Saturday, February 1, 2014

Next Chapter...

Research Mommy is working on a new project {}
Read about the transition below. Browse RM posts by category:


I started this blog when my first son was two months old and used it primarily as an outlet for voicing the many questions I had about the transition to becoming a parent - as well as a place to list online resources I found helpful for use in the future. Between February 2010 and December 2013, this blog was my place to write and record reflections and lessons learned from raising two boys. When our second son arrived in March of 2012, I often looked back to early Q&A posts that guided me with my first born. It was great to have a set of links already bookmarked and organized for me, in addition to remembering what questions I asked the first time around and how much more confident I now felt in my parenting knowledge and experience.

Confidence, however, cannot be used as a means to promote your personal parenting style as though it is the only suitable option. I hope I have never presented my views on this blog as the only possible perspectives. What I've realized from raising two kids, more than anything else, is that being a parent is a unique experience and what works for one caretaker may not for another. And that is okay. We are truly all different.

In lieu of my discovery, I began a new project building off of some of the posts from this blog. I wanted to build a resource directory that would allow parents and caretakers a means to quickly search for answers to their own parenting questions (and not just follow mine), but that offered a range of resource options so that multiple points-of-view were provided.

This new project started in the fall of 2012 as the list of links collected from prior blog posts and grew to include resources I found while web-searching on whatever topics I was interested in over the next year. At present, it is still just a list. But, my goal is to make it something more user-friendly and hopefully worthwhile to many searching for parenting resources online.

I was inspired, in part, by research about the current (June 2013) number of caregivers and how caregivers are using the Internet more and more to find health-related information (see infographics below).

Additionally, my past experience working in a parent information center and my recent knowledge of national resource centers (examples: Children's Bureau, HHS and Comprehensive Centers, ED) in my current research and evaluation work, sparked my interest in an online parent resource center. Knowing that the funding for state and local centers has dropped significantly since the early 2000s when I worked for a parent information center, and that ED grants for Parental Information and Resource Centers (PIRCs) had long-ended, my hope is to carve out a small space online to gather parenting resources and information in one place in hopes that there may someday be a comprehensive parent center (inclusive of, but larger in scope than the current state-level Parent Training and Information Centers) that reflects the needs of multiple caretaker audiences and provides support and connections to resources to all in search of them.

After a cross-country trip with mom-friends in January of 2014, that provided some time for thinking and goal-setting, I'm closing out my 4 years writing as Research Mommy and beginning the next chapter in my quest for understanding what it means to be a parent.

For any and all who are interested, please join me as I work on Parentships - an online resource directory for parents and caretakers.

Thanks to all who have followed along with me this far.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Research v. Evaluation: A Parenting Example

My kids day-to-day habits have been tracked since they were born.

Between myself, my husband, and our caretakers, we've recorded over 1400 notes for my oldest and over 600 for my youngest. These 2000+ daily notes are all on paper in multiple forms of notebooks, tracking forms (see below), and post-it notes.

Early on, I joked that that my future self would analyze these data-points and seemingly uncover and document the secret patterns of infants and toddlers leading to sales of millions of "how-to" books by new parents looking for easy answers to questions about sleep, tantrums, and tv-time.

Fours years in, I realize that not only will I most likely never have the chance to turn my kids' data into a research project, I'm not sure the findings would be worth reporting.

Last week, I read this article "Tracked since birth: the rise of extreme baby monitoring" by Rebecca Greenfield, and it got me thinking. Although, I've learned a lot about my children from taking daily notes of their eating habits, etcetera, this knowledge has been best used for three things: 

1. keeping all caregivers on the same page
2. making day-to-day changes and adjustments in schedules depending on what happened  the day before
3. having a written record of illness or other concerns for pediatrician's appointments

This article made me reflect on my own tracking practice and realize that what I've been doing is not research, it's evaluation.

The differences between research and evaluation have been discussed by many academics and practitioners over the years. And, as I learned in graduate school, while the data collection and analyses processes may be similar, the big differences come down to these five things:

1. Purpose
2. Means
3. Author
4. Audience
5. Communication of results

More specifically, the purpose of evaluation (formative or summative) is to judge the merit or worth of something, while the purpose of research is to produce generalized knowledge based on inference from a sample to a population. There is flexibility in choosing evaluation models depending on what is being evaluated, while research often demands use of strict scientific methods. Evaluation reports are written by internal or external evaluators for clients with the purpose of communicating findings to stakeholders. Research reports are written by external researchers to be read by other researchers, scholars, and academics for the purpose of contributing to a larger body of research by publishing findings in scholarly journals or by sharing one's work and results through presentations.

Parenting, I now realize, is a version of formative evaluation.  Each day, I "momitor" what happens in my home and assess what went well and what could have gone better. And I note the things I haven't yet figured out and record ideas I have for other resources to look into or people to talk with to round out the picture I have of what's been going on with my family. This may mean I call my mom after the kids are in bed to get the full scoop on how potty training went that day, or I make a note to start tracking my kids' mood after taking medication to make sure it isn't making him too sleepy.  

In any case, the tracking system I've created is only as good as it is useful. And, currently, it's main uses are to provide insight to what happens day-to-day, notice patterns, and make adjustments on the fly. 

The idea of using my tracking system for formal research - collecting kids' data in the hope of producing some generalizable results - just doesn't seem useful to me anymore.  At the end of the day, I'm just trying to figure out how things are going specific to my family and not for trying to make claims about anyone else's kids. 

While collecting all this data may be extreme, it has helped in the past and can be useful if used for the right reasons.  Will tracking your kids' daily lives provide answers to all your questions? No.  But, to me, it's similar to tracking diet, mood, or any other human experiences we have. In the end, we just want to understand ourselves and our needs a little bit better.  We are evaluating ourselves constantly.

And, while I agree with the article that looking for longitudinal trends in this type of data may be fruitless, I do believe in tracking for personal learning and evaluative purposes.

Friday, March 15, 2013

What do parenting and apple pie have in common?

File:Apple pie.jpg

As a researcher and evaluator, I think it's important to consider where information comes from before making decisions based on it. 

As a parent, I think it is important to know who's information to trust (i.e. your child's pediatrician), and how that information relates to your own knowledge and experience of raising your child before making decisions for your family.

There is a glut of parenting information available both online and off-line these days. It doesn't take much to search a few key terms and find loads of websites boasting best practices, recommendations, mandates, opinions, and more on any and all things parenting.  

However, it takes more time and effort to decide how legitimate these websites and their claims are and, more importantly, whether they are appropriate for you and your family.

The need to be selective in choosing who and what guides your parenting practice can be illustrated by using almost any parenting decision. Let's take baby swaddling as an example. A good friend of mine just shared this article [No, Swaddling Will Not Kill Your Baby by Melinda Wenner Moyer] about a state-wide daycare ban on swaddling (thanks, D.) 

Without getting into all of the details - you can read more here, here, and here - both sides of the issue (pro-swaddle/no-swaddle) highlight data used to stake their claim - to provide evidence that swaddling is dangerous to support this ruling, as well as research that suggests the alternatives to swaddling might be just as bad. 

I understand that when there are so many parenting decisions to make, it is almost easier to just go with what the experts say, or what the majority says or what gets the most media attention, and hope that is the right way for you (take breastfeeding for example). 

But, what if it isn't? 

Consider this, anyone can make an apple pie, but no two apple pies will likely ever be the same. This is because every baker has their own preference of ingredients, method of baking, and resources available to them. But, at the end of the day, most apple pies are similar enough that no one would decide they are, for example, lemon meringue pies instead. 

I believe that parenting is like baking an apple pie.

There are some basic ingredients needed to provide parenting (a child, love, patience) just as there are the basics for apple pie (apples, sugar, grain).  After this foundation is set, anyone can modify the recipe to their tastes. In the same way I might use more or less sugar, graham crackers or pie crust, to give a different flavor to my apple pie.  It's still apple pie.  If I use a crib or co-sleep, swaddle or rock my baby to sleep every night - it's still parenting.  And, there's no right or wrong way to do it.  

Sure, there are plenty of dangerous concoctions of both parenting and apple pie to be had -  and there are people who will purposefully poison the apple and those who will make bad decisions, for a number of reasons. 

But, my feeling is why give parents more reason to make bad parenting decisions? I agree with Melinda Wenner Moyer's take on this swaddling issue - to paraphrase if I may - the decision to swaddle can be dangerous if not done correctly, but it is not in any parent or child's best interest to scare parents into not doing something that may, as a result, lead to more stress and create more danger for the family. 

Like any decision we have to make in life, it is important to not only find out as much information as you can about it, but also to understand that information and where it is coming from. Take expert decisions based on research studies for example. It is commonly believed that research studies done well should be transparent enough that they can be replicated with the same results. This is pretty similar to baking, actually. To bake an apple pie, you might follow the recipe of a well-known baker taking careful steps to do everything as they did, trusting that their way is best (or at least one of the best) and that if you do what they did, you will obtain the same results. 

But, results can and do vary. Maybe your oven is different, or the apples available where you live aren't the same, or you read tablespoon instead of teaspoon - whether it's human error or just for a lack of having the exact same tools and ingredients, it's not hard to understand why we may never bake an apple pie like Betty Crocker.

So, as much as we want to believe that information labeled as "research" is the best for making decisions about how to live our lives - from everything from where should I go to college and what car should I drive to is my drinking water safe and where should I invest my money - there are risks to being overly reliant on this type of information. Because research, like anything, can be flawed. This is especially true in social-science research (because there is no ethical way to design true experiential studies for people and therefore obtain the gold-standard of research design). 

Depending on who funds the research and why, you may find completely conflicting evidence used to argue two sides of the same issue. 

Is swaddling safe? 
Yes, and here, read this research report... 

Is swaddling dangerous? 
Yes, and look at this research... 

Research, in and of itself, is not the enemy - it's how we disseminate and use research findings that can be scary. And, this is why I  think, parenting is a good example of when evaluation is more suitable than research. By evaluating the merits of both research findings and parenting practices in terms of what works best for your family, you can adapt and modify to suit your needs. 

By reviewing multiple parenting techniques, instead of being dependent on one research study, you can inform yourself about what has been done, how, and what the successes and challenges were.  You can use this evaluative information to make informed-choices for your life and your family based on additional information that you have (what works for you, what your resources are, etc.).

Although research is very important in almost all aspects of our lives, it is much like swaddling - if done right, it works well, but if not, it can lead to bad recommendations that might cause even more danger. 

Which is why, I argue, if you're going to make parenting decisions based on data, just remember to do your homework and see where is it coming from. Is there an agenda being pushed and why?  And always evaluate information in a way that benefits you and your family. Make decisions that are appropriate for what you need, in line with those you trust (doctors, etc.), and based on information that you find credible and reliable.

There are a lot of wonderful bakers in the world and each has their own spin on apple pie. There are also a number of parenting experts who each believe in their way of raising a child. No one baker or expert can be right for everybody. Find what works for you and embrace it. Try not to be scared into what everyone else is doing just because it's popular or gaining media attention. 

Think, evaluate, decide for yourself. And remember, parents know best.*

*Okay, I'd be insane if I didn't include a disclaimer, that really you should always seek medical expertise for any issues or concerns you have about the health, development, and well-being of your child. I would just recommend seeking advice from a health provider that knows you and your family well and that you trust, instead of say, an article found on the Internet (this one included). 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

{Babies are awesome!}

My sister had a baby last night... which makes me an auntie for the first time!

Now, I know that this really shouldn't be about me at all, but I just have to share how I'm feeling.

I am SO excited/happy/elated/joyous for my sister and her family. I was pacing all day yesterday waiting anxiously with my cell phone in my hand for any news. You'd think I'd remember how long it can take after having two children of my own, but I just wanted to know what was happening and make sure they were all okay. After waiting all day and into the night, and realizing it wasn't going to happen before visiting hours were over and I'd have to wait until today to visit her anyway, I finally let myself relax a little bit. And, by 10 or so, when there still wasn't any news, I went to bed so I could get some sleep in case there was a middle of the night call... and  there was,  but I slept through it (did I mention I have two kids... they tire me out!). But, I did get up at 3:00 and was able to see the pictures her husband sent of their beautiful baby boy - born just before midnight! :)

And, here's how it's about me: I could NOT get back to sleep. My heart was jumping out of my chest. I had the BIGGEST smile on my face. I felt alive and excited and happy and really, really proud of my little sister. And when I saw that little boy's face, I was in love - instantly. And I knew what it must have been like for my sisters and parents to first see my little boys and how they could love them so unconditionally. And it made me realize why my family was willing to make so many sacrifices to help me out when I was going through the ups and downs of learning to be a mom. And it made me vow to always be there for my nephew, my sister, her husband, and my family - whenever they might need me, in whatever way I can help. Because, finally - I GET IT.

I think I've been living under a cloud for the past year... just a little cloud, not as big as the monster storm I was living under during my bout of PPD, but still a little trace of bad weather has been hanging over me. Just enough to make me feel sorry for myself and spend my free time thinking about how hard it is to be a parent with all the expectations and responsibilities I have. After my first son was born, I started this blog to capture all the excitement/curiosity/questions I had and to have a place to keep all the new stuff I was learning. It was all about my SON.... not me, just him - what should he eat? where might he like to visit? how long should he nap? I mean, yes, it related to me - but he was my priority. Maybe even to a fault. Over the past three years, I've learned that having a child is incredible - but also scary and hard work - and it's nice to have other things in your life to help balance you out - friends, family, spouse, interests, hobbies, etc. So, I slowly started to do things I loved again (reading, crochet, thinking about how to solve a prime number theorem...) and spent less time worrying about having all the answers about being a parent. Yes, I was a mom, but I was still me - and damn it - I could be both just fine!

Then, after my second son was born (sorry, buddy), it was still incredible - but still a huge learning curve. This time, though, I knew a lot about how to care for a child (thanks to our first go round), I didn't know so much about how to take care of me. And I got caught up in being the "best mom" with "all the answers" and trying to be the person everyone else could count on for support. Thing is, I totally unraveled (I'm still really amazed at the power of hormones and other chemicals in our brains... but I digress), and ended up needing more support for me (and my baby) then I could give out to others. Taking that support left me feeling guilty, incapable, and useless. I thought I had gotten past those feelings, but today, when I realized how genuinely happy I was for my sister and her baby and how I would do anything for them, one thing was clear: I have not been this happy/aware/alive in a while... possibly even for the entire past year. This of course, saddens me, and I feel bad that my family has had me at less than 100% for this time - but I think it is also good news.

It's a reminder that there is always going to be good with the bad in life. And parenting is no different. There are ups and downs, trials and tribulations, learning curves, lessons learned, and so on... and we just have to keep going. It's not easy. It's okay that it's not easy. It's okay to talk about how hard it is - really, I'm happy to talk with anyone who wants some insight into any of the challenges I've faced - because if I can help, I'm happy to do it.

But, it's also really, really incredible to have a child in your life. Whether that child is your own or not, it is great to see a new baby born with all the possibilities of everything life has to offer in front of them. It is hopeful, it is inspiring, it is beautiful.

It is also science. And it is what keeps us going. It's life. And this is the part that I now get - it's not about anything more that having a baby, raising a child, and preparing them for their life. It doesn't matter how you do it, what experiences you've had, how hard/easy it is, your feelings of adequateness and efficacy of being a parent, it's not about the way you bring up your child - what culture, religion, location - it's just that you have a child in your life that you care about - and you want them to succeed. You want to lend a hand, change a diaper, give their parents a break, read them a story, dance with them to silly songs, whatever it takes, to make  them happy, keep them healthy, and know that you are contributing to the awesome circle of life (I'm now singing the Lion King song in my head).

So, that's it. It ain't about me anymore (I know, many of my friends will believe this when they see it). But, really, I'm not thinking about my life as a parent and my parenting skills and blah, blah, blah. It is what it is. I have my experiences and knowledge and other people have theirs. I can't compare my parenting skills to anyone else, I just have to make sure I'm doing what's necessary to help my kids (and the kids in my life I care about) succeed in life. It's life. I totally get it. And I have my sister (and her husband) to thank for this.

People say having a baby enter your life is the best gift. I never understood how my children could be gifts to others as much as they were gifts to me and my husband. But, now I see, babies bring hope and joy. They remind us that life is amazing, at times hard and challenging, but equally awesome and rewarding. They give us hope. They push us to go on and keep going because they need us. They keep us focused on the bigger picture of life and how we all play a part in it. In short, they remind us that it's not about just me or you, it's about all of us. It's about family and love and support.... It's the best feeling in the world.

I love you, sis. Congratulations.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I'm not a perfect (pretend) mom

It's been a while since I've posted here... lots of things happening in our family and my work/life balance over the past few months (in case you were interested). Going through some major decisions (determining solutions to health-related issues, changing our minds about preschool, going back  to work full time...) has given me some new perspective on this whole parenting thing...not to mention, having 2 kids is a big change!

Now that I have two kids, my perspective on what I am and what I am not as a mother has changed.  My expectations of motherhood  have been challenged. My routines turned upside down. Not having the first-child jitters over every little thing has made me more lax with our second child. And that has led to some guilt over not doing the same exact things with him as I did with our first (make all his purees, go to playgroups, rock him to sleep, etc.). I started wondering if I was failing as a parent this time around. I wasn't really happy with my "parenting" because I was always afraid I wasn't doing enough or doing the right things or making the right food or going to the right places. With the pressure of being a "perfect mom" on top of the pressure to maintain a marriage, career, and social life - I pretty much felt like I was losing at life.

But, something's changed in the past few months. Maybe it's because my husband likes to remind me that we have two healthy, beautiful children and are by all accounts "winning" more than losing. Maybe it's been my decision to go back to work full-time, or the distance my memory has from the last child birth. Maybe it's that every single time I talk to another mom with more than one child, they all say the same thing: it's hard and one of the hardest parts is living up to perceived expectations. We are all afraid to say "I let my child do..." or "I can't believe I didn't remember to..." (insert whatever we think makes us a bad mom), and then the second one of us admits we (forgot to pack a lunch, didn't send gloves to school, whatever) EVERYONE else admits they have, too.  Ahh, the solidarity of trying to pretend to be a mom that I'm not and don't want to be!

New Focus...
So, I've stopped trying to be a Perfect (Pretend) Mom. I don't have it in me anymore. Sorry, kids - you're just going to have to deal with a less-than-perfect mom who loves you very, very much.

This long process of self-discovery has not been fun. It's been hard to not fall into the temptation of trying to be the "perfect mom" and I've allowed my fair share of mom guilt to creep into my head and heart. But, after I've been able to (as a good friend says) "ball it up and throw it in the trash" (thanks SO), I feel quite relieved of the burden guilt brings and more ready than ever to focus on positive aspects of parenting and learning how to become a better mother.

And, at the end of the day, I try to remember that it isn't really all about me anymore - whether or not I feel I'm an adequate mother or living up to society's expectations of me - it's just about the kids, keeping them happy and healthy. And I'm trying to focus more of my energy and thoughts on them now... and less on negative thoughts about my mothering ability.

The following are my new truisms on parenting. They are what I'm reminding myself of each time I get into a rut. I want to share here to both remind myself, and in case they help anyone else!

1. Perfect moms are pretend moms. You know who the "prefect mom" is - she's the "mom" that you think you should be (or rather that society pressures you to be) but that you aren't.  She's there all the time, looming in the back of your mind, saying things like, "should the kids really eat ice cream for dinner?"  She's the conglomerate of all the so-called perfect mothers out there who cook, clean, work, play, craft, and manage everything within their kids lives, all while wearing the latest fashions, hair styles, and manicures. Here's the thing - they don't exist any more than the boogie man or the Easter bunny. So, stop trying to be perfect. Give it up, already, and let your kids watch too much tv, eat too many snacks, and continue to use your iPad better than you. (Note: this applies to dads, as well).

2. Being a parent means giving up expectations. Every day hour there seems to be some new parenting issue/concern/question/crisis arising. You can't seem to escape them. Yet, there is always usually a perfectly good solution if you're patient enough to figure it out. The thing is, the solution may not be what you anticipated. And that can be, well, scary, because we are conditioned to do things certain ways, we have our comfort zones, and for better or for worse, we often don't react well to change. Well, you can forget about all of that! Since becoming a mom, I've refocused, rethought, replanned, re-everything in regards to my life, my family, and what life is all about in general. So, you just have to get used  to ignoring your preconceptions and you have to be willing to start from scratch if what you  thought might work, just doesn't work out.

3. It's not about one-upping other parents. Being a parent is about taking the best care of your kids that you can. It's not about keeping up with the Jones' - whether that means signing your kids up for all the activities their friends participate it, creating pasta art with them everyday, or teaching them how to play a musical instrument if only because you think that's what you "should" be doing. If you "want" to share all these experiences with your children, that is wonderful - just don't force fun on yourself to say to someone else that you did it. Do it for you and your kids and enjoy it.

4. Things change, and it's okay. I remember back when my mornings were my own, I could eat breakfast with two hands, read the paper if I liked, and take time to choose what clothes to wear that day, take a walk to the local coffee shop, and then start my day... around 9:00 o'clock or so. Ha! Now, my mornings look like this: 6:30 kids up/parents up (it varies who gets up first); 6:45 dressed and downstairs; 7:00 breakfast; 7:30 medicine and tv (tv is an excellent way to get kids to take their medicine... I don't care what anyone thinks); 7:45-8:30 - free play/get ready for work/prepare food for the day/make any notes for our child care/etc.; 8:45 - leave for work; 9:00 - start the work day, more likely than not without having any breakfast, definitely not having read the paper, probably not wearing a well-matched outfit, maybe having my hair dry, and heading to the work kitchen for the first of many cups of coffee for the day. All this is to say, that things have changed - and this is only the morning routine. Most aspects of my life have changed considerably since having kids.... and for that matter, since growing up, learning to drive, going to college, getting my first job, getting married, buying a house, etc. It's life, right? And we have to be ready for big changes and small changes. I wouldn't trade my new morning routine for anything I once had. Waking up to those little smiles and feeding those hungry mouths and getting all that love and attention before I have to head out to work, how could the paper and extra sleep compete with that? Plus, I have my iPhone to tell me what's going on in the world... and Facebook in case I miss anything.

5. You have to be flexible. My favorite quotation has always been "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans" from John Lennon's song "Beautiful Boy." Now, being a creature of habit and someone with ridiculous OCD, it's not easy for me to just "go with the flow," but I've had to learn the hard way that sometimes the best moments in life are truly ones that happen when we weren't expecting them. And, I've learned that we have to be flexible enough to not let these unexpected events ruin our day, get us stuck in routines that don't work, or make us long for days past. Because if there's one thing I know is true - it's whatever preconceived notions I had about being a parent - I was wrong - and there's room for me to learn something new everyday. best parts of life with kids will be the unexpected. For example, did I enjoy being in the ER multiple nights with a wheezing child last fall (part of the reason for not posting in so long)? No, not at all, and it totally threw off a number of routines/plans/etc. But, I did learn a lot about how brave my little boy is, and how cooperative my marriage is, and how well our extended family works together to keep all of us sane and I wouldn't trade that for the world.  

And, please share your parenting truisms and lessons learned. I welcome your comments so we can keep the positive parenting conversation going! :)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Healthy Thursday: Diagnosing Asthma

If you have a child and you're familiar with the acronym RSV, you know the difference between bronchitis and bronchiolitis, and if you have a home nebulizer (aka "the fishy"), you might want to learn more about asthma... just in case your child's breathing problems get diagnosed as asthma.

We started our respiratory adventures at 7 weeks and we haven't gotten through a season without at least one cold that lands us in the doctor's office... or sometimes, the ER. With each runny nose and cough, we've had to learn a lot about RSV, bronchiolitis, pneumonia, and now probably asthma.

Hopefully, these resources will be helpful to anyone else experiencing breathing issues with their child. And, if you are, give your kid a hug for me.

Asthma Reading List:

Mayo Clinic

U.S. Library of Medicine


American Lung Association

Baby Center

Children's Hospital Boston

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