Friday, 28 November 2014

Media Reflection - Bravo's "Extreme Guide To Parenting"

Image borrowed from
Love it or hate it, reality television makes up the larger half of your programming guide these days.  From dancing celebrities to extreme food cook offs, North America can't get enough.  Beyond the accessibility for water cooler chat, humans are fascinated with other humans.  What they do, how they live, and how they raise their offspring.  Shows that feature parenting in one way or another aren't new, however, Bravo's "Extreme Guide to Parenting" takes the voyeuristic pleasure of criticizing child rearing to a new level.  

Each show features one or two families with a unique method of parenting.  From nomadic to eco-kosher to shamanistic, these styles are certainly a twist on tradition for most folks.  At first viewing, the parenting styles I saw, while perhaps a little aggressive, demonstrated some very interesting approaches to the ultimate goal of all parents - happy, talented, and open minded kids.  

From "the pusher" who enrolled her son in every after school program imaginable, to the family of jujitsu specialists, skill and above-average discipline is admirable. Wanting your child to excel is nothing to be ashamed of.  Every parent dreams of the straight-A student, the basketball star, the piano virtuoso. Where the line needs to be drawn is the point in which your child's own interests and friendships are affected.  You can't control their whole world without limiting their freewill.  Moreover, these kids seemed exhausted by the high pressure of their parents' expectations.  

Borrowed from
Alternative methods, such as the nomadic photographers, the aromatherapy-loving mother of the "jade child" and the hypnotizing mother of twins, offers some interesting insights in to the power of suggestion. While a little odd to me, the calm and confident approach to their techniques certainly gave me a moment of pause.  I question the effectiveness of these styles, but I must say that they seem to have some positives that I would not have otherwise considered.  Asking your child to be calm, breathe deeply, and think of something relaxing is something that I look to incorporate in to my own methods.

Although all episodes end with the parents reflecting on their parenthood choices, often moderating them slightly in light of a conversation or event, one episode shocked me considerably.  I like to think there are as many ways to raise a child as there are children in the world, but for the first time in my life, I saw a style that I considered so "wrong" that I questioned why no one had stepped in.  

The "body positive" mom, which on the surface seems like a very good thing, went to the point of speaking to her child through a vulva puppet, saving her menstrual blood to feed plants as a play-date activity, and brought her daughter to a nearly-nude, performance art piece (staring herself, no less).  I agree that the stigma of the female form and feeling shame about our sexuality is a bad thing.  I don't even judge the fact that the couple continues to work in the adult entertainment industry.  That said, this child was three.  She doesn't need to colour pictures of her reproductive organs and see mommy bound in leather and chain... I am completely surprised that this woman considered this merely a body positive method that was acceptable, never mind appropriate for TV.

This show is very interesting to watch, because even if I am taken aback, questioning, or intrigued by the stories shown, I am reflecting on why I feel this way and how I can let this inform my own choices.  It helps me to formalize my values and my goals, both for my son and the way my husband and I parent.  I recommend watching it, or as always, reading about different styles, even if you disagree.  Broadening your perspective only makes you a more empathetic mother and understanding person.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What to Pack - Winter Weather Walks

As the chill hits the air, the Canadian heart sinks a little.  Gone are the days when you can throw on your flip flops and leave the house.  No more will the driveway be clear and your front hallway dry.  It's time for those frosty mornings, early nights, and all the clothing that accompanies. That goes for baby as well, and dressing a little one can be tricky.  You don't want them to be cold; they won't be able to express to you their discomfort fast enough if it is far south of zero.  You don't want them to be too hot; car travel and mall walking can mean overheating and chaffing. You also don't want them to be unsafe; bulky layers may mean restraints are under tightened! With that in mind; here are some things to consider when you decide to face the outdoors this winter.

Baby's skin is far more sensitive than yours, so any exposed skin needs to be tended to as best as possible.  While it may not always be necessary or practical to have that elaborate, overstuffed snow suit on, your little one does need at least one extra layer than you do.  This could mean as little as a nice, fluffy blanket to top of his or her sweater and long pants, or a full ensemble of coat, gloves, hat, boots, and more.  A quick front door check won't cut it - check the weather and pack for both eventualities (a change for the worse or the better).

Keeping warm:

  • Make sure all exposed skin (within reason) is covered. Focus on the extremities (head, hands, and feet) where heat is lost most rapidly.
  • Remember to keep baby's face and body well moisturized to prevent dryness and chapping. Multiple changes from the crisp air to warmer environments can leave baby feeling dry, tight, and uncomfortable.
Image borrowed from

Keeping cool:
  • Dress in layers that can be added or removed as your surroundings change.  Hats and mitts should be removed and coats unzipped as a minimum when riding on buses, driving in heated cars, or walking indoors.
  • Consider a stroller/car seat warmth system. It works like a sleeping bag installed on your child's seat, adding warmth when needed and easily unzipped when not required. It has the added advantage of being easily washable and transferable to multiple seats.  See example pictured here.

Keeping safe:
  • Double check that car seat, stroller, and other restraints are secured tightly enough to serve their purpose per the manufacturers instructions.  This might mean removing baby's jacket while in the car.
  • If the weather gets below 20 degrees Fahrenheit/ -7 degrees Celsius, avoid going outside unless you have too.  Frostbite can occur very quickly.

Monday, 24 November 2014

What's In Your Diaper Bag? - Eva and Gilad

Vancouver transplant Eva has experienced a lot more than weather change in her life recently. She is the lucky mom of a super sweet and friendly baby boy. I wish I had a picture of this little cutie as a teeny tiny Batman, because I'm telling you right now, it was adorable! 

Being a newer gal in town, Eva was one of the first to draw a group of ladies together, invite us in to her home, and treat us to a play date with snacks to boot! It's an amazing circle of friends and support that we have developed, all thanks to her confidence and welcoming nature. Having done both breast and bottle feeding, and being a great woman to discuss parenting with, I was thrilled when she agreed to share with me her secrets to keeping her son organized while maintaining her budget, so today we find out... 

What's In Your Diaper Bag?

Name: Eva

Baby's Name (and age): Gilad (5 1/2 months)

Most Important Thing in Your Diaper Bag: Diapers!! Wipes.

The classics; don't underestimate how many you need ladies! If in doubt, just pack extra!

Basic Save: I used to buy Diaper Genie bags for soiled diapers. I have found it was an unnecessary expense. I now just bring produce grocery bags with me and they work just as well.

Essential Splurge: Toy wipes. Gilad drops his toys on the floor and sticks them in his mouth so I'd rather be safe by splurging on the wipes.

Here's an example of a brand of toy wipes. These, and brands like these, work great for play groups since babies love to share! And if your child uses a pacifier like mine, even occasionally, it's a great item to have on hand when you're on the go.

Best Preparedness Advice: If you know you are going out for the whole day check the bag the night before and make sure you've got everything you need.

Final words of wisdom: I do a diaper bag check at least once a week. I take everything out and replace whatever is missing that way I am not caught without something.

Contents of Eva's diaper bag:

1. Desatin diaper cream
2. Kirkland diaper wipes
3. 5 diapers
4. Toy wipes
5. Hand sanitizer
6. 2 receiving blankets for diaper changes on the go
7. 1 fleece blanket for baby to roll around on
8. 1 pair of pants
9. 1 Sweater
10. 2 onesies
11. Small towel
12. Formula
13. Bottle

Friday, 21 November 2014

Mom's Own Health - Sleep and Rest

One of the most common jokes parents make to pregnant women is something along the lines of "better sleep now while you can!"  I started to really worry. By 8 months pregnant, the heartburn, discomfort and hindrance of my belly was already cramping my style.  Add to that the horror stories I heard from mothers of colicky babies... I assumed I would be more drooling zombie than woman in short order. Long gone are nights that I can sleep straight through - even if hubby is on duty.  At times my son sleeps 5 hours at a stretch.  Others it is almost as if he has an internal wake up call every 45 minutes! Is he hungry again? Wet? Teething? There's no rhyme or reason.

The thing is - YOU NEED SLEEP.  You are not Super Woman, you are a human being. There's no coffee IV to come home with you from the hospital. There are only so many nights you can pace and rock junior ceaselessly before you end up crumpled in a ball crying for your own mommy. So what can you do?  I recommend the 3 S method; share, snooze, and shut down.

The first rule to learn about the grind is that mom should not be the only one working the night shift. Those early days are especially hard and you need rest to be your best.  You are creating breast milk, healing wounds, and learning a whole new lifestyle.  These days, since my husband works through the week, he takes over on weekends.  Can your spouse take the last feed, so you can get to bed early? Can he do that early bum change so you can grab an extra hour?  You might do everything together, alternate shifts, or take every other day, but however you work it; share.

Many moms swear by the nap. Sleep when the baby sleeps, the laundry can wait.  It's great advice, if you can do it.  Unfortunately for me, I can't seem to do it.  I have enough trouble getting back to sleep at night once my mind has been awakened.  I make to do lists, think of old song lyrics, and conjure a whole host of useless trivia for no reason.  The addition of sunlight and an infant doesn't help.  If you need that mid-day top up, find a way to make the snooze work.
  • Nap in bed rather than on the couch: mimic your sleep environment as closely as possible.
  • Start with 10 minutes: if you give yourself time to lay down you might be surprised when you wake.
  • Call in a ringer: a friend would be happy to give you a couple of hours to nap and shower. Take it!

If all else fails, just chill.  Ignore the temptation to empty the dishwasher or wash the floors. No one is taking notice or judging your effort nearly as harshly as you judge yourself. A few restful moments with a chick flick or a good book can be very restorative, improving far more than just your lack of sleep.  Throw your legs up on the sofa.  Curl up in your favourite chair.  Stretch out for some yoga on the floor. Whatever works for you. The very use of your brain for something other than retaining your little one's schedule can mean less stress, improved mood and, heck, some talking points more interesting than the number of dirty diapers that day! 

Motherhood is extremely rewarding and full of the highest highs. That doesn't mean you have to or are expected to be "on" at all times.  Recharge your batteries so you can be a better you for your family.  There is a balance that will work for you.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Mommy Money Matters: Budgeting for Christmas

For both my sister and I, it's baby's first Christmas.  We've gone from a family of adults, having a casual drink and chatting loudly, back to toys, lights, and all the joys that come from a young family. With all that excitement, it is no surprise that I already have a list a mile long of things I'd like to buy my son; cute seasonal clothes, photos for grandparents, and of course, gifts aplenty for under the tree.  As with most new moms, however, I'm feeling the pinch of my reduced income.  I have to do my best to match my dreams to my very real budget.  Being a good saver, I would like to share a few strategies to make planning for your holiday spending a little easier.  I hope you benefit as much as I have with these techniques.

If you have over 6 months...

While it won't be applicable for this coming season, starting to save as early as possible is always the ideal method.  Stretching it out over a longer period means saving less each time you put money away with the same (or an improved) result.  This is true of everything from short term goals like a big purchases like furniture or vacations, and longer term planning such as retirement and school savings for your children.  If you're already finding funds tight, this is the ideal time to work a little overtime, or take on some side work if you can. Dog walking, house cleaning, direct sales - whatever you feel comfortable with.  Can you have a garage sale?  Send some out grown clothes to the consignment store?  The money needs to come from somewhere and you can't get blood from a stone.

  • Estimate a reasonable budget for your list.  That means that maybe you don't have $250 for your parents this year.  And maybe thinking you can do everything handmade is a little ambitious.
  • Take your total budget and save an extra 10%.  There might be price changes, taxes or shipping costs that will require a contingency down the road.
  • Shop too early!  It might seem like a great deal now, but people's tastes change, they buy things for themselves, and return policies expire!  I'm not advocating a December 24th panic-fest, but maybe July is a little pre-mature to predict junior's size and grandpa's tool shop needs.

If you have over 6 weeks...

  • Make a piggy bank for those downtown parking and latte costs.  You have no idea how much can accumulate in small change. Throw everything smaller than a loonie in a tin and watch the magic happen.  You don't even need to roll it anymore - most banks have coin machines that do the work for you.
  • Separate your funds in to pre-allocated envelopes.  It may seem like a pain to shop with cash, but it is a guarenteed way to see where your money is going and when it's gone.  Replace funds with the receipts for your purchases so you know where they are if you need them.
  • Wrap yet!  Things are still in flux and you might find out that your sister bought the same thing for the little one that you did, or that an item for hubby has been recalled. It's annoying, but it happens, and you might as well expect it.  (Good thing you know where the receipt is!)
Do you have a budgeting tip to share or a great money saving strategy?  We'd love to hear about it!  Follow us on Facebook and tell us all your best holiday survival stories!

Monday, 17 November 2014

What's In Your Diaper Bag? - Aline, Zoey & Elysse

Having a baby is definitely a process. You have all the joys, anxieties, highs and lows as you prepare for an adventure 9 months in the making. For me, one was enough to take in, so when I first met our next mom, I was in awe of her calm, collected, and happy nature, despite following around an active pair of twin girls! As she describes "My husband and I have been together for over a decade. We were married 2 and a half years before we decided it was time to have children. Since we were trying to get pregnant, we found out very early that not only was I pregnant but also having twins. It was a very long and un-eventful pregnancy so I had lot's of time to think things through and cope with not only having 1 but 2 babies!" These two are as unique as they are sweet, and I just had to ask...

What's In Your Diaper Bag?

Name: My name is Aline. Most people call me Ali.

Baby's Name (and age): I have twin girls (Zoey and Elysse) that are just over a year old.

The Most Important Thing in Your Diaper Bag: 
Other then the obvious (food and diapers) the most important thing in my diaper bag is "distraction _________!" Whether it be their pacifier, favourite hand toy on that particular day, a teether toy or their lovie at the very least; 2 of these items must be in the bag! If I don't have them, I'll end up buying more or having a really hard time without them.

Basic Save:
Samples! Everything samples if you can do it. You can re-use the sample containers of your favorite products by refilling them and the bonus is, they take up less room and your have more space for other important items. Another basic save is coupons. They have coupons for almost anything baby related. I have a baggy to keep all of my coupons in one place. There are flyer apps that retailers will let you use if you price match an item. When you go to buy your "staple items" look the [item] up to see if you can get a cheaper price. ** sidebar: this is also applicable for formula! I managed to save huge amounts of money by getting samples/coupons from other moms that either used a different brand or were successfully breast feeding/pumping. There are so many sites and companies that you can register with to receive free "new baby packages" with all types of different samples and goodies.

Essential splurge:
Diapers. Protect that tush! ;) No matter what the price is find the one that works best for baby's bum and your budget. We have done both, cloth and disposable. When the girls were born we had the diaper service. Between both girls we were using over 100 diapers a week, some weeks over 150! Our service was great. No need to rinse, every week you got freshly washed and sanitized cloth diapers. No need to worry about going out to buy diapers, you just had to make sure the dirty ones were at the door when they come to swap. If you have to use disposable then do it. After a while it didn't make sense to keep the service because it was getting more expensive for us than buying diapers (the girls didn't require as many diaper changes during the day). A tip for any Mom of Multiples, sign up for the company's family of multiples programs if they have one. They may send you high value or free product coupons. You have to "prove" you had twins but that's about it. You just add a picture or two.

Best preparedness advice:
Having two babies doesn't mean packing 2 of everything. My girls are sisters more then they are twins. I had them at the same time but they are 2 completely different babies! Zoey LOVES her A&A blankets, Elysse couldn't care less what blanket I give her. Elysse is a pacifier baby, Zoey? Not so much, she can live without it. Don't over pack! Make sure you have what you need for that specific trip but save room for some extra toys or distraction whatever! If you forgot something, adjust.

A happy baby is better then a clean clothed baby. With my girls, as long as their bellies are full and their bums clean, they are happy babies regardless of what they are wearing. I try my best to grab an extra outfit, but sometimes it just doesn't make the cut and I end up with messy babies. Oh well! A tip I got from a good friend of mine, if you have a dirty outfit or sleeper (even from just wearing it) fold it inside out. That way you can easily identify which clothes are still clean and what needs to be washed, cause if you're like me, by the time you get home you won't remember.

Final words of wisdom:
Take everybody's advice but only use what works for you and baby! Every one will have what worked for them (and a lot of moms will preach it) but you and baby will only have what works for you guys. It's always great to have options but in the end, 75% of what you will hear from other people may not apply to your situation.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Trend Watch - The Bumbo Seat

Image borrowed from
When it comes to things for kids, it's very easy to get carried away. You need a crib and a dresser, but you might also want a rocker, a change table, a bookshelf, and more. You need a bouncer or swing, but you probably want them both, not to mention an exersaucer, play mats, interactive toys, books... The problem is, there's a limit to your floor space as well as your bank balance. Moreover, kids grow and change everyday. They will only use their current stuff for a finite amount of time before they need more of a challenge.

A fluorescent feature of many a mommy's floor is the current trend in baby seating - the Bumbo. This foam supportive booster is meant to encourage good posture in addition to providing a stable sitting position for babies who cannot yet do it alone. The Bumbo International website claims:

Available at many big box stores in a variety of colours and patterns, this cute product can fit in to any nursery decor if you have quite enough neon. In addition to the safe stability of the seat itself, accessories including a play tray and a potty trainer can be purchased separately so that your little one can learn and grow with the product.

If your child fits, that is. 

The leg holes are narrow to say the least. At just over 4 months old, the son of one of my friends is already close to 20lbs. It's a struggle to seat him comfortably and you would think that he is the ideal age for the product. He's not alone either. My son is not large by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt like I had to push down on him to fit him in to the space. It also comes with a belting system that is surely just to avoid law suits. How you could buckle a child already crammed in to this foam wonder, I have no idea.

On the subject of avoiding law suits, this seat is meant exclusively for floor use. It should not double as a booster to be elevated in any way. Infants this size are incredibly top heavy. Even with constant supervision, it would take a split second for them to topple over and severely hurt themselves. I shudder at the thought. This means you will still need a highchair (unless you intend to sit crossed-legged for feedings) and you'll need a booster seat for down the road, too.

Finally, those wonderful accessories I mentioned, they are all sold separately. At up to $60 brand new, tacking on an additional $20 a piece makes this a pretty costly chair. Assuming a maximum use of 3 years, including potty training, you would have to use it fairly regularly to merit owning over $100 in foam and plastic. And again, that's only if s/he fits...

All this is to say, the Bumbo seat is a want, not a need. You probably have another safe place to seat baby that will fill this purpose for the small amount of use I see this item getting. If you still think you'd like one, I suggest trying one a friend owns to see how it fits your child and your purposes. Be realistic. As usual, I also highly recommend finding one used. Because it is a short term piece that cleans quickly and easily, it will be good as new for around $20. You can look on Kijiji or other online buy-and-sells, or those fantastic local Mom to Mom sales.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

If It Ain't Broke...Introducing a New Baby to Siblings

Bringing home baby number two (or three, or four) brings with it a whole different set of anxieties and unknowns. You want to make sure that you treat every child with equal love and attention but a new infant demands a lot, and a child who hasn't had any siblings to this point may not easily grasp the change in dynamics. Once you've had time to acknowledge and become excited about your newest addition, how do you prepare your child(ren)? There is a lot of valuable advice out there, but we thought we'd ask our own mavens; the moms we know and respect.
This was an awesome subject to discuss with our mommy panel, and boy did they have a lot to say on the topic! On comparing the answers below to those of the experts, there's very little difference between what these mommies did and what the experts recommend, but everybody found the best way to make their child(ren) feel as comfortable and prepared as possible.

How did you prepare your older child for the arrival of a new baby?

"My first child was almost 3 when my second child was born and it was a big adjustment not only for my husband and I, but for our son. I bought a couple of story books about having a new sibling, I sat him down and explained it to him, showed him pictures of when he was a baby, took him on a tour of the hospital nursery, but I really don't think he understood what was happening until the baby was born. He came into the room with his dad to visit and was all excited to see his "brudder" and hold him and check him out. When I came home he helped change him, grab diapers, etc. I let him help out as much as I could so he would not feel out of place. This really helps a lot." - Jacqui (Mother of 3)

"When I was pregnant with my second child, we just spent a lot of time talking to my first born about the baby Mommy had in her tummy. As my tummy started to grow I explained that the baby was growing and let him rub my tummy. When the baby finally arrived he came to the hospital and I held the baby down for him to see and he kissed her on the forehead. We sat him in a chair and carefully let him hold her, which he did for all of about 20 seconds until he lost interest! By the time the 3rd one came along, he was an old pro at it! My youngest kids are so close in age we couldn't really explain the new baby to Jordyn because she was only 16 months when McKenna was born." - Ellen (Mother of 3)

"For my oldest, who was almost three and didn't have little cousins as a reference, I made her feel like she had an important job. It was a special place to be a big sister and Mommy's most regarded assistant. We were co-conspirators in this little addition to our family so her place was now even more necessary." - Susan (Mother of 3)

"Aimee was almost 3 when I had Richard so it may have been a little easier for me as she somewhat understood there was another baby coming into the house. Right from the get go we involved Aimee in any aspect of this baby that we could. We let her come with us to pick out the paint and decorating supplies. She helped her dad re-erect the crib. Helped me wash all the little clothes and she got to hang them where she wanted in the closest. I wanted her to feel like she was as much a part of the baby as we were. She jumped into the roll as Jr. Mom quite nicely. She was very protective over him and was so gentle. We had quite a few friends having babies around the same time so we exposed her to little ones as much as possible and we would practice the drill about: Be Gentle, Soft Kisses, Only touch their hands, No tight hugs… so by the time Richard came around she was quite the pro!" - Julie (Mother of 2)

"I guess the most important thing is to make sure the older ones still feel loved and you still give them some quality time without the baby. (In my case I was unfortunately hospitalized after each of my pregnancies so this was hard to do in the beginning.) Make them feel needed by holding the baby. Make sure they know they are still very loved and a part of the family. As you know newborns take up so much of your time so just try to include the older ones as much as you can and spend time with them." - Lynda (Mother of 4)

​"I didn't have much problem with the second baby and the first but I did worry about it. I planned ahead and knew I was having a boy so I got an anatomically correct newborn boy doll. I dressed the doll and Mathew in matching clothes and blanket. I gave the doll to Doriana when I brought Mathew home, although she had held Mathew in the hospital. All she did was want to hold Mathew. I made sure that when anyone came to visit that I gave them a heads up to say hello to Doriana first and not to ignore her throughout the visit. I told close friends and family to bring something for Doriana (something very small) if they were bringing a gift for the baby or I had a few things ready for the visitors to share with her (books, puzzles, etc.). I made sure to include Doriana in everything I did with the new baby, including feeding (ie. have a snack ready for her when I was nursing and do it together). We went everywhere together and I got her to help whenever possible. I also planned events for just the two of us." - Pam (Mother of 2)​

Monday, 10 November 2014

Mommy Money Matters - Q&A About Educational Savings Plans

Thinking about your baby's future can be a lot of fun. At only a few days old, my parents were trying all manner of titles to attach to his name; Professor, Doctor, Mr. Prime Minister... you name it. Will he be an astronaut? A lawyer? The possibilities are endless. That is, if he can afford it. After almost 8 years since completing my degree, I still owe money for my own education. As much as I learned from making my own way, you can't help but want to make it easier for your children to follow their dreams. We sat down with Financial Advisor, Amanada Noonan, to ask the tough question about starting an RESP:

What is an RESP? 

A Registered Education Savings Plan (RESP) is a vehicle used to fund post-secondary education. Parents choose to set up an RESP vs. a regular savings account to take advantage of the benefits. RESPs are tax-sheltered savings plans that are eligible for government grants based on the amount contributed. Investment income earned within the plan grows on a tax-deferred basis until it is withdrawn. When the beneficiary begins post-secondary education and the RESP starts paying out, the payments are called Educational Assistance Payments (EAPs). The beneficiary will claim EAPs as income on their tax return in the year received. Generally, students are in the lowest tax bracket therefore this results in little or no tax. 

What information is required to start one?

To set up an RESP all you need is a social insurance number (SIN) for the beneficiary. With the Newborn Registration Service you can complete your child’s birth registration and apply for a SIN at the same time, which is great. According to the Service Canada website, there is no fee to apply for a SIN number and you will receive it within 20 days. Your advisor will let you know if they require you to provide any other information prior to the meeting.

When is the best time to start?

The best time to start an RESP is when your child is first born. The longer you have to contribute to the plan the better. Discuss with your advisor how you are going to reach your RESP goal. Financial advisors can prepare an accurate education needs analysis to help estimate future college and university costs based on the school of choice and course length.

What is the minimum contribution?

There is no minimum contribution in a self-directed RESP; you can make lump sum payments and/or automatic contributions monthly, weekly and bi-weekly. This type of plan is very flexible so you can adjust payments as needed.

Is there a point at which it is too late? 
What would be a better vehicle at that point?

The Canada Education Savings Grant is available until the end of the calendar year in which a child turns 17, but to be eligible for the grant, you must start to save for your child's RESP before the end of the calendar year in which the child turns 15 years of age. If you are naming a beneficiary in a family plan he/she must be less than 21 years of age.

Self-directed RESPs are considered to be the best education savings plan. Grouped, pooled and scholarship fund RESPs are not recommended because they are too risky, have high fees, and no flexibility. If you are considering this type of option, please do your research and read the fine print. It would be beneficial to talk to an advisor about setting up either a family plan RESP for your children or an individual plan for your child so you have control and flexibility.

The child’s grandmother wants to start an RESP. Would my child have two, or can multiple people contribute?

You can have more than one plan but there is a lifetime contribution limit of $50,000 per beneficiary. Friends and families are welcome to contribute to an RESP. Contributions are actually a great gift idea for Christmas, birthday, graduation, or any event. The child will appreciate it when they are not thousands of dollars in debt after graduation.

What if I have multiple children (twins, kids of various ages, etc)? Is there only one fund, or multiple?

If you have more than one child you should look at a family plan instead of individual ones for each child. Contributions must be tracked for each child named in the plan. You can make more than one contribution at a time, and the amounts do not have to be the same for each child. For example you might want to contribute more to an older child because they are closer to post-secondary. The benefit to a family plan is that the earnings can be shared amongst the children. The Canada Education Savings Grant (CSEG) may be used by any beneficiary named in the RESP, to a maximum of $7,200 for each child. If one of the children in the family plan decides not to pursue post-secondary education you can allocate the money to the other child /children in the plan.

What if my child doesn't go to school? What happens to the fund?

If your child chooses not to continue his/her education past high school, it is suggested to wait before deciding to remove the funds. It is possible that the beneficiary will reconsider. The RESP can stay open for 36 years and contributions can be made to the plan for 31 years. If the decision has been made that he/she will 100% not be attending a post-secondary school a few options are available.

· Name another child as the beneficiary to receive the money in a family plan.

· If you have an individual plan, you may be able to name an alternate beneficiary. If the new beneficiary is not a sibling you will lose the grant.

· If the beneficiary is 21 years old or older and the plan is at least 10 years old, the earnings can be withdrawn by the subscriber, subject to withholding tax and a 20% penalty tax.

· Transfer the money to an RRSP. The amounts withdrawn will be considered taxable income. The initial contribution can be withdrawn by the subscriber with no tax consequences since it was made with after-tax dollars. Because the money was not used for educational purposes, the CESG remaining must be repaid, to a maximum amount equal to 20% of the withdrawal.

What if I can no longer afford to contribute? Does the fund continue to accrue interest, government contributions, etc?

If you can no longer contribute to the RESP, that’s not a problem. Your money is invested so it will grow. The Basic Canada Education Savings Grant will give you 20% on every dollar of the first $2,500 you save in your child’s RESP each year. If you don’t contribute enough to receive the maximum grant of $500 for the year, the unused amount can be carried forward. Depending on your net family income, you could be eligible to receive an extra 10% or 20% on every dollar of the first $500 you save in your child’s RESP each year.

Is there a tax incentive or hindrance to having an RESP for the sponsor (parent, grandparent)?

Although you cannot deduct the contributions made to an RESP from your taxable income, the subsequent investment earnings on RESP contributions are tax-deferred. When the funds are paid out, the beneficiary is taxed. Because the beneficiary is a student he/she will most likely be in the lowest tax bracket.

Are there any fees or insurances I should be aware of? Are the funds protected if the company should fail like a bank account?

Usually there is no charge to open an RESP, but some institutions do have a set-up fee. Make sure to ask your advisor if there is an initial fee, and how much the commission is on your investments. If you hold mutual funds there will be an MER fee. If eligible deposits are held in an RESP the Canada Deposit Insurance Corporation (CDIC) covers those deposits. CDIC insures eligible deposits at each CDIC member institution up to a maximum of $100,000.

How can I best balance multiple financial concerns such as debts, planning for retirement and saving for my children?

Financial planning done by an advisor at an institution such as Sun Life Financial is holistic and absolutely free. Everyone should take advantage of expert advice that doesn’t cost you a penny. No one can be an expert in every area. You go to a doctor when you are sick; you hire a plumber when you have a leak, you have a lawyer to prepare your will so why would you handle something as important as your finances all by yourself? An advisor looks at your current financial situation and does everything possible to improve it.

Sun Life Financial advisor, Amanda Noonan, has a passion for improving the financial situations of individuals and families. With her extensive education from the Post-Grad Financial Planning Services Program at Conestoga College she provides helpful, caring, and knowledgeable information to clients. Amanda truly lives by the quote, “Success is not about the amount of money you make, but the number of lives you impact.”

Friday, 7 November 2014

Controversy Corner: The Cry It Out Method

What is it?

Cry It Out (CIO) is a sleep guiding method where parents offer short bursts of controlled comfort (or no comfort) while training children to soothe themselves and sleep through the night. There are two main variants on the theme but both methods require the parents to allow the child to cry; sometimes a lot. Supporters of sleep training techniques assert that babies need sleep to function and thrive and so sleep problems (such as restless nights, multiple interruptions for feeding or changing, etc.) are detrimental to growth and development. Not to mention, Mom and Dad need adequate sleep to be able to cater to babies needs during appropriate waking hours. 

They also claim that self-soothing fosters independence in children, a quality that will help them in life as they continue to develop as individuals. Encouraging appropriate sleep associations for a child, is also a focus, in order to avoid persistent bedtime problems through out childhood. Examples of sleep associations are: needing rocked, nursed, or driven in a car for 30 minutes every night just to fall asleep. Enough to drive you crazy after a few months.

There are two main types of CIO:

1. Dr. Richard Ferber's method (known as “Controlled Crying” or “Check and Console” or “Ferberizing”) begins as early as 4-5 months old when (he claims) babies can be sleeping through the night. Using a timing chart, parents  put their baby down for the night and allow more and more time to pass between checking in on the child for a brief bout of consoling before leaving them to self-soothe again.

2. Dr. Marc Weissbluth's method (known as “Extinction” or “Full Extinction” or “No Peek") recommends waiting until baby is 9 months old to begin, but also differs in that, once baby is down for the night, you don't go in to console them as it sends a mixed message.

*These are very simplified introductions to these methods, both of which are detailed in full book length, and include information about baby development and the science of sleep. If you are interested in CIO as a method for your family, I recommend checking out a book at the library or seeing a sleep specialist in your area. This is meant simply as an introduction to this topic.

What are the criticisms?

Critics of the cry it out method (notably Dr. Bill Sears and Dr. Penelope Leach) state that it can cause “failure to thrive” in babies. (Beyond poor weight gain, their holistic view of failure to thrive takes into consideration all aspects of an infant’s well-being: social, psychological, intellectual, and physical.) Babies learn that their calls will not be answered and thus stop voicing their needs—they do not stop needing. A baby does not understand why you are eager to comfort/feed/change them at 2:00 pm, yet all-but-abandon them at 2:00 am. They insist that your intuition as a parent is to react sensitively and appropriately to your baby’s attempts at communication (crying, facial expressions, and gestures) and it is unhealthy to turn off that natural instinct in order to control your baby’s sleep patterns too early. 

Those that are anti-CIO say that the relationship you have with your child should focus on support and nurturing, not on control or power dynamics. While the CIO method claims to foster independence in children, research has shown that it in fact rears whinier, more dependent children with a lifelong sense of insecurity. As the Sears family of pediatricians assert: “babies cry to communicate – not manipulate.” A child who cries in the night for food, a diaper change, or comfort does not have a "sleep problem" that needs to be fixed, they are simply communicating needs in the only way available to them and are connecting synapses in their brains that regulate trust, security, and growth. Parents need to accept that the first year or more of a child's life requires sacrifices and vigilance, and that may mean 12+ months of disrupted sleep.


As with most controversial parenting choices, the decision to sleep train is personal to you and your family. My own feelings are that sleep training may have a place in the arsenal of tactics for bringing harmony to your household, but it’s not something I would consider until my baby is at least one year of age. No one wants to be spending an hour a night soothing a sleep deprived toddler, but I don’t believe that an infant is manipulating you because they've learned you’ll come when they call. That’s exactly the lesson they need to learn, and something you need to maintain in order to cultivate the sense of security crucial to healthy development. Every single family, and each and every baby in every family, is different, and what makes sense for you, works for you, and reflects what is important to you, is the correct choice in your circumstance. No mommy shaming!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Mommy Mental Health: Keeping Busy With Baby

Sleepless nights, frequent feedings, many changes, and mountains of laundry are obvious results of having a baby. Undoubtedly there are a lot of things to fill your time, and I have heard my share of horror stories.  To my amazement and surprise, my son has been wonderful.  I am one of the blessed mommies whose child is a decent sleeper, good eater, and fairly contented the majority of the time.  Don't hate the playa', hate the game.

This has presented a new problem.  One that I didn't account for in all my planning and preparing for motherhood. That is - it can be boring.  Don't get me wrong...  I still lose hours staring at his beautiful face and loving every cuddle.  The thing is, humans are social animals and infants aren't exactly the best conversationalists. So what can you do in order to maximize this crazy time that is maternity leave?  Lots!

Early on, the easiest thing for me to do was simply to get a little fresh air.  You have been told by everyone, I'm sure, the benefits of walking.  There are just so many; vitamin D from the sun, social interaction for yourself and the baby, not to mention the chance to burn a few unwanted calories.  As awkward as it may seem at first, make the effort to say hi to passers by.  I had the most wonderful walk and conversation about books with a lovely woman I had never met that started in just this way.

As you feel well and more ambitious, find a destination that you can frequent weekly or even daily.  Is there a nice park in your community to which you walk?  Is your local library nearby?  Coffee fans might have a cafe at a good distance.  It can be harder to judge and stick to a routine of exercise with out an end point in mind. In my experience having a destination in mind makes the journey something to look forward to. Not only that, you'll start to develop "the regular" factor.  When you see someone and are seen often enough, it becomes more comfortable to talk to that person.  You automatically have something in common. Make the trip about the interaction, not just leaving the house. It's very easy to end up spending more money than acquiring friends.

The highlight of my week is a play time I discovered with a local community group.  As the baby and I are not morning people, it took a while to find one that worked well for us, but once I did, the impact was immense and immediate. 2 hours a week I meet up with local moms with children my son's age.  Because the class is tailored to children from birth to six months, the mothers and I have what I call a "me too" relationship.  They are in the same stage of motherhood I am, which makes their advice more fresh.  They appreciate the types of concerns I have because they do as well or have had the same ones recently. We can also discuss non-baby things, which can be nice too!  It can be difficult to talk without your mommy glasses on, but give it a shot.  Whether its reading, knitting or mixed martial arts you're in to, you might just find someone equally passionate!

For many reasons, you might not be ready or able to leave the house.  If you are ill, in the country without access to city resources, or just because it is pouring down rain! What then?  It can certainly be tricky.  I like to play by an "hourly" rule.  If you change tasks, even slightly, every hour, you are less likely to get that dreaded cabin fever feeling.  Try an hour of reading and toys on the floor.  How about an educational documentary?  Maybe you're the crafty type or good at baking?  Learn a new skill or finally get around to organizing that junk drawer!  Of course, all of these tasks will be interrupted with a big spit up or untimely diaper, so don't plan for a straight hour of anything.  Moms have to be flexible like that.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Mommy Money Matters - Understanding Energy Efficiency

Photo borrowed from

When you found out you were pregnant, you undoubtedly understood that your finances were about to take a big hit.  You probably planned for a maternity-reduced income.  You might have looked in to diaper prices.  You made lists of baby's clothing, toy, and furniture needs for the first 12 months.  Otherwise, you figured you were in the clear.  Mommy's travel expenses have dropped, and no more corporate lunches, because you'll be at home.

Problem is, being at home costs money.  Eating at home for most meals means more groceries.  Working away at chores like laundry during the day uses more water.  More lights, more television, more heating and cooling is required than you would if you were at work.  It all costs money.  Sure, you'll be going to mommy groups, the mall and the park, but if you don't plan for the increased demand, you might be shocked when the first bill comes. We have delved in to all things energy efficiency; peak time pricing and quick home tweaks to save you money!

Many states and provinces have implemented a tiered pricing system for billing on hydro and water usage. In Ontario, this so-called "peak time" pricing varies by 50% for on-peak versus off-peak pricing - a huge difference.  What is considered "peak" depends on the time of year to a certain extent.

As you can see, year round the cheapest time to do your chores is in the evening.  If you can wait until after dinner to throw in that load of laundry or run that dishwasher, do so.  If you need it done earlier, mid-peak is still far more cost effective than that premium priced time. The example offered on the Hydro One website demonstrates this saving; running the dishwasher costs approximately 18 cents in off-peak, 29 cents in mid-peak and 36 cents in on-peak time.  If you run the dishwasher every day as I do, you could potentially save $5.40 a month just by setting it to run before bed instead of in the afternoon.

Another comparison offered by Hydro One is that of hot water versus cold water laundry. Using off-peak time for both, you can save 34 cents a load by using cold water - 6 cents rather than 40 cents! Peak time is 77 cents for warm water wash! I have to say, I was extremely surprised at the difference. For my family of two adults and a baby, I run approximately 5 loads of laundry a week. This is a savings of $15.38 a month for my family or almost $200.00 a year.  It's well worth putting an extra couple of dollars in to quality cold water laundry detergent in my opinion.

These changes are conscious and my take a little time to get used to.  While you learn to change your own chore behaviours, you can also make your home run smarter on its own. The two highest drainers of your home's energy are your thermostat and your electronics - even when they're off!  

Heating, and arguably air conditioning or cooling, are home essentials.  If you have a baby at home, you can't push the limits too far in terms of survivalist techniques, but you can reign in your usage considerably.
  • My rule of thumb is "dress yourself before you heat the furniture."  You don't need your whole home at 25 C in March.  Put on a sweater and spot heat the areas of your home you most use.  
  • Utilize the warmth of the sun by opening the curtains in the cooler months and avoiding the sun when it's warm.  
  • Use a programmable thermostat to lower the temperatures when you are in bed or out of the house.
  • Check old windows and door jams for drafts.  Minor repairs can mean major savings.

You may have heard of something called "phantom load."  This phenomenon is the draining of a small amount of energy that your electronics use when they are off.  You can see this in those little lights indicating that your product is plugged in, even though they're not in use. Why does this even exist?  In any case, it does, so here are some tips for minimizing their drain on your wallet.

  • Plain and simple - unplug stuff.  Your toaster doesn't need to be plugged in at all times. Your single serve coffee maker heats up in a jiffy.  Don't waste your cash unnecessarily.
  • For the things you use daily, such as your television and its accessories, consider a power bar with a shut off function.  Plug your cable box, dvd player, sound system and television all in one place and flick them all off with one switch.
  • You can go one step further and involve a timer so your equipment is turned off automatically.
  • Fit your porch and safety lights with energy efficient light bulbs.  Not only will they save you money on your bill, but their lifespan will mean you're swapping them out far less frequently.

Finally, we all know that the height of summer and the dead of winter are always expensive for families.  As prepared as you are, budget for this expected bump so that you are not left in a pinch.  

We would love to hear your ideas for saving money at home!  Join the conversation on Facebook by messaging us at