Friday, November 21, 2014

Having a second childhood

I had a fantastic childhood (thanks, Mom!). Even when my memories fail me, I have lots of pictures to look back on: Christmases full of presents, parties with lots of friends, family vacations to new and unusual places. (And caves...what was it with having children visit caves as part of a vacation? But I digress.)

I look at my life as an adult now: No naps. No playtime. Too many responsibilities. Overbooked schedules. Some days it looks a little grim compared with those sugar-coated memories I have retained. But when I compare my childhood to my son's, and all the amazing things he has access to in his life, I get downright jealous.

I think that is natural. Just think about it: On-demand television programming. Amazing toys. And even the classic toys got better. (How many Dads would have loved to visit a Lego store when they were little?) But as adults, it's how we deal with that jealousy that matters.

The first route is to become the curmudgeon know that parent. The one who is standing around at events having no fun and enjoys telling the "when I was your age" stories that no one wants to hear. Curmudgeon mom's children don't even want to play with her. (And I am fairly sure she is the one who gave my son Japanese cocktail peanuts on Halloween.)

The second route to never grow up. This is not just reliving the best parts of your childhood - this is the attempt to ignore responsibility as long as possible. I see a lot of "adults" who still rely on their parents for help making life decisions. Or want to go to camp for adults only. Or have playgrounds for adults.

But, I'm all about balance. So, I'll take the third path and embrace my son's childhood. This is the path where I chase him around on the playground equipment so we both get lots of exercise. And this is where zoos, science museums, planetariums and amusement parks have all become exciting again because I get to experience them through his eyes. I am still the adult, so there are still schedules to keep and rules to follow. But there is still fun for both of us to have.

And it's all thanks to my son.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Hey, Dads. Let's talk.

I fondly recall my husband holding our son, smiling at him and saying over and over again: "Da-da. Da-da. Da-da. Da-da." Our son smiled at him and laughed. And then, when he was six months old, our son said his first word: "Mama."

My husband and I try to be excellent conversational partners for our son. It was no surprise when he became an early talker. And today, our son talks all the time. But talking often doesn't come naturally to all dads.

The first voice babies usually hear is their Mother's. I know lots of pregnant women who talk to their tummies - even when they don't realize they are doing it. Not a lot of dads feel comfortable talking to babies before they are born, but babies pick up on their voices anyway.

But, once babies are born, research shows that dads need to speak up more. A study published in Pediatrics found that babies heard three times as many words from moms than dads. So here are a few tips to help dads talk more:
  • Tell baby about your day. Just think - you have a captive audience. It doesn't matter how technical or mundane your job is. Just take baby through what happened to you that day.
  • Tell baby about your childhood. Share what you loved or remembered or what you want your child to also experience.
  • Narrate what you are doing. Pretend that you are teaching someone a new skill and walk them through all the steps. Because, in truth, you are teaching your baby lots of new skills.
Would it feel awkward at first? Maybe. But if you keep it up, it will feel more natural and it's really fun when your child starts repeating everything you say.

Any tips to share? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More kids equals more stuff done at work

Parents develop skill sets that no one talks about. In addition to awesome time management and the ability to function on a lack of sleep, we also have the ability to make up songs on the fly, invent games to distract children while waiting in line and even build super-cool forts out of pillows and blankets.

And these skills translate well into the office environment. (Not the fort-building, necessarily...let's just file that skill under "creative thinking.")

Turns out there is research to promote that line of thinking: A study of 10,000 highly skilled economists, suggests that parents with multiple children are more productive at work. But the key to understanding the study is to realize that it spans decades.

When workers first become parents, their productivity drops. Lack of sleep, wanting to be home with their little ones and taking time off for doctor's appointments and other childcare needs, can cut into the working day. But, as children get older - into their tweens - parents' productivity levels increase. 

Of course, this study has its flaws - the research was based on one group of employed people and didn't track those who had left their careers to become full-time parents. But overall the results are encouraging.

So, when I get into the office tomorrow, I plan on turning my cube into an awesome fort.

Have you noticed your productivity increase as your children age? Tell me how in the comments.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The movies we watch

I have a confession to make: I really can't watch the movie Planes again. Or Cars. I've seen those movies way too many times. And, seeing as how I didn't really enjoy them the first time, each subsequent viewing has torn away a piece of my sanity.

But they are my son's favorite movies. And every time he earns a movie, those are the ones he chooses to watch. But we need to expand his horizons. Carefully. So, lately, when he earns a movie, Mommy gets to pick it. This is how we've watched Frozen, Aladdin and Tangled

Does my son like these new movies? Sometimes. Sometimes he just wants the familiar movies he is used to. And I get that - I am pretty sure I watched The NeverEnding Story and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory enough times to give my Mom a migraine. (Sorry, Mom!)

What I need to keep in mind when introducing my son to new movies is the content. Especially since we can't trust movie ratings anymore. Evidently, the longer you are exposed to violence, the more you become desensitized to it. This basically means that adults are a becoming a poor judge of the amount of violence that is appropriate for a PG-13 rated movie. 

In our household, we use Common Sense Media to determine which movies to try out or to give us a refresher on the movie's content before showing it to our son. It's reassuring to hear reviews from other parents and then apply that information to what my son likes in movies.

What about you? Have you let your children watch a movie recently that surprised you with the violence/language in it? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, November 14, 2014

How many children lead to happiness?

People love to ask me if I'll have another child. (I try to look at that as a compliment to my awesome parenting skills and not as an invasion of privacy.) My answer is very diplomatic and a little enigmatic, in that we would love a second child if one came along, but we are not currently planning to have one.

So, our son is an only child. And he's happy about it, because he knows he doesn't have to share Mommy and Daddy with anyone else, and he has our full attention. He has security in knowing that he is my favorite child.

What I didn't realize is that having only one child might lead to more happiness for me and my husband. The London School of Economics and Political Science in collaboration with Western University in Canada published a study which suggests that first and second children increase a parent’s happiness, at least temporarily. A third child or more, however, has a negligible effect on happiness.

In addition to the number of children, age plays a factor in parental happiness as well - older first-time parents (aged 35-49) seemed to be happier overall. 

I read all this information, still with the niggling thought in the back of my head of what life would be like if my son had a sibling. Studies show that siblings change us - sometimes for better or worse. And we've all heard stories from adults who are best friends with their brother or sister. But it's not a guarantee.

My Mom always wanted six children. I wonder what that would have done to her happiness level. What about you? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Let's talk about sex again

My son has an imaginary wife. And he loves to tell me stories about her.

Her name is Captain Flamers. She is a cowgirl and she was sick for a long time, but he took good care of her until she was better. She and he like to ride horses together.

"Do you kiss?" I ask him.

"Sometimes. We hold hands, too, because that is what married people do."

And thus continues the ongoing sex education conversation in my household.

Yes, it is important to keep the talk about sex age-appropriate and ongoing, but for most parents that is really hard. It sounds like help might be on the way. 

Planned Parenthood used information from a study published in the Journal of School Health to develop a Get Real sex-education program focused on middle school children. And early results indicate that the program is successful. The curriculum pairs in-school lessons with take-home assignments designed to start conversations between students and their parents. But in addition to talking about sex, the program also talks about relationships in a healthy way.

And that might be part of the program's success - to not just give children information about sex, but to give them the contextual information about healthy relationships - information that may combat what they see on television or in the movies.

What's the sex education program in your child's school like? Is it designed to involve parents? Tell me about it in the comments.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The year of no weddings

When I was in my mid-20s, there was a three-year period where every other weekend I had a wedding (or wedding-related party) to go to. I bought items off registries, made appropriate wishes for the bride and groom and tried to not make any wardrobe blunders caught forever in someone else's wedding album.

When my husband and I got married, it was a little later in our lives together. We'd been together for more than a decade, so it was not a surprise to anyone when we tied the knot. (In fact there was more of a "it's about time," feeling toward the entire affair.)

But maybe my husband and I were just ahead of the curve. Because according to Pew Research, the median age for a first marriage is at 27 for women and 29 for men (up from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960). So lots of couples are getting married later.

But that's not the really interesting thing about that study. What really astounds me is the reasons why so many people are waiting. 

Women are holding out for a man with a steady income. This shouldn't be shocking, considering the economic crises of the last decade. Let's take a look at the men: Their main reason? They are looking for a partner who shares their ideas about having and raising children. (Granted this is important to women, too, but their number one answer was around a spouse with economic security.)

It's really just wonderful to see that children still play such a large role in choosing the person you want to marry.

But all that waiting does have some drawbacks. At this point one in five adults ages 25 and older have never been married. And the research from Pew shows that the longer people wait, the less likely they are to get married at all.

Let's be clear here: All of those non-married people in that one if five statistic above are not necessarily single. Around 24% of them are currently living with a partner - it's just that the state of cohabitation hasn't resulted in a marriage.

So, what does all this mean? Fewer weddings to attend? Women having babies later in life? It'll be fascinating to see how this current trend plays out in the next few years.

How old were you when you got married? Share the details with me in the comments.

Monday, November 10, 2014

That's not the school bell ringing - it's your phone

I could tell open this post by telling a story about waiting in line to use a payphone in my high school to call a friend who was supposed to pick me up after sixth period. Or I could reminisce about when pagers became very cool and lots of friends at my high school had them.

But that would make me feel old, so let's just move on.

We've talked before about the right age to give your child his/her own cell phone. I heard from lots of parents who said that in addition to personal responsibility there also had to be a need. But I wonder if any of the current school cell phone bans came into play in that decision as well. After all, why would you give your child a cell phone if they couldn't even take it to the one place where they spent the bulk of their day?

But after reading this article about Mayor de Blasio trying to lift the cell phone ban in NY schools, it makes me wonder how much longer the bans will be in place nationwide. Is there a legitimate need for parents to be able to get in touch with their children throughout the school day? And should geographic location be taken into account for children who attend schools in high-crime areas?

In short - are the bans necessary to keep kids focused on their education or does the ability to stay in touch supersede that?

What about in your family? Does your child have access to their phone during the school day? If not, would you want them to? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Staying in sync with the kids

When I was in junior high school, my Mom worked a varied schedule. Sometimes she was there to pick me up right at 3:30; other days I would go into after school care until 5 pm. Sometimes a friend's parents took me home. (That particular Catholic school didn't have a bus.)

After junior high, we lived close enough to the high school that I could be a latch-key kid. I didn't think much about it at the time, but I am sure the fact that we were in walking distance was a huge relief to her - this way she wouldn't have to worry about getting me home. As an adult, I can appreciate all the planning and re-arranging of schedules she had to do (thanks, Mom!).

Nowadays, this situation is the norm: Parents work and children come home from school to empty houses (if they are old enough) or parents have to figure out a complex series of after school programs until they can be at home to greet them.

And my question is: Why? Why does the school day not align closer with the work day? The Family Studies Institute does a nice job of laying out the history of the school calendar and makes a nice case to align classroom studies with the work day. I'm not advocating that children spend all that time in the classroom, though. Maybe there could be a more varied schedule with longer recesses/breaks and time to start homework.

I know that it is easy to pick apart a smaller segment of a wider problem without thinking through all the repercussions (like teacher's salaries and curriculum and student burnout), but it is a starting point.

It's a tough choice: Have your child stay in school for longer or balance your schedule to be home in time with them. Which would you choose?

Would you want your child's school day to be as long as your workday? Let me know if the comments.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Helping boys remember

A few weeks ago, I thought my memory could use some work. But after talking with some friends about my memory gaps, I've determined that I have a pretty good memory. I can remember little details around my childhood; lectures that I attended in college and loads of details about my time with my wonderful husband.

Little things fade away - a bad movie that I saw, but still had the ticket stub for, the exact number of Cabbage Patch Kids I owned (I think it was seven) and even some of the plots of the books I read last year.

But the details that stay with me are part of my life's story. And knowing those details has to do - in a large part - with the way my Mom talked to me. 

From the ages of 2 through 6, we learn how to form memories, and researchers believe this is primarily done through conversations with our parents. When parents ask children for the details of their day - for their stories - it helps children form long-term memories around those events.

But here's the catch (because there is always a catch): It turns out that parents often have those conversations slightly differently with girls than they do with boys. And that slight difference may affect memory-making abilities, and may help explain why "men never remember anything."

Here's the difference: When talking to girls, Moms usually ask about feelings in addition to details about the event. By associating feelings with the activities of the day, more connections are formed around that memory in the brain, making it stronger. Boys are not asked about their feelings as much, so there are fewer "retrieval cues" in the brain to pull that memory out later.

So, the next time you ask your son about his day, you may want to ask him how he felt about a story that he tells you and draw out as many details as possible. Who knows? He may remember that story for the rest of his life.

Who has the best memory in your family? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Meals on the run

I am a fast eater. Probably too fast. Most days it takes me longer to prepare a meal than it does for me to eat it. This comes in handy for all those times I eat lunch at my desk (especially since I don't seem to suffer from heartburn), but it is definitely not something I want my son to inherit.

So, when it comes to family dinner, I am trying to slow down.

Family dinners are important. Yes, they can be stressful to plan out when you have two working parents and limited time in your evening schedule, but they can be accomplished. And when you do have them regularly, studies show that children are less likely to be overweight and feel more connected to their family.

But, here's the catch. If you clicked that link above, you'll know that to get all those benefits, you have to have a meal that lasts longer than 20 minutes. So here are the things I need to work on to slow mealtime down:
  1. More prep ahead of time. I try to chop and prep recipes on the weekend, because as soon as I get home from work, I start cooking. All of my racing around the kitchen to get the meal made puts me in a racing mindset. Less work to do while cooking, gives me a moment to catch my breath.
  2. Take a moment before eating. I like my food hot. Like, really hot. But maybe I need to let my food cool a bit before digging in. It'll still be hot, just not scalding, and my patience to eat will help lengthen the meal.
  3. Encourage talk. I am one of those people who likes to ask how everyone's day was at the dinner table. Then I try to tell stories from my own day. They aren't earth-shattering or always funny, but they are pieces of the life I live away from my family. I am interested in hearing how everyone spends their day.
  4. Draw out the mealtime with a game. I'm not encouraging anyone to play with their food. Rather, if we eat a meal quickly, maybe we should stay seated at the table and play a game or cards or a board game to keep the theme of togetherness going.
What about your household? Are you hitting the 20-minute mark with your family dinners? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Talking about TV

Hi. I'm Lauren. And I know nothing about television.

Let me explain: Sometimes when I talk to other parents, they will tell me about the shows they or their children watch. And I have NO IDEA what they are talking about. I watch TV, but evidently, I don't watch what they are watching. I try to remember the names of the shows to look them up later, but I rarely do. Was it a reality show? Something you can only see online? I guess I'll never know.

What I do know is that after talking with these parents, I get the sense that no one is watching television together anymore. And this would explain why there seems to be fewer and fewer "family shows," those magical bits of television that everyone can sit down to watch together and enjoy.

This individualized programming is a result of tv-evolution: When we were young and only had one television set in the household which only got a few channels, then it made sense that the programming appealed to a broader audience. But as families consume media differently - on different screens and on different schedules, variety has become the norm.

So, what's a Mom to do? Keep up with her own shows as well as the ones her children watch to make sure the content is suitable? Multiple studies show that because the values shown on television have shifted over the last few decades, that the conversation around television has to shift as well. And yes, we should keep up with what the kids are watching.

I consider myself fortunate: At this point, my son still only watches cartoons or Sesame Street. And we've had the conversation around fantasy versus reality. But as he gets older and his taste in programming changes, then our discussion will have to change: Reality tv is not reality; or parents are not as dumb as they seem on that sitcom; or all young adults aren't living the glamorous life that is projected on that show.

In summation: We'll have to keep having the fantasy versus reality conversation as he gets older.

What's your children's favorite television show right now? I probably haven't heard of it, but tell me about it in the comments.