set (Brio and Thomas with wooden tracks), a big bin of 2×4 offcuts from our basement project, Lincoln Logs (three complete sets, found at Goodwill for a total of $10), a wooden castle that my parents made with our son, a play kitchen and lots of felt food, and a farm set that we found at a garage sale (lots of animals with a big fold-out barn). He also has a set of Construx that we found at Goodwill – it’s identical to a set my husband had when he was a kid, so the two of them have had lots of fun with that. Homemade play dough has also been a big hit over the years. This week we discovered Playmobil, and it’s currently our son’s favorite toy by far. I found a Playmobil set at a thrift store for five dollars, and he loved the pictures on the box. I had heard that they made good quality stuff, so we brought it home to check it out. It’s fantastic, and he’s had hours of fun taking everything apart and putting it back together. I looked it up on Amazon, and it sells for $75 new. So our five dollars was definitely well spent. One small part (that holds a wheel on) was missing, so I called Playmobil today to see if I could order a replacement part. Not only are they sending it to me, they’re sending it for free – not even a shipping charge. Definitely a quality toy, and it’s hard to beat that level of customer service.
So as far as toys go, for our almost four-year-old we’ve found that the best toys are the ones he can make things with (play dough, blocks, etc.) and things that he can take apart and put back together using his imagination (Construx, Lego, Playmobil, blocks, the farm, the kitchen, etc.). And of course, there are the “non-toy” toys too: the great outdoors and my own kitchen stuff come to mind. Our son also loves books. We get lots of books as gifts, although in general I prefer to use the library (and I recently culled our book collection to make it a bit smaller – we donated a lot of books to the library). With the library we can constantly rotate our books – for free! – so we don’t have to maintain a huge shelf of books in order to have plenty of reading material.
Incidentally, we’ve never gotten into “educational” toys or electronic gizmos that claim to teach children various stuff. We’ve taught our son all sorts of things just by playing with him and having him help us in the garden, garage, kitchen, etc. And he has taught himself lots of stuff by playing with interactive (but non-electronic) toys and poking around in the yard. Toys that encourage a child to be creative and figure things out are great for learning – you don’t need “educational” toys or videos, especially for very small children.
For our one-year-old, we have a small canvas bin of toys. One with blinking lights (a gift from my MIL), and the rest are made of wood or cloth – plus there are several board books in there. We also have a set of toddler-size Legos that our little guy likes, and he loves the blocks too (both boys share those for the time being, although our older son gets a bit tired of how his little brother “plays” with blocks – knocking everything down as fast as possible).
We have spent very little money on our boys over the years. But we’ve had so much fun with them, and we feel like our family has everything we need (and then some, as do most American families). We have an old hand me down jogging stroller that’s probably from the mid 90s that does exactly what we need it to do: allows me to go for a run or keep up with our son on his bike while taking our baby along for the ride. I couldn’t even guess how many miles we’ve put on that thing, but I’d say it’s well over a thousand. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have spent big bucks on fancy strollers and have then ended up using them infrequently at best. This is just one example, but the point is that you can do just fine with stuff that isn’t top of the line, and with second hand stuff. And you can get by without a lot of the stuff that is considered a “must have” for babies.
We don’t have a changing table. I got a little roll-up changing mat at a thrift store and we keep that next to the storage tub where we keep our cloth diapers. We roll it out on the floor and that’s where were change our son. We use wash cloths as wipes, and four years into our cloth diaper journey I can definitely say that they are a lot easier than I had expected them to be.
Going for walks and taking advantage of parks is something we do very frequently. Several times a week I walk around town with the boys (well, these days I jog around town, since I have to keep up with an energetic little biker). We stop at parks or the library, or sometimes just do errands while we’re out. Whatever we’re doing, I find that getting the boys – and myself and the dog – outside makes the day better. Even in the winter, we make a point to bundle up and get outdoors. This is something I’ve been doing ever since our older boy was a few days old. I have a second hand Moby Wrap that was ideal for the early days of being out and about. The baby was completely tucked inside it, all snuggled up, and we could walk all over town. Check Craigslist for a Moby Wrap if you want one – I got mine for about half of what they sell for new, and it had only been used once.
Nursing is worth the effort. With our first son, the first few weeks of nursing were so painful that I cried every time he latched on. I had no idea before hand that it was going to be that difficult. But as far as I was concerned, there was no other alternative – period. Our midwife checked his latch and said it looked good, and I had no mastitis or anything like that. My nipples just needed to get used to their new job, and it was quite the process. Those first two or three weeks seemed like an eternity as far as nursing was concerned, but after that it got much easier. Our son breastfed for two years, and I cherish the memories I have of nursing him. So, so glad I toughed it out through the hard parts. When our second son was born, it had been a year since I’d nursed a baby and I was a bit concerned that it would be painful again. But it wasn’t – not at all. I guess two years of nursing had toughened things up a bit ;) Anyway, our second little guy is almost 13 months and we have an excellent nursing relationship going. We waited until he was about seven months to introduce solid food, and while nursing still seems to be his favorite way to eat, he loves sitting at the table with us and feeding himself whatever we’re eating.
Speaking of baby food… you don’t need to buy it, and you also don’t need to spend lots of time in the kitchen making and freezing homemade baby food. It’s really not that big a deal at all. As long as you’re eating nutritious food yourself, you can just feed that baby whatever you’re eating. We’ve done that with both of our boys, and they’re both good eaters. We’ve never bought jars of baby food or boxes of infant cereal or teething biscuits or anything like that. We have a little baby food grinder (like this), although to be honest, most often than not we just mashed things up with a fork. Our boys eat whatever we eat, and it’s been that way since they first started eating solid food. That’s made picky eating pretty much a non-issue in our house, since there are no other options besides what the rest of the family is eating.
This post has gotten a bit longer than I intended. I hope it’s helpful, and please feel free to ask questions in the comments if you want me to talk about something I haven’t addressed here. We all do things differently as parents, and in many cases there isn’t one right or wrong way to do things. This is just what has worked for us, and the things we’ve learned along the way. In general, the more time you can spend with your children, the better – and time trumps money in almost every situation. It’s definitely a good idea to have some money stashed away (that’s always a good idea, but even more so when you have a child), but you’re not depriving your kid if you skip the trips to Disney Land and choose to spend your vacation time poking around in the woods and looking for pine cones – in my opinion, that’s a better way to spend time anyway, and it sure is a whole lot less expensive.
Thanks for the questions Katie, and best wishes with the last few weeks of your pregnancy! I hope you have a wonderful parenting journey.