Friday, February 28, 2014

It's time to start an honest conversation about money

It will start with three jars.

The first jar will be spending money - for candy and small toys that fall into the "want it now" category.

The second jar will be saving money and we'll stick a picture of whatever he is saving up for on the jar.
Background image by Shawn Campbell

The last jar will be charity money, which mommy and daddy will match and we can spend that money on a worthy cause together.

Three jars and an entire conversation can be started.

You see, my son is quickly leaving toddlerhood behind, and it is time to introduce him to real money. This is a big leap for us from our previous discussion about money in stores or during playtime with his cash register. This is a big leap.

But, it is also an important one: After reading the findings of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research's annual Monitoring the Future study, it seems that by the time children hit their teenage years, all they want to do is spend. I want to give my son a firm foundation in money education (side note: I believe that all high schools should have a mandatory fiscal education class that teaches students budgeting, but that's another post for another day).

So, we will begin with three jars.

How does the money conversation go in your household? What do you do to teach your children about money?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Mommy can't get a word in edgewise

My son is a talker. By that, I mean he talks. A lot. A whole lot.

He talks to his family members; he talks to the cat; he talks to himself; he talks to his toys; he talks to strangers (actually, I'm proud of that last one). I've even heard him mumble a bit in his sleep. 

When I am tired of listening to him yammer on, I have to remind myself: This just means that our plan worked.

You see, my husband and I talked to him all the time when he was a baby. We'd explain things in grocery stores and on walks; we read books out loud to him; we carried on full conversations with him as though he could participate. He said his first word (Mama - because he knew the score) at six months. 

And I don't think he has stopped talking since.

Do I regret our plan of talking to him early and often so he could develop his language skills? No. (Well, OK, maybe after the 700th "Mommy?" of the day I do a bit). Most of us have seen the studies that show that children who are spoken to often at an early age have larger vocabularies by school age and able to process language better.

The larger vocabulary aspect is great - I love it when strangers hear my son talking about what an ichthyologist does or when he gives examples of onomatopoeia. The ability to process language better makes me believe that he completely understood me the first time I gave him directions to clean up his toys (but he's still not going to do it, because he is in the middle of a fantasy where his cars transform into planes and go on roller coasters, which is clearly much more important).

So now I have a question: How do I get him to stop talking? How do I get him to learn how to just enjoy silence? Because in this world of too much noise trying to get our attention, I want my son to be able to just sit and enjoy the quiet.

Any ideas or tips? Tell me in the comments (and no, the "Silent Game" that our parents played with us is not a good option.)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Why are we qualifying fathers?

My son has a Mom and a Dad. That's it. That's how I want others to think of us - sans adjectives.

You see, I keep reading articles about "active fathers" and "involved fathers." (This article even points out how insulting one of those terms can be.) The intent of these terms is to differentiate the modern men who spend more time with their children then their fathers did with them. The terms are meant to celebrate those single dads, or the ones who take parental leave when the baby is born, or the children with two dads, or the guys who are at the park chasing their children around the playground equipment.

But nowhere do I see the terms "involved mothers" or "active mothers." We are just Moms; no qualifiers required.

So, let's even the score a bit: We should just have "Dads" and "Moms." Both roles need to be active and involved with their children. (Active and involved come with the title.)

Let's work toward that and get rid of the extra adjectives. Our children may even thank us for it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Underage socializing

I know several parents who have secured social media accounts in their children's names, intending them to be gifts once their children reach the appropriate age.

I am not directing comments to those people. (One question though: Do you continue to get accounts for your child when new social media sites gain popularity? Because that sounds like an exhausting hobby/chore.)

I am worried about the underage children who are on social media: The preteens who worry about their facebook updates, the future photographers with SnapChat accounts, the succinct set that have toyed with Twitter, not to mention the chatterbox children making "friends" through gaming devices online.

To the parents of those children, I ask them to start a conversation with their children about being socially savvy. Start the conversation early; have the conversation often. You see, a recent study by the online safety advisory website Knowthenet has found that more than half of children have used an online social network by the age of 10.

(Age 10!? What was I doing at age 10? I'd tell you, but I sound enough like an old curmudgeon as it is.)

So, let's talk about the safety tips that need to be discussed during social media conversations:
  • Not giving out personal information. The facelessness of being online makes people forget not to give out personal details - children included.
  • What you and your spouse use the Internet for. Lead by example.
  • Educate yourself. Try and learn what services are the most popular, so you can talk to your child intelligently about them.
Got any more safety tips for social media use conversations? Leave them in the comments.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Let's learn something: Parenting and work don't mix

Last week we were all stuck at home due to a lengthy visit from winter storm Pax. (Side note: "Pax" means kiss of peace, which made it one of the most horribly named storms ever.) Since I work for a business that doesn't close due to weather, that meant I was working from home. And my son was home from school. And those two things are not meant to mix.
Image by Shawn Campbell

For the most part, my son was really well behaved. Sure, he wanted to talk on the phone to my coworkers every time I was on a conference call, and he dumped his Lego bricks out a few times in the background (man, those things are loud!) But, overall, he was really well behaved and didn't interrupt me, even when I had to work a bit later than usual to get something done.

But here's my problem: When I am at work; I think about work. When I am at home; I try to stay focused on family life. So, when I work from home, my head doesn't know what to do, and I get a little grumpy and feel as though my life is off-balance.

I'm not alone in that feeling, and science is there to back me up on this (thanks, science!): A study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology has found that women in particular should not mix money-related activities (like work) with spending time with their children. Mixing them together causes women to report being unhappier as a parent.

This feeling is reinforced by a British study which shows that moms feel more guilt in general about their work/life balance. We moms have guilt about spending too much time at work and then not being good employees when we are needed by our families. It's time to let go of our guilt and just try to enjoy our lives.

Did we have fun last week? Yes: I enjoyed using my lunch break to help my son build a snowman and walk through the neighborhood talking about the different stages of water. Was it a hard week for me? Yes: I really felt bad when I couldn't pay attention to my son because I had to finish a project or jump on a call. But, I got through it, and now life is separated again and back to its semi-normal state.

What about you? Do you ever work from home while your little ones are around? How do you balance your attention?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Food is always on my mind

The amazing Marcia Fowler who runs Busy Moms Write was kind enough to ask me how my 100 recipe challenge was going. (She is very considerate that way.)

The truth is that it is hard. My husband and son have a long list of don't-want-to-eat items (which they are perfectly entitled to), so I have to modify a bunch of recipes. And then, of course, we moved houses, which made me want to cook nothing but comfort food...
Image by Shawn Carpenter

But those are excuses, and it's time for me to get back on track. We've had some winners (salsa chicken was yummy!) and some losers (the white chilli was meh at best). After consulting my cookbooks (thanks, Mom!) and the Interwebs, I have become intrigued by the latest research on food pairing to help children eat their vegetables.

The study on that link was basically an exercise in associative conditioning - children who were served Brussels sprouts or cauliflower with a more savory food, were more likely to learn to eat their vegetables.

(For the record, I am so unfamiliar with Brussels sprouts, I had to look up the correct spelling to type them into this blog post.)

But, I like this idea of pairing bland and savory. It won't work the same way as the study for my son, who is still learning about portion control and what healthy food does for his body, but for now, I'll can be on the lookout for more of those recipes that incorporate veggies in a non-obvious way.

Is this cheating? Maybe. But we moms could use the advantage sometimes.

Have a recipe you want me to try? Leave me a message or link in the comments. Thanks!

In the meantime. Follow Marcia to be a better writer, reader and self-editor. She's awesome!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Want to fight childhood obesity? Start earlier than you think

My son is at that awkwardly perfect age where he is honest about other people's appearances. "Look, Mommy! That man is short," or "Why is that woman covered in wrinkles?" or "That person is fat!" have all been uttered by him at a decibel level usually reserved for jackhammers.

We try to mitigate this at home by celebrating people's difference. We focus on the differences between boys and girls. We talk about how Mommy has a lot of freckles or Pap-Pap's gray hair. We call these things beautiful (because they are). We should start to talk about sizes as well - both how we shouldn't point out other people's sizes and how to maintain a healthy size of our own.

It turns out that weight is a discussion that we need to have with our son sooner rather than later. As this article points out, a few recent studies have found that a child's "weight fate" is set by the time he was 5 years old.

That's a scary statistic. I can remember what I was doing at that age: A lot of playing outside and dance classes. Maybe that is why I wasn't a chubby kid.

So, let's think of some ways to help our children stay active:
  • Walk. I used to walk to school. Every day (uphill, both ways).
  • Chores. Especially ones that involve stairs.
  • Sports. Our new house has a fenced in yard that I am crazy excited about.
  • Adventures. I regularly create scavenger hunts in the house, I think I need to expand my thinking a bit.
  • Biking. My son is a little speed demon on his bike, and that is with the training wheels on!
  • Organized activities. Is my son too young for karate? Do I want my little ninja to acquire more skills?
What about in your family? How do you talk to your children about weight and keep them active?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Honey, please pass the popcorn

So, last week, we were watching movies because we were sick. This week, my husband and I are watching movies to help our marriage.

(Yeah, that sentence didn't really seem to make sense to me, either.)

The researchers at the University of Rochester have found that fun habits like watching five movies a month can help resolve issues in the early years of marriage. The researchers divided couples into three groups: The conflict management group were trained to deal with anger levels and promote active listening; the compassion group were tasked to work together as a team and find common ground; the final group watched movies.

OK, so not just any movies. There was a list of 47 movies featuring characters with positive and negative relationship qualities.

My husband and I used to go out to the movies together all the time. Now it's less frequent, but still a fun activity that we enjoy. (We mostly watch movies at home now.) We definitely have different tastes: I do my best to not make him watch chick flicks with me; he can watch his brutal movies with his guy friends.

These days we seem to be watching more family-friendly movies. Or at least more Disney flicks. And although that is a nice way for all of us to bond, I just don't think he and I will be engaging in any deep discussion over Peter Pan and Wendy anytime soon.

What's your favorite movie genre? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Let's learn something: Valentine's Day Monsters are fun

When I was little, every holiday had a mascot. There were the usual suspects (Santa, Easter Bunny), and then there were the ones my mom made up. Like the one for Valentine's Day.
Behold: The Valentine's Day Monster.
But, now that I have a little guy, I am totally into holidays again, and I believe that every holiday deserves a fun little character with a plausible backstory. So, in our household, I've left heart-shaped tracks around the house leading to my son's Valentine's Day candy. On St. Patrick's Day, there will be a bunch of rainbows and a pot of gold (chocolate coins). And I just learned that there was an International Gnome Day, so you know we'll be celebrating that as well. Probably with little plastic gnomes. And...well, I have some time to work out the details.

The point is to celebrate more. I find that everyday adult life doesn't have enough opportunities for magic moments. So, we have to find ways to create our own. My son loves the scavenger hunts and dinosaur scenes (long live Dinovember!) and other surprises I have injected into his life. And I've noticed that when he thinks something is magical, I do, too.

So, what's your version of the Valentine's Day Monster like? How do you inject joy into everyday life? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Divorce happens, but it can be OK

My parents are divorced. I could even describe them as "happily divorced," (if there is such a thing) as they've each found more suitable spouses and rewarding lives away from their first marriage. They divorced more than 20 years ago, and I am sure that at the time, it was difficult and upsetting.

But I wouldn't know for sure, because they were really good about not discussing their problems in front of me. And that is just one of the many things that made their divorce easier on their children (thanks, Mom and Dad!).

Divorce is a sad and traumatic event for the whole family. And, unfortunately, with the improved economy, the divorce rate is increasing. If you are going through a divorce, remember: Don't leave your children out of the bigger conversation.

The American Psychological Association has released its latest information about children of divorced parents. The organization has found that divorce is actually the better option for children, rather than being exposed to long-term stress from arguing adults. In this article, the APA provides other tips for a smooth divorce, including avoiding sudden changes and talking things through with your children.

To their tips, I would like to add one of my own: Give your children some time; then re-approach the subject. It may be painful, but it should be an on-going conversation, not a taboo topic.

My parents get along very well to this day. Their paths cross at their grandchildren's birthday parties, and they are always incredibly pleasant to one another. I appreciate that - not just for my sake - but for my son's sake as well. He doesn't understand that mommy's parents were once married and are now not. In his world, he has three sets of grandparents, and he thinks that is really cool because he has extra people to spoil him.

Tell me what you think in the comments.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Nightly mattress blues

Growing bodies need room to grow. For my little guy, we moved him straight from his crib to a full-sized bed - skipping the toddler bed/twin bed experience entirely. He loves that all his stuffed animals can fit on the bed with him, and I love that there is room to curl up next to him to read books at night.

I also love that he has plenty of room to wiggle around and "grow into" his bed. And, I will try my best to check his mattress when he turns 10 to replace it when needed.

You see, I had the same bed and mattress for roughly 15 years of my life. The Lauren-shaped dent in the middle of the twin mattress was well-worn by the time I left for college. And when I finally upgraded to a queen, I had the best sleep ever. (Until my husband and I upgraded to a king, and that was even better.)

We all need a good night's sleep, and a recent study by the researchers at the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in Paris have found that simply replacing older mattresses may help teens sleep better. Since we all know that our teen years are marked by late nights and not enough sleep, the better the mattress we can give our children, the more we will help them with their never-ending fight against their sleep debt.

And, as adults, let's face it: We aren't as young as we used to be. We should check out mattresses, too, to make sure that we are getting the best sleep possible. We need it.

Tell me how long you had your childhood mattress in the comments.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Overindulging in movies

We are all sick right now. And when we are sick, we rest. My son knows that when he is sick, he gets to stay at home and watch movies. Movie watching keeps him still and calm so he can get the rest he needs to get better.

We have a list of movies that he is allowed to watch, and occasionally, I'll throw a new one into the mix, especially on sick days. But now, I am tempted to reanalyze the list. A recent study by UNC has found that 70% of the top 20 family films made between 2006 and 2010 contained scenes of unhealthy eating and weight-related bullying. The films showed unhealthy snacks, exaggerated portion size and calling overweight characters "lazy."

So, I said I was tempted to review our movie list, but I'm not going to do it. I would like to give my son the opportunity to realize that movies are not reality. Although we can talk about the bullying behavior as being "not nice," the overindulgence of food doesn't bother me as much. Even the study admits that there is no measurement for how those scenes affect children.

And, sometimes, I think we analyze things too much.

We're just going to focus on being healthy right now.

What's your favorite way to spend the day when you are at home sick?

Friday, February 7, 2014

Let's learn something: Bad dreams are scary

Image by Shawn Campbell
I remember the first time my son told me about a bad dream. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "I dreamed there was no milk."

Did I immediately scoop him into my arms and get him some chocolate milk? You bet I did (he was only two)!

Since then, my son has told me about lots of bad dreams. His descriptions are always succinct:
  • There was a horse that was kicking me. It wasn't nice.
  • The train came into my room and it was being loud.
  • I couldn't find my friend.
  • Nobody knew where my mommy was.
  • The dark is scary.
While these are all awful things to dream about at night, they are all somewhat still based in reality. Unlike adults: Adult nightmares tend toward the bizarre. (Seriously, that link is worth a peek - there is some interesting stuff in there about nightmare topics.)

But, until he is older and realizes that dreams are irrational and beautiful, I have to help him with his fears at night. Here are some things that we do:
  • We stick to a bedtime routine. A few books before bed makes for a happy boy.
  • We do not let him sleep in our bed. He has slept in his own room since the day we brought him home from the hospital. (I don't need another co-sleeper.)
  • We talk about our dreams in the morning: The good, the bad and the in-between. Now's the time to get him to communicate about what is bothering him.
Sometimes I wonder what else would help. Monster spray? A special song?

What do you do in your household to chase away the bad dreams? Tell me about it in the comments.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Something's gotta give

Career-wise, I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. (I think we've talked about that before.) Once I dropped ballerina and astronaut off my potential job list, life got a little less interesting. But, I've always known that I wanted to be a mom. And now my life is interesting every day because of my son. I never know what that kid will say or do next, and I love it.

So, it is hard for me to think about not being a mom. And yet, that is what so many young people are choosing these days - life without children. A study at the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 showed that 78% of Generation X graduates planned to have children. In 2012, that number has fallen to 42%.

It's not that the Millenials aren't into kids - that is far from the case. It appears to be a choice between demands: Do they want a good career (which they expect to be highly demanding) or do they want children (who will definitely be demanding)? The survey respondents didn't see how they could make both career and children work together.

Last week I wrote about the elusive work/life balance. (The key takeaway is evidently exercise - who knew?) But I have hope that something new will come along to give us another leg to stand on (sorry, my balance metaphor is falling over on me.) I don't know if it will be a cut back in working hours, more flexibility in the workplace or better benefits for maternity leave, but something here has to give us a chance to have a working life and a parental life and not have to sacrifice one for the other.


Otherwise, something like this might happen

Where do you find balance? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Go nuts, Moms

If you haven't been paying attention, I love peanut butter. I cannot quite describe my love of peanut butter accurately, but let me just say that if I was positive my husband wouldn't look at me funny, I would eat it straight from the jar with a spoon in front of him. (I may or may not have done this outside of his eyesight; I'm not telling.)

Image by Shawn Carpenter
I am saddened to think that there are lots of children who will never know the joy of peanut butter because of peanut allergies. But maybe we moms can fix that.

You see, a study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests mothers-to-be who enjoyed a peanut-rich diet had children with significantly lower allergy levels. As long as the mother isn't allergic to nuts, she can safely eat them throughout her pregnancy (and yes, I know that the peanut is a legume, but it has the word nut in it, so I am grouping it in with all the other nuts.)

So moms-to-be, go ahead and have that handful of almonds, that macadamia nut cookie or even dip that celery stick into the peanut butter jar. It's good for you and your baby.

Anyone have any good peanut butter recipes? My husband thinks peanut butter is an ingredient and not a meal on its own, so please share them with me in the comments.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Waiting for my teacher to grow up

My son is little; and he loves technology. He has his own electronic devices, he has a folder of apps on my phone and he loves to make video emails for his cousin. I have struggled with the never-ending battle of too much screen time with him, but I see now there is a silver lining.

You see, one day he will be my teacher. One day I will be asking him questions about my new-fangled piece of technology that I don't understand. How do I know this? This study has told me so.

The Journal of Communication has published a study indicating that around 40% of adults have learned about technology from their children. I can totally see that.

So, when I show my son new technologies now I am patient and kind and caring. Because I really hope that my son is that way with me when I ask him how something works for the 300th time.

What technology have you learned because of your children?