I always thought the infant phase would be the hardest part of parenting, when all the baby does is eat and sleep and cry. Now I have a toddler I’m finding it’s harder than having a baby, some of the support systems that I had when she was a baby aren’t there any more, and the parenting skills I need are totally different. How do I even know what I need to learn to not mess up this parenting thing? Should I go back to school to try to figure it all out?
In this episode I’ll tell you the history and principles behind the podcast and what we’ll learn together.
Note: When I revamped the website I decided that after two years of shows, some of the information in this episode was out of date. I recently re-recorded it to highlight the resources I’ve created for you.
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Hello and welcome to episode 000 of Your Parenting Mojo – the podcast that aims to bring you rigorously researched information and distill it into a toolkit you can actually use to support your child’s development, and make parenting easier on yourself. I’m your host, Jen Lumanlan, and I originally recorded this episode in August of 2016 when the show launched. But by the time October 2018 rolled around I’d been recording for two years and a lot of the information in this episode was out of date so I decided to re-record, keeping the parts that are still relevant and adjusting the parts that had changed.
So in this episode, called Parenting Philosophy, I’ll share a bit about my background and what I believe about parenting, because I find that most people who put information out there make you do the work of trying to see how your beliefs and theirs fit together, and instead I want you to understand where I’m coming from and how this fits with your approach to parenting.
I never thought I’d be a parent, but it happened on purpose and not by accident. My daughter is named Carys, which means “one who loves and is loved.” She was born in June 2014 (in case I forget to mention how old she is in future episodes).
Before Carys was born I spent a lot of time on my birth plan, figuring I had 18 years to work out how to be a parent. When I finally got my act together I discovered the wealth of information about babies that’s available when your main concerns are related to feeding and sleeping, and our first year progressed fairly uneventfully. Carys slept through the night early, was not at all resistant to trying new foods, and after she got over some initial gassiness, was generally fairly easy to be around.
A lot of the advice on parenting an infant expires around age 12 months when the child is really mobile and interested in investigating the world and I was left feeling “now what?” So I started to do a lot of reading, and in the process of doing that reading and telling other people about it (but only when they asked me!) I realized I was having fun. So I decided to start a podcast so I could share what I’m learning with other people in a format that you can do while multitasking – commuting, working out, walking the dog, whatever – because goodness knows, you don’t need something *else* to read about how to be a parent.
Two principles underlie this podcast.
First – respectful parenting, also known as Resources for Infant Educarers or RIE. I actually held off on doing an episode on RIE for a long time because I didn’t want my listeners to think I was some kind of crazy hippy before I had many episodes out, but I did finally record two episodes on this – the first one is an overview of what RIE is, and since it actually wasn’t designed based on scientific research, the second episode takes a deep dive into what aspects of it are supported by the research base.
RIE’s advice officially runs though age 2, when most adults find it easier to treat kids with respect anyway – maybe partly because they can answer back. But even though I felt like RIE provided solid ground underneath me, what is above me? What is the universe of issues I need to know about and make decisions about?
This brings me to the second principle behind this podcast: scientific research wherever it is available. There are a lot of ways of knowing the world – for example, those related to our culture and our beliefs and even the things we know about ourselves and about the people we’re close to. But science offers us a LOT of information on parenting and child development, if we can read it critically and understand its limitations as well as its strengths. So in the show we call out small sample sizes and bias caused by sampling middle class white children and extrapolating the results as if they were applicable to children everywhere, and papers where what’s said in the conclusions section doesn’t match what’s said in the results section, which happens more often than you might think.
I also try to layer the importance of culture onto these two principles, which we typically do using anthropological studies on people outside of Western cultures in an attempt to understand whether the problems we face with our children are related to the way we raise our children, or whether they’re inherent to how children develop. As an example, encouraging artistic ability is a very affluent western cultural thing to do. It’s closely linked with individuality, which in some cultures is seen as less desirable than promoting group cohesion.
Increasingly we borrow from other cultures – baby wearing and elimination communication are two things that come to mind – without always fully considering the implications of how to incorporate these ideas into our lives. Traditional baby wearers come from cultures where lots of people wear the baby, not just the mother, and the baby has an attachment to many people, not one primary person. EC is practiced in countries where diapers are not available or affordable and where a five-year-old child may be the infant’s main caregiver. I’m not critical of any approach to parenting or anyone who uses a particular approach (actually the only thing I’m critical of is selling things that are “necessary” for a child’s wellbeing or development), but I do think we should consider the implications of our choices. Some mothers who try baby-wearing in places where there aren’t 10 other family members around to take turns can become exhausted. EC doesn’t always but can lead to chronic holding of poop. Why do we people from “western, educated, industrialized, rich democracies” (WEIRD) countries look to science and to other cultures for our parenting advice? I think it is in large part because we are so physically, mentally, and emotionally separated from our own parents and extended families. Nobody is telling us how to parent, so we have to figure it out for ourselves – and relying on the scientific approach seems like a good way to do it. Also importantly, I think many people of my generation don’t 100% agree with the strategies their parents used to raise them – probably much as our parents disagreed with our grandparents. So science can help us to understand our child’s development so we can support that process in a way that aligns with our values.
One thing I see is that there are SO MANY parenting books available, all coming from different positions, some supported extensively by scientific research and others formed by nothing more than someone’s opinions; how do I as a parent figure out how to integrate them? They often have tactics that might work, but I always need to keep in mind how the tactics relate to the strategy. And there’s so much research being done in the academic arena that never makes it to parents because it just sits in a journal unless it can be ‘spun’ by the media into something clickbait-worthy. To put a framework around all this research I decided to go back to school and get a Masters in Psychology, focusing on child development, which was still underway when I started the show but which I’ve now finished. The lessons I learned during my degree help me to make sure that I’m not missing anything major as I look to understand – and help you understand – the deep dive into the research that we do in each episode.
I did an episode on why we shouldn’t ban war play relatively early on, and the conclusion of that episode was that there are good developmental reasons that children engage in war play so I suggested, along with the expert whom I interviewed, that we allow children to engage in this type of play. Some time later I realized that it may not be safe for all children to engage in war play, and I was embarrassed to say that I didn’t consider that issue at the time. Since then I’ve made a much more conscious effort to consider issues related to race in my episodes, which can take the form of acknowledging when research results simply might not be applicable to how people from certain cultures raise their children, to noting when even the research questions that are asked don’t consider important cultural issues. I’m also planning a series of episodes on racial issues that intersect with parenting, starting with what it means to be a white parent in America and how we can navigate issues of race with our children. I’m the first to admit that I’m not an expert in this regard, so I hope that people of color will forgive any missteps that I might make as I attempt to cast a light on something that I think most parents of the dominant culture – myself included – haven’t given as much thought to as we probably should have done.
The show focuses on the period starting just beyond the infant’s first year, because most parents are concerned with eating and sleeping and pooping in that year and there’s a *lot* of advice already available on those topics. Information related to toddlers usually focuses on discipline and getting the child to do what you want – and I think there’s a much larger scope of conversation to be had than this. By now I have over 70 episodes on topics like building early literacy skills, encouraging artistic ability, how to tell whether your child is lying to you, how to raise girls with a healthy body image and how to raise emotionally healthy boys, and how you can do what’s called “scaffolding” your child’s learning.
My episodes are rigorously researched, with citations included on the show notes page of each individual episode on my website at Your Parenting Mojo.com. They usually take me between 10 and 40 hours to research – the interview ones tend to be on the shorter side because we’re looking at a defined body of work, while the longest one so far has been about two weeks of work sorting out the mess of claims and research related to self-regulation.
I won’t ever tell you about some amazing study just published that says we’ve been parenting wrong all these years without linking it to the rest of the literature and examining it from all sides. I won’t ever send you an email with the subject line “developmental delays” (like I received from one parenting website that will remain unnamed) designed to scare you into clicking through to see if your child has signs of developmental delays. Instead I’ll tell you what the literature says and will suggest some tools coming out of that research that you might consider using with your own children.
Since I finished the Master’s in Psychology I also picked up another Master’s in Education because I wanted to learn more about that as well. My thesis for the psychology degree was on how children learn in the absence of a curriculum, and coming out of that I became convinced that homeschooling would be the right approach to learning for Carys. Enough people asked me the same questions about homeschooling that I actually created a course to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. But not everyone can or wants to homeschool, and in recognition of that my thesis for the Master’s in Education was on what parents can do to support their children’s learning in school by working within the existing school systems and outside of them as well.
I offer consults to parents who are struggling with a specific issue related to parenting or child development and, as with all of my work, apply scientific research to this as well. When you sign up for a consult you actually receive a couple of hours of my thinking and reading on the topic, and then we talk for 50 minutes which usually generates a substantial number of ideas and insights to address the problem. Then afterward you receive a recording of our session (if you decided it would be helpful to you), and a summary sheet describing the major action items we discussed so you can quickly refer back to it when you need a refresher but don’t want to watch the whole recording again. You can find information about all of these extra products on the Resources tab on my website – there’s a page linking to more information on the courses, and another on consults.
I’ve also launched a membership group for parents who want to see something between an adjustment and a transformational shift in their approach to parenting in a group called Finding Your Parenting Mojo. In the first three months we dramatically reduce the incidence of tantrums at your house, then we take a step back and look at our goals for parenting so we can make sure our daily interactions with our children support those goals (it’s surprising how often there’s a disconnect there!) and work on getting on the same page with our co-parent. After that we pick topics to work on based on the group’s interests. The group opens to new members about every 4-6 months. There’s a link on the Resources tab to the Membership group as well; if you go to that page and the sign-up link is active, then do feel free to join us. If there’s no sign-up link then the group is currently closed to new members, but do feel free to download the free guide called How to stop using rewards to gain your child’s compliance, which will give you a taste of how the group operates.
If you do nothing else after you finish listening to the show, do subscribe on my website (rather than through iTunes or another platform). If you’re subscribed through another platform then I actually never know who you are and I can’t reach you with the blog posts that cut across the issues we discuss on the podcast, the calls for questions, and occasional calls for co-interviewers that I send out on the weeks when I don’t publish a new podcast episode. So to subscribe, just head over to yourparentingmojo.com and enter your name and email address and hit the ‘subscribe’ button – you’ll also get a free gift for doing it, which is currently a cheat sheet on seven parenting myths that are still perpetuated in the popular press all the time, and which the scientific research quite clearly indicates that we can leave behind and stop worrying about!
Finally, do come on over and join the Your Parenting Mojo group on Facebook, where we talk about issues related to parenting and child development as they intersect our real lives.
All of my courses and groups are judgement-free zones. I’m not here to judge you or lecture you, or make you feel inadequate as a parent because you haven’t been doing XYZ critical activities with your kids for the last year. Instead, I want to research and tell you about information you can use to help your children thrive as human beings, and hopefully to make your life as a parent a bit more confident – and maybe even a bit easier – at the same time. If you disagree with something I’ve said, let me know! If you know of an angle on a certain topic that I should have considered and didn’t, please tell me and if there’s research on it, I’ll cover it in a future episode. You can leave a comment on the episode’s page or drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is a journey, so I hope we can enjoy the ride together.
(On the topic of Reggio Emilia): Edwards, C., Gandini, L., & Forman, G. (Eds). (2012). The hundred languages of children. Santa Barbara: Praeger
(On the topic of Resources for Infant Educarers/RIE): Gerber, M. & Johnson, A. (1988). Your self-confident baby. New York: Wiley