Food for Thought

I frequently have conversations with other parents about our diet and how it has benefited our family. Now that we are fully mainstreamed and Charlotte participates in preschool, ballet, and swimming lessons, other parents are genuinely surprised and interested in the issues we’ve overcome. Most people want to hear about our successes and seem comforted and encouraged by the fact that food based intervention can help some Autism symptoms.

These encounters are wonderful, and I swell with pride at what Charlotte has accomplished and everything we’ve learned as a family. It would be lovely if the conversation ended there, but usually I get many more questions about what we eat, specifically what foods we avoid. And telling people that we avoid grains and most dairy is like telling people that we are from another planet.  [But this post is not about that–when I’m feeling more reflective, I’ll give advice on how to embrace this lifestyle and how to enjoy being the crazy lady that doesn’t give her kids Goldfish crackers]

If you’ve had one of these discussions with me, then you know I try not to push too hard. I respect each family’s current needs and situation. This has been a long process for us with lots of learning along the way. I typically don’t nerd-out in those conversations and say what I really want to say, but last night I got brave and talked about food addictions with some new friends. It was fairly well received, so here goes.

You would probably agree with me that sugar is addictive. Well, what we came to realize the hard way as a family is that everyday foods that contain gluten (wheat protein) and casein (milk protein) are addictive as well. The proteins bind to opiate receptors in your brain giving you signals of pleasure and telling you to eat more. That’s how foods like grilled cheese, pizza, and macaroni-and-cheese (all containing gluten and casein) taste so good and have come to be known as Comfort Foods.

Each of our opiate receptors respond differently to different foods which is why some people crave salty potato chips while others seek out the chemicals in a diet soda. Will Power doesn’t stand a chance when you’re trying to eat just one piece of pizza or quit your nightly visit to the freezer for ice cream–which is why eliminating these foods is so difficult and brings on awful withdrawl symptoms like crankiness, brain fog, and more cravings.

This explains why our kids love junk food and sugar so much. They get an immediate response that they recognize as pleasure. The foods taste good and they seek out more. Foods like vegetables and meat may not give the same pleasure signals. The cravings for processed foods are real and strong, and it plays out very simply in a child’s mind–I like this and I do not like that.

So hopefully it’s beginning to make sense why I advocate removing as much sugar and processed foods from your child’s diet as possible. It is a difficult but necessary task to getting them to open up to new foods and try different flavors and textures. We have seen incredible success by taking a slow approach to removing the addictive foods that were preventing essentital nourishment for Charlotte and Dana. When we were feeding them bread, pasta, and milk they would have never touched foods like Brussel sprouts, avocado, broccoli, kale chips, beets, and the loads of fruit that are now part of their regular diet.  It is so satisfying to enjoy these foods with them without bribery or punishment.

If you are considering the Paleo diet for your child, observe his or her food choices for a couple of days. Get information and see what needs to be addressed. Which foods is your child asking for consistently? What type of habits has he or she developed? What seems manageable to cut back on? Can you make any subsititutions for less addictive foods?

For more tips on cutting back on processed foods and incorporating different textures and flavors, see recommendations & advice. Also, please feel free to share any helpful tips that have worked for your kids in the comments.

Sources: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/your-brain-on-junk-food/#axzz1qcxWhE00

http://robbwolf.com/2012/02/15/carb-addiction-cake-is-the-new-crack/

 

Paleo School Lunches

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 12 noon, I pick up Charlotte from her preschool classroom for the day. I walk by a table of 10-12 adorable preschoolers who are eating their individual lunches brought from home. Yesterday I counted 3 plates with macaroni-and-cheese, and typically there are at least 2 plates of leftover pasta and endless sandwiches with various flavors of bread. Please don’t get me wrong, I am not judging these food choices–I just take a quick glance to see where the rest of the world is with feeding their kids, and while I do see some fruit and meat, most of it is non-Paleo and processed.

It occurred to me yesterday as I watched Charlotte walk around the table and glance at her friends’ meals, many of which were unrecognizable to her, that parents have many obstacles to face when packing the morning lunch box–busy mornings, budget constraints, picky eaters, multiple children, etc.

While I certainly don’t have all of the answers, here are some things that work for us when it comes to packing the mid-day meal.

The Lunchbox

After reading about these on Everyday Paleo, we broke down and bought a Planet Box lunchbox for Dana for this school year (1st grade). While we successfully packed Paleo friendly lunches last school year, I got really tired of washing and packing plastic containers and lids, and dealing with plastic baggies. We splurged (they are a bit pricey) on the box, the cover with pockets for ice packs, and the containers.

We love it! The quality is great. It’s easy to clean and use, and it’s a good size–it fits right in the backpack. We have used the box for various meals and snacks when we’re on the go, and people always comment initally on how cool the lunchbox is and secondly how healthy the lunch is. At the beginning of the school year, Dana was telling me that yard duties and teachers were coming over to check out what was packed each day. I keep her very involved in the choices for her lunch and at the end of her school day, she proudly tells me when she finished everything or lets me know when something didn’t work or hold up well.

The Goods

Truthfully, it’s very simple. I always have a couple of kinds of quality lunch meats on hand. We use a 1/2 pound to 1 pound of turkey, ham, and salami per week from the deli of our grocery store. I ask for ingredients from the deli clerk to check for any gluten fillers or MSG. If you are interested in nitrate-free meats, Applegate Farms has a good selection at Trader Joe’s.

Dana likes to roll her meat with some cultured cream cheese (not 100% Paleo), some grass fed Kerrygold cheddar cheese, or avocado. Because Charlotte is more sensitive to dairy, I use only avocado in her lunch meat.

If we have any leftover meat from dinner the night before, I use that first. This isn’t always an easy choice since the meat needs to be enjoyed cold and can change the texture and flavor of the meat. Nevertheless, Dana loves leftover pulled pork with homemade barbecue sauce and leftover grilled chicken in her lunches.

For the rest of her meal, Dana picks from an assortment of fruits (dried or fresh) that we always have in the house. I try to stick with locally grown (or at least domestically grown) seasonal fruits.Typically she chooses whatever is on-hand and fills the smaller compartments of the lunch box. She likes sunflower seed butter or almond butter on celery stalks (this is great in the long skinny compartment). We have recently been packing sunflower seed butter in the small container (buy separately) for dipping bananas and apples. In the picture above, we hollowed out some strawberries and filled them with the cultured cream cheese for a special treat.

I also keep a shelf in the pantry with dried Paleo-friendly foods that the kids can grab for a snack for school, home, or activity. This includes raisins, squeezable applesauces, fruit leathers, Lara bars, coconut chips, almonds, and pecans.

Charlotte and I typically eat lunch at home, but the times I have left Charlotte at school for lunch, she has gobbled up the turkey-avocado rolls and fruit.

Good Fat

I have found that the trick to making a lunch that keeps the kids satisfied with good energy for the remainder of their school day is including the fat. Using the avocado, coconut chips,  and sunflower seed butter ensures that they won’t run out of gas and be starving at pick up time. I would also include nuts and Lara Bars if they are allowed at your child’s school. Typically, Dana comes home, changes her clothes, and does her homework before asking for a snack. That’s how I know she eaten a breakfast and lunch that keeps up with her appetite and energy level.

Please share in the comments what your kids love to eat in their lunch.

A Gift to Myself

Finding an old writing entry is a little bit like finding a lost treasure. Coming across my own words and hearing my own voice can often pull me out of an unwanted emotion or the depths of anxious thoughts like nothing else can. I came across this today…it’s an old entry for the Las Madres newsletter (my local Mom’s group) on the topic of Time for Myself. Reading it today really helped me put things in perspective and again recognize the importance of taking care of my own needs. While the Paleo Lifestyle has clearly been my base for better health, it’s important for me to remember other experiences and components that have guided my journey.

Here’s a little background–this was in August of 2009. Charlotte was a year old and while she was struggling with Sensory Dysregulation, we were not aware of it and had not begun the Paleo diet or any other intervention (you’ll notice this in the chicken nugget reference).  

Time for myself….

Today I got a pedicure.  This one was different than any pedicure that I have ever received. After my polish was applied and I was left alone on the tan leather bench to dry, I cried.  Well, maybe more than cried…silently sobbed into the blue single-layer tissue from a box next to me.  I went into Lavender Day Spa with the intention of switching my toe nail polish to a more autumn-like hue and became captivated by the solitude and the voice of Ray Charles on the speaker. 

On July 12th of this year, I learned that my dad passed away.  Many of my closest Las Madres friends know that this has been a difficult summer for me. I have been dealing with the death of my father while my mother stayed in my home for 6 weeks, recovering from her ankle surgery (my parents divorced 6 years ago).   It was during this difficult period of time that I began to put my children in daycare 1 day per week and take the time to get through my personal challenges.  It was on one of my sacred Tuesdays that my need to sob became real and public.

I would love to say that PMS or hormones played a part in my emotional overflow, but sadly not.  It was in this quiet and safe place that I opened a hand-written, unfinished letter from my father to me.  Just a few days before the pedicure, my sister, my husband and I traveled to Texas where my dad resided, to retrieve his ashes and become the legal guardians of his estate in a Texas courtroom.  As a shocking gift, the letter given to me was found by one of dad’s closest friends.  In the letter, my dad granted me permission to let go of any angry feelings I still held toward him and to use his mistakes to grow as a person and be the best I could for my girls.

One of my friends suggested that I read the letter once and then place it in the drawer with other important documents in file called “Dad”.  While the burying of this letter and my feelings has been tempting, I know that the healthiest action for myself and my family is to come to terms with his death and the fountain of emotions that have followed. 

Is this feat possible with a 19-month-old who climbs like Spiderman or a 4 ½-year-old that asks “Why?” to just about everything? Where in my day between nuking chicken nuggets and folding endless baskets of clean laundry is there time to properly acknowledge my feelings and grieve my parent?  Yes, his death was messy and so is my grief.  Do I save my outbursts and pouring over his letter for my children’s naptimes and bedtimes? Unfortunately, life doesn’t stop so I can grow and learn and be a better parent than my father was to me.

In order for me to answer to my father’s dying wishes and heal from this pain, I need some time away from my children.  Most of us may think of time for ourselves as a luxury.  Grocery shopping without screaming, a massage at Splendid Foot, or the irresistible monthly Mom’s Night Out are any mom’s necessary vices.  However, my experience today at Lavender Day Spa taught me that time for myself is crucial.  Without it, I cannot rest, recover and grow as a human being. Leaving my time to myself to the schedule of my children will only allow me to be as good to myself as the length of my daughter’s nap. 

I encourage us to find deep, meaningful time for ourselves on a regular basis to refuel our souls, feel fulfilled, and find ourselves. Just as we learn from our children, we want our children to learn from us.  We want to be great models of love and respect, and portray the values most important to you and your family. I think most of us would agree that beyond all of these lessons and values, we want to give them our truest and best selves.  Taking time away from our children helps us to reconnect to the values, interests, and new and old experiences that make us who we are while we continue to recreate ourselves.  For if we lose touch with ourselves, we may be writing letters to our children asking them to be better than we were.

~Joy

Living Outside Your Paleo Bubble–kids birthday parties

We recently had a birthday party for Dana and Charlotte. It was a relatively small gathering for a few friends and family members at our home. We served lunch, sang happy birthday, and enjoyed cake. No one would ever know that our family, and specifically, our kids ate a diet that was different from any other child at the party.

The lunch spread included deli trays of ham, turkey, roast beef, salami, cheeses, and other antipasto treats like olives and sun-dried tomatoes. We did provide some dinner rolls for those who chose to make sandwiches. The crowd favorite was an enormous bowl of freshly made guacamole. We provided corn chips (gluten-free) and veggies for dipping. There was also lots and lots of fresh fruit. We received many comments on how fresh and delicious the food was. It was not limited to a Paleo diet, as most of our friends and family members eat grains and dairy, but we were still able to provide the birthday girls with a delicious lunch of their favorite Paleo foods.

I can assume that the positive comments that we received from our friends and family were based on the fact that our fare was considerably different from a typical meal served at a  kids’ birthday party. Foods of convenience like pizza or frozen hot dogs or hamburgers are the mainstay at kids’ birthday parties these days, and if you are trying to raise a Paleo family, you recognize what a challenge this is.

In the defense of other parents who choose throw a *traditional* party for their child with pizza delivery and store-bought cake, it was a lot of work and a significant expense to provide the spread we did. We woke early to prepare food, made a trip to pick up the deli trays, budgeted the expenses, and planned ahead to find a gluten-free cake that would be okay for the girls to eat. Our situation and lifestyle demands this type of planning and preparation.

We take that same mindset into modern-day parties and social events outside of our home when we know that there are going to be limited options for our kids to eat. Being prepared to attend a birthday party or social event with your children is the same as being prepared to go anywhere. You pack your child’s homework and anything they need for the day when they go to school. You pack a suitcase for going on a trip. Before a birthday party, you even buy and wrap a gift. Thinking about the food that you and/or your child will eat at that party is an often missed but crucially important next step.

Here’s some things to think about when you RSVP for your next kids’ party:

Meal or Entrée

*Email or call the parent and ask what they are planning to serve at the party before you attend. Explain that you are making some changes to your child’s diet and you want to be prepared. You may get lucky and have grilled sausages or barbecued chicken with fresh fruit and veggies.

*Feed your kids a big breakfast or lunch before attending a party where the entrée is not Paleo approved. If they feel full and don’t have a strong desire to eat, allow them to nibble on a few pieces of protein and spend their time playing and enjoying the party.

*Bring your own food. Pack a large snack or a lunch box for your child just as you would if they were going to school. If you feel the need, reach out and explain your child’s special diet. In my experience, this typically does not offend a party host or hostess, especially if you’ve taken care of the meal yourself.

Cake or Dessert

Oftentimes, the cake is the most sought-after part of the party for kids. After they have just consumed pizza or other convenience food, they can’t wait to wolf down a store-bought cupcake loaded with unrecognizable dyes and flavors, not to mention gluten and sugar.

My trick for the cake part of any party is providing a substitute treat that my kids love to eat.

Our family favorites include Curious George Bars and Tootsie Pops. These products including are sugar-laden, but typically gluten-free. (They may not be labeled as such as they may be produced in a processing plant that also processes wheat–please check with the product manufacturer if your child is particularly sensitive) Other options include homemade Rice Krispy treats or a homemade grain free dessert. Our favorite cookbook and website for delicious homemade grain free treats is from Bill & Hayley at the Food Lover’s Primal Palate. We all love the Coconut Cake with Coconut Cream Cheese Frosting in cupcake form.

Preparation–for the kids

This post wouldn’t be complete without a note about the uniqueness of your kids. After living Paleo for 2 years and attending numerous birthday parties with a 4-year-old and 7-year-old, I can safely what works for us, but I can obviously not predict what will work for your family.

Some kids are more sensitive to eating something different from the other kids. Other issues may be around giving up favorite foods and sacrificing party foods may just be too much, too soon. If you are leading your family on this Paleo journey, only you know what your kids can handle.

That being said, talking to your kids before any non-Paleo outing and setting expectations is a good rule of thumb. Understanding the needs and listening to the concerns of your kids before you are stuck in a no-win situation at party mealtime goes a long way. With Charlotte, we often show her pictures of where we are going, show her the food we have packed for her to eat, and let her know she has her own treat instead of cake or a cupcake that will “give her a tummy ache.” Dana can tolerate more non-Paleo treats than Charlotte can, so we often compromise with her. She’s a smart and sassy 7-year-old and has learned what we can live with as parents and when we put our foot down. She recognizes that this is our lifestyle, but we also try to be sensitive to how she feels eating something different from other kids. If she really wants a cupcake or piece of pizza, we try to discuss it before we arrive so we are all on the same page.

All of this may seem overwhelming and intimidating at first, but it does get better. Try to be as consistent as you can with your kids while still understanding that they are just kids, after all. As you progress with eating more Paleo foods, they realize that eating birthday party foods makes them feel yucky and cranky. Consistency with your food choices also helps your friends and family members understand that you are making conscious health choices for the sake of your child. Over time, they may become more sensitive and accommodating to your dietary needs. Until then, preparation and practice are the keys to success.

A Fondness for Facebook

I love the internet, but more specifically, I love Facebook. I used to be annoyed by the hype of it all, but recently I’ve owned it and made it work for me. Each day my News Feed brings me photos of my friends’ cute kids, exciting news about a pregnancy or promotion, and lots of articles that friends share and bloggers write. I dig into each and every one and read and enjoy everything from stories of Modern Motherhood to the ins-and-outs of Insulin Resistance. The shift from Annoy to Love for this social media occurred when I was tired of feeling guilty about my Facebook ritual, and I asked myself what I really wanted to spend this time doing. My answer was a customized space that transformed the infamous Time Suck to a message of permission to myself–Get Inspired to Write.

Thankfully, it’s done just that. This week I’ve been compelled to write this post based on the following stories I found on Facebook:

7 Things You Don’t Know About A Special Needs Parent

and

Tips for Food Allergies: A Child’s Perspective

The topics are varied, but both of interest to me. Clearly, an article that outlines the honest thoughts of a special needs parent is right up my alley. Additionally, a mom’s article from a child’s perspective on the effects of food allergies definitely grabs my attention.

I still very much operate in my teacher brain most days. So hopefully, it’s not completely shocking to you that I would like to create a Venn Diagram (overlapping circles that show how 2 or more things are alike and different) on these articles and find several powerful messages that lie in both of these stories. I loved both of these articles and could not resist the urge to compare and contrast, so here are the similarities that stood out to me:

Both moms take a big personal message and write in a clear and concise way. It’s as if they are saying, “I don’t want to overwhelm you with how important it is for me, so I’m going to break it down into just a few points to help you understand”, i.e. 7 things and 10 tips.

Both moms write from a place of isolation. Maria Lin’s third point is how alone she feels raising a special needs child. Referring to her son, Jacob, Maria shares, “With this honor of caring for him comes the solitude of the role.” Gina uses her child’s voice to drive home the isolation, “Having another friend with food allergies in my classroom or to eat with me at lunch would help me too”.

Both moms are owning their vulnerability. One of my favorite Likes on Facebook is Brene Brown and her amazing work on vulnerability. I see these women sharing and owning vulnerable, but universal thoughts, like jealousy and embarrassment.

So after finding these similarities and displaying this diagram, I would take it a step further with my students…what can we learn from these articles? What can we take with us in our lives?

And maybe it’s because I see so much of myself in both of these writers, the answers are crystal clear to me.

They come from a place of love for their children and a desire to get their truths out.

They are owning it and sharing it and feel brave and empowered enough to educate you.

They don’t want to live in it alone anymore.

They are modern mothers, using the power of social media to bring about changes in opinion and changes in how others see them and/or their children.

They are brave and smart and inspiring for writing their truths. And so are my friends who shared it with me.

Did I mention that I love the internet?

Preparation. Preparation. Preparation.

There’s a lot of talk in the Paleo world these days about customizing Paleo to fit our individual needs. There’s the 80/20 rule, where an individual can be living strict Paleo only 80% of the time and have sensible non-Paleo foods and treats the other 20%. There’s the cold-turkey 30 Day approach to going Paleo. There’s an allowance for more carbs for a more active lifestyle.  And then there’s dairy–lots of talk about dairy–cheese, raw milk, kefir and other sources leave a pick-and-choose kind of approach for each individual.

I whole-heartedly agree with a variety of approaches to meet a variety of needs, and I think the Paleo Community is doing an excellent job of forward thinking to support the needs of different bodies, personalities, and learning styles. There’s so much support in this community and what I hear most often is the consistent message–Find Clean Food that works for Your Body.

After two years of living a Paleo Lifestyle, we can safely say that there is no such thing as Perfect Paleo. We think that living Paleo can best be described as an individual’s journey toward better health through educated food and lifestyle choices. To find the consistencies within the inconsistencies is the job of the individual and giving this power to an enabled, educated, and willing individual is a recipe for success.

We also have come to believe that there is a very important message that must be delivered as a tag line within the variety of approaches. It goes like this: In addition to changing the way you eat, you must change your lifestyle to Prepare this healthy food that nourishes your body. Planning meals, shopping, and making time to prepare them is crucial for cleaning eating and success with any kind of Paleo plan.

I know this is hard. Our world is full of fast-paced activities and commitments that take us right up to the dinner hour. McDonald’s and Taco Bell become quick options for dinner when the family is starving and there’s nothing ready at home. I get it, and we used to live that way. We definitely miss the convenience of our old SAD (Standard American Diet). I was just talking about this very topic with my friend Rachel (a fellow Paleo mom) a couple of weeks ago. We were fantasizing about the old days and how easy and freeing it was to order a pizza for dinner.

If you are serious about eating Paleo, picking up dinner is not an option. It’s a plain and simple lifestyle change to cook and prepare food like our grandparents used to do it.

Plan Ahead.

On Saturday morning, we look at the schedule for the upcoming week and write down which evenings look crazier than others. Our family juggles school, therapies, swimming lessons, workouts for Mom & Dad, and lots of dance lessons for the girls. I know it’s the start of the weekend and I really don’t want to think about the next week either, but the list for the grocery store needs to be made and the meals for the week must be made from those groceries.

Here’s what works for us. We keep our freezer stocked with meats that we pick up from a variety of places. We shop at Costco, our local grocer, and our local meat market. We typically shop for these meats once or twice per month, depending on budget and schedule. (Note: I would love to tell you that they are all pasture-raised and grass-fed, but that’s not our reality. We are certainly working toward that goal while being patient with ourselves at the same time.)

So, we look at the meats that are in the freezer and fill in the protein for each dinner. We consider which nights need an easy-to-prepare-protein and which nights will take more prep and time. Typically, on Mondays we have skirt steak. Tuesdays we make chicken thighs. On Wednesdays Chad picks up fresh fish. Thursdays we have pork, and Fridays we usually have ground beef. Saturdays we start the rotation over again but we don’t plan the weekends ahead, as there’s always last-minute company for dinner or a change of plans. We don’t plan to eat leftovers for dinner. They are gobbled up for lunch by myself and the kids, and there’s rarely any wasted food.

Next, we fill in the veggies to go with each protein. Sometimes, the veggies and the sides make a meal, and other times the veggies just exist separate from the protein. This is where the Paleo websites and cookbooks come in handy (see our family favorites at the end of this post). From here we make our grocery list that typically lists all produce section items on one side and all other items on the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Prepared.

Now that the meals are planned and the groceries are bought, it’s time for teamwork.

Communication is essential to making this work. It takes a strong team to put dinner on the table every night. Split the jobs and be clear about timing and expectations. The parent that picks up kids is in charge of making sure they have healthy snacks after school, practice, or therapy to prevent a meltdown. We love beef jerky, almonds, squeezable applesauces, and even smoothies.

The parent that arrives home first knows the plan and starts some kind of dinner prep…washing veggies, putting meat in the oven, or starting the barbecue.

If one parent plans the meals, shops for the food, cooks the dinners, and cleans it all up, it’s a recipe for burnout and you’re back to ordering pizzas. It needs to be a team effort. If you are the parent that does not cook or doesn’t even know where to start in the kitchen (that used to be me), offer to do the weekly grocery shopping and nightly clean up. Have your partner teach you some basic cooking skills to share some of the easier duties.

Have a back-up plan in case someone gets home late, the meat is still frozen or the kids have melted, regardless of your best efforts. Our back-up plan is always eggs. You’d be amazed how fast you can whip up a omlette or scrambled eggs for an easy and nutritious dinner.

It may seem labor intensive and very different at first, but making time to plan and prepare meals is the way many generations before us have eaten. We need to go back to our roots and stay away from food that comes from a package or a drive thru window. Give your family the gift of health in the form of a family dinner that you’ve prepared.

Here’s links to some of our favorite recipes.

Skirt Steak–Beef with Broccoli 

Chicken thighs–Better Butter ChickenSun Dried Tomato Chicken BakePecan Crusted Chicken. Smoked Paprika Chicken.  Whole chicken–The Bacon Chicken

Ground Beef–Meatloaf. Chili (in Sarah’s cookbook). Stuffed Bell Peppers

I recently found the website PaleoPot which offers Paleo friendly meals for your Crock Pot or slow cooker. We have yet to try any recipes, but we will be checking them out soon and using any ideas for those extra busy weeknights.

Please use the comments section to share any of your tips for preparing Paleo foods or making Paleo work with a busy family.

Baby Bliss

I had the tremendous pleasure of becoming an Auntie a few months ago. My younger sister, Jill, had her first baby, a girl. This experience has been so special on so many levels and has really opened my mind and heart to experience motherhood with new eyes.

I’ve never been one to gush over babies, but I find that I can’t hold back around my brand new niece. At three months old, she is looking right at me and her sparkling eyes and toothless smile are so precious I can hardly stand it. Then when my girls jump in to make faces and get her to coo, it’s all over. Jill and I look at each other with an exchange that says, “This is as good as we thought it would be.”

The girls bonding as cousins is amazing and awesome to see. I’m sure we will continue to love their interactions and play, but the most striking and surprising of pleasures is the mutual bond that now exists between Jill and me. When the baby first arrived, Jill looked to me for words of wisdom on things like nursing and sleep patterns. She needed my help and I gave her the simplest advice that I could think of: Don’t stress about the details (We’re good at that). Watch her. Listen to her. Give her what she needs.

With seven years of motherhood under my belt, I used my lessons learned to guide her on her own path of meeting her baby’s individual needs. I held back from giving too many details or instructions and let her have the freedom to learn as a new mother while I eagerly watched and waited. And as I see her learning and knowing her baby like only she can, I feel like a teacher who has seen the brilliant lightbulb in my students’ eyes. I let go of the worry and stress that I have been feeling for her and watch in awe at the perfect, inseparable bond that exists between them. It’s so natural and pure and perfect that part of me aches to have it one more time for myself.

I look to the gifts that are my own children and wonder about the purity and innocence of our bond. It feels very much the same as the early days of infancy, but also so very different. Why? I initially dismiss it as kids growing up. I can’t smother them with love and tenderness all day like I did when they were babies. They must be independent of me, go to school, make friends, etc.

As I sit with these thoughts for a few days, I begin to think about how important the bond is and all of the influences that can get in the way. What our kids wear, how they perform, where they go to school, and certainly what they eat all bring input to the one who owns the job of Parent. It’s easy to become a rule follower and lose track of the needs of the child that were so crystal clear in the beginning.

All of the opinions and expectations of others can cloud the bond that is so naturally created. We become vulnerable and judged and can lose the beautiful gift of our intuition along the way. Accepting my vulnerability and trusting the natural bond when raising my kids gave me strength to face experiences that felt tough and were difficult to accept. Pushing the outside influences aside to make the best choices for my kids led me to a place where I can meet their needs without fear of judgement. 

Through this experience of becoming an Auntie and welcoming this new baby I have learned how precious this bond is. I have also come to realize how blessed I am to be on a path that keeps me bonded to my kids in a way that allows them to grow and change while knowing that their needs will always be met.

I hope to teach Jill so many things about the journey that motherhood is. I want to protect her and baby from the influences that will interfere with the bond they both currently feel. I want to encourage her to be herself and to trust that precious intuition. But most importantly, I want her to understand, like I have, that the most natural thing we can do as mothers is meet our child’s needs, special or otherwise.