Friday, May 29, 2015

Leaving the house without your phone

Last week while my husband was traveling I took my son out on a date (which means he got to pick dinner and then we went out for dessert). As I was answering his questions over ice cream, he asked me about nitrogen (because that is what five-year-olds are into these days). I went into my purse to get out my phone to look up more information, but realized it wasn't there.

And I was OK with that.

I told him we'd look it up when we got home, and we spent the rest of our time together having a lot of fun. I wasn't worried about people not being able to get in touch with me, or about missing out on something else. I wasn't even bummed out about not being able to take a picture of him. I was just focused on having fun with my son.

Which is how life used to be for so many parents before cell phones came around. So, here's my challenge to you: Pick a day and leave the house without your phone. And see how you feel about it.

Let me know how it goes in the comments.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How to speak the language of Mom

Mmmmmmmmm....mah...mah...mah! Mmmmmmmmm....mah...mah...mah!

That is an approximation of the sounds I often made at my son when he was about four months old. As I made those sounds, I gave him a big smile to show him how much fun it was to make those sounds.

Then, at seven months, when he came crawling toward me, saying his first word (mama), I was beyond thrilled.

It's not a shocker that Moms and Dads communicate with their children differently. But it is interesting to read the latest study by researchers at Washington Spokane University, which concludes that Moms change their entire way of speaking and Dads make almost no changes at all. The study found that:

  • Moms speak at a higher pitch; Dads speak at their normal pitch.
  • Moms sing children's songs; Dads sing rock n roll songs.
  • Moms talk for longer periods of time and using more words; Dads talk for less time overall but use a bigger variety of words.
Researchers are quick to point out that babies like both types of communication, so neither gender has to make a change. As long as they are both talking, baby is very happy.

What was your baby's first word? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Do you tell your cat your secrets?

As I type this, my cat is on the floor next to me. She is 14-years-old, in relatively good health and she still loves me. She follows me around the house when I move from room to room, she taps at me when she feels like I need to stop typing and pet her, and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night to find her trying to sleep on top of me.

She also loves my son. I will catch her in his room as he plays...just sitting there next to him. And almost every day she rubs up against him to tell him that he belongs to her.

So, it should not be surprising that I often talk to my cat. And most of the time, I imagine her responses back to me. Lately, I have heard my son talking to her as well. (This didn't really surprise me as he is a bit of a talker.) But then I read about this study done in the U.K. which found that children were more likely to tell their pets their problems than talk about them with their siblings.

Two important things about that study on the above link:
  1. The study was linking children's relationship with their pets when faced with major adversity in their lives such as divorce, illness, death or separations.
  2. The study doesn't delve into why children turn to a pet rather than a friend or sibling.
I am betting that children talked to their pets more often - not just when facing major problems at home. And I also suspect we can take an educated guess as to why children turn to their furry companions when things are bad. Pets are in the same boat as children - needing the help of others to survive. But more importantly, pets will never tell our secrets.

Did you have a beloved childhood pet you confided in? Share your story in the comments.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Stick to dancing in the kitchen

First position: Plié, two, three, four; relevé, two, three, four; pas de bourrée. Now, second position...

Ah ballet class. My Mom once told me she enrolled me in ballet for the simple reason that I walked everywhere on my tiptoes. (Turns out that most children do.) But I stayed in ballet class for years, all the way to my first year of en pointe. By then, I had had enough and asked my Mom if I could quit. She agreed.

I have fond memories linked to ballet classes - the time spent with friends walking to class after school and watching the older dancers' lithe bodies do incredible flips and stretches. But the classes themselves were mostly boring - there was a lot of listening and stretching and not a lot of movement.

And the lack of overall movement at a young age is a problem. When outfitted with accelerometers, researchers found that young children did not get as much physical activity in ballet class as they did with other kinds of dance classes. Parents who are enrolling children in ballet for exercise may not realize that most of the class time is spent listening, stretching and learning the steps. The data changes however, for older children (who already know the steps) - their ballet classes fulfill the minimum amount of recommended daily activity for children.

If you want to make sure your little one is getting exercise in a dance class, then enroll them in hip-hop. As for me and my little guy, we dance in the kitchen.

Did anyone out there want to be a ballerina when they grew up? What did you end up being? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Competing for attention

Previously, I wrote about the health risks Moms and children face when births aren't spaced out enough. Of course, this isn't the end of the story. Finnish researchers have found that having several close-in-age children can put a strain on the entire family.

Occasionally, my husband will look at our son playing by himself and wistfully say that maybe it would have been better to have given him a sibling close to his age so that they could grow up playing together. This is a very sweet idea but there is no guarantee that the siblings would want to play together and may in fact fight all the time causing more family stress. (Side note: Sorry, Mom!)

And that is what the Finnish study found: Children similar in ages are vying for their parents' time and attention. And that constant competition can cause stress on the parents' relationship. Researchers were able to extrapolate that higher rates of divorce were found in families with close-in-age siblings.

I love my single child, and I can't imagine how life would change were we to have a second one. I know that my son likes being an only child as well. The last time I asked him if he ever wanted a sibling he gave me an honest response:

"No, I don't want to share the time that I have with you and Daddy."

He's learned from his friends at school that new baby = less time with parents. So for now, he'll stay a single.

Do you find your children competing for your attention? How do you work through that? Share your tips in the comments.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Mom brings home the bacon. (And the milk.)

My son was six weeks old when I returned to work. And I had the same thought every day when I dropped him off at day care:
This is crazy. Why am I working? I should be staying home with him. I mean, my salary covers our healthcare and the cost of his school and some other bills, but I think we could live without it.
Then, I would take a deep breath, remind myself that I liked my career, and went into the office. Later on in the day, as I sat in a spare room pumping breast milk, I would have different thoughts:
I am Super Mom. I am bringing home the bacon and the milk. Things will be OK.
And they have been OK. In fact, for a lot of children of working Moms, life might be better than OK. Researchers have found that children tended to be higher achievers in school and have less depression and anxiety in families where Mom works. (Thanks, Mom!)

And new research may indicate that the daughters of working Moms may be more likely to be employed, earn higher incomes and obtain supervisory roles later on in life. Granted, a lot of this research is new and many scientists are unsure if the data between Mothers and daughters is concrete, but all the combined research around working Moms and their children should start alleviating some of that often-felt working Mom guilt.

How do you feel about being a working Mom? Guilty or empowered? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The dangers of single parenthood

My Mom is an amazing woman (thanks, Mom!). And she is a tough woman: Being a single mom to two children while holding down a full-time job is a rough gig. Because she worked 60+ hour weeks, I learned how to cook and clean, as well as how to look after myself and get myself where I needed to go. I'm probably a more independent person today because of her.

But all that single parenting my Mom did may be catching up with her. Specifically with her health: You see, single parenting takes its toll on women later on in their lives.

Researchers from the Harvard Chan School of Public Health combed the data of 25,000 women in the U.S. and the U.K. to discover that the longer a woman was a single parent, the bigger the risk factors she encounters later on in life. As women age, they tend to experience more issues with daily activities - cooking, climbing stairs, and getting themselves around. Researchers commented that the daily stress of being the sole person responsible for carpools, sick children, and everyday chores can take its toll. (The research did not take a look at single dads to see if the same holds true for them.)

Experts advise that single moms learn to take time for themselves and not always put their needs at the bottom of the list. Which is great advice, but we mostly recognize that it is much easier said than done.

And even though my Mom is now married, exercises regularly, has fun hobbies and works a much less hectic job than she used to, I still worry about her. She is a healthy woman right now, but I'd like to make sure that she knows that I'm around when she needs me to be.

If you are a single mom, how would you spend your time if you had a day off from your children?

Monday, May 18, 2015

Taking that first (legal) drink

At a recent happy hour with my coworkers, we started talking about our 21st birthdays. There were the usual tales of being taken out by friends to have their first legal drink, with lots of admissions that they had had alcohol well before that milestone birthday.

When it came to me, I told the truth: I didn't go out and have drinks with friends, and I hadn't had any alcohol before that birthday. I had my first drink a few weeks after my birthday - a glass of wine at a restaurant with some friends. At first, my coworkers were a little shocked, but then they teased me good-naturedly.

Several of my coworkers predicted that they would probably be punished for their teenage drinking by having to go through the same thing with their children. A few of them were disturbed to think that they may one day catch their own children sneaking drinks before the age of 21.

And for good reason. In some new studies, researchers have linked the early intake of alcohol leading to long-lasting brain abnormalities in adulthood. The problems cover a wide range of issues from memory loss to an inability to learn new tasks. Alcohol does more damage to a still-developing brain (like the one we had as teenagers) than to an adult brain (like the one we hopefully had at 21).

I have been thinking about these things as I sometimes drink wine with dinner. My son has asked to taste wine before, and the first time he said he liked it, but then later admitted that he really didn't. My husband and I have talked to him before about "adult drinks" and how he might like them one day but that he needed to wait until he was much older to try them. I think an important part of that ongoing conversation is making sure he understands the reasons why he needs to wait.

How old were you when you had your first real drink? Share you story in the comments. 

Friday, May 15, 2015

Oh ye of little faith

There are conversations that I have with my son that come easily to me: Stuff that we learn together about science, new vocabulary words, sex, what we use the Internet for and the different heroes in our lives. And then there are the conversations that are harder for me to have with him: like ones around religion.

I know that in other entries on this blog I have given those well-meaning nuns who taught me a hard time (they were really very devout women who cared a lot about their students and hardly beat any of us). I went to Catholic school for nine years - the last three by my request. And with my early indoctrination into religion, I never learned to question my belief system until I got much older and started thinking for myself more. 

If someone were to ask me my religious affiliation today, I would say that I was agnostic.

And I'm not alone. The Pew Research Center just released its latest figures around religion in America, finding that there has been a sizable drop in people associating themselves with a Christian religious group. Surprisingly, the lowered numbers can't be attributed to a decline of just one group - it's across every age, ethnicity and geographic area, and it is affecting all Christian denominations.

I don't claim to have all the answers. So when it comes to religion and my son, I do what I always do: I try to answer his questions. He knows that there are unanswered questions in this world, he knows what a church is used for and he knows that people have different beliefs. Maybe one day he will find that his belief system aligns with a religion, and I am OK with that as long as it is his choice. 

The most important part of religion to me was the morality of it, but there are other ways to teach right from wrong without being in a church.

Are you a practicing member of your religious community or have you taken a step back? Share your story in the comments.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Daddy issues on a whole new level

My husband is a wonderful man. (And that is not just because he reads this blog.) He is a supportive spouse, an intelligent person and a fantastic father. In our hurried life, we pass messages via text, talk while he is standing in the kitchen and cozy up on the couch together. I hope that he feels the same level of support from me that I feel from him.

I really, really hope that - for our son's sake.

In a new study (which I don't fully understand), researchers from the University of Sussex found that children's behaviors were often cited as being at their worst when Fathers felt unsupported by their partners.

Families of preschool children completed scores of questionnaires on their children's behaviors and thoughts on their spouses. A detailed analysis found that when men felt poor support from their wives, there was an increase of incidents of a child acting defiantly. Mothers, on the other hand, had no correlation between feelings of support and child behavior.

So, I wrote all that, and it still doesn't make sense to me. The study, which only points out the link, doesn't attempt to provide causation. Why do men who feel unsupported think that their children defy them more often? Is it a control thing? Or a blow to self esteem somehow?

I don't know. So, for the record: I support you, honey. I may not have included the word "obey" in our marriage vows, but I'm on your side.

How does your child defy you? Leave me the details in the comments.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Everybody's NOT doing it

I have spoken candidly about my sex education in the past. And, as sporadic as it may have been, it is nothing compared to my Mother's introduction to the topic, which took place when a nun drew a giant penis on the blackboard with pink chalk (because, really, what other color chalk would you use?).

Times have changed: In the course of their upbringing, millennials have had a tremendous amount of access to information about sex and sexuality. Granted, they may still come across "facts" that are just as heart-wrenchingly inaccurate as the drivel I once overheard Tiffany and David discussing in the sixth grade school yard, but overall, their level of knowledge has resulted in this statistic:

Most millennials will have fewer sexual partners than their parents had.

San Diego State University analyzed 40 years of self-reported responses about sexual behavior from 33,000 Americans and found that on average millennials will have 8 partners over their lifetimes, which is 2 partners fewer than Generation Xers and 4 partners fewer than Baby Boomers.

The study didn't try to dissect the reason why millennials are having fewer partners (but not necessarily less sex), but lots of experts have been weighing in, citing everything from the overprotective bubble around millennials (so they don't have as much opportunity for premarital sex) to the fact that theirs is the first generation to grow up with a constant onslaught of safe-sex messaging, which may have paid off.

None of this research is finite of course: It will be interesting to see if this trend still holds true 10 years from now.

What's the first safe-sex message you remember hearing/seeing? Reminisce with me in the comments.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Parents can't tell time anymore

It's quiet in the house. You've done your nightly sweep through the kitchen, but there are no dishes left out. The living room is cleared of enough toys that you can make your way through it without stepping on something. Somehow the laundry was done and the clean clothes are in the basket, but folded, so that counts. You baby is asleep and still tightly swaddled. A quick check of your work email indicates that there are no emergencies. Now what do you do?

Some of you are laughing. You are laughing because you've recognized that question as one of those unanswerable trick questions, because clearly that scenario has never happened. There is always a chore to be done, a child to check on, a load of dirty socks somewhere or an emergency blowing up your email.

What's a Mom to do? 

Evidently, she just works through it. And - it would appear - she is putting in more hours than Dad to get it all done.

A study from researchers at The Ohio State University asked parents to keep time diaries of their activities both before and after having a child. The parents were all considered highly educated couples, and they had a habit of equally dividing household chores as they both worked full time. Then, they had a baby.

Afterward, the time diaries revealed that after nine months of parenthood:
  • Women added 22 hours of childcare to their work week, while men added 14 hours.
  • Women still did the same amount of housework and paid work as before the baby, but men did 5 hours less housework after the baby arrived.
Yes, yes, yes...Moms do more. That's not really that surprising to me. What was surprising was each parent's perception of the amount of work they had added to their week after the birth of their child. Both Moms and Dads overestimated the amount of actual childcare work they were doing after the baby was born.

Clearly, all that lack of sleep threw their perception of actual time way off. It sounds like moms need more than just one Mother's Day a year to rest up.

If you had your way, what chore would you get off your to-do list forever? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The struggle to stay on key

My son was singing in the bathtub. This is not new. What was new was what he was singing. There, echoing off the bathroom walls, in his slightly off-key, boys soprano came the classic lyrics of:
Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof, woof-woof! Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof, woof-woof!
Clearly this 2000 summertime Baha Men cover ended up on one of those Kidz Bop albums at my son's school. And the lyrics became an earworm for him that he just couldn't shake.

We play a lot of music in our house (although I am pretty sure we have never played that song). And I've even done experiments in the past where I've tried to expose my son to different music types. He definitely has his own preferences for music - he tends to like upbeat, happy songs.

My music tastes have definitely stalled a bit. Yes, I still incorporate new artists into my iPod playlists, but the rate is much slower than it used to be. And, not surprisingly, there is plenty of research to back this up. This post from Skynet and Ebert has a pretty compelling breakdown of when men and women stop keeping up with popular music. Spoiler alert: Our tastes mature in our 30s and men stop incorporating popular music into their playlists before women do.

The surprising note in the research (which was entirely based off Spotify users in the U.S., so take all this with a grain of salt) is what happens to parents. Evidently, the years you spend listening to children's music marks an end to your keeping up with music trends.

So, it's finally time for us all to admit that those radio stations we listen to that play the hits from the 80s and 90s are the equivalent of the "oldies" stations our parents used to listen to in the car.

What type of music do you listen to? (I hope it's not all Disney all the time.) Tell me your preferences in the comments.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Shuffling our kids around

My parents separated and divorced when I was in junior high school. Although I am not sure of the exact terms of the custody arrangement, I can say that my brother and I lived with our Mom and visited our Dad for a few weeks during the summer. I am pretty sure this was because we lived in South Carolina and my Dad lived in Indiana.

Presumably, this situation should have been low-stress on my brother and I: We had one home, lived with one parent and were not shuffled between two homes within the same city. But new research suggests that a shared custody situation - one in which children spend part of their week with each parent - is actually the least stressful.

The study (which was conducted in Sweden) took a look at children's psychosomatic health problems (sleeping disorders, concentration issues, loss of appetite and feelings of tension). They found that children who lived with two parents in the same household reported the least amount of issues. This was followed by the children who lived in shared-custody situations. The children who reported feeling the most stressed-related symptoms were those who lived in a single-parent home. Evidently, the idea that a child spends time with both their parents within the week trumps any stress felt by being a "suitcase kid" who has two homes.

But, as the study notes, shared custody arrangements as described above aren't as common in the U.S. as they are in other countries: There are a lot of factors to affect a custody agreement. I have several divorced friends whose ex-spouses live in other cities or states (like my parent's did) because of work, and I am sure that the general ability of the divorced couple to still get along is also a giant factor. Communication around children and parenting styles is essential for shared custody to work.

Were you raised by divorced parents? What was your living arrangement like? Tell me about it in the comments.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

7 tips for nurturing a budding book worm

We have been in the used book store for more than an hour. Since my son has started reading on his own, picking out new books has become a MUCH more serious task than it used to be. I normally let him move at his own pace in the bookstore, but it is past lunch time, and I am pretty convinced he will sit on the floor all day and read every book he can if I let him.

I'm so proud of him.

Here are the reading habits we've instilled to create a book lover:
  1. Lead by example. My husband and I both read a lot and our house is filled with books.
  2. Read early and often. We've read books to our son since he was a baby. And we have read to him every night at bedtime since then.
  3. Read above his reading level. I happily read him stories that are at least one reading level beyond what he is able to read himself. The plots are more interesting to him and this helps build his vocabulary since we pause often to review any words he may not know and check to make sure he understands what is going on.
  4. Let him read to you at his own pace. At first he wanted to read the same stories to me over and over again, but I was fine with that since it built up his confidence. Now he reads one book to me every night and he chooses a different one every time.
  5. His books; his decisions. He decides which books we read at night, and when it comes to purging, he decides which ones stay on his shelf and the ones he is ready to turn into the book store for credit.
  6. Praise often. When I catch him in his room reading to himself, I can't praise him enough.
  7. Encourage storytelling. I encourage my son to tell me stories that he makes up. This is everything from fanciful stories at dinner to pretending to be super heroes on the car ride into work. I love to throw plot twists into the stories we tell together, as it gives him an appreciation for more complex stories in books.
Most of us know by now that reading bedtime stories helps boost brain development in our little ones. What tips do you have to nurture a budding book worm? Share them with me in the comments.

Monday, May 4, 2015

When I grow up, I want to be a...

My son is practicing for his graduation. There are some songs and a skit that his class is doing, and part of the skit features the children saying what they want to be when they grow up. This is particularly funny to me, as my son changes his mind constantly:

Monday: When I grow up, I want to be a scientist.
Tuesday: When I grow up, I want to be one of Mommy's coworkers (awwww!)
Wednesday: When I grow up, I want to be a race car driver.
Thursday: When I grow up, I want to be a space explorer.
Friday: When I grow up, I want to be a policeman.

I wonder how the practice in other households is going - if other children are giving different answers every few days or if they have settled on their go-to answer (at least for the purposes of the skit). And after reading this study by the Institute of Engineering and Technology, I wonder how those conversations are going for households with little girls. According to that study, parents are not encouraging their daughters to pursue careers in engineering, despite an uptick in girls' preferences for science, technology, engineering and math subjects in school. Instead, parents have reported that their daughters will probably pursue careers in education, healthcare or the arts.

My husband and I have really enjoyed adding a bit more science, math and computing skills into our son's daily life. And he has already astounded us with that little nudge. (Watching him write addition problems on the bathtub walls with his bath crayons is both adorable and wonderful.) But the more I've thought about my son's list of professions, the more I've realized that I know very little about what a career in engineering looks like. So, that is something to add to my list of things we need to explore together. I'd like to learn how to pique his interest in that, too. (And does it involve Legos? My son is very into Legos...)

All this nudging on our side isn't intended to be pressure. Our job is to just expose our son to lots of different areas of the world and let him try something new. In the meantime, as he practices for his graduation ceremony, I've reminded him that he doesn't have to pick a career now - there is plenty of time for him to decide. For now, he just has to remember that he'll always be my son - even when he is all grown up.

What do you want to be when you grow up? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Mommy complaint guide

I have single friends who like to tell me how busy they are or how tired they feel during the day. I also have Mom friends who do not work and who have nanny services who like to tell me how rough it is being a mom. Know your levels, people.

Look, we all have good days and bad days, but it's important to have a healthy dose of perspective when you are venting to other parents. Here are some general rules to keep in mind.
  1. Complain laterally, not vertically. Child-free folks cannot complain to people with children about exhaustion, being too busy or not having enough time to themselves. Sorry. No, you just cannot.
  2. If your child is healthy, you don't get to complain to a parent with a non-healthy child. Ever.
  3. Mothers can only complain to other mothers if they have the same amount of children. I have a healthy single child. I would never tell a mother of three that I need more "me time." (Nope, never.) I can, however, engage in a friendly game of "this is why I'm tired" to another mom of a single child.
  4. Moms who stay at home and moms who work should not compare notes. Jealousy and conflicting points of views will emerge and friendships could be at risk.
  5. Parents of newborns do not sleep. If your child is sleeping, remember all those months of waking up in the middle of the night before you mention being tired.
  6. Yes, people really love their pets, but it is an awful mistake if you start comparing your furbaby to a child. Let me put it this way: You can leave your pets at home alone and no one is going to get upset.
Hopefully, this helps clear things up. Any general rules to add? Leave them in the comments.