Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Something new to worry about: Passing along anxieties

When I let my son watch Finding Nemo, I always start it at the scene where Nemo is waking his dad up for the first day of school. I know that fairy tales and children's movies have a long history of removing mothers from stories because moms represent safety and security. But in the case of Finding Nemo, I think that the opening scenes are a little too traumatic. My son is perfectly able to understand that Marlin is an over-protective dad to Nemo without viewing the tragic origins.

And, overall, Finding Nemo is a great story about adventure and friendship and growing up and being brave. But there is one thing that it really gets wrong: Anxiety-ridden parents don't produce brave, independent-thinking children; they produce anxiety-ridden children.

Yes, I know that I am using a movie with talking sea creatures as an example. Go with it and let's focus on the important part.

In a study by the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience at King's College London, researchers have found that overprotective parenting skills tend to make children feel more anxiety. By researching both twins and non-twins, researchers were able to determine that anxieties are more "contagious" than they are "genetic." How serious is this? Some children in the study were being treated for anxiety disorders by the time they reached age 11.

How can parents help combat their overprotective natures? Here are a few tips:
  1. Relax more. I wrote about this earlier in the week, and I know that it is easier said than done, but it really does help.
  2. Let your child take age-appropriate risks. Maybe back off a bit from the playground and let them explore on their own, or at the very least, don't run over to your child every time they fall. They are probably fine (maybe just a little dirty).
  3. Avoid your triggers. If you are one of those parents who always wants to talk about the latest news story about a child abduction several states away from where you live, then maybe you should stop watching so much news.
  4. Seek out therapeutic exercises to help you control your own fears.
  5. If know you'll be in a stressful situation (like if you are at a children's birthday party but don't like crowds), maybe pass that parenting chore off to your spouse or someone else in your family.
I know that all this is easier said than done. But isn't it worth trying?

Do you have any other tips for ways to keep your anxieties under control? Leave them for me in the comments.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Adding up the little things

Our dinnertime conversations have become quite formulaic: We talk about the events of our days and if we are close to a weekend, we share any upcoming plans. (If it is slow going, I will tell a fanciful story about my day that features a dragon just to see if anyone is paying attention.) Some nights this goes better than others. We ask a lot of specific questions about our son's day, but we find that he doesn't have a good recall for the mundane (questions like "what did you eat for lunch?" and "what games did you play outside?" usually prompt shrugs or no responses).

My husband and I try to include our son in the conversation around our days - he knows who our coworkers are and we try to explain concepts to him in simple terms. And it is when we are breaking down these simple concepts that we end up talking to him about math. This usually happens when I explain that mommy just got four new members on her team and we add them to the existing number or when daddy makes up a math problem to solve.

And this is what we are supposed to be doing: Talking about math at the dinner table. In this - albeit small - study, researchers found that talking about math at the table gave preschoolers a better grasp of concepts and that they did better with math academically. Two things I felt after reading this study:
  1. This seems like common sense. I would think that any topic that is reinforced at the dinner table would help a child's performance - from math, to vocabulary to science.
  2. There is an organization called Bedtime Math that has a daily math problem to challenge your child with, which I will be signing up for as soon as I am done writing this post.
All of this conversation around dinner table topics reminds me that I have these flashcards of conversation topics for children and adults. I should really leave those out at the dinner table. I can only talk about seeing dragons at work so many times.)

What are the hot topics for discussion around your dinner table? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Relax, Mom

I was sitting in the living room reading a book. My son wandered downstairs and climbed into my lap.

"You haven't checked on me in a while," he said.

"That's right," I answered. "You have free time to do what you want to do, and you know the rules of the house, and you clearly know where I am, so I'm not worried about you. You're a big kid."

He beamed at that and then asked me what I was doing.

"Reading my book," I said.

"And then what will you do?" he asked.

"I don't know." I said.

"Don't you have a plan?" he asked in a way that made me slightly regret teaching him what that word meant.

"Nope," I said. "Sometimes it is good not to have a plan. Sometimes it's good just to relax."

He hugged me and went upstairs. I have no idea what he did, because I did not follow him. I went back to reading my book.

He was happy; I was happy.

Too often I think about my over-scheduled adult life - the meetings, the chores and the obligations. There is little time for me to relax, unless I make myself do it. Does it seem odd that I schedule relaxation time in my day? Yes. But, that is the only way I've figured out how to make it happen.

I want to set a better example for my son. I want him to know that it is OK for us not to just see what happens. I want him to know that it is OK for Mom to relax.

What do you do to relax? Take a deep breath and tell me in the comments.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Mommy Wars: Stay at home or Go to work

When my brother and I were little, my Mom was a stay at home mom (thanks, Mom!). When we got older, she got a job to provide for us (thanks, Mom!). And even though she wasn't home after school or couldn't be around to make dinner every night, we turned out fine. We knew we were loved.

Now that I am a mom, I read debates about these choices all the time: Is it better to be a stay at home mom or a working mom? Stay at home mothers explain that they don't want to miss out on their children's lives and that they often gave up a career because their children are more important to them. Working moms talk about the pressures of work life balance and not having one aspect of their lives define them as a woman. To shut down any arguments, most people contend it is a personal choice and there is no one right answer.

But for many women, it isn't even a choice: They have to work so their children will be taken care of. Their paychecks put food on the table. And sometimes when we get caught up in our discussions about what a Mom should do for their children, we forget that.

So here's a toast to Moms - stay-at-home, career-oriented and everything in between - and the amazing way they take care of their children.

What do you want to praise another Mom for? Leave your shoutout in the comments.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Talking about our weight

My son likes to tap on my fitbit. He likes to see how many dots I have and (after I explained what the dots are measuring) he encourages me to move around more to get all my dots for the day.

Most parents admit that they are uncomfortable talking with their children about sex or money, but those are both necessary conversations to have if we are preparing our children for adulthood. I'd like to add a third topic to the uncomfortable conversations list: Health.

Specifically: About the effects of being overweight.

It's no secret that there is an obesity problem across the world and it is affecting adults as well as children. But it is surprising that we, as parents, have a hard time seeing our children as obese. According to the latest research, we explain it away with excuses and don't face the problem head on.

We also don't present good behaviors for our children to model: They don't see us exercising so why should they? I run. I don't like it, but I do it. When my son asked me why I ran in the mornings, I was very honest with him. "Mommy is overweight," I said. "I need to lose weight and be healthier. Running is a good form of exercise to help with that. It is also good for my heart."

That's wasn't easy for me to admit (who wants to tell their child they have a weight problem?), but I wanted him to understand that health is something to take seriously. We talk about being healthy and eating the right foods and exercise now so that we don't have to have a harder talk with him later on in life.

Thankfully, according to his latest checkup, my son isn't overweight. But it is something that I want to keep an eye on.

Because I have a son, I know he will not face the same "ideal body" pressures that young girls face. So, tell me, what are your tips for discussing health and weight with daughters? 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Self control and lollipops

There was too much candy in the house. My son had a candy stash that contained loot from Halloween, Christmas, birthday parties and Easter. I rooted through the stash and discovered that there were a lot of lollipops.

I've never had anything against lollipops. They are surprisingly delicious at any age. We don't often give them to my son, however, because we usually only let him have candy after dinner and we discourage him from choosing lollipops - they just take too long to eat before bath time.

So, I gathered up all the lollipops, stuck them in a cup and put them in his play area. I told my son that he could have one whenever he wanted - as long as it wasn't right before bedtime. I told him he could eat them, but we wouldn't replace them when they were gone. Then I sat back and watched.

At first he seemed incredulous. "Really? They are free-to-me lollipops?"

"Yes," I answered.

So, he ate one. Then, about an hour later, he came back for another one, reminding me that he could decide when he had one. I reinforced that idea for him. The next day, he ate another two and finally stopped feeling the need to remind me that he had control of when those lollipops could be eaten.

On the second weekend of this experiment, he pointed out that he was running low on lollipops. I agreed and explained to him again that once they were gone, they were gone. He didn't exactly ration the rest of them, but he definitely slowed his consumption rate of multiples a day to one a day. When his stash was empty, he let me know that he liked having "free-for-me, anytime lollipops" and would like to get some more.

I haven't replaced the lollipops (still too much other candy in the house). But this little experiment taught me that my son had really great self control. And considering that is one of the traits that parents want to teach their children the most, that makes me really happy. At any point of time, he could have gorged on lollipops, but he stuck to only eating about two a day.

How do you help teach your children self control? Leave me your tips in the comments. I am off to root through his stash to find another candy to leave in the "free-to-me" cup.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Having two too close together

I know someone who had her children in quick succession. For four years of her life, she was either pregnant or had just given birth and was breastfeeding. She is a happy mom of three children today, and she doesn't regret her decision to have her children be so close in age.

I admit that at this point of my life it is hard for me to even contemplate going back to diapers and starting daycare again. So, to me, the idea of having your children in close succession made sense. Until I started reading about the toll it takes on your body.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released data indicating that a third of U.S. women are having children only 18 months apart. The timing matters because the shorter the time between pregnancies, the higher the risks for adverse health outcomes - for both mother and child.

One important aspect of this study to keep in mind though is that it is the first of its kind. There is no comparison data in place to determine if spacing has increased/decreased/stayed the same over the last decade.

The other interesting portion of this study was that around 20 percent of women had their children spaced at 5 years apart or more. If you are a fan of birth order studies (like me), then you'll recognize that the 5-year span is optimal for having two children with "first-born child" characteristics.

How soon did you wait between your pregnancies? Share your dates in the comments.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Learning like Mommy does

When I was little, I was one of those nerdy kids who really liked school. (Shocking, I know.) I loved my teachers, I liked to learn new things and I even played school on the weekends.

Even in higher grades, I still really liked school. Sure, I was more fond of some subjects than others, but overall, I understood that system and thrived in it.

And because of all that, my son has a pretty good chance of also really enjoying school, too.

A couple of Ohio State University researchers studied 13,000 twins across more than six countries to determine what influenced a child's ability to learn. All the students - aged 9 to 16 - were asked to rate their own ability in different school subjects as well as how much they liked various subjects. The researchers then compared answers for fraternal twins (who share half their inherited genes) and identical twins (who share all their genes).

Researchers were surprised to learn that identical twins' answers more closely matched than those of fraternal twins, indicating that the differences in a child's motivation to learn could be explained by their genes.

Yes, yes, is neat. But how is this useful? Well, it may be a good idea to think back to when you were in school: Did you enjoy it? Now ask that same question of your spouse. If one of you thoroughly hated school, then you'll need to find out why so that you can think up ways to address those issues if you see your little one following the same "I hate school" path.

Were you a nerd in school? It's OK. Let's exchange notes in the comments.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The stigmas of womanhood

I was in the store with my son, when a woman remarked at how well behaved he was being. I smiled (because I was filled with mommy happiness at the compliment) and agreed - he is a really great little guy. Then, the conversation took a turn for the worse.

"Is he your only one?" she asked.

"Yes." I said.

"Oh, he needs a sibling," she said with an unjustified pompous air.

Let's forget for a moment that this women is a stranger. I took a closer look at her - she is around my Mother's age. And she has judged me for having only one child.

It is shortly after this exchange that I read Time's piece on the stigmas women still face every day. It is scary to think that in today's modern world, women are still judged for their choice to remain child free, to not marry or to only have one child. Reading through that piece reminds me how much women have had to fight to make their own decisions and how deeply ingrained people's world views are about women. Heaven forbid we should choose our own paths in life that lead us to happiness and that everyone learn to accept it.

Baby steps, I know.

As for the woman in the store. I responded the same way that I always do when strangers overstep their bounds:

"Thanks for your opinion, but we're happy the way we are."

How do you deal with the stigmas surrounding womanhood? Leave me your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

In case of emergency

When I was in my mid-20s, I learned that a friend of mine had listed me as her emergency contact. Thankfully, I didn't learn this information during an actual emergency. Rather, after hanging out one night she admitted that it was hard being far away from family, and even though she lived with her boyfriend, she had me listed as her emergency contact on all her forms.

I was flattered and floored, and then another friend of ours piped up and said, "Yup. I would totally trust Lauren to take care of me if there ever was an emergency."

I've long since moved away from that friend and hope that she has another person in her life that she trusts when life throws the worst her way.

As for me, my husband has long been my emergency contact, with my backup contact as my Mom. Both of these people are - of course - my family. But it turns out that lots of people don't list next of kin in case of an emergency. Instead, they rely on friends.

Yale University researchers found that a higher than previously thought number of people are listing nearby friends to make life-saving decisions for them should a medical emergency arise. The study doesn't really delve into why, but it is easy to think of those scenarios in which family members live too far away or - with the higher rate of unmarried folks - are not an option. Those people create a family of friends whom they rely on to have their best interests at heart.

Who do you want to make medical decisions for you when you are no longer able to do so? That's a question that I've often wondered about my family members. I'd like to know now, rather than finding out in case of an emergency.

Who's your emergency contact? Do they know? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The PSAs that still haunt me

With all the television that I watched as a child, I recall there being an awful lot of Public Service Announcements. There was the egg one about your brain on drugs (and the other drug one where the frying pan destroyed the kitchen), and all the more you know rainbow bits, and of course, the ones letting me know that I should learn a lot from a dummy and wear my seatbelt.

And that last PSA really stuck with me - every time I get into a car, I automatically put on my seatbelt. It's unconscious, like a reflex. And now that my son has moved up to a booster seat, I find myself having to remind him less and less to buckle up. It has started to become a reflex for him as well: We get into the car, we buckle up and then we go.

And that is why I was so surprised to read that a quarter of teenagers don't buckle up every time they get into a car. I am not the mother of a teenage driver, I know. I do not have to have conversations with my son about distracted driving yet. But, I wonder: Where did we go wrong? How did we not make buckling up a reflex for these kids?

The survey, which was conducted by Safe Kids Three Rivers, also took a look at how teens reacted to unsafe driving practices. It turns out that a lot of passengers - even when they don't feel safe in the car - don't speak up to their friends who are driving while distracted.

Like I mentioned earlier, I don't have a teen driver to fret over. But I have already started the conversation around safe driving with my son. Hopefully, by the time he is ready to get behind the wheel (scary thought!) he'll have the right foundation for safety. If not, I know where to find some excellent PSAs to show him.

What PSA stood out from your youth? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, April 10, 2015

You're a mom forever

On Sunday morning, my son greeted me by saying, "Good morning! I get my allowance today, right?" After his morning routine, I handed him his cash for the week and he went to distribute it into his three jars. He then starting telling me what he was going to use his spend money on (a Batman action figure of some kind) and what he was going to use his save money on (a different Batman action figure of some kind).
I was just happy that he understood the difference between the two jars and that it has only taken him a few weeks to learn the importance of saving money.

I love being a Mom - it is a job I plan on having forever. And even though I love my career, I know that someday I will want to retire. And according to some figures, women are going to need a bigger save jar.

It turns out that woman are not saving as much as they should for their retirement. And since the reasons women aren't saving run the gamut from not earning as much as men for the same work, to taking more time off to take care of their families, it's time for all women to get a better hold of their finances.

Books, classes, websites, financial planners...the tools are all out there. It's just a matter of finding the time to leverage them.

A heavy topic right before we head into the weekend, I know, but maybe we all need to take a day off - from both the 9-to-5 job and the 24-7 job - and get our financial health in order.

It took me a long time to be even a little financially savvy and I admit I could use some more help. How about you? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Cooped up and lonely

After a completely non-scientific, multi-year study that consisted of me questioning other women, it turns out that this is the typical life cycle for women who work from home:
  • The honeymoon phase (days 1-14): You wear your pajamas, work from multiple places within your home to find the best spot and figure out how to get a few chores done in between assignments.
  • The balance phase (days 14-30): You think you've gotten this working from home thing covered and have all sorts of "rules" in place for yourself so that you work just as much as you did in an office setting (if not a little more).
  • The despair phase (days 30-45): You start talking to your pet more often and if you live with someone, you attack them with conversation the moment they arrive because OMG you need more human interaction.
  • The back to balance phase (days 45-60): You figure out how to get more human interaction in your day, you still talk to your pet too much and you may even wear your old work clothes for a while to give yourself a more professional air and separate "work" you from "home" you. This is also the make-it-or-break-it phase.
  • The oh well phase (days 60 and beyond): You stop wearing a bra and resign yourself to a life of loneliness and yoga pants. If you've reached this phase, you are probably also looking for an office job again.
I can't imaging throwing motherhood into that mix, but for so many women this is a reality - especially for millennials. This Family Studies post takes a look at millennial motherhood and the isolation that many women feel. The post explains how younger mothers who work from home use technology to stay connected, but are missing out on the community support they would normally receive from family and friends. It turns out the pool of millennial mothers skews a little older (women in their 30s) as they put off childbearing to obtain advanced degrees/careers, and that women who have children sooner (in their early 20s) have a hard time finding like-minded women to socialize with.

What does life look like for those women, who work from home, order groceries online and also have a young one to look after? Very lonely.

What kind of support did you have when raising your children? Family? Friends in similar situations? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sex Ed classes for children and parents

When I was nine, my Mother showed me a video in which a mother created a uterus and ovaries out of pancake batter to show her friend's daughter how menstruation worked. Some of you may be weirded out by this, others of you will have a vague memory of the video and rest of you will be shocked at how many hits come back when you Google "pancake batter menstruation video." (Evidently, lots of people have fond memories of that video.)

The point is: Kudos to my Mom for locating that gem of a video from Proctor and Gamble and then having the guts to show it to me. It's true that sex education is important, but it is also true that sometimes it is easier to have a safe neutral party deliver this information (just maybe not through the medium of pancake batter).

Which is why I enjoyed this piece from the New York Times outlining various types of sex conversation classes that parents and children attend together. Classes that are "for girls only" or "for boys only" create a safe, anonymous environment for asking questions, which can alleviate fears for both children and adults.

But, I still think sex education is an ongoing conversation and not a one-time classroom deal. Keep it age appropriate and ongoing and the discussion leading to the full disclosure on sex will be easier.

After the pancake video, I recall not wanting to eat pancakes for a while. Did your sex education talk(s) ever traumatize you in some way? Tell me in the comments.
Get the full story at Stories For Grown-ups.
Get the full story at

Monday, April 6, 2015

Of course your time with your child matters

Think back to your childhood and the time that you spent with your parents. (I'll give you a second.) What were the interactions you had with them like? Now that you have children do you find yourself using their ideas for fun holidays or improving on some of their rules that you didn't like?

Think about all the ways they influenced you - either through being there or not being there. And that personal experience is all you should need to debunk the study claiming the amount of time spent with children doesn't matter.

(If you want the lowdown dissecting the problems with the study, you can find those here.)

All of my interactions with my son aren't heartfelt, meaningful moments. Life isn't like that. But there are those moments where he has my undivided attention and we are fully engaged in an activity together and we both completely enjoy each other's company...and those are the moments that matter.

What's a treasured moment you have with one of your family members? Share with me.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Unplugging on your vacation

A woman in my office took off one Friday, and at about 9:30 am, I received an email from her. She wasn't showing as online, but she was definitely answering emails. I wrote her back, told her she was busted and reminded her that she was supposed to be off.

I get it: Sometimes it is hard to unplug from the office. There are times when I am off work and I cringe just thinking about the work that might be piling up for me upon my return. And you know what? It is never as bad as I think it is going to be.

We really need to remember that working on vacations means that you will return from that time off in need of another vacation.

Alamo Rent a Car took a look at how families feel about their vacations and how many of them still do some work while away from the office. Their findings reveal lots about family vacations, including the parent who insists that family members unplug from all devices more often (Moms), which region takes more day trip vacations (Southerners) and that families across the U.S. prefer destinations which are sunny and warm.

Where are you headed on vacation this year? And, once you're there, do you plan on doing any work? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Seven hours of sleep at night

It's 10 pm; the house is quiet. I double-check the locks on all the doors and go room-by-room, turning off the lights. The dishwasher is humming, the cat is following me, and there is a slight glow at the top of the stairs from our hallway nightlight. I slowly push back the door to my son's room to check on him. (I cherish the way he looks in slumber with one hand up by his face and an arm wrapped around his favorite stuffed animal.) I sneak into his room silently to find him sitting up at the side of the bed.

"Hi, Mom. I'm not sleepy tonight."


I tuck him back under the covers - despite his protests - and remind him that sleep in important. That sleep is what helps us remember the things that we learned during the day. That sleep is when our bodies grow. Not to mention that it is actually Mommy's bedtime and I don't want him to be uber grumpy in the morning.

So we sleep. And for most of my life, I thought I was getting enough sleep. I knew about the perils of not getting enough sleep and even about the risks of getting too much sleep. I even knew that the magic number appears to be around seven hours of sleep a night. But here's the problem - until recently, none of us were able to say how much sleep we were actually getting. You see, it hasn't been until I got my fitbit and became obsessed with my sleep data that I actually was able to determine that I am not getting the right amount of sleep. Before, I would tell you that I went to bed at 10 pm, it didn't take me very long to fall asleep and that I would wake at 5 am. What I couldn't tell you is how all those restless moments in the middle of the night - which I can actually track and see now - added up to rob me of about 2 hours of sleep every night.

Is this good information for me to have? I have no idea. Am I tempted to put the fitbit on my son's wrist for a night? Undoubtedly. 

Are you getting enough sleep these days? How sure are you? Tell me in the comments.