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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Carving Out Quality Time

Rabbi Horowitz's question for next week is posted on his website. The question comes from a set of parents of four children, ages 2 to 9, who recognize the importance of spending time with their children, but can't seem to find any. The parents states: "Balancing our career, family and social obligations – as well as doing homework, carpooling, arranging play dates, attending parent-teacher conferences – is a bit overwhelming at times." They then ask, "Do you have any practical tips for spending quality time with your children when there does not seem to be much in the way of quantity?. "

I think that this is a question that so many American parents are asking. However, the challenge seems to be particularly acute for Orthodox parents as family sizes are far larger, school days are far longer, and Shabbat and Chagim require a tremendous amounts of preparation.

It probably isn't fair of me to offer much of a critique since I have yet to walk in the shoes of dual income families. But I think the subject is important enough to offer a few ideas.

I personally don't believe that "quality time" can be created artificially. I believe that quality stems from quantity and it just happens. In other words, time is like energy, it has "potential," but that potential might not ever be used. So my own ideas of how to create quality time would revolve around creating "quantity time."

Here are some of my ideas:

1. Free Up Our Own Time.

It would be very easy to say to parents, have one parent leave the workplace and become a full time homemaker, people don't take well to suggestions that they are not open to or that won't work for them for whatever reason. Also, there are some parents that do replace work with other commitments, so that in and of itself isn't much of a suggestion. So, while I won't suggest making any major changes in employment (although it is tempting, especially in some cases such as when parents spend much of their time on travel), I will suggest looking at how we spend the rest of our time. That said, I think there are many parents out there who need to reconsider their "social obligations" or other communal commitments and extracurriculars.

A while back, I went to a parenting talk at a local shul that featured a panel or speakers (a principal, a Rav, and a psychologist). All in all it was a worthwhile way to spend an evening. But, I wasn't so impressed by one of the panelists. Why? He accepted the social commitments of parents as a given! As an example to emulate, he told the audience about a very busy Rabbi and parent with whom he carpooled to an event. He was impressed that the Rabbi used 10 minutes (!) of his time to learn with a child over the phone. I was left saying, that is nice, but impressive it is not. The principal went on to tell us how we can use our "downtime" in the car going to and from our obligations as time we can use to bond with our children through learning.

To me, this suggestion was akin to suggesting replacing story time with a book on tape. Supplementing is one thing. But, one cannot replace human contact and it scares me that there are educators out there that take the easy way out and suggest we replace real time with our children with virtual time, via our cell phones. The other thing that really scared me was that the example brought to emulate was about "learning" with our children. Learning with our children is certainly important. But so is just talking with them.

Another area to be wary of as parents biting off too much. Some people like to talk about just how "amazing" the "superwoman" with 6 or 8 kids who works full time or nearly full time, is involved with numerous school and shul committees, bakes her own challah, and hosts guests every week. In life, something has to go. And, I have seen cases where the children or the marriage is what goes.

2. Limit interruptions

Speaking of cell phones, how about not answering every call (or even more radical, leave it home). Let's start talking to our kids and once we are talking, not letting the conversation be constantly interrupted.

When I was a new parent, I was in the grocery store chatting away with my then one year old and a Bubbe from the neighborhood approached me to tell me how wonderful it was to see a parent talking with their child and that parents today just don't do this. I'm not sure I ever noticed, but after this talk with a local Bubbe I realized that most parents go about their errands without a whole lot of interaction with their children. This is a missed opportunity and it is a real shame.

But worse yet, so many parents allow their cell phones to invade potential "quality time." So many parents spend the time with their children present only in body, as their cell phone is glued to the ear (sometimes quite literally). You'd think we were all high-level business executives or on-call doctors judging by our use of cell phones. No matter where you turn, there is a parent with a child who is on the phone: the park, the grocery, the car, the carpool lane. Some parents are so busy that they forget to say hello to their kids who are so busy talking on their phone that they forgot to say hello to their children before herding them into the car. Of course, I'd like to believe that each one of these parents is dealing with an emergency, but I know this isn't true.

3. Be Wary of Overscheduling Children:

I think it is fantastic to involve kids in activities that they really want to do. I had my activities growing up and I'm sure you did to. But, it seems that the modern parent has convinced themselves that their child needs to have every minute of their day occupied. I think that downtime and free time are vital to developing interests and it is better to hold off on putting kids into extracurriculars until they express an interest in getting involved. And even then, I think parents should make sure the amount that a child is biting off is reasonable.

Please add your ideas for carving out time here and put your comments on Rabbi Horowitz's website too. (Or, let the flaming begin).

49 comments:

mother in israel said...

Most parents don't take their kids on errands at all! They do them while the kids are in daycare, school, or they hire a babysitter.

SephardiLady said...

MIL-True. True. And it can be frustrating taking kids on errands because everything takes longer and you risk temper tantrums too.

But, it is a valuable experience (although I'd prefer not to have to take my kids on every errand which is one reason I'm trying to form a co-op). My mother rarely went out without me (which is probably why I'm always surprised many parents don't take kids). I remember calculating the per ounce price and running all over the store to get the basics like milk.

triLcat said...

I think there's a problem with the whole "more is better" philosophy on kids. Parents who don't feel they have enough time to spend one-on-one with the kids they have need to use birth control.

When my husband and I talked about how many kids we want to have, I said "let's see how many we can take care of." He kinda said "we'll work out the finances." I responded that finances were the least of my worries. If I can't spend time with my kids and give them the attention they need, then I sure as heck am not going to have MORE.

Another thing is that a lot of parents don't know that there are plenty of legitimate shortcuts out there. My mom often made us side dishes like microwaved string beans from the freezer, instant mashed potatoes, pasta with premade sauce.

Tuna with mayo was a completely acceptable main dish in our home, as was veggie burgers nuked in the microwave. Chicken was usually rinsed off, sprinkled with granulated garlic, and shoved into the oven to cook. Same with roast. My mom rarely made anything complicated. If she did, she usually did it at a time when someone else was available to peel and/or cut veggies along with her.

When she was in the kitchen, she often used that time to have one or more of us hang out and/or help out in the kitchen.

She had us doing our own laundry, or at least our own folding, by age 10 at the absolute latest.

Another thing my parents did was that they often sat down and watched whatever we were watching on tv during our wind-down time.

(I know I know, TV is assur)... I considered it quality time when we watched wheel of fortune together and I managed to guess the phrase and my mom put her hand on me and said "good job!"

And, of course, car rides. I had about 70% of my good conversations with my parents on car rides. I think I must have spent a lot more time on the road than most kids do... humn...

And my biggest pet peeve - my dad telling me to be quiet so he could listen to his galdarn talk radio. To this day, listening to talk radio makes me physically ill!

miriam said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
rachel said...

family dinner time should be a basic one. and no answering ANY calls during dinner. Hey, if you can resist the urge to answer calls on shabbos you can also do it for 40 minutes a day

Halfnutcase said...

I agree, the car is an important source of quality time, my father never listened to radio, instead he talked to us while he drove. (and I must have asked him everysingle question a person could ever ask in that beaten down blue car he drove ever since before I was born untill I was about 14)

mom, on the otherhand (when I first got to know her at 12 about) listened to radio and I hated it when she told us to be quiet.

and just family dinner? what about breakfast? Ok, maybe tatti gets up to early and has to be gone at minyan, but even if he does, everyone else should be able to get together and sit down at the table for ten minutes, unviolable.

SephardiLady said...

Some of my best bonding time with my parents took place in the car. Family dinner time is also fantastic (don't know why I didn't include that). My father worked long and irregular hours very often, and so we often sat down at late hours, or he would run home for a 3/4 hour dinner and then head out.

I also spend a lot of time in the car with my parents, and that was prime time for talking about whatever. It isn't easy to make one-on-one time, but often the car offers the perfect opportunity.

Great comments everyone. And, Miriam, can you repost your comment or post part of it. I think you have a perspective that needs heard too. :)

Anonymous said...

This may sound strange, but have you ever given any thought to homeschooling your children? I successfully homeschooled mine and to this day we are extremely close. Parenting as a full-time job and then some. Children and parents spend lots of meaningful time with each other. Even trips to the grocery store are no longer errands, but rather an opportunity to learn. YOu can ask a small child to count out 3 potatoes, 4 tomatoes, 6 carrots etc. An older child can learn to estimate and weigh things. And a beginning reader can find all the things in the store beginning with a particular letter. If you change your life so that it truly becomes child-focused, you and your children will have plenty of QUALITY time together. When your child shares your life, s/he can't help but learn and emulate.

Mike S. said...

Shabbos Table: By all means have them tell you about what they learned during the week. But also allow them to bring up whatever is on their minds.

Also walking to shul.

And play a game with them every so often; one that they find fun.

When you get to be my age, you can help them with their taxes.

Anonymous said...

trilcat-- I'm with you on the talk radio--- for my "father", it was Prairie Home Companion--- I was NOT allowed to say a word during long car rides while that was on. ewww. My twins are 5 months old--- I only turn on the radio in the car and stop talking to them if I think they're sleeping back there. Otherwise I'm telling them where we're going and why and who they might see, and silly things like why they wear shoes when we go out (to keep their socks on at this age of course!) but don't at home, etc.

I have a friend I'm almost ready to drop. She only calls me on her way from her full time job to her kid's daycare. I'm one of a list of many she calls from the cell from the car at that time-- that's her "phone time". When she gets to daycare, she doesn't get off the phone with me--- she herds him into the car silently while I'm talking and I only realize he's in the car a bit later when he screams out for attention and I tell her to go talk to her kid, I'll talk to her later. Drives me BATTY--- your kid is in daycare all day--- don't you think you can talk to him and have HIM be your priority right when you pick him up? I only really enjoy talking to friends these days when my kids are asleep or on the other hand right there participating in the conversation with me.... "Reena, can you say hi to Auntie Molly? Tell her that you rolled over today!", that sort of thing. I use email (during kids bedtime and naps) more than the phone anyway.

twinsmommy said...

oops, didn't mean to be anonymous--- I'm twinsmommy, formerly known as themarykaygal--- I've had a few handles around here, but sephardilady knows me well (and one thing that always REALLY impresses me about her IS how she talks to her children! She NEVER ignores them while on the phone with me and I love that!)

Anonymous said...

HOORAY! HOORAY! HOORAY! Someone else on this planet thinks it's quantity time, and that quality time is a myth. I love this blog. We've chosen the "slow life." Slow food, slow cooking (when my 4-year-old and 2-year-old help), shorter school days (we'll be homeschoolers, as far as I can see), not hopping in the car every 20 minutes, all our meals pretty much cooked from scratch (or frozen scratch!), taking them to the grocery store (and practicing sorting, counting, and telling a bad fruit from a good one!), only occasional tv and no computer time. SLOW. It's completely a lifestyle decision. We are definitely not anything close to well-off, but the richness in our life is really a yummy thing. There. My first blog comment. :) Kol tuv!

SephardiLady said...

Interesting how many posters have had bad experiences with talk radio. In my family, talk radio was a group interest and we always spent time talking about the issues after hearing them. Incidently, all of us spent a good time in the car since we were involved in sports. And, I think most of the "quality" time was created during that time and maybe even helped along by talk radio.

SephardiLady said...

When you get to be my age, you can help them with their taxes.

Financial topics was a normal topic of conversation in my house growing up since my father is self-employed and my mother does the books. I learned to fill out a 1040 and a schedule B before high school. When I couldn't occupy myself, my parents had to keep me occupied without just kicking me to the curb. :)

SephardiLady said...

TwinsMommy-I love hearing you talk to your kids on the rare occassions that we get phone time. Email and/or blogging are much easier to fit in when the kids are just doing their own things.

Re: Homeschooling
I think the topic is an interesting one and I know a handful of parents (Jewish and Christian) that have homeschooled some of their children successfully at some times.

I'd welcome nicely written guest posts on the matter from Orthodox Jewish parents who have homeschooled or are homeschooling.

To the above anon poster who suggested it (for me?). I think homeschooling is an interesting idea for parents with the right tempermant and for children who take to it. I doubt most parents of kids past kindergarten would be interested.

As for pre-school, I'm a "rebel" since I don't send. In my community, 2 year old is when many (most?) kids starts. If you have a 3 year old NOT in nursery, you are an oddity. Since I don't consider schooling a necessity for pre-school kids, I don't really consider myself a "homeschooler," but others probably do. :)

Halfnutcase said...

about homeschooling, I really think that being successfull at it depend on how you approach it. I know my perents had us doing math altheway through division in our heads by or before first grade, but they never really sat us down to teach us, they just lived with it and used it and taught us how when we asked a question.

It was similar with sciences, I'd ask "how does this work?" (generaly after looking in the encyclopedia and not finding enough info for me) and dad or mom would generaly tell me how it worked, same with history.

Really I think the success of homeschool depends on the curiosity of the kid. I'm not sure but I may well homeschool my kids, and then send them off to college early (because of my own misserable experiences being bored in school).

miriam said...

Sorry, SephardiLady. It was the juxtaposition to the comment about "Parents who don't feel they have enough time to spend one-on-one with the kids they have need to use birth control." that made me delete mine. As long as no one thinks it is his or her business to criticize me on my personal "family planning choices," I'm willing to present my perspective. And for the record, I like having a big family, I'm perfectly fine with having to drive a big van to take everyone with me, (although the gas mileage sucks) and when I'm not immediately postpartum (5.5 weeks) I deal with life a lot better, but that comment pushed one of my hot buttons. (I'm not giving back any of my kids, and I may even have more, but right now I would prefer practical tips on finding that time for each of them to unhelpful remarks about how I should have stopped at X number of kids.)

So I am at home full time. I'm with one or more of my kids pretty much 24/7. But my husband works long hours, so I'm often the only grownup available for all of them. He also does the bulk of the grocery shopping, so that I won't have to do that with 4 or more small children along, so I really can't complain.

I do take them with me on errands sometimes. The other day I took all 8 of them to two different stores after school. It took forever and we were late getting home for dinner, homework and bedtime, but we did have a lot of fun. (Oh, and we found the things we'd gone to the store for too.)

I have 4 of them home all day (I'm also a anti-preschool rebel) and I think I manage the one-on-one time more or less during school hours, but once the older 4 get home, there's no one to hand the littles off to -- they are still my full responsibility, and I somehow have to manage to nurse the baby, change any diapers, run to see what's in the potty and give my approval, give attention to the older ones too, make dinner, see that everyone eats, supervise homework, and put everyone to bed, all before my husband walks in the door.

They get tons of Mama time... but the older ones don't get nearly enough "one-on-one."

The oldest goes to minyan in the mornings with his Daddy, and so he gets Daddy time then and on the car ride to school after, and various combinations of the school kids go to shul on Shabbos with Daddy (I'm home with the littles) and get that time, and of course there are Shabbos meals and Sundays when we all sit down together, but that's not really individualized time, even if we take the time for each to do his or her Parsha questions, d'var Torah, etc..

My husband is just not home for dinner during the week, and I'm busy with the baby and cooking and serving.

And for the summer they'll all be home, since I just can't see paying for camp when I'm home anyway. I am planning more organized activities, and getting the older kids more involved with the chores to help free up some of my time, (hopefully they'll see the benefit in time for them) but the "big kids" aren't all that big, (6, 7.5, 8.5 and 10) so there's only so much they can help with.

Besides just waiting for them to get older, and no, paying a babysitter on a regular basis isn't in the budget, where is the time supposed to come from?

Halfnutcase said...

Miriam, you don't have to answer this, but nursing (if you aren't already) might help things a bit, because nursing generaly inhibits having children quite so fast, the more you do it, the more effective it is.

But to your current problem, I wish I knew a good answer for you. With the little ones, who need constant attention, it makes it very difficult to pay attention to everyone else.

Although (and this will take some explanation) in older times they had a very firm belief that unmarried people should never ever be left to live alone. Thus people who where of a certain age, and where not with their parents would be assigned houses to live in and families to stay with, and often would help around the house.

Perhaps, if you live in a community that has a girls high school (or even boys but boys are generaly not as helpfull in this regard) you bring in a boarder exchange for some help with the children. Most people by the time they have eight children generaly have a 15 or 16 year old to help, plus a 13 or 14 year old. It really is frustrating that you were stuck with this many children this close (although like I said, if you do not nurse, that may well be why. Women who do not nurse generaly turn right around and have another child the moment the previous one is out). I don't know if this suggestion will help you, but I hope it does.

If you make sure its someone who loves and adores children you may not be able to keep her from helping, which would be a good thing, because then she wont feel resentfull at all, and will put her all in to it.

if not, maybe something else could be helped, but seriously, thats the way they delt with it (when it very rarely cropped up) in previous times.

mother in israel said...

Miriam, I am sure your kids are getting plenty of one-on-one time, much more so than they would in preschool. Your 3.5 week-old gets one-on-one whenever you feed nad change him/her. He doesn't care if you are also talking to your older kids. What counts is that you make yourself available when they need you.

I once counselled a woman who left her 5yo in the living room while she nursed her baby alone in her room while listening to classical music. That is the other extreme. Kids get many benefits from having close siblings.

DAG said...

The best bonding time I had as a child was learning Seder Moed for my Bar Mitzva with my father. For six months, I had my father for 1 hour a night, every night(1 new perek and a review of the previous nights perek per night).

I will never forget it.

triLcat said...

Miriam, I'm sorry if I hurt you in any way. I just feel that if you're at a point where you say "I don't have enough time for the kids I have," then maybe it's time to consider taking a break.

Raising many kids is wonderful if you're raising them well. It sounds like you put a lot of time into your kids, and I'm sure you're a great mom, but if you feel like you don't have enough time for the kids you have, don't you feel like it would be a mistake to have more at this point?

Every parent has a limit. For some it might be twelve. For some it might be one. It's important to know where your limit is.

I think that in some communities, there's an approach that the more children you have, the better, and I just don't believe that's true in every case.

anonymous 8:18pm - homeschooling is very much "not for everyone," although with yeshiva tuitions rising through the roof, home schooling or home schooling co-ops may be a solution for a lot of parents.

I know homeschoolers who are very happy with the situation and it works well, and I know others who seem to be running themselves ragged. I'm not sure that every parent is cut out for homeschooling.

Personally, I live in Israel. Subsidized preschool starts at age 3, and it's only about 4 hours per day, so I think I'll probably send my child at that point. 4 hours a day of socialization, plus giving me a little time off - seems like more benefit than loss. Still leaves plenty of time with mommy, and at age 3, kids already need some socialization.

SephardiLady said...

Miriam-I had wrote a lengthy comment to you right before Shabbat, but it seems it got erased.

I will cut down on the previous comment and just say that any discussions about "Family Planning" should be entered into carefully and words should be chosen carefully.

I know comments from the militantly anti-bc crowd can sting (even when the reasons it is being used are perfectly legitimate). I'm sure that those on the other side receive plenty of abuse for their choices too. I do NOT believe that being part of large family equals not getting enough attention. There are plenty of only children who are ignored (I worked with some of their parents at one higher powered workplace).

So let's all try to share ideas and be respectful. I think we all could use tips about how to be more involved in our children's life. I'm always open to hearing new ideas.

P.P.S.-Halfnutcase, Miriam is nursing.

P.P.S.S. I'm not sure that one on one time is as important as some believe it is. But I do believe that far too many families are spending far too little time together as a family. This post was about how parents can maximize time. I think we also need to remind schools that parents exist sometimes too. I think homeschooling is a great solution for some parents. For most, however, it just isn't an option that they will or can consider for numerous reasons.

triLcat said...

SL: you may be right - I may have been kind of quick to judge.
I know that fewer kids doesn't mean less neglect. I also know that sometimes, people bite off more than they can chew, and sometimes it's not for the right reasons.

There are methods of birth control that are acceptable by halachic standards. My father's a rav. I know what I'm talking about.

Breastfeeding is not a method of birth control. I know at least two women who ended up with babies 14 months or less apart while breastfeeding exclusively.

I never ever suggested even for one moment that anyone should get rid of children that they already have!!! Of course you have them and love them!

I'm just saying that if you can't provide for them emotionally and financially (and this doesn't mean buying them each a pony, but it does mean that they shouldn't have to eat bread and margarine 3 meals a day), then you have an obligation to the ones you already have (and to any potential children) to stop having more.

triLcat said...

Miriam,

On a practical note, aside from the baby (who is probably all but impossible to schedule), try to get the non-school kids into bed a good chunk (a half hour or more) before the others go to bed so that you can have some time with the older kids without lots of little people running around underfoot.

This works pretty well for my sister-in-law. She gets the youngest two to bed really early.

The older 4 are allowed to stay up later as they will read quietly to themselves while she puts the younger ones to bed. It gives her a little quiet time with each of them before she sends them off to bed.

Ariella said...

On family size and attention. I know a mother of only one who put off getting pregnant again until the child was 4. This mother is a stay-at-home, so you would think she puts a lot into her child. But that is not the case. She is bored at home and bored in the company of the child. The kid was enrolled in school and camp from the age of 2. While she does sometimes take the child out to the park, she usually tries to get someone else along. She really does not seem to know how to interact with the kid other than either taking the child along on her errands or just riding the train to a store to buy yet another toy that is not needed. Aklong the way, the kid will be plied with "treats" and so does not eat proper meals. At home, the kid is likely to be plonked in front of a DVD, so Shabbos is a really difficult time for this mother.

I was generally not home full time, and had my first 2 less than a year and half apart and then the third just 21/2 years after the second, but I always read to my children or took them for walks or to the park. They did often have to come along on errands with me, but I did not allow them to go into sugar overload and spoil their meals by buying them cookies and doughnuts to keep them quiet. I admit to buying cheese slices for them to munch on, but that is something I wanted them to eat.

and the mother is not devoting all her stay-at-home time to keeping house. she has cleaning help twice a week (sometimes even 3x) and ususally obtains supper from takeout.

So it's more a matter of a person's priorities and personality than the number of chidren, though some people do realize their limits at some point. I knew someone with 8 chidren who indicated that was her stopping point, and I know someone who is more than overwhelmed by her 7. But if one has not yet been yotzeh pirya verivya due to all being of one gender, it may be difficult to allow ceasing from further procreation.

I would have to second Trilcat's point on BF not to be relied upon as BC. After I had a C-section, I was advised not to conceive for a year. The doctors didn't say just nurse exclusively and don't worry about it.

Halfnutcase said...

depends on the way you nurse and frequency of nursing. Also it just doesn't work for some women.

Making it work absolutely requires rediculously frequent nursing so much so that no modern woman would tollerate it, however, it will work.

just ask a pediatrician about it, while it isn't fail safe, you will notice segnificantly less women end up with mirams problems when they nurse than when they bottle feed. (and mind you nurse does not mean pumping milk)

miriam said...

halfnutcase, Miriam is nursing two! (my infant and my 20mo old.) And it's not the first time I've tandom-nursed: Three of my kids did not wean until between 2 1/2 and 3 years of age. None of them had bottles. (Okay, the first two had bottles, but not until after I was pregnant again.) We didn't start solids until 6 mo, and then only 1 meal a day at first, immediately followed or preceded by nursing. BUT, my kids tend to sleep through the night at a relatively early age, and a bunch of them were thumb-suckers. I guess I just have a high tolerance for oxitocin. (The breastfeeding-produced hormone).

Oh, and the phrase is "blessed with," please, not "stuck with."

I'm also sure that whatever juggling is necessary to deal with 9 kids is the same as for 8, so I really don't think limiting our family size at this point is going to make one whit of difference. Tuition is already too expensive, food costs don't go up so much if you're not eating out, etc., and that wasn't supposed to be what the discussion was about anyway.

The high school boarder idea is interesting, but we're on the outskirts of the community, and I think the 1.8 mi to the school puts us pretty low on the list. And if I have to provide transportation to evening school events and study-dates, I have to pack all the other kids into the van to do it, and then it's harder, not easier.

SephardiLady, I like your point about one-on-one time possibly not being as important as family time in general. Family time is far easier to do! I think I'll be spending the summer teaching my older kids how to be helpful. I haven't been able to convince them to change diapers yet, but my two oldest (8.5 and 10) made the Shabbos chicken this week, (under my supervision as I did something else in the kitchen), and that has definite possibilities.

mother in israel said...

HNC:
Making it work absolutely requires rediculously frequent nursing so much so that no modern woman would tollerate it, however, it will work.

I guess I am not a modern woman. I am a reactionary slave to my husband and children (was infertile for two years after my last due solely to breastfeeding).

And please, whatever you do *don't* ask your pediatrician about breastfeeding and fertility. S/he has only a slightly greater chance of knowing about this stuff as the cashier in the grocery store.

I also agree with SL's comment about one-on-one time being overrated.

mother in israel said...

Ariella, your doctor is right in that one shouldn't rely on breastfeeding alone if it's critical not to get pregnant. However, if a mother educates herself it is possible to know when it's likely to stop being effective. And if she's not intending to use artificial birth control (and there are many reasons for this besides halacha) breastfeeding is a pretty good way to space children.

Fifteen months is considered spacing in some communities and is certainly better than a year, which is what will happen with no breastfeeding or birth control (and it can happen, rarely, while exclusively breastfeeding also).

triLcat said...

Not to be a nudnik, but oxytocin is the hormone that brings on contractions. The one that comes out when you're nursing is prolactin. (I know this because I had a prolactin problem that prevented me from getting pregnant when I first got married. Super-kudos to the endocrinologist who picked it up even though I had no milk or any other signs of high prolactin levels.)

Lactation is just not birth control. Some women don't ovulate when they're breastfeeding, but many do.

It's like a joke I heard back in my public school days:
"What do you call people who use the withdrawal method of birth control?"
"Parents"

If you feel that you really can deal with more kids, Miriam, that's great. More power to you! If you feel that you can't, it's time to talk to a rav or a yoetzet (see www.yoatzot.org )and discuss your options for birth control.

Having twelve children is a real bracha if you can do it well, and a real curse if you end up a schmatta. And an even bigger curse if your kids end up as schmattas too.

Regarding kids helping, I remember my mom stopped bringing our laundry to our rooms around first grade, she stopped folding our laundry around 3rd grade (though sometimes she did it as a treat).

We started setting the table and helping clear at age 4-5, doing dishes at age 6-7 (she'd put a stepstool in front of the sink for us), and cooking simple things by age 9-10.

Also, we took the trash out, made sure there was toilet paper in the bathrooms, picked up our own toys, and other little chores as needed from a super young age.

My mom made sure that we spent no more than 25-35 minutes a day doing chores, because she wanted us to be kids too. (though sometimes doing dishes took longer because we ended up playing with the soap bubbles)

I'm not sure that having big kids change younger kids' diapers (especially if the kids are the opposite sex) is so appropriate, but you'll need to think it over for yourself. You can certainly ask your children to bring you the diaper/wipes/plastic bag and then take the dirty to the trash for you. My sister's 2-year-old can already do that.

Halfnutcase said...

For once and for all, let me lay out the facts, as every single breastfeeding expert I've ever heard from on the subject has laid out for me, as well as my mother and various other pediatiricians have done so (my mother was also a breast feeding nazi back in the push in the 70s responsible for eleminating formula as option number one.)

Breast frequency of breastfeeding per day, directly negatively corolates with fertility. this means that the more frequently one breastfeeds, and the more exclusively one breastfeeds the less chance on has of getting pregnant, and the longer it will be before the next child. For some women the response is acute, for others it takes a much greater frequency to be effective. For some it is never effective, although this is a substantial minority.

However, such breastfeeding must be round the clock, and the primary food source, and frequency again is the key.

and that is all i'm going to say.

SephardiLady said...

Miriam-I'd proceed with caution if you are taking in a HS boarder. Talk to those who have done so before jumping. I'm a skeptic.

Getting kids to pitch in doing chores for short periods of times is great. My mother used to make it "fun" by making it into a race. Everyone was assigned a smaller task and we raced the record player a few times. This works well for competitive people. Washing cars/vans can be fun since kids like water. Of course, with four younger ones it would be difficult to coordinate.

Maybe you can experiment and write a guest post. I'm sure those with kids spaced closely together would love to learn and exchange ideas.

Esther said...

My 4 year old helps out a lot around the house. When possible, we make it fun, but in any case he has a lot of regular responsibilites that are age-appropriate and will continue to get more as he gets older. My mom always underestimated what chores we could do so I was not asked to do much growing up, but I've learned that my son can do a lot - and wants to! We spend time together talking while folding laundry, putting away toys...he's even been able to help wash dishes since he was 3, though it's been ages since I've asked him to do so.

Depending on where you live, there may be activities for kids at the library, parks, etc. in our town, there are TONS of story times, craft days, nature activities, etc. I get the calendars every month and mark up our calendar with opportunities to do these activities together. Then, I make sure that we do at least a few of them. Right now I mostly just take my son, but as my 1 1/2 year old is more able to enjoy these things I will bring both of them, or sometimes just her.

And I definitely agree with one comment above about getting help. After I had the baby, I had people come over just to play with my son and it made a big difference. Obviously it depends where you live but our local Bais Yaakov girls are required to volunteer for chesed and a lot of their hours are from helping moms.

Ariella said...

As we have absolutely no hired help, I have my kids pictch in with the cleaning. My son is great at organizing this on Fridays. My youngest, I admit, doesn't do much, but she will sometimes willingly peel vegetables. And the older kids are supposed to put away their own laundry. My son folds better than I do anyway. ;-) I think it is very good for children to have to carry some of the household weight. I see the messes some girls leave behind in a local school, and that is certainly the result of always having a maid around to clean up after them.

mother in israel said...

HNC, "breastfeeding nazi" is an extremely offensive term, and I am surprised to see a Jew using it so flippantly.

For the record, I don't disagree with you that nursing around the clock is important (although some women won't conceive until they wean completely because of hormones that prevent implantation). I just question your generalizations about modern women. I have been one for a long time.

Ora said...

Breastfeeding really affects fertility differently for different women. I know women who are naturally infertile as long as they nurse, even when it's nursing a 1.5 year old 1/2X a day. I also know women who are able to get pg again at 6 months, and some who got pregnant at 2 months post partum with FULL breastfeeding. In short, if you see a woman with a lot of kids who are clearly close in age, don't make assumptions.

Miriam--I agree with what others have said about one-on-one time being less important. My parents are both from closely spaced families (not quite as big as yours, but close) and their parents didn't really worry about one-on-one time at all, it was a different era I guess. They still feel fine and have no resentment about the situation, in fact their fond memories of growing up with so many siblings to play with and talk to are a large part of what made me want a big family some day.

One-on-one time for each kid at least once a week for say, 30-45 minutes could be good to let them talk about anything that might be bothering them, and just to give extra attention. Maybe if you stagger bedtimes, and then distract the others with a fun activity. For example put the four younger ones in bed at 7:30 and then set three of the others up with a board game?

Also, while you said a babysitter isn't in the budget, what about a mother's helper? As in, a younger teenager who only works when you're around. It usually costs about half the price of a babysitter. So maybe once or twice a week you could have a 12-14 year old come over and just play with the little kids in another room while you get a couple of hours focusing on the bigger kids. Or get a volunteer, if your town offers that.

If your baby is very young, I don't think one-on-one time would have to be without the baby. Your attention can still be focused on an older child while you nurse or while the baby plays quietly with something shiny.

My husband is 7 years older than his youngest brother, and he changed diapers (and loves to remind his brother of that sometimes :) ).

By the way, take all of my advice with a grain of salt. While my parents, husband, and many friends are from/have families with many children, I only had one sibling and right now I only have one baby. Maybe an online forum for families with lots of kids could help as well? I bet other moms have had similar issues.

Finally, it sounds like you're at the toughest point right now. With future kids, your oldest kids will already be approaching teen years/ be teenagers. Which means they'll have a whole new slew of issues, but also means they'll be able to do a lot more for themselves and a lot more to help you out. And of course always remember that Hashem blessed you and your husband with these particular kids because your house is the best place for them to grow. Every mom feels like they're doing it wrong sometimes, I have 1 and I feel like I'm not doing enough sometimes, so it's good to keep in mind that Hashem thinks you are exactly what your kids need and Hashem knows these things.

Ora said...

TriLcat--
I think it's important to not be too quick to tell people to use birth control. There's a big difference between a mom worrying that maybe she's not doing enough, or a mom who's sometimes frazzled and overwhelmed, and a mom who is constantly unhappy and stressed or a mom whose kids are truly not getting the emotional support they need.

I can see why sometimes people don't want birth control. For one thing, Hashem is in control of these things, and some people feel that He will only give us exactly what we can handle, even if it feels overwhelming, and therefore we shouldn't intervene. Others believe that birth control can be a part of Hashem's plan. It really depends on personal outlook.

For me, I always get a bit worried when I think of using birth control because of the families I know who had 1,2,3, or even 4 kids very easily and then had lots of problems trying to get pregnant again. I know two woman who had 4 kids in 6 years, one still only has four a few years later despite no birth control, and another ended up with six. If they had used birth control in the first six years they might have ended up with 2 or 3 kids, and they would probably always have a regret about it. And I know a woman who used birth control and now really regrets it b/c she stopped being fertile earlier than she thought she would and isn't at the family size she wanted. I don't know what the point of all this is, I guess just to point out that there are "horror stories" on both sides, both of truly overwhelmed and unhappy moms who should have been on birth control and moms who wish they hadn't used it.

Halfnutcase said...

MII, when I mean frequent I do not mean every other hour or some such thing. I mean carrying the baby around with you in a sling that allowed the baby to nurse when ever it wanted to, which might be as much as every thirty minutes in the day time and every hour at night, although since the mother and baby slept together mommy barely had to wake up.

At such frequency the birthcontrol effects are nearly perfect for almost everyone, which is part of why women rarely had their babies but every 3 or 4 years in older times, only rich women who could pay for a wet nurse could have them more often, this is also part of the reason family size was so small, the other being the ridiculously high childhood mortality rates.

These things didn't change untill we became more prosperous and medicine became better, in the last hundred and fifty years about.

so in this sense yes you probably are modern, and I should think that you would be proud of it, its no slight to you, no modern woman would put up with such conditions (or almost none).

Halfnutcase said...

and in terms of using birth control I think it is very important to figure out how many babies one would want, how many one would be happy with, and use that plus estimates of how long one will be firtile before deciding how much to space the babies, that way you can make very certain to get your minimum within the required time, and only after that trying to get what you want. (and certainly in the earlier times, unless one is having kids every single year or something personaly intollerable, then I think one should avoid it untill one has at least some minimum number of children)

Halfnutcase said...

oh, and methinks that for people who say that bottle feeding amounts to childabuse for which a mother should be put in jail, then yes, that amounts to justification from my end. such women can be very, very abusive when it comes to convincing people to nurse, and litterly put one woman in a class I was in to tears. the phrase was coined to comfort her.

mother in israel said...

Thanks, HNC. I now see your point.

But surely the woman could have been comforted without comparing opinionated and verbally abusive women, who ultimately want the best for every baby even if they lack communication skills and their methods are obnoxious and counterproductive, than comparing them to a political party that systematically murdered millions of people.

SephardiLady said...

Agree with Mom in Israel. Let's use the term Nazi just to refer to actual Nazis or their ilk (Pres of Iran, etc).

Halfnutcase said...

yes ma'ams (how do you plural ma'am?)

triLcat said...

I think it's a Seinfeldism... there was an episode where someone was referred to as a "soup nazi" for not letting them have soup...

Anyway, I've seen women who are a little overenthusiastic about breastfeeding, who have basically told moms that using formula is about the same as poisoning the kids...

Sure breastfeeding is best by FAR (and I fully intend to breastfeed mine) but I know many many people who were bottle-fed and grew up to be healthy, intelligent adults.

In fact, of the 5 of us, I'm the only one who was breastfed. I'm the only one who has any chronic medical conditions (hypothyroidism and fibromyalgia). I am the only one with attention issues. I'm the only one who had colic, and I'm the only one who needed psychiatric treatment.

Just proves that breast vs bottle is only one factor in a bunch. Sure it's another push in the right direction, but it's not a guarantee.

And research I came up with today says that a single six hour period in which a woman doesn't nurse is enough to allow ovulation.

Are you going to wake up in the middle of the night when your baby is sleeping peacefully and wake him/her up to nurse? or express when you can finally have a good night's sleep?

Even if you religiously nurse at least every 3 hours, though, you don't get a guarantee that you won't ovulate. It varies radically from woman to woman. Just because your mom/sister/neighbor/college roommate is infertile while nursing doesn't mean that you will be, even if you follow the identical schedule.

I think we're losing track of the original discussion though...

Halfnutcase said...

sorry

RaggedyMom said...

Kudos, SL for getting a really enthusiastic conversation going!

Miriam - I can only begin to imagine how exasperating the time crunch must be. My two (nearly 4 and one-and-a-half) love to help out for now. But I'm sure it's a lot easier to convince kids this age that there's not much more thrilling than loading the dryer or dusting the furniture that's too low for me to reach, than it will be when they're at the ages of your "big kids" - with more of their own interests and school obligations.

Lots of luck to us all!

mother in israel said...

TC, you are right about the six hours, but most women don't need to be that strict. (I didn't.) On the other extreme I have a friend with a 2yo who wants to return to fertility. She left her toddler for Shabbat but it didn't make a difference. She works a few days a week too.

miriam said...

raggedymom -- my littles are "big helpers" too -- but yes, they get a bit less enthusiastic as they get older.

On the other hand, I've gotten more organized and better at juggling due to sheer necessity. I can handle 4 with ease... it's only half the kids!

I do count on the older girls to put away their own laundry, although I'll fold it and separate it from the main laundry for them. (That is, I give them a laundry basket of folded "girl" clothes that is for everyone who has a drawer in that room.) And my oldest can throw in a load for me, and he'll bring things down and up and sort dirty laundry. He prefers not to sort the clean laundry, and will only put away his own clothes, but we can divvy up the jobs to make that work easily enough.

As long as I don't have to neglect the others to insure that illusive "one-on-one time" I can manage to give each of them both chores and attention throughout the day, so thanks to those who expressed the opinion that family time or small groups getting focused on can be just as good. You've made me feel a lot better.

(oh, and trilcat, I know oxytocin and prolactin are both breastfeeding hormones -- prolactin for milk production and oxytocin for letdown, but I hadn't really paid attention to which had the "contraceptive effect," so I'll accept the correction.:-))

ora said...

Miriam--
I know this discussion ended a while ago, but I wanted to tell you about a conversation I had recently with my mom and aunt. They were from a family a lot like yours, they are 7 kids and they were all born very close together (my grandmother always used herself as proof that breastfeeding doesn't always have a contraceptive effect). They both said they absolutely loved being from a large family, and the only reason they didn't have lots of kids themselves was a mix of age (they had their first at ages 30 and 39 respectively) and simply not wanting to deal with all the work that comes with it. But they were very, very enthusiastic, and gave me a thumbs up on having as many kids as I want (9 or 10 was thrown out as a possible #).

So basically, if you start getting criticism (from others or from yourself) telling you you have so many kids, they can't all be getting enough attention, etc, it might be a good idea to talk to grown children from large families. Because most of them reject that kind of thinking, and say they had very happy childhoods (I also have friends from big families who say they love being one of 13/15). For me, knowing that children in large families enjoy their life/family and don't feel a lack of attention (the ones I've talked to don't, anyway) makes me feel much better about my hopes to have many children.