Friday, October 31, 2014

Are men more lonely?

Sometimes when I see my son playing by himself in his room on a Saturday afternoon, I stand in the doorway and ask him a very complex question:

Are you lonely?

I ask this for several reasons. First of all, he is an only child with no siblings to boss around. So, if my husband and I are not doing an activity with him, he is usually playing by himself. (Which I encourage - everyone should learn how to occupy their own time without dependence on another person.)

Secondly, he has parents who both spend time doing solitary activities, providing him with examples of grown-ups being alone.

Finally, he is a boy. And studies show that men traditionally spend more time alone - either through time in their own spaces or at the end of their lives when they have fewer social options. There are evidently few opportunities for men to feel comfortable bonding together in older age.

To the men out there: Why is that? Why are the things that bond you together when you are younger (sports or hobbies or whatever) not seem relevant when you are older?

Most times when I ask my son if he is lonely, he shakes his head and tells me no. If he tells me yes, then we talk about what would make him feel less lonely and then I give him the time/attention he needs. (This is how I've amassed all my dinosaur and construction truck knowledge.)

But there are times when I don't ask the question, but I can tell that he is lonely. Those are the times he will randomly appear by my side and tell me, "I just want to be in whatever room you are in." And I hug him and tell him that he is more than welcome to be with me, even though we are doing different activities. He is here with me now as I type this, building a complex train track and when he is done, I will watch him play conductor. We are each doing something solitary, but we are not alone.

And maybe that is a good compromise for us.

Do your children ever vocalize their loneliness? How do you help them with it? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Something is growing in your car seat

Sometimes when I am at work I look at my keyboard and am disgusted because I can't remember the last time I cleaned it. This is usually followed by a bout of spraying and swabbing it.

I'm not a neat freak by any measure, but I like a clean house and a fairly clean life. But there is one area that I often neglect to clean:

My son's car seat.

Do I vacuum it when I vacuum the rest of the car? Yes. Do I take it apart and scrub it down? Umm...no. But clearly I need to after reading that car seats can harbor twice as many germs as the toilet bowl.

First of all: Ewwww.

Second of all: That makes sense. My son eats snacks in that seat, spills beverages back there, and I'm sure it collects dirt and dust from his shoes.

So, now I need to become an expert at taking that car seat apart (hint: take a picture of it or dig up the instructions first), washing it down and putting it back together.

Do you clean out your child's car seat often? If so, what tips do you have for putting it back together on the first attempt? Please share them in the comments.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Grandma wants you to have more children

For the decade I was with my husband before we wed, my extended family had one question for us: When are you two getting married? Every family reunion, wedding of one of my cousins or catch up phone call somehow elicited that question.

Then we married (on our schedule, not theirs) and the question changed to, "When are you two having children?" This, of course, has been followed up with "When are you having another?" after the birth of our first (and only) child.

To my mother's credit, she wasn't one of the people asking those questions (thanks, Mom!) Although, I am sure that if I were to have another child, she would be over-the-moon ecstatic, because she is one of those nurturing grandmothers.

And it turns out that the nurturing grandmother can actually influence parents into...

Actually, hold on for a moment. Ummm...Mom? Can you just stop reading here? I don't want to give you any ideas. The rest of this post is totally not interesting. Really. I'll call you later. I love you!

It turns out that the nurturing grandmother can actually influence parents into having more children. In a study done by the University of Eastern Finland, researchers found that grandparents who were available for emotional support and childcare help could actually sway their children into expanding their families. The study also found that children who had a high level of interaction with their grandparents were less likely to have behavioral problems.

Last year I talked about a very cool study which posited that grandparents were evolutionary necessary to the survival of the species. Of course, the human race is doing just fine these days, but I can't help but wonder if this is what the modern-day equivalent of that evolution looks like.

Do you rely on grandparents for help with your children? Share with me in the comments while I wait for a text from my Mom about having another little one.

Monday, October 27, 2014

You should text your mother

As mentioned before, my Mother is really good with technology. She blogs, she texts and she FaceTimes with her grandchildren. It turns out that this is really good - not just that she is adept at embracing new things, but it's good for my relationship with her.

Through a series of surveys, researchers found that adult children and their parents had the highest satisfaction in their relationship when there were multiple communication channels to choose from. Long gone is the phrase, "Call your Mother," as it has been replaced with the notion that adults now text, tweet and post updates to their Mothers and - most importantly - Moms are using those communication channels back. (The same is true of Dads, of course.)

This news, unfortunately, may just bolster my Mom's argument that I need to join Facebook. It would provide another way for us to keep in touch. I don't know why I fight her - Mom is usually right.

What about you? What communication channels do you use to stay in touch with your parents? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mommy is failing at school

Within the span of his short life, my son has been to two schools. He attended the first school from the extremely tender age of six weeks old and only left it after we moved, right before his fourth birthday. In that first school, he made his first friends, and there was a core group of them that moved from room to room. It became natural for me to know them and for them to know me. I've painted their faces, talked to them upon pickup, and had them over for play dates and birthday parties.

In the second school, I am clearly not paying enough attention. We recently attended a birthday party for one of my son's classmates, who I probably couldn't identify in a lineup. On top of that, there were lots of other mothers there who knew me and knew my son, although I had no idea who they were.

A few weeks ago, my son had some rough, non-listening days and his teacher mentioned him fighting with another boy. I had no idea who that boy was.

Clearly, I'm failing at school. And this is just the tip of the ice burg.

Because I don't know this school as well as the last one, I am unsure of how to navigate conversations with my son's school officials without sounding like a crazy Mommy. I have talked to them in the past about showing him inappropriate movies and recently, I had to talk with his teacher about what they were doing when he was acting out. I felt defensive and prickly in these conversations.

But I shouldn't. Because it's not about me. It's about my son, and we all want what's best for him. As this nationwide study from VitalSmarts illustrates, most parents are not doing a great job of handling school-related issues. To work on that, the study suggests we do the following:
  1. Use non-confrontational language.
  2. Seek facts and information only.
  3. Accept some of the blame.
And for me, I have an additional task: I need to volunteer more at his school and get to know the kids. If I know the environment he is in, then maybe I'll be a better communicator overall.

How well do you know your child's classmates? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Capturing everyday moments

Do me a quick favor: Scroll through your phone and find a picture of an everyday moment. Something unscripted. One where nobody is looking at the camera. It's hard to find, isn't it?

But those are the moments that matter. A Harvard Study posits that it's these ordinary moments that provide more significant context and meaning to people over time. Participants in the study created individualized time capsules based off provided prompts that included writing down a recent conversation with someone, and current thoughts and feelings about a particular day. After several months, participants sorted through their capsules and were able to reconnect with those everyday events on a much more meaningful level than they predicted they would.

I am the keeper of my family's childhood photos, and a lot of them are unscripted. Some of these are accidents - photos taken at the wrong moment which couldn't be deleted from the film but were kept, because we kept every photo at the time. When I look at these pictures, I see furniture that I had forgotten about, favorite toys that were discarded ages ago and even what I looked like crying. It's beautiful because it's normal.

So, how do I capture these everyday moments now?
  • Plan to take candid pictures. Yes, that sounds odd, but look for a moment of an everyday scene in your home - maybe of someone cooking dinner or helping with homework. Don't tell anyone that you have the camera out.
  • Write things down. I keep a journal for my son and write entries even when nothing extraordinary happened that week. It's from re-reading those entries that I can remember what foods he liked as a baby or the way he would sporadically start dancing for me.
  • Be mindful of your surroundings. What is my son doing as I type this? He is plopped on a pillow next to me playing on his LeapPad. It's raining and cold outside and except for my typing and his game, it's very quiet. He yells out "YES!" every time he wins a race, and it makes me laugh.
What steps do you think you'll take to capture the everyday moments in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Coasting in the classroom

There are several people in my office who stand while they work. I admire them. Because although I know I need to stand up more in my day, I'm not yet at the point where I am ready to raise my desk. (I'd have to stop wearing heels to the office, for one thing.)

But my standing co-workers have nothing on the kids in this article: These elementary school children are piloting a program in which they bike while they read. Imagine it: You walk into a classroom and see 30 children on exercise bikes while they are reading books.

In a world where children have less recess time than they used to, the bike-and-ride program is an innovative way to add exercise into an overly structured day. Children burn calories at their own pace. And there is an added benefit - the children who participate in the program actually have better retention rates on what they are reading.

My son likes to read with me. But we have to be selective about our reading times when he is ready to sit still and pay attention to the book. Otherwise, he acts like a little kernel of popcorn next to me - just ready to explode with energy, and I know he is not paying attention.

What if he was on a stationary bike while reading? Would the motion of his legs help him burn off his extra energy and focus more? We've talked before about boys being more restless in the classroom than girls, so maybe this is a good solution.

Would you want your child to bike and ride during reading time? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Sexting as the new first base?

I have a friend with a name very close to my husband's. And I have to keep that in mind, because every time I pull up my husband's name in my phone's contact list, his name appears first. He's a good enough friend, so I've actually given him a fair warning that if he ever receives an inappropriate or confusing text from me to ignore it. (And preferably delete it.) Because when I send messages about being out of soap or a sappy "wish you were here" note, it was definitely meant for my husband.

I don't think I've slipped up too many times. And, happily, I've never sent that friend anything resembling a sext.

This is probably because I don't really send sext messages to my husband. But, according to the latest research, more and more adolescents are sending them.

Based on data from the anonymous survey results of 1,000 adolescents, the research indicates that sexting doesn't necessarily lead to risky sexual behavior later on in life. But, it is an opportunity to have more conversations around sex and promoting healthier behaviors. Basically, sexting is like the new first base, only it's more permanent and can be shared across a wider audience. Which makes it a hard place to start a conversation from.

Better advice would be to start having conversations around sex earlier. Even earlier than you think you need to. A little information goes a long way - as long as it is appropriately addressed for each age.

In the meantime, I need to update my contact list to either change my husband's info to something more unique or alter my friend's name to something that isn't anywhere close to my husband's name.

A girl can't be too careful these days..

Are you worried about your child engaging in sexting? Tell me about it in the comments.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Adult children of divorce

As I have mentioned before, my parents divorced when I was young. There is no doubt in my mind that it was the best decision for both of them. There is also no doubt in my mind that it was a hard decision for them to make.

I was one of the only children of divorce in my Catholic school (no surprises there), but as I reached high school, I realized that I had a lot of company. I met a lot of children of divorced parents, each with differing custody arrangements. Most of them were in their mom's full custody and got to see their fathers on Wednesdays and every other weekend. Others spent summers with their other parent.

And now, we are all grown up and talking about it. Which is a good thing. Because we are being honest with what we wanted as children. All that honesty is helping out our modern-day counterparts. A group of studies reveals that what children of divorced parents really want is open access to both their parents. The studies found that the parents who didn't have full custody wanted more time with their children. The studies also reveal that children wanted more everyday moments (bedtime routines, days at the park and eating meals together) with both parents.

And of course, more time with both parents, was seen as a huge benefit to children. Moms and Dads bring different skill sets and dynamics to their relationships with their children. Allowing a child to experience those differences, even if their parents don't get along, made children the happiest. 

What did you want more of from your parents when you were younger? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Working out a workout schedule - for dads

Before my husband and I were married, we would go to the gym together. We would get home from work around the same time, change clothes and hit the gym. It was nice to work out together because we could motivate each other and still spend time together.

Fast forward to today. I run, but at 5 am when no one else in my family is awake. My husband and I talk to our son about exercise when we play in the yard or ride bikes on weekends, but it never feels like it is enough - I want to show our son what exercise is like, not just talk to him about it.

For all my talk about exercise, there is one person I've neglected: My husband. (Sorry, Honey!) And, if he is anything like a lot of other men, he may be finding it hard to balance time for exercise with work and other responsibilities.

A recent study published in BioMed Central Public Health takes a look at the struggle many dads go through when trying to find the time to exercise. The men in the study reported thinking that it was "selfish" to carve time out of their already packed schedules to exercise, choosing to spend that time with their wives or children instead.

I already know that my husband isn't interested in running with me at 5 am (for many reasons). But I would like him to know that if he wants to work out during the day, then I am happy to have the conversation with him. Maybe I'll take over end-of-day bath duties a few times a week or make sure he has the time he needs on the weekends. 

After all, having mom and dad healthy benefits the entire family. 

When do the people in your family exercise? Share the schedule with me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Creating an exit strategy

My son wants to live with the firefighters. He has told me numerous times about his plans to live at the fire station and be in charge of fixing the trucks with special tools. He told me he doesn't want to fight the fires, but he does want to be able to slide down the pole.

We talk about how firefighters are heroes, we visit our fire station on its open house days and he's been a fireman for Halloween (twice!). We've even covered Stop, Drop and Roll basics. But we've never talked about the escape plan for our home should we have a fire.

And that is a huge miss on my part that I have no excuse for. When I was young our house actually did catch fire, and we had to evacuate. My Mom, who was the only one home with me at the time, was very calm, so I stayed calm, too. (Thanks, Mom!) You would think that I would have made fire evacuation plans a priority as a parent, but so far, no.

The Red Cross recently released poll results showing that less than one in five families have practiced an escape plan, and only one third have identified a safe place to meet outside the home. 

So, that is something to work on. I want my son to know the basics - how to stay low and how to get out of the house, but I don't want to scare him. And I'm pretty sure that is a fine line.

Does your household have safety drills? If so, how do you explain them to your children without creating unwarranted fears? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Can I please just drive?

My son and I are on the way to the grocery store and my phone dings. I ignore it. It dings again. Then my phone rings. Normally, I have Bluetooth enabled in my car, but it is off right now, so I don't answer the phone. My son asks me why I don't answer the phone and my answer is, "Because I'm driving and people can wait."

I've written about distracted driving before, but technology has changed since then. And it turns out that even though we have new technology to help us go hands free, it may actually be making us more distracted. Instead of just hands-free, what we really need is mental-free.

Let me explain: When I first got Siri on my phone, I would ask her for information or to read my texts to me, but I found that she didn't always understand what I wanted. So, I would spend more time talking to her, slowing down the way I speak or talking louder - all of which was distracting me from the road. My concentration was definitely on my device and not where it should have been.

And suddenly I would look up from these activities and realize I hadn't really been paying attention. And that is a very scary place to be.

My phone wants my attention, but it can't have it. I need to get somewhere safely.

But, wait...there's more. You see, that link above isn't the only study about this issue. There have been several. The ones on that link actually take a look at the technology built into cars, asking participants to perform a number of activities including dialing a phone number and playing music. And, overall, the results don't look good.

Do you go hands-free with your devices in the car? Do you feel like it is more or less distracting? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A love letter to feet

When my son was three, he liked to play a game where he dressed up like either mommy or daddy. This mostly involved wearing our shoes. He would come clunking out of the closet with my husband's shoes on, struggling to lift his feet in them, or he would slide around in a pair of my heels and ask me, "how do you walk in these shoes, Mommy?"

But when it comes to his own feet, we've tried to be really careful. When he was learning to walk, we kept to the doctor's advice of letting him practice barefoot so he could learn to balance and figure out the way his toes gripped the ground. After he was walking on his own, we put him into a flexible shoe so his muscles could develop properly. Now, we take him shoe shopping every few months to make sure that his shoes fit him well.

There's one thing that we definitely do not do: We do not let him wear flip flops.

We are not a flip-flop family. My husband and I wear close-toed shoes everywhere but to the beach. I feel like we are in the minority these days, as I see people's toes all around me all year long. It really bothers me when I see children wearing flip flops all the time. I hear mothers chiding their little ones for slipping off their flips in restaurants or in parking lots because "the ground is dirty" and I have watched numerous children trying to run in thongs, trip and take a nasty spill.

There is a really easy solution to both those things: Sneakers.

The research is there if you want to read it: Flip-flops worn all the time are just not good for your feet. (Moderation always seems to be the key in life.) I want my son to be able to run at a moment's notice if I start a random game of "tag" with him.

What type of shoes do your children typically wear? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Why girls are making the grade

I sit with my son as he does his homework. I love watching him write the letters in his weekly sight words (he has beautiful handwriting) and the way he sticks out his tongue as he counts objects in sets. It takes a lot of focus on his part and on mine, too. Because if I don't sit there with him, he is not going to do it on his own. From his perspective, there are Legos to play with and adventures to be had; homework gets in the way.

I am so proud of him when he plows through it and gets it all done. Especially since reading that girls tend to get better grades than boys - and homework plays a big role in that.

There's a mix of issues going on here: For starters, girls are much better at what the authors in the article above call "self-regulation." Females mature a little faster than boys in areas of organization, goal planning and paying attention to directions. Boys will eventually catch up to girls in this area, but not until everyone is well out of middle school. By that point, it can be difficult to break bad organizational habits and teach new ones.

Then there is the issue of homework being such a large part of an overall grade. Even when I was in school, the nuns made sure we knew our grade breakdown: Part of it was tests, a bulk of it was homework and then there was a project portion.

So, those boys who are still learning how to self-regulate may forget their homework more often than girls or daydream in class and miss the assignment. That forgetfulness may result in a 0 score, which brings their grades down. So, how do we fix this?

I mentioned the other day about teaching myself to focus, using the same techniques I use with my son. But I also need to consider balancing his time out: Once he is done with his homework he can have free play time or Calvinball time or whatever he needs to counteract all that time he just spent writing the word "metropolis" over and over again.

But that's only going to take us so far. So, do you have any tips to help with the gender divide in getting homework done? What techniques do you use with your daughter that you don't use with your son? Please share them with me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Where have all the babies gone?

There's this weird thing that happens when you get pregnant: Everywhere you go, you see other pregnant people and parents pushing strollers. Granted, those people were always there before, but once you become pregnant yourself - join their ranks - you finally start noticing them on a massive scale.

But what would the world look like if there were suddenly a lot fewer babies around? A recent paper studying the effects of bad economies on birth rates points out that women in their early 20s during the start of the "Great Recession" in 2008 are far less likely to have children at all. The study's authors theorize that women in their early 20s are often at a crossroads in their decision to have children or not. By the time the economy has improved, women may be less likely to go back on that decision.

After reading this study, I wondered if this would be one that could be expanded to specifically include data about women deciding to have additional children. Are there mothers out there putting off having second or third children until the economy improved only to miss their chances?

I've talked before about having a single child, and I'm not sure if a better economy would have changed that for us. I love the time and focus I'm able to give to him, so I haven't given much thought to number two.

But what about you? Has a bad economy made you rethink expanding your family? Share your story in the comments.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Staying focused...as an adult

There's an app now to help you talk to people...you know, on your phone.

But, I'm not being fair, so let's start again.

I use my phone to call people, text funny pictures of my son and beat relatives at Words With Friends. I am well aware that I have not unlocked the true potential of my smartphone.

Then I read about Talko, which is the new app that combines voice messages, texting, video conferencing and more across multiple users. You can have a conversation with someone, invite some other people to it, pick up the thread of the full conversation later and even see if someone is stationary or on the move so they can join you. It mixes the present and the past conversation together to create one long-running thread.

And that hurts my head. So clearly I have some evolving to do.

Or maybe not.

I watch my son play and I am so proud of the way he is able to focus on activities. He plays with his Lego bricks intently, then cleans them up and moves on to trucks and construction toys. When he is done with that, he clears everything away before sitting down to draw me a picture. That ability to focus seems to precious to me.

Especially as I am slowly losing the ability to focus. Sure, I can make it through the "Dare you to watch this entire video" challenge and read through various long parent studies every week, but I find that my attention escapes me more often than I would like.

So, to work on ways to improve my own ability to focus, I'm taking notes from the way my son plays:
  1. One activity at a time. I don't care if the laundry buzzes. I am going to finish this blog post before I get up to switch it over.
  2. No phone nearby. My son doesn't have a phone to constantly ignore. Mine goes in another room when I am working on something else.
  3. Set time limits. I don't want to fall down the rabbit hole of online searches, so I set a time limit for myself to complete an activity. (Like in my beat the clock game.)
  4. Notify others. If you tell others what you are working on and when you will be available, they will be (hopefully) less likely to interrupt you.
So far, so good. (I made it through this post after all.)

What are your tips for teaching your child (or yourself) to focus? Share them with me in the comments.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Why I want my son to see me fail

When I was pregnant, I read lots of articles telling me that being consistent was the key to a child's well being. The articles detailed the same advice: Lay down the rules and follow through on them every time - even when you are tired. Make sure your child's caregiver follows the same rules that you do. Communicate the expectations and consequences clearly and often.

What can I say? I wasn't a mom yet and I was a bit naive. But after I became a mom to a toddler, I came to realize something very important: I am not a robot.

Consistency for children is great, yes, but I now think that flexibility is better. (At least in my family.)

I'm sure you've been there before: You set up a great outing for your children and weather or traffic or unforeseen circumstances get in the way. Do you give up and go home or do you have a backup plan? 

Everything we do as parents is not going to work out. I've long since accepted that. It's OK to let our children see us fail and then have them watch us figure out plan B. If they never see us revise plans and be flexible, then how will they know what to do when they experience failure in their own lives?

Am I screwing up? Yeah. Probably. But maybe I'm teaching my son to have a backup plan along the way.

Before you became a parent, what did you think you would never do that you are doing all the time now? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

It's 3 pm, and I can't remember what I'm supposed to be doing

For months, I've become interested in my son's memories: What will his first long-term memory be? What memories from this age will he retain?

But at some point, I've realized that I've started losing some of my memories. I think back to my childhood, and parts of it just aren't there: There are pictures of vacations I don't remember, names of friends that escape me, everyday moments of home life that I haven't retained and probably lots more.

So, I need to work on boosting my memory skills.

And, to do that, I need to pay closer attention to my calendar. Every workday, an alert goes off at 3 pm, reminding me to take a walk. By that point in my day, I need the vitamin D, and the exercise. But, I usually ignore the alert because I have too much work to do. And that is a mistake.

New research indicates that we should all be taking a walk around 2 pm every day - both to help us learn and retain information. The walk gives us a break from the day and allows us to focus our thoughts elsewhere. Basically, the walk puts us into diffuse mode, which is what most of us need to solve problems and retain information.

Of course, there are memory-boosting games that you can play online as well, but I'm looking forward to the break from sitting all day. And, honestly, we shouldn't really remember everything that happens to us (that's a lot for the brain to handle).

How's your memory these days? Share with me in the comments.