Wednesday, December 31, 2014

I love my Christmas socks

An apology to my family: I know I am a pain to buy gifts for. Sorry about that.

But, I can say that it is probably my Mom's fault.

Every year my devoted and wonderful husband asks me what I want for birthdays and holidays. I usually tell him something like, "a weekend away." And he complies, because he is wonderful (as stated above). But he and my family sometimes get frustrated because I rarely want any material goods. (If he insists, I will tell my husband,
"Jewelry is always appropriate.")

This year - and only a few days before Christmas - I told him that I wanted socks. I love socks. Comfy socks. Soft socks. Fuzzy socks. Socks = warm feet = happiness. Lo and behold, Christmas morning arrives and that wonderful man of mine put socks in my stocking (very meta) and hung them all over the tree.

And I am delighted with my socks.

But why? Why does such a simple thing make me happy? It might be because the way my Mother raised me ensured that I wouldn't be very materialistic later on in life. You see, several studies have found that there are certain parenting tactics that have been shown to increase materialism in adulthood:
  1. Using gifts as a reward for getting good grades or accomplishments. (I was told that my job was to be a good student and that good grades were expected of me at all times.)
  2. Giving gifts as a way to show affection. (My Mom shows affection through food. Lots and lots of food.)
  3. Taking away gifts to punish children. (I was scared when my brother was punished, so I became a strict rule follower.)
These concepts are really interesting to me as I already think that my son gets too many gifts at holidays. But then again, he only had two items on his wish list for Santa this year. I wonder if applying the tips above could help keep it that way.

Full disclosure: My husband also got me jewelry and I love that, too!

Are you a minimalist parent or a plentiful provider? Confess it all in the comments.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Don't worry, Mom. I'm fine.

When I was a teenager and living with my Mom, I felt very responsible. She worked long hours and I was frequently home alone. I cooked, cleaned, was a good student and never gave her much reason to worry about me.

But, she is my Mom. So, I am sure that she did worry about me. But more on that in a moment.

The other day I heard a mysterious bonk coming from my son's bedroom. When I called up the stairs to see if he was OK and what the noise was, he responded with "Don't worry about it, Mom."

He's four. No scarier sentence has ever been uttered from his lips.

I checked on him in person, helped him clean up the mess of stuff that had fallen off his shelf, but stopped just short of telling him that I would always worry about him.

Because that's what parents do. We worry.

The good news is that worrying might not be such a bad thing. A few recent studies have shown links (weak links, but they are still there) between worrying and intelligence levels.

Of course, all that worrying has to be tempered with moderation. You can't spend your life in fear or you'll get nothing done. And that is why I didn't tell my son that I was worried about him. Instead, I told him that I was always interested in what he was doing, and it was my job to make sure he was safe.

Which brings us back to my Mom. Because there are times when life gets away from me and I forget to text her that I am fine. Does my Mom still worry about me? Yes, of course she does. She is my Mom.

What's the biggest worry you want to let go of in the new year? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, December 29, 2014

One car households

We have two cars in our household. One is my husband's (the DaddyWagon) and one is mine (the MommyBus). I use my car to go to work, sit in traffic, drop our son off at school and run errands on the weekends.

I'd like to be able to take public transportation to work, but it's not available where we live. So, we stick with two cars. But that might not always be the case.

A new study by KPMG predicts that within the next 40 years more families will have only one car, instead of two.

I was a late driver, not getting my license until I was 20. At the time, it was just my mom and I living together with one car. She used the car to get to work, and I walked to school and work, which were both close by. In college, I lived on campus and walked everywhere. (That was probably the healthiest time of my life with all that walking.) It wasn't until I had almost graduated that I had my own car.

My son, on the other hand, tells me that he thinks he will start driving when he is "around 10 or 11." (I don't want to crush those dreams yet.)

It's kind of hard for me to think of how much life would change for us with only one vehicle. I think about the times that my car hasn't started in the morning, and I've had to borrow my husband's. Or about taking a trip away for the weekend with my own transportation. Or even about what it would be like to have a teenager who is dying to get out of the house. How would only one car change all that?

How many vehicles does your household have? What are the pros and cons for keeping it that way? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Trying to stay off the "mommy track" at work

As mentioned in the past, I work for a great company with a great group of people. There are a lot of women on my team, and there are a lot of mothers. We understand what it means to be a working parent: We watch one another's backs and fill in when family emergencies arise.

But I realize this is a rarity. There are plenty of companies that aren't as understanding and just as many teams that are not as supportive.

And that lack of support can land working women on the "mommy track." This past week, The Harvard Business Review released a comprehensive study covering what happens to women when they try to mix careers and families. And it's not good news.

You see, once upon a time, it was believed that women were leaving prosperous careers to focus on raising families, but deeper research has concluded that women are really jumping ship from one company for another because they were being passed over for promotions or were unsatisfied with the path the company put them on (often referred to as the mommy track).

(Shame on those companies - maybe they need to realize that more kids equals more productivity.)

Additional information in the study revealed that career balance is still a struggle at home, too. At the beginning of their relationships, women believed their careers would be just as important as their partners, but the reality is that nearly 75% of men's careers had taken precedence over women's.

Clearly more work needs to be done to create a more level playing field.

Have you been mommy tracked in your career? Or has your career taken a back seat for your family? Share your story in the comments.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Giving your guy a break

My husband is a good family man. He takes excellent care of me and our son, and he participates in lots of family activities with us - even when they are no fun for adults. He is the kindest and best of men.

But I also understand that he needs breaks. Several times a year, he takes a motorcycle trip and hangs out with the guys. I've long understood that he needs this time away to re-energize and engage in a hobby that he loves.

And if I didn't realize that, then there is this study to tell me all about it. German researchers studying primates found that macaques experiences lower levels of stress hormones when they were hanging out with other males, versus spending time with the females and children in their families. The researchers then compared this data to human male behaviors. (Sorry, guys, but it is true, in this study you were found to be just like apes).

This seems a little obvious to me. But, what is odd is that there is no mention of females. Do our stress hormones lower when we are with other females? What about chick bonding time? I know that I always feel better when I hang out with my girlfriends for a long weekend. Do my primate cousins feel the same way?

I know that it is Christmas and everyone is all about family time, but when was the last time you had some time away from your family? Share the good memories with me in the comments.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

How old do you feel?

A few weeks ago, one of my coworkers asked me how old I was. She said she wanted to know because I seemed to have too much energy. I asked her to guess, and she said 28.

First of all, I thanked her, since I am actually in my mid-thirties. She seemed shocked and asked my secret. I explained that my son reminds me to stay young. He and I play lots of games, and I try to look at the world through his eyes. So, that means that I try to take everything with a grain of salt.

This must be working, because I feel young, which is a good thing. Early research suggests that the younger you feel; the longer you live.

So how do we stay young? This is what I'm trying.
  • Be active. The more we move, the more limber we are. The more limber we are the better we feel when we wake up.
  • Play more often. Build castles out of blocks, build forts with blankets and color whenever possible. I find that after some playtime, I am less stressed.
  • Play with friends. My husband and I play board games. My coworkers and I do silly activities together to keep us connected. It's OK to play as adults. (Just get your work done, too.)
  • Enjoy your own hobbies. I am trying to make time for things I like to do. If this means I have to let go of some chores, then that works for me.
  • Separate work and play. I do my best to not think about work after I leave the office. Home time is for family.
What do you like to do to feel younger than your actual age? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Why I'm OK with death in children's movies

At first it is disturbing: Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast, Finding Nemo, The Little Mermaid...no mothers. Most people notice the trend of parents (especially mothers) dying in children's movies when they introduce the classics to their children.

But then, you do some research and you remember that most of those fairy tales were based off older Germanic tales, which are actually much more disturbing then their modern-day counterparts. Also, in most cases, it is imperative to the plot to have the protagonist lose a parent (otherwise, they wouldn't have had to figure out life on their own.)

A recent study suggests that onscreen deaths of parents in children's movies far outstrip those in adult films. The study looked at popular children's flicks and compared them to the most popular adult movies that came out in the same year. And, basically, if you are a parent in a children's movie, you are probably not going to make it to the final scene.

But, overall, I'm OK with deaths (even parental ones) in children's movies. I'd much rather my son learn about loss from a movie than from a traumatic event in real life. We watch the movies together and talk about what it means to be an orphan or that families sometimes look different and not every family has a mommy and a daddy.

Granted, I still monitor it. My son has never seen the first five minutes of Finding Nemo, for example. We start the movie at the scene where Nemo is waking up Marlin. This is because I find that onscreen death particularly traumatic and it can easily be removed and the plot still works: Marlin is a single, overprotective Dad. Movie ensues. No one has to watch the Mom die.

Do you censor the movies your children watch because of parental on-screen deaths? Let me know in the comments.

Friday, December 19, 2014

What's your family look like?

I love my son's drawings. He creates rocket ships with lots of windows so the astronauts can see into space, city buses that also act as street sweepers, and recently, he started drawing castles.

But he rarely draws pictures of his family (probably because we are not as exciting as his other subjects). And that is OK for now, but I will definitely ask him to draw pictures of his family when he turns six.

You see, researchers have determined that the drawings of six-year-olds speak volumes about their home lives. Children who come from cluttered, loud homes will draw themselves as smaller in size and at a distance from their parents. Or they will draw themselves with indifferent faces and drooping hands.

Although this is not an exact science, the researchers who led the study believe they have come up with an objective way to look at children's drawings and measure them for happiness within the home.

But why at the age of six? The team indicated that younger children still have difficulty drawing or creating an accurate picture of home life, whereas older children may have the notion of a "perfect family" in their heads and draw that instead.

While I wait for my son to turn older so I can see what he really thinks about his home life, I will continue to cover my refrigerator with rainbows, flying cars and dinosaurs. Because, to me, those pictures are a very accurate depiction of our home life right now.

What kind of artwork covers your refrigerator? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dear Mom love letters

I was standing in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner when I heard my son's "serious voice" behind me.

"Excuse me, Mommy. I need you to read this."

He handed me a notepad, and on it he had written:

I WUD LIK FOUR YU T WRK WTH ME

Clearly I dropped everything to follow his message (I would like for you to work with me). I followed him upstairs where he wrote a note to his cousin - he wanted me to come because he wanted to make sure he got all the spelling correct.

As I watch my son sound out words and write down the corresponding letters, I can't help but be proud of him. I am not sure if I was turning out such well-thought missives at the age of four, but I do recall writing lots of notes when I was little.

And, it turns out that letter writing is a very good practice to encourage in young children. (Thanks, Mom!) Children who practice writing before they get into a formal classroom have been found to have better vocabulary and literacy rates, according to research published in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly.

Even more intriguing is the way parents can help nurture those writing skills by encouraging children to sound out the way they think words should be spelled. Once I read that research, I started encouraging my son even more - I don't care what the spelling he comes up with is like as I am only interested in the sounds he associates with each letter.

And since then, I have a drawer of handwritten notes from my son. What could be better than that?

Have you ever looked back at your childhood handwriting against your child's handwriting? How do they compare?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Stay in school, kids

As my son and I waited way too long to get a prescription filled the other day, an older gentleman started chatting with us. He remarked that my son was being very patient, and he asked my son how old he was. My son replied politely. (Proud Mommy moment.) My son then volunteered the information that he was allowed to talk to strangers but not leave with them. (Proud/semi awkward Mommy moment.)

The gentleman asked my son about school, and my son replied that he had fun at school and went every day, and he liked it when Mommy was able to come and get him early. The gentleman replied that when he was little he only attended school for half-days until first grade.

And that was true of me as well: I went to half-day preschool and half-day Kindergarten. (I have fond memories of the Kindergarten, because my Mom took me to work in the library with her in the mornings and I would help put away books and read for hours.)

As it turns out, recent research suggests that full-day preschool is the way to go. The study took a look at students who attended different length programs and found that students who attended the seven hour program (versus the three) could outperform their peers in language, math and social skills. Those students also had better coping skills when it came to Kindergarten.

I like this study, but wish it delved more into the curriculum. Obviously not all of my son's school day now is spent on learning activities, but the extra time spent with children his age is helping him with social skills needed for life.

Does your child attend a half-day school program or a full day program? Which do you think is better? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Yes, of course your phone is hurting your relationship

On the (sadly) rare occasion that I leave my desk for lunch, I take my phone with me. I know I cannot successfully walk and text, but I will usually type out a brief note to my husband on the escalator ride through my building, and maybe another note as I am waiting in line to order food. I am thankful for those few interactions with my husband on an otherwise rushed day.

Fast forward to being at home.

I don't want to see his phone at the dinner table, but sometimes it is there anyway. He doesn't want me to catch up on my games when I could be talking to him while making dinner, but I do. And sometimes both of us are ingesting alternative content while we are "watching" TV together.

Our phones are keeping us apart. And we're not the only ones.

Penn State researchers have released a study indicating there is a relationship between frequent technology interruptions and low satisfaction within couples. In other words: We need to turn our devices off.

Easier said than done, right? So, let's start with some rules that you can discuss with your partner and move forward from there:
  1. No devices at dinner time. Take back your family dinner and talk to each other.
  2. People in front of you come first. The ringing phone can wait - that is what voice mail is for.
  3. One screen at a time.
Yes, I know, it's hard to put the phone down. But I'm pretty sure your family is worth it. (I know that mine is.) Start small, forgive yourself for slipping up. And enjoy life in real time.

What's the one thing about your phone you really hate? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, December 12, 2014

My child is really special (to me)

My son is building a pirate ship behind me right now. Along with the construction work to create the perfect pirate vessel, he is telling me about the various adventures we are going to have once on board. There will be buried treasure, sword fighting and a daring rescue of trapped monkeys. Listening to the way his mind works is a privilege for me. In short, my son is one of the most amazing people I've ever met.

But, that is mostly because he is mine.

Don't get me wrong: I like other people's children. I love watching my niece's fearlessness when it comes to trying something new; I am the Mom who will happily accept hugs from my son's classmates, help them with their sweatshirts and celebrate their differences.

I know that my son isn't perfect. And I think it is OK to admit that.

Other parents, however, have trouble admitting that their children are anything but awesome. And it is for those parents that the Parental Overvaluation Scale was created. This very real, very useful test demonstrates the extent a parent feels that their child is more special than other children.

The test (you should click on that link - it is worth a read) goes so far as to invent facts and ask parents if their child knows about them. Parents who over-evaluate their children will claim that their child knows all about those made-up subjects.

Researchers took this test one step further and correlated parent's own narcissism and determined that the children of those parents were more likely to have unique names.

Maybe some parents need a wake up call. 

Do you have a child prodigy on your hands or just a normal healthy child? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

It's true: Your teen isn't listening to you

One of the hardest parts of being a parent is that you have this person in your life that you are completely responsible for, but you can't actually control. Yes, you can influence, encourage, support and punish this person. But, in the end, they are a separate individual from you and going to do things their own way and you just have to take a back seat and deal with it (preferably without losing your temper).

My son is only four. (I put the "only" in there as a constant reminder to myself to not ask too much of him.) And, like most little children his age, he has a listening problem. Actually, that's not accurate: He hears everything I say. He has a "following directions" problem. So, when I tell him to do something, he hears me, but he still thinks he has the option of choosing to not follow through on directions without there being consequences.

But, I expect that from his age. And this is great practice for me for when he becomes a teenager and his brain shuts down at the sound of my voice.

Researchers scanned some teens' brains as they listened to their mother's criticism, and they found that for a period afterward the area of the brain relegated to negative emotions increased, and the areas of the brain devoted to emotional control and social processing decreased. So, teens are listening, but they are unable to think of their parents point of view.

Is this true of all teens? Admittedly, no. The researchers need to have more controls in place around their subjects and the way conflicts are generally settled in their homes to make sure there isn't an element of bias in place before those brain scans began.

But, overall, this explains a lot, doesn't it? (Thanks science!)

We were all brats as teenagers. (That's why I apologize to my Mom so frequently.) What apology do you owe your mother?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Does milk still do your body good?

I grew up watching those milk commercials where a scrawny tween drank milk to capture the attention of an older, hotter teenager. And to this day, I drink milk. I don't drink the supposedly recommended three cups a day, but I do generally have a cup a day. From a young age, I bought into the whole marketing campaign: Yes, I want strong bones and teeth and I understand that milk provides me with the bulk of my daily calcium needs.

But, is drinking milk bad for us?

There has been a slew of research in the last few years that indicates that milk may not be doing us all that good. Like many people, I have wondered why human babies are the only species that drink milk long into their adulthood. But, again, I always thought that the benefits far outweighed logic.

As someone who takes her calcium levels seriously and who has a vitamin D deficiency, this is kind of important to me. My milk is fortified with something I have been told that I am lacking. Should I be drinking this beverage or saving myself those calories for something else?  

My son drinks milk too, and his is fortified with non-fish formulated DHA. I would never take the drink away from him if he wanted it, but now I wonder if I am setting him up for a lifetime of drinking too much milk.

I know there are lots of non-milk drinkers out there. So, here's my question. How are you hitting your daily calcium and vitamin D requirements without milk? Supplements? Other foods?

For now, I will still stick with milk - at least for dunking my cookies.

Milk or no milk? Tell me how you feel in the comments.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Google for kids

When I let my son use my computer, he is usually sitting in my lap (or I am right next to him). He likes to use the mouse, he likes to type his name and we watch videos of Sesame Street friends or PBS videos with child-friendly content.

Sometimes, when we are away from home exploring the world, he asks me a question I don't know the answer to (usually, it's science related). When he hears that I don't know the answer, he says "we'll have to ask the computer when we get home."

It won't be long until he is ready to start asking the computer things for himself.

To help us parents out a bit, Google has announced its intentions to make kid-friendly versions of its products - namely YouTube and Chrome. With the revamped versions, the under-13 crowd will see relevant search results, such as "Thomas the Tank Engine" showing up when children search for "trains."

The happy and hopeful part of me really appreciates this idea. After all, there are junior versions of board games like Clue and Life, so why not have a junior search engine that has results tailored to younger eyes? The skeptical part of me wonders what kind of ads are going to show up on those tailored-for-kid versions.

Either way, my plan is still the same. No matter what search engine we use, I will still be next to him, making sure he is finding safe links and websites to go to.

What's your child's favorite website? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, December 5, 2014

I am not cool; I am a parent

Take a deep breath and revert back to your 15-year-old self for just a moment. Are you there? Now, think about your parents when you were 15. Were they cool?

Probably not. And that is a good thing.

I recently went on a Disney Cruise and I did a lot of parent watching. I quickly lost count of the dads letting their sons get away with something and then reminding their sons that they were the cool parent. Or I would overhear moms snicker and gossip with their tween daughters in a catty way. I think we are all guilty of these things from time to time. Why? Because we want to be seen as cool - as one of the popular group - even when research shows it's not good for our children.

Parents are supposed to be grown-ups. Yes, we need to know how to laugh and play and nurture our children, but at the end of the day, we are the ones in charge of setting the right example for our children. We're the ones who have to teach them to think for themselves and not just go along with the group.

Does this mean we have to be super serious all the time? No. Feel free to embrace your inner dork, or Martha Stewart or whatever facet of your personality you want to share with your child. But you have to balance that out with showing your child that it is OK to have their own thoughts and opinions. It's OK to not be cool.

Easier said than done, I know. My son is still young, and I still have to remind him that I am his Mom first and his buddy second. Yes, I want to play with him, but I am still the boss. (We can be friends again when he has moved out of the house.)

Are you the cool parent in your household? Why or why not? Tell me about it in the comments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Let's pretend you didn't say that

When I found out I was pregnant with my son, I started curbing my swearing. Admittedly, it had gotten a little out of hand as I was working for a company that had a stress-inducing, boy's club environment, and f-bombs were dropped by multiple people in every meeting.

Several years and a different company later, my coworkers laugh when I say things like "drat" out loud, because almost none of them have ever heard me swear.

Of course, my son doesn't live in a vacuum. I know that one day he will swear in front of me, and I will take the best possible approach and ignore it (if he is little) or talk it through with him (if he is old enough to understand empathy). Research suggests those seem to be the best reactions. My entire hope is that he not pick up any swear words from me.

While I am waiting for him to shout his first expletive (probably in a public place), there are lots of phrases he utters that he has picked up from other people. The most noticeable of these being, "Oh my God!" 

Since we are not a religious family, I know that he doesn't know what he is saying. And I can tell he picked it up at school because of the context he uses it in. Generally, I just ignore it, but about a month ago, I wondered if I should give him a substitute phrase to admit his surprise and wonderment that wouldn't offend any overly religious person who may overhear him.

Enter the dinosaurs. 

During the month of Dino-vember, I had my son hunt for dinosaurs every morning. And when he found them I would declare, "What in the world?" Presto, change-o, 30 days later, my son is now using this phrase with about as much frequency as, "Oh my God!"

And this little experiment makes me really happy that the worst he'll hear from me is "drat." Because, like all children, he is listening to what his parents say.

Feel up to sharing your child's first swear word? Let me know all about it in the comments.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Why we don't eat cupcakes

We eat dinner as a family whenever possible. And although I have been a little slack about it lately, we try to eat our meals family style because they teach children about portion control.

What I didn't consider is that serving meals family style also teaches children about sharing.

Researchers conducted a survey of 466 Belgian students, and found links between sharing food at home-cooked family meals and altruistic behaviors. Students who ate meals with family members were more likely to volunteer, share their belongings and even give up their seat to a stranger on a bus.

The researchers were quick to point out that this behavior is seen when there is food on the table to share - so it doesn't work in situations where everyone orders their own entrees at a restaurant. But even small shared items - like a bowl of bread - helps children navigate fairness and shared goods.

And that brings us back to cake. As the researchers point out - a cupcake is a single serving, whereas cake makes children think about equality of sizing and frosting proportions. Cake is more communal. So, cake is king of desserts in our household. (And come on, who doesn't want an excuse to eat cake?)

Do you encourage your children to share their food? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hey, Mom! Watch this!

It is the echoing cry of children throughout the playground:

"Hey, Mom! Watch this!"

Sometimes it is followed by a trick you've already seen a dozen times. Sometimes there will be a new feat of brilliance or bravery. And, unfortunately, there will sometimes be the trick that doesn't go that well, and results in an injury.

The question is: Will you be watching?

I admit that when my son calls my attention over, it is mostly to see the first type of trick. But, I watch him and smile and he smiles back. Because even though we have some of the safest playgrounds ever designed (where are the merry-go-rounds that I used to jump off in my youth?) I am still scared that my son will hurt himself.

And, research suggests, that when that does happen, Mom or Dad will be distracted by their phone. Using data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (side note: did you know that existed?) researches are trying to correlate an increase in cell phone use and playground accidents.

Granted, I am not sure I agree with this study. After all, parents have been distracted by many other things throughout the years, like books, conversations with friends and even other children. The playground is necessary for children to run and explore and figure out social cues, but it can be terribly boring for adults. There is only so much running around after my son I can do before I get worn out and need to take a breather.

So, that is my plan. To sit and take a breather. To not take out my phone. To just enjoy the fresh air and the thoughts in my head and be ready for the next time my son wants me to watch him.

What do you do while your child plays on the playground? Share with me in the comments.