Friday, February 27, 2015

Don't wake that baby up

In our household I think about sleep a lot: Who is getting enough of it and how to get more quality sleep. I am obsessed over my own sleep as well as that of the bears I live with and help wake up in the morning.

At school, my son's class still has a nap time. And that surprises me, as I know most of the children don't sleep during that time. But I understand that sometimes their little bodies need a rest.

So, like many parents, I was confused upon first seeing the research that children older than two might not need a nap. But to even attempt to crack the code of children and their sleep, you have to look at the full picture: To understand your child's sleep patterns, you need to determine how much they are sleeping overall.

When we last went on vacation, I was amazed at my son's request to take a short nap in the middle of the day, since he didn't normally take them at home. But, he was smart: He was listening to his body. He had been running around so much (and he knew he wanted to stay up a little late); he knew he needed some sleep.

So how do you know if your little one is ready to give up that nap? These are some things to keep in mind:
  • There is no quitting naps cold turkey. Some days they may still need one; some days they may be OK. Watch for mood swings and let your toddler be your guide.
  • How hard is it for your child to fall asleep? Are they still rolling around in bed for a few hours after lights out?
  • How difficult is it for your child to wake up in the morning (bears aside)? Any harder than when they were napping?
  • How much activity was there in the day? Are they exhausted or just normally tired at the end of a fun-filled day?
Naps are hard to give up (for children and parents alike). The idea is to make sure that the amount of total sleep overall is best for your child.

When do you really really want a nap? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

You might be making your spouse fat

My husband and I both work full time. And there was a long period where we worked in the same company (albeit different departments). And we both worked really long hours.

Then we had our little guy and life had to change: There were more important aspects to our life together than work.

Fast forward a bunch of years, and we are both still working hard, but I am definitely working longer hours than he is. Thankfully, he picks our son up from school (I handle drop offs). But it is definitely me that is sending the text messages that I will be late and he should start dinner without me.

I miss that time with my family, but I didn't realize I would be adversely affecting their health.

Researchers from the University of Illinois have determined that when one spouse works late, it leaves less time for the entire family to engage in healthy activities together. Because there are fewer hours at the end of the day, those families tend to eat less healthy meals (if they even eat together at all) and may be getting less sleep staying up later in the attempt to spend more time with their other half.

Happily, I do all our family dinner planning and prep work on the weekends, so dinners are mostly taken care of at night. So, at least my husband doesn't have to work too hard to get dinner on the table.

But, I definitely would like to spend more time with them in the evenings. I know that I can't control traffic, but I should be able to control my work schedule a little more. That means I need to leave on time.

Honey, I'll be home soon.

Who works late in your family? How does it throw off your evening? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Beauty is skin deep

My husband recently took our son to a dermatologist for a rash, and I filled out the forms online before the appointment. One of the questions was about sunscreen: Did the patient use it daily and what SPF?

At this point the nagging feeling crept in that I do not put sunscreen on my son every day. A lot of days in cooler months I skip the step because we are in a rush or forgetfulness on my part, even though I know it is important to use sunscreen every day.

This is especially true as scientists have recently discovered that about half of the damage the sun does to your skin happens up to three hours after exposure. Just outside on a sunny day for a few minutes? Well, up to three hours later, UV is still damaging your skin.

As someone who already has a vitamin D deficiency and struggles with her relationship with the sun, this is not the best news.

But, it is fixable: I just need to make sure we are all lotioned up before leaving the house from now on - no matter what the weather.

Are you good about protecting your children's skin with sunscreen? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The book on the shelf

I recently took all my cookbooks to our used book store and traded them in for store credit. While there, I let my son choose some new books. He was super excited to go to his section and pick out whatever books he wanted (at only $2 per book, I said yes to everything he chose.) He chose some new Disney story books, a few I Can Read books and some Sesame Street books. He didn't choose any Dr. Seuss books.

I love Dr. Seuss. I still have as much trouble reading through all the tongue twisters in Fox In Socks that I did when I was little. And my parents still like to remind me about the time that I declared I was the Lorax when they were trying to cut down some pine trees in our yard.

But my son is not a fan. We've gotten him a few of the books, but he rarely picks them for story time at night. He tends to go for the books with a fuller plot, so I never push the issue.

Recently I read that there were some new Dr. Seuss books hitting shelves this summer, and that old sense of nostalgia crept in. Will I buy them? Yes, absolutely. Even if they only become books that I read to myself before bedtime.

What's your favorite Dr. Seuss book? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, February 20, 2015

While Mom is away...

At least once a year, my Mom girlfriends and I rent a beach house together. It's in the off season, so the place we visit isn't crowded. We stay up late, sleep in, wear pajamas all day, eat yummy food and drink wine. There are only two rules:
  1. Have fun.
  2. No husbands and no kids.
That first rule is easy to keep: With a dozen women sharing stories about motherhood, life and beyond, we are always laughing late into the night. 

The second rule is a gray area. You see, although our husbands and children aren't physically there with us, we still talk about them, still call them throughout the weekend and we still think about them. Most of us use the weekend to catch up on our scrapbooks, so we are even staring at pictures of our families the entire time we are away.

But, I believe it is still necessary to take the time away. When I return home I feel refreshed and recharged, ready to take on whatever craziness my almost-five-year-old feels like dishing out next.

When's the last time you had a girls' weekend? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lying to our sons

There are the lies that I intentionally tell my son: The tooth fairy, Santa, that dinosaurs come alive at night. And then there are the lies that I don't mean to tell my son, like that I will be home from work on time.

But it turns out that because I have a son, I am more inclined to lie to him about other things, too. 

Researchers who were trying to determine the origins of lying in children set up a few experiments where parents and children could win prizes. They discovered that parents would lie more often to help their sons win prizes.

With multiple studies showing that men lie more often than women, this is disturbing news. Why are parents lying more often to their sons?

We want our children to be honest, and in order for that to happen, we have to model honest behavior for them. Here are some ways to help put our children on the right path:
  • Don't set them up to fail. Don't want your child to lie to you about completing something on time? Make sure that your child has the time to complete all their homework/chores and still have free time. 
  • Remove the meaningless phrases. "Just a minute" (which I say to my son all the time) should be replaced with "I'll be ready after I finish this chapter in my book." I need to give him a more realistic expectation.
  • Show them honest behaviors. Return extra change you were mistakenly given in a store. Don't lie about their ages at restaurants. Don't tell them you are "fine" when you are frustrated by something.
What do you do to help your children be more honest? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Taking work stress home

My son loves my office. On the few occasions I've taken him to visit, he received lots of attention from my coworkers, treats, hot chocolate and got to play with the stuff at everyone's desk. He calls my coworkers "his coworkers" and requests to talk to them on the phone sometimes.

I love my work: It is rewarding and I'm good at it. Although I work really hard, I am pretty good at de-stressing in the car ride home. But, there are a few days when I am still mulling over office stuff at the dinner table, and those are the times when I need to admit to my son that I'm frustrated because of work.

It's only fair. This way he doesn't get stressed out trying to determine why mommy is frustrated.

Researchers conducted a study of how parent's work stress affects children, and they were able to find a strong correlation: Children whose parents enjoyed their jobs had higher self-esteem. The study also found that bringing work stress into the home and not talking about it gave children their own source of stress, as they would try to puzzle out what was bothering mom or dad.

The last time I admitted to my son that I was cranky because of work he gave me a hug and told me that it would be OK. He then made me a sign that says: "This is not an emrgncee" for me to hang in my office. (It's good to share our feelings.)

Are you honest about your workday with your children? Do they like hearing about your work adventures? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The full story of media abstinence for children

Before our son was born, my husband and I talked about what kind of environment we wanted for him. And one of the areas we agreed on was that we wouldn't expose him to a lot of media. The decision came from information from several sources citing that media use was not good for infants. 

Since that time, more research has been done, and a more complete story has emerged.

This piece from Time gives parents a better overview of what is going on with media and infant development. Like most things in life, it comes down to making good choices and moderation. Is some media use good for toddlers? Yes, as long as parents watch with their children and talk about the things they are watching. Parent interaction is the key.

Once you accept that, then you have to make decisions around which children's television shows you are willing to watch with your child. Sesame Street always ranked high on our list because of our fondness for the Muppets; Thomas the Train, however, bored us to tears. Barney was never going to happen.

It really comes down to your level of tolerance for children's programming.

What shows do you like to watch with your children? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, February 13, 2015

I'm supposed to be the funny one

A few weeks ago at lunch, my coworker and I played a game of "we can guess your birth order" with the rest of our team.

At its basic level, birth order predicts that the first born will be extremely mature and a high-level achiever; middle children will be extremely diplomatic; and the last born children will be more creative and funny. So, my coworker and I went around the table and predicted who was the first-born and who was the baby of the family. We got a perfect score.

Until my coworker tried to guess for me. She was amazed that I was the baby in the family.

If you've never read up on birth order characteristics, I highly recommend it. They are a fascinating look into how much parental attention influences behaviors. The recent studies on the topic all seem to bolster the results researchers have been seeing for years. But, it is important to remember that all children are different.

My son is an only child. He is also first born. Because of that, he basks in his parents' attention, has a high achievement level and adult-level vocabulary skills. But, he is also highly creative and tries to be funny.

You see, birth order isn't an exact science. So it is really fascinating to me when it goes awry. I am the second child - the baby of the family. According to birth order studies, I should be the creative one (I do like to scrapbook), the funny one (I am a delight at parties) and more easy-going (I am very flexible). But I also buck the trends: I display a startling amount of "first born" characteristics in that I am highly organized, highly responsible and very self confident.

So what happened here?

I think that birth order is a fascinating topic, but I also think that a lot of who we become is based off the challenges we overcome in our lifetimes.

What's your place in the birth order of your family? Do the characteristics define you? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Boiled pigeon's feet for dinner

It's 6:30 pm. I've put in a nine-hour day at the office, I've just gotten home and I'm at the stove. I am sauteing, chopping, and seasoning something delicious, when my son comes downstairs.

"What are we eating for dinner?" he asks.

"Straw-and-hay pasta," I answer.

"What am I eating?" he asks.

"Straw-and-hay pasta," I answer.

He immediately crumbles to the floor. Never mind the fact that he loves the dish. Never mind the fact that every time he eats it he asks for seconds. It's not what he expected, so he'll reject the dish until we actually sit down to eat dinner.

My son is a picky eater.

But it turns out, that there several different kinds of picky eaters. Researchers at the University of Illinois have been studying picky eaters and have defined four different types:
  1. Sensory-Dependent eaters who are wary of taste or texture.
  2. Behavior Responders who reject foods not prepared in the "right" way.
  3. Preferential eaters who refuse to try new foods.
  4. General Perfectionists who like little variety in their diets and insist foods not touch on their plates.
The researchers say that the majority of children who are picky eaters fall in the fourth group. But, my son is definitely in the third group: He is horrified at the thought of trying new foods (or foods that he has eaten in the past but doesn't recognize the name of.)

So, to help combat this, Mommy has gotten a little more creative with her meal names. I like to tell him that we are eating something disgusting, like boiled pigeon's feet or cream of cactus soup or carpet lint pie, because whatever I actually do serve him has to be far better than that.

Do I wage a war every night at dinner? No. (I want to stay sane, after all.) Instead, I push my son to try new things when I think he will genuinely like them, make him alternatives when I know he will not and generally remember that no child will let himself starve.

Do you have a picky eater in your household? What kind? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

I'm stalking myself

I asked for - and received - a fitbit for Christmas. I thought it would make me move more throughout my day. And maybe it does. But what it has really done has made me obsessed with my sleep.

Every morning, I sync over my data and look at my sleep efficiency. I stare at the magenta areas: What is waking me up? (the cat? the end of an REM cycle?) And why don't I remember being awake for 11 minutes at 3:27 am?

I am stalking myself.

In my weaker moments, I have considered putting one on my son to see what his sleep patterns are like. He is such a heavy sleeper - way more like his bear father than his bee momma. Is he getting enough sleep?

But, until I break down and do that, I will celebrate the one area of sleep that I know I am getting right for both of us: The bedtime routine.

For my son, we do the same things every night: Bath, pajamas, brush teeth, read books, tuck in, lights out (It goes much smoother than it used to). And that routine, according to the latest National Sleep Foundation Sleep in America Poll, is good for my son. The study finds that children sleep better overall when they follow a bedtime routine.

And I can appreciate the predictability and comfort a bedtime routine gives. To this day, I have my own bedtime routine, which I follow whether I am at home or traveling. There is something familiar in the steps - in not having to actively think about what I am doing next that prepares my body for sleep.

Of course, now as I snuggle into bed and try to fall asleep, I am wondering what sleep data my fitbit will collect on me during the night. And I am sure that is keeping me up.

What's the bedtime routine like for your children? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Hacking the idea of traditional homeschooling

The first portion of my education was handled by nuns. Although there were other teachers, the nuns served as school principals and shaped my little mind and didn't teach me enough science.

But my Mom was a natural teacher (thanks, Mom!). As a stay-at-home Mom for the first eight years of my life, she always had time to greet me after school, help me with my homework and do supplemental learning activities with me.

She would have been an amazing homeschooling teacher, if that was the route she wanted to take. But homeschooling at that time was not as popular as it has become today.

This long piece from Wired takes a look at a new type of homeschooling household: From the household of techie parents. More parents who work in the tech industry have started homeschooling their children as a way to foster more creativity and independent thinking - tenets that many tech industry companies value.

The article discusses how advances in technology have allowed everyone to have access to information, so the question for parents who homeschool their children has changed from "Is this something you have to learn?" to "Is this something you want to learn?"

Homeschooling is not a feasible option for our household. And, although I'm going to keep my little guy in traditional school, I am interested in supplementing his learning the way my Mom did with me. The article is correct - the information is all out there already - I just need to ask my son what he is interested in and take it from there.

Do you homeschool your children? What's the biggest challenge you've faced? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sharing the wealth with your children

I try very hard not to think about other people's money. I don't like to speculate on how much my coworkers earn or how much my extended family earns. I grew up believing that it was rude to ask people how much money they made, and that it was none of my business.

But there's a new theory that encourages parents to share their income with their children that I really like. The theory is that money (like sex) can be a taboo subject when you are growing up. That sense of secrecy around parents' financial situation can become a source of stress for children. If the subject isn't addressed, you may be raising someone who is unable to handle budgeting or financial decisions as they become an adult.

I already have age-appropriate conversations with my son around sex. It's time for me to start those age-appropriate conversations with him around our family's expenses. Clearly, I can't tell my almost five-year-old what my yearly salary is (five-year-olds are not known for their discretion skills), but I can start him off slow. Here are some of the ideas I am trying out:
  • Use cash at stores. This is a bit of extra work for me, since I usually use my debit card, but worth it for now. My son knows that money has different values, but because I use my debit card, he doesn't see money in action. With cash, he can see the money being spent.
  • Make value equations for him. The value of his weekly school tuition might not make sense to him, but if I show him how many toys we could buy with his weekly tuition (and then remind him that education is more important than toys), I think he would start to understand.
  • Ask him questions back. If my son has a question about money, the best thing I can do is ask him, "Why do you ask?" His answer will give me the time I need to frame my response and let him know that his curiosity is OK.
How do you talk to your children about money? Share your tips with me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

When money matters

Like most parents, I try to do activities with my son that do not cost lots of money. I'll get him to go on a bike ride with me instead of taking him to the bouncy house. He'll play guitar with his Daddy at home, rather than go to a music instructor. We play a lot of board games.

But then, there are times that I do spend the money on activities for him, like signing him up for soccer at his school. We aren't a sports-oriented family and its a good way for our son to learn team play. And we are really fortunate that we are able to pay for that additional activity without negatively impacting the family budget.

But a lot of families aren't able to pay for those additional activities for their children. And that makes a big difference.

The Council on Contemporary Families released its latest study reviewing family practices between children raised by two parents and those raised in a single-parent household. The study found negligible differences across family types (single or two-parents) in the areas of reading together, monitoring television viewing or taking meals together.

The main area of difference was around extracurricular activities. Children of single parents or those who had living arrangements with two sets of married parents had "lower participation in the extracurricular activities that have been shown to contribute to better grades in high school and increased college enrollment." For more on the increased importance of extracurricular activities, check out this article from The Atlantic.

The study theorizes that the children who do not participate in those activities are often also living below the poverty line and their parents are unable to afford the fees or do not have control over their working schedule to transport children to activities. 

There are a lot of takeaways from this report, but the main one for me was that parents are trying their best to give their children what they need.

What are some no cost activities that you enjoy doing with your children? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The family business

My husband wears a lot of different titles: He is the love of my life, a dynamic dad for our son and my best friend. I also like to think of him as my business partner.

If you were to take a step back and look at our family as a business (romantic, I know), you would see that we have an excellent partnership. I don't like doing yard work; he mows the lawn. I do the majority of the meal planning and cooking; he stays out of the kitchen. We handle our own laundry. We have very similar ideas on parenting.

In short, business is good. Which is good for our family.

And maybe it makes sense to think of your family as a business: Several new studies, like this one, mention that both women and men are looking for more equal relationships - ones in which parenting, chores and work are split 50/50. The problem, according to most studies, is that equality options are not available to most people. Women find themselves "mommy tracked" and still handling the majority of the household chores. Men still feel pressured to be the breadwinners. (Side note: I wonder how in-depth the questions on those surveys are: Do they cover actual chores like cleaning the bathroom? Or are they more abstract questions?)

But parenting is one area where men and women should form a solid partnership. Pennsylvania researchers have found that co-parenting training actually helps children be better equipped for school. Parents who go through the training report to feel better support from their spouse and act like more of a team in front of their children. And children pick up on that partnership spirit and show better adaptability when they get to school.

Do you ever think of your family as a business? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Looking for a few good women

I went to a college with a much higher ratio of women to men. This was by choice. All the schools that I considered had a higher percentage of women in attendance. Something about that made me feel safer, and since I was dating my eventual husband at the time, I was quite happy with the breakdown.

Many years later when I discovered we were having a son, I was especially ecstatic, since I worked in an office where all the new babies were girls. I was so happy to have a little guy on the way. At the time, I didn't know that statistically, there are more boys born than girls, but because women tend to live longer than men, there is generally thought to be a gender balance across the world.

But not right now.

Right now, men outnumber women on the planet by 60 million. Quartz has this great breakdown explaining how the numbers have shifted away from 50/50. Really fascinating are the locations where girls are missing (China and India) and where ladies can't get find a single man (Hong Kong).

Right now, my son's class has more boys than girls, and I'll be interested to see if that trend continues.

Is the distribution of boys and girls in your child's class even or skewed toward one gender? Tell me in the comments.