Monday, August 31, 2015

Another reason to fear the blue light

I am typing this post three hours before my bedtime. I normally do not work on blog posts at night (I write the majority of them in the mornings on the weekends), but it has been a busy weekend, so I am writing this one a few hours before I go to sleep. It is a Monday post, but that is not the deadline that I have in mind. My deadline is actually to be done with my computer an hour before my bedtime.

We've talked about blue light before and how screens that emit the light affect our circadian rhythms and make it harder for us to go to sleep. This is true of children and adults, which is also why it is so important to give your devices a bedtime.

New research, however, makes another leap in studying the effects of blue light on young bodies. In a study conducted by Brown University, researchers found that there is an increased sensitivity to light emitted by devices in pre-pubescent children. That sensitivity increases a child's risk of not getting a good night's sleep and elevates the possibility of hormonal imbalance throughout the day.

And, I don't know about you, but the last thing I would want is to cause a hormonal imbalance in an early pubescent teenager. (And while we are on that topic - Sorry, Mom!)

So now you have another reason to remove devices from your child's bedroom at night: Hormones.

(Hey look - I finished this post with more than two hours to spare. I think I'll email my Mother.)

What's the curfew for electronic devices in your family? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, August 28, 2015

If you're happy and you know it, tell your Mom

There are certain questions that I ask my son frequently:
  • Did you know that you are very special to me?
  • What questions did you ask today?
  • Did you flush and wash your hands?
  • What did you do today?
  • Seriously, did you flush and wash your hands?
  • Are you happy?
It's that last question that has been on my mind lately. Because sometimes, it is really, really hard to tell.

The Journal of Experimental Child Psychology recently published a study trying to determine if parents could accurately report on how happy their children were.

And we suck at it.

Researchers had tweens and teens assess their own happiness and then asked parents to assess their children's happiness. It turns out that parents were overestimating the happiness of their tweens (ages 10 and 11) and underestimating the happiness of their teens (ages 15 and 16).

Furthermore, parents tended to mirror the perceived happiness of their children to their own happiness levels. This bias (if I am happy, then my child is happy) is hard to overcome.

It turns out that the best way to determine if your child is happy or not is to ask them.

How sure are you that your tween is happy? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Going from DINKs to parents

Dual-Income, No Kids.

That's what my husband and I were for a very long time. We spent years together working, traveling, figuring out who was the better chef (me), who was handier around the house (him) and having long discussions about the type of family we wanted to have one day. I had been with my husband for thirteen years before I got pregnant, and I know him better than any other person in this world.

But a few months before my due date, I started thinking about my husband differently. I started thinking of him less as the man that I married and more as the man who would be the father of our child. I started thinking about our partnership in life and what that would look like when baby made three.

And it turns out, I am not the only woman to have those thoughts.

A recent study posted in Parenting: Science & Practice tried to break down the behaviors that led to "maternal gatekeeping," the behaviors and thoughts of new mothers who are trying to determine whether or not to encourage dad's interaction with his child. Researchers wanted to know what made women close the gate.

Not entirely surprisingly, it had to do with partnership. Through a series of questions both pre- and postpartum, women tended to turn away partners who:
  • Made them feel that their relationship was unstable
  • Displayed questionable parenting skills and didn't try to improve them
So, it seems rather obvious, but I'll go ahead and state it here again: You really need to know who you partner is as a person, before you bring a little life into the mix.

How many years did you spend with your partner before you had a child? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Science cracked the biological clock

I didn't believe that there was such a thing as a biological clock. And then I reached my late 20s and really, really wanted a baby. Fortunately for me, I already had the perfect guy and we were on the same path to marriage, baby and happily ever afterhood. I have a lot of friends who heard the ticking of their clocks earlier in life and had several children before I had my first. And I have a few friends who wanted to get their careers in order and didn't mind putting baby plans on hold.

And when I say "have a few friends" I mean women. Because although both men and women have a biological clock, the decision around having a family is mostly the woman's. And science is backing that up.

In a study published in the journal Human Reproduction, researchers found that when it comes time to have a baby, a woman's age is more important than a man's in the decision. You are probably thinking that we didn't need a study to tell us that, because it seems like common sense.

But wait, there's more.

The researchers plugged various conception scenarios into a computer and this is what it churned out: If a couple wants only one child and doesn't want to use IVF, they have a 90% chance of succeeding if they start trying before the woman turns 32. If they want two children, they should start before she turns 27.

As if you needed more pressure to start your family.

In truth, the study was done in the hopes that it would help people understand the risk factors associated with pregnancies after the age of 35.

What age were you when you heard your biological clock ticking? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Subject Line: WFH

It usually happens on a Friday or a Monday. I'll be in the office, waiting for my email program to start, and they will start to filter in: The Working From Home messages.

One or two emails that come in with the WFH subject line are common enough: Sick children, sick adult, work being done at the house and vet appointments are all part of daily life. I am thankful to work for a company that allows us to be flexible with our working arrangements and work from home when needed.

It's the days when there is a teacher workday or school closure and the WFH messages flood my inbox that I realize how hard great daycare is to come by.

The Washington Post recently ran some numbers and the results were disheartening: More than 75% of moms polled have indicated that in order to take care of their children, they have done one of the following:
  • Passed up on career advancement opportunities
  • Switched jobs for one with more flexibility
  • Left the workforce
With childcare costs affecting many families - to the point where moms returning to work would not earn enough salary to cover the cost of daycare - this issue is a hot topic. For years women have been told that they can have it all - work and family. But that isn't true if they can't foot the daycare bill.

What is your current daycare situation like while you are at work? Share with me in the comments. 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why are we all scared of math?

Full disclosure: Math was not my favorite subject in school. But even though I didn't care for math, I still made really great grades in it.

To me, math was too finite. If I was writing an essay, I could write my way out of a corner. With math, you were either right or wrong with your answers. And my teachers usually only explained one way to solve the problem, which was hard to follow.

I will admit that I am not enthralled with the idea of having to learn how to do math all over again when my son goes through it. But I will be happy if they teach him more than one way to solve for x.

And, evidently, I should never let him know that I don't like math.

A study published in Psychological Science has found a link between math anxiety in parents and their children. (I knew I could pass fears onto my son, but I didn't think geometry could be one of them.) Children who hear their parents talk about not liking math or not knowing enough math to help them with homework often do worse in the subject overall than children who get no help at all from parents. sounds like this is a great excuse for keeping my mouth shut and not helping my son with his math homework at all.

(Just kidding...I'm good to help him out until calculus. From there, he is on his own.)

What was your favorite subject in school? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The worst parenting advice I ever heard

When you are pregnant, you become a magnate for unsolicited parenting advice. (This is one of those laws of nature like gravity or the inverse velocity equation of children and is unavoidable.)

Some advice is good, like:
  • Take a picture of your baby every day for the first year of his/her life.
  • Create your birthing plan and then remember that it will probably not go the way you want it to.
  • Speak up if you don't feel comfortable with handsy strangers who want to touch your baby bump.
Some advice is bad, like:
  • Get a bag that works as both a diaper bag and a purse. (What? Is Dad never taking baby anywhere by himself? New moms do not have the time to switch purse things around and most Dads don't want to carry anything purse-like.)
  • Make sure to keep baby's room quiet and dark. (Sure. You can do this if you plan on tiptoeing around your house like a burglar for the next five years.) 
And some seems downright unbelievable, like:
  • If you breastfeed, you will eventually feel like you are attached to the baby at all times. (This is completely true. You may also start to make unflattering comparisons between your body and a cow.)
  • The first year of your marriage after you have the baby is the hardest. And often, it's the unhappiest.
It is that last piece of advice that has been studied (and proven), yet again. It's true: Having a baby makes people unhappy. Of course it does. No person should really ever derive joy from the years of no sleep, cleaning up messes, wiping bottoms, sicknesses and frustrations that come from having a child.

But here's the thing: It gets better. And what those articles usually don't point out in their headlines is that parents are more happier overall in the long term.

And that is good advice for all parents-to-be to hear.

What's the best and worst parenting advice you've ever heard? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Back to school means it's time to stress out over homework

In my little corner of the world, school starts next week. And all around me I hear the moms talking about various after school programs and which ones they are avoiding because they don't encourage children to complete their homework first.

And I can hear that they are already stressed out over their child's homework: How much their child can expect this year, when it will get completed and what type of math they will have to relearn to help their children.

I am listening to their tips and concerns, especially after reading a study published in the American Journal of Family Therapy which found elementary students have three times the recommended amount of homework.

The experts cited in the study were recommending 10 minutes per grade level per day. So a first grader gets 10 minutes and a second grader gets 20 minutes and so on. Yet the research showed that even Kindergarten students had an average of 25 minutes of homework per night.

Granted there were differences in the amount of time spent for children who spoke another language at home or for children whose families didn't value education, but a half-hour block becomes a fairly large chunk of time if it isn't completed right after school.

By the time my husband is able to get our son and bring him home, they may have as much as 10 minutes together before I get home to cook dinner. After dinner is family time (if we are lucky), bath, stories and bed.

Experts (as in: other Moms) say they are beefing up their children's time management skills or offering rewards to their children who complete their homework during after school programs instead of right before dinner.

As for me, I'll be interested to see how much homework my son gets hit with in the new year.

What are your tips for helping your child with the amount of homework they have? Share them in the comments.

Monday, August 17, 2015

How often are you sick?

Before I had my son, I got a cold around twice a year. It would annoy me for a few days and maybe even cause me to take a day off work to rest at home. My husband would only get a cold maybe one time a year.

Then we had our son.

Every time he was moved into a new room at the daycare or a new child came into his existing room, he would get sick. New child = new germs. And my husband and I would often get his colds/stomach viruses, too.

Now that he is a little older he doesn't get sick as often, but it still happens. I think he spent most of July with a nasal virus that took several weeks to completely kill off.

Most parents understand that their children will get sick. And most parents accept that the more children they have, the more likelihood there is for someone in their household to always be sick. But the frequency of sickness is something I think most parents are not prepared for.

A study by the University of Utah followed sicknesses in families of various sizes. In those with only one child, a family member tested positive for a nasal virus for 18 weeks out of the year. For families with six children, the number of weeks went up to 45.

Granted, this is only one study in one area of the country, but if more studies were done that corroborated its results, it would provide some relief to parents who are wondering, "Why is my child sick all the time? Is this normal?" If your doctor knows that you have a large family, they would be able to say to you, "Based off your family size, yes, it is."

Who is always sick in your family? Spread the love (not the germs) with me in the comments.

Friday, August 14, 2015

As if the thought of your teen driving wasn't scary enough

I was in my late teens when I started driving.

And I have never thought about this before now, but I saved my mother a large amount of money by not getting my license sooner. I didn't know this, but the average married couple's car insurance rate increases by 80% once they add a teen driver. That price tag is almost as scary as the idea that my son will be driving one day. (Almost.)

So two things:
  1. You're welcome, Mom.
  2. Forget saving to help my son buy a car; I'm going to start saving for when my son needs car insurance.
Research collected by found that 16-year-olds are the most expensive, but that rates drop again once children reach the age of 19. Some states allow insurance rates to fluctuate by gender as well - with boys more costly than girls.

Yes, there are discounts available for good grades and driving classes, but in the end, it is still a lot of money that most of us didn't think about when we were encouraged to open all those saving accounts for college educations and family vacations.

When did you learn to drive? Were you expected to help pay for the car or the car insurance? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

It's an expensive world after all

On our recent family vacation, we went to Idlewild Amusement Park.The park contains a soak zone, children's section and a storybook forest that hasn't changed since it opened in 1956. It is a park that I went to when I was little, and I was happy to take my son there so he could enjoy it as well.

It is also very affordable - especially considering that we spent the day doing all kid-friendly rides and never made it over to the soak zone.

The same can not be said of other amusement parks - like Disney World. As this article from the Washington Post points out, the daily admission to Disney World in 1971 was $3.50. Today the ticket price is more than $100, making a vacation to Disney unaffordable for the middle class.

Granted, they have made a lot of improvements and expansions to the parks since 1971 - so many that it is impossible to explore everything in one day. But with the spike in ticket price, a Disney World vacation has become out of reach for many families. (And for those families that do go with small children, I wonder if they believe the experience was worth the ticket price.)

I like Disney and I don't mean to pick on them, but the truth is as Disney does, other parks do: Many other amusement parks raise their prices every year just like Disney, so they won't be seen as bottom-of-the-barrel attractions by comparison.

Yes, there are coupons and memberships and clubs and other ways you can save some money on your tickets, but a casual day at a local amusement park on a Saturday in the summer time has become a thing of the past. It is now something most families have to budget for well ahead of time.

Would I like to take my son to Disney World one day? Yes. But only when he is old enough to remember it. Who knows what the tickets will cost by then. (Maybe I should start saving up for them now.)

Is a Disney World vacation on your plans anytime soon? What do you think about their ticket prices? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's taken me three tries to write this post on distractions

At work, it is the constant ping from the office communication program, the new email message appearing in the right-hand corner of the screen and the random pop-ins into my cube as I try to write an email or work on a project.

At home, it is the faraway comments from family members in another room, the ever-growing list of stuff to do I keep in my head and all the open tabs in my browser window.

I am distracted. I am distracted to the point of helplessness: Where I am constantly working on a new task without finishing the previous one and nothing is getting done. I have even walked away from and returned to this post three times before tuning everything out to write it.

In this article on distractions, the New Yorker points out that we value attentiveness, but that is because we seem to have so little of it these days. We are supposed to give our spouses, children, family, work and passions in life our undivided attention; but attention has to be divided among that many things.

So maybe it's not possible to give everything in our lives our full attention: Some theorists say that distraction is good for the brain. If that is true, then we all suffer from a moderation problem - there are more distractions than times of focus.

So how do we increase focus and cut down on distractions to make time for the people/things/work we really need to be focusing on? Here is what I'm trying:
  • Cut out the noise. If that means turning off all those programs that alert you to new tasks, or putting yourself on do not disturb mode, then so be it.
  • Schedule your time to work on specific tasks. I have certain days/times when I work on this blog, and other times devoted to spending time with my family. Sure, I am not spontaneous, but I have always been a planner.
  • Schedule yourself time for distractions. Do you want to spend an hour or two catching up on social media? Go ahead and add that to your schedule, too, just as long as you set yourself a time limit for it and stop when the alarm goes off.
  • One task at a time. I know this one is hard - especially since we have all learned to function in a world where we have multiple tasks going on simultaneously. But there is something very satisfying about crossing things off a list, and we can't do that until we've completed our tasks.
What do you do to combat distraction in your life? Share your tips with me in the comments.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Who's your handy man?

When I got my first apartment, my step-dad gave me a box of tools: Hammer, screwdrivers and wrenches. I knew how they all worked - in theory. The problem was that I had never had to use tools before.

So, I hung up all my pictures with nails and put together my flat-pack furniture with my screwdrivers. But, if something broke, I was at a loss of how to fix it.

I do not tinker. But, happily, my husband does.

Since living with my husband, I have developed a large appreciation for his handyman skill set. We own things like saws and a sander and he has the knowledge of how to use those things safely. He can fix things when they are broken, or - at least - put in the effort to try and open things up and see if he can fix them.

And I really hope that he passes on all this knowledge to our son. I would love to see them cobbling together shelves or a bench or something that is not a birdhouse (but only because I dislike birds). Those real-world handyman skills are important. And, according to this article in the Boston Globe, they are disappearing.

Don't get me wrong - I am not putting all the pressure on my husband. I am not afraid to get my hands dirty, and I am more than happy to help with a remodeling or build project. But I would need someone to direct me. So, I am grateful that I can rely on my handyman husband to lead the way.

Who is the handyman in your family? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, August 7, 2015

No boy bands for me

As my family left a science museum on our vacation, we passed hundreds of girls lining the streets near a local arena. They were dressed in fan gear - shirts, shorts, socks, buttons, jewelry, hats - from head to toe and were holding signs, banners and flags for One Direction. And despite the heat and that it was four hours before the concert was supposed to start, there they were.

I immediately had three thoughts:
  1. I'm glad I have a son and that the likelihood of him going crazy over a boy band in the same way as these girls is slim.
  2. All those parents standing behind those girls lining the streets must really love their children.
  3. My Mom should probably thank me.
I was never really into boy bands, never asked my Mom to pay a small fortune to take me to a concert and never wandered around the house dressed from head to toe in a band's gear.
So,'re welcome, Mom.

Which boy band provided the soundtrack to your youth? Share your love for your favorite in the comments.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Putting the landing gear on helicopter parents

Are you a cheerleader or a coach?

When our children are little, we are their cheerleaders, praising them for their efforts to learn new skills and to try again when they don't succeed the first time.

At some point - ideally before middle school - we need to become coaches. We need to teach our children strategy and then step back and let them make their own decisions. Our job is to be there when they need advice and listen to their problems. We need to ask them what we think they are going to do and not give them the answers.

It is when parents don't make the transition from cheerleader to coach that they become helicopter parents. Those parents that do things for children that they can already do for themselves or even the things that children can almost do for themselves are sending a very clear message to their children: You can't get by in this world without me.

In addition to that sentiment not being true or fair, it is also damaging our children when they become adults.

A recent study from Brigham Young shows that extra love and warmth from parents can't make up for the damage done by helicopter parenting styles. Another study indicates that there is a strong correlation between helicopter parents and college students battling depression. Think about it: If your child has never had to negotiate for anything in their life without mom or dad's help, then how are they going to know how to deal with an awful roommate, a difficult professor or even a bad romantic relationship on their own?

I guess the question is: Are you raising an adult or are you raising someone who is completely dependent on you for the rest of your life? And, if it is the second category, what is going to happen when you die?

Parents can overcome any damage that they already have done, but it is a hard road: Basically letting their child continuously fail until they come to the conclusion that they have to start making their own life choices. That's a harsh road to go down. So, even though my son is only five, I am taking steps with him now:
  1. His stuff. His responsibility. I am not keeping track of his bookbag, toys or possessions. If he wants to get rid of an item, it is his choice. If he forgot to bring a water gun on splash pad day, that is his bad planning.
  2. Strategy games. We are starting to play more and more strategy board games together. When he is first learning, we will point out different choices he could make, but he still has the final decision. When he knows all the rules and the game's objective, we do not "let" him win. Sometimes he beats us, sometimes he doesn't.
  3. Household responsibilities. He is in charge of more than just his stuff. He is in charge of helping with household chores and feeding the cat at dinner and other jobs. We challenge him with new tasks, even before we are sure he is ready for them. He might fail, but - more importantly - he might succeed.
  4. We talk about decisions. If he has a bad day, we will talk about the consequences of our actions and then leave it at that. Sometimes bad choices are their own punishments.
What tips do you have to turn yourself from a cheerleader to a coach? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Having a baby with an IUD on the side

During my first follow-up appointment after having my son, my OB/GYN looked at me and asked, "Do you want another baby right away?"

"Ummm...can I just enjoy this one for a bit first?" I asked.

He laughed and we talked about an intrauterine device and he got me on his schedule the next week to get one placed so I didn't have to worry about there being a baby number 2 before I was ready.

But, it turns out, he could have had that conversation with me while I was still pregnant and then placed the IUD for me right after the birth.

A study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that more than 80% of women whose IUDs were placed during their C-sections were still using them six months after birth, compared 64% of women who had planned to get IUDs at a separate office visit. While the study admits that there is still a slight chance that the device will be expelled if placed right after birth, they point out that a doctor can check the placement in one of the numerous follow-up postpartum appointments.

When I think about what my world was like after having my son, I was amazed at the days that I was showered and dressed, not to mention visiting the doctor to make sure I didn't have any surprises on the way. It makes sense to me that it is easier to get the device while you are at the hospital rather than wait for six weeks afterward.

The issue is that not all insurance companies are on board with the practice - preferring to bill out services separately instead of all within the same visit (because of course they would want the most money possible).

But I think it is at least worth the conversation with your doctor while you are still pregnant. As we previously discussed, a woman's body is meant to rest between children.

What were your days like as a new mother? Were you able to get a shower in? Did you know what day it was? Try to share that blurred time in the comments.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Favoriting my Mom's tweets

My Mom is a pretty tech-savvy lady: She runs a brilliant blog, texts and shares photos, and she tweets more often than I do. All of this she learned on her own, and I am incredibly grateful for her willingness to be involved online. In her point of view, she is ready to interact with her grandchildren in whatever form of social media they end up on.

But a lot of grandparents are not like my Mom - they don't feel comfortable navigating the online world on their own. A recent study by Georgetown University shows that 82% of caregivers believe technology can make aging a better experience, and 63% agree that the person in their care is ready to learn. The problem? Time. Most of the caregivers in the study cited their own children's needs, a full-time job and other responsibilities absorbing all their available free time.

The federal government's numbers show that two-thirds of those past age 65 and receiving care at home get it exclusively from a family member, for free. About a third get some family care and some paid care. All of that means that caregivers provide an average of 75 hours of support per month.

So, how do we find the time to get our parents active online?
  • Start early. Ideally, get them started before they reach an age when they will need caregiving services. That way, they already know what to do and you can focus your care on other needs.
  • Go at your parent's pace. Don't try to tackle everything in one day.
  • Repetition is key. Outline what they have to do to get the web camera going and then set up appointments with them to use it often.
  • Follow their interests, not yours. Maybe your Dad doesn't need to know how to use Instagram.
Are your parents tech-savvy enough to keep in touch with their grandkids? What do you do to help keep them that way? Tell me in the comments.