Carolyn Hax’s top advice for new parents, like Prince William and Kate Middleton

July 23, 2013

A new baby comes with lots of questions. Advice columnist Carolyn Hax has offered lots of advice for new parents and family members, Prince Harry we’re looking at you, over the years. Here are some of her top tips:


(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

April 26: Agreeing on a baby’s name

Q: In a recent conversation with my significant other, we started talking about baby names we like (no chance of kids yet, just one of those odd conversations you stumble into). He mentioned one boy’s name he really wanted to use.

It is the name of one of my exes, and I am really opposed to using it. He thinks it shouldn’t be a big deal since I didn’t date the guy for long, but I have a problem disassociating the name with the guy. There are a few names I wouldn’t want to use, boy and girl, because they remind me of people I really do not want to be reminded of. Thoughts?

A: Each parent has veto power over a name, but, for what it’s worth, an association with a non-significant ex will be quickly erased as your someday baby inhabits the name. If the association is too bad for that to be true, then you can both stop reading at, “Each parent has veto power.”

May 21: A new mother wonders how to get past the ‘am I doing it right?” anxiety

Q: I’m a new mom of a pretty fun but challenging 6-month-old boy. I am a naturally decisive person, but the anxiety I’m feeling over making the “right” decisions or providing him the “right” things has been difficult to cope with.

For example, since I’ve gone back to work, I haven’t been able to pump enough milk, and I’ve needed to start supplementing with formula. I intellectually know that this is fine and that many babies have formula, but for some reason I’m beating myself up over it. Why can’t I produce enough milk, why can’t I provide what I’m supposed to for him, etc.?

Also with regard to other things — like when to stop swaddling at night, how and what solids to feed him — I feel so worried I’m going to do something that is less than optimal that might hurt his development. I’m second-guessing myself very often and starting to drive myself crazy, and I know that isn’t good.

Do you have any suggestions for how to calm my anxieties so I can just do the best I can and be happy with that place?

A: The anxiety generated by formulaphobia comes from a well-meaning place — yay, breast milk, let’s all agree — but is so needless and widespread that I’ll address it separately upfront: To quote a pediatrician, “It’s not like you’re feeding him poison.” You’ve chosen to feed your baby with Plan B instead of leaving him hungry in service to Plan A. If that’s failure, then sign me up for some.

As for the other stuff, it’s okay to use the same general approach: Make the best decisions you’re able to for your baby, but don’t drive yourself nuts trying to make everything perfect. The “why” is easy: Not to give you something new to get all fired up about, but you’ll be a better mom if you make a few “less than optimal” choices while remaining upbeat than you’ll be if frenzied with the effort to get everything “right.”

The “how” is a little more difficult, because you’re disposed to perfectionism in a cultural environment where many different businesses and bystanders stand to benefit from feeding exactly that parental anxiety.

 

June 13: Asking family members to keep their baby’s photos off Facebook

Q: Is it unreasonable for my expecting wife and me to ask her family not to post pictures of our baby on Facebook once he’s here? Among various reasons, as we are learning more and more every day, nothing is truly private. In 20 years, our son may not want his baby pictures plastered all over the Internet; we want him to make the choice himself when he’s old enough. In addition, we don’t want some corporation to be able to use his image without asking, and especially in the case of my much younger sister-in-law, who friends people she doesn’t know in person, we don’t want potential predators to have access to our baby’s face and information. Are we crazy for even wanting to ask this of my in-laws?

A: Crazy? No. Unrealistic? Getting warmer.

… Responding warmly to your baby even when you’re exhausted and emotionally spent, for example, provides benefits far in excess of the effort it takes to smile. Providing the best education your money can buy, too — hard to go wrong there. Also at the top of my list, at least, are being diligent in screening caregivers; reading nutritional labels; standing up for your spouse, child or self against unhealthy pressure from others; and being patient about letting your child learn instead of cushioning every fall. Oh, and being consistent in your discipline. That battle’s a must.

But a crusade against unauthorized use of photos sounds doomed in the very language of your question: “we are learning more and more every day, nothing is truly private.”

You can master privacy settings, yes; you can respectfully ask people to not post photos of your child; you can express your reservations to your sister-in-law and invite her cooperation.

But project into the future a bit to the time she posts one anyway, or someone else does who innocently doesn’t know your wish. What will you say or do then? How likely is it that someone bad will zero in on your child’s image from among the random millions of images on Facebook alone, fix upon it and do harm? And, by comparison, how likely is it that you’ll harm your family relationships by trying to assert so much control over relatives — specifically over their relationship with your child? You’re looking at very scary but minuscule chance of happening vs. not scary but very likely to happen.

June 28, 2013: Dealing with a lack of sleep

Q: Our almost three-month-old baby doesn’t sleep well. She is up at least five times a night and she can’t yet soothe herself back to sleep. I’m really struggling with how to handle the overnight. I’m on maternity leave and my husband works. My mom is here a lot during the day to help with our older kids. I have been doing all of the overnight with baby girl by myself, and I’m having a very tough time with the lack of sleep. I have told my husband this and asked him to help overnight. His view is that he needs to sleep overnight since he is working, and that I can nap during the day when my mom is here. I definitely see where he is coming from. But, the lack of longer stretches of sleep still is wearing on me big time, even with daytime naps. I’m finding myself getting angry and resentful. Am I being unreasonable here? Is he? My sense of what’s fair is all out of whack on this one. Thank you, Carolyn!

A: A baby who won’t sleep is one of the quickest paths to madness. I’m sorry. One thing you can try with your husband is to have him cover an 8 p.m. to midnight shift with the baby. That still gives him most of a good night’s sleep, and also gives you an insufficient but still useful block of sleep.

As for the resentment, I feel very strongly that when one parent is home with kids and one works for pay, both are technically working. That said, your work is more flexible than his, given that you have daytime coverage, and so he’s right that his need for sleep has a measure of priority over yours.

That said, you are no good to anyone if you repeatedly get awakened five-plus times a night, and a healthy adult can still feel more or less rested with one wake up per night, so if the 8-to-12 plan isn’t feasible for some reason, then I think it’s completely fair for your husband to tend to the baby once per night.

Finally, three months is, if memory serves, prime time for starting some kind of sleep training. Since this topic seems to get people’s defenses up, I’m just going to urge you to talk to you your pediatrician about either establishing a more effective routine and/or figuring out if there’s a medical explanation for the baby’s poor sleep. (Been there; it’s a journey, to put it gently, but there are things you can do and generally they pay off in time.) Good luck.

 

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Chris Richards · July 23, 2013