Friday, October 30, 2015

Keep it moving all day long

Sometimes when my son and I are doing errands on the weekend, he complains that he is tired and needs to sit. I ask him why - especially if he has only been standing for a few minutes - but then I remember that he is in school now and he has become used to sitting all day.

Then I read about schools like this one in Charleston, SC, where there are opportunities for students to move all day long.

I shared the video on that link with my son and asked him: How would you like it if you had a bicycle desk? His eyes lit up and he said he would love it.

I can't blame him. He is young and needs to get his energy out. (Heck, I feel like I sit too much and need to get my energy out.) What better way to do that than through a desk that lets your body move whenever you need to?

Tell me what you think: Should an active environment be introduced into your child's classroom?

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

When friendships change

I do not know where my childhood best friend is. Her name is Nicole, and she and I were best friends from first through fifth grade. We were Girl Scouts together, we would play games in her basement, and we had countless sleepovers at each other's houses. When I moved to South Carolina, we wrote each other letters, but eventually that tapered off and we lost touch.

My best friend from sixth through eighth grade eventually became my roommate for freshman year of college, but we also eventually drifted apart

I did actually spend a day with my old roommate a few years ago. We took our children to the zoo and fell into an easy conversation.

The point of all this is that friendships are fluid. They are the only non-obligatory social alliances we make in our lives: We enter them when we need them, we stay in them as long as we need to, and we can pick them up again as needed.

From playmates as children to close connections created in young adulthood - friendships are the cornerstone of control-centered relationships. And that foundation becomes important as we become adults - a time when marriage, jobs and families place a larger demand on our limited time. Our friends are still there - but there is a built in understanding that you can catch up with them when you need to.

This piece by the Atlantic is a wonderful compilation of the importance of friendships and how they develop over time. My favorite part is reading that after the responsibilities of adulthood fall away - with children in college or retirement looming - adults look forward to reconnecting with a few good friends.

I still have a while before my time frees up to track down everyone I loved in my childhood, but I did take a few minutes and think I've pieced together Nicole's timeline. I sent her a note - because you can't have too many friends in this world.

What was your childhood friend's name? Are you still in touch? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

For the record: Thanks, honey

What would you change about your spouse? Is it the way he leaves dishes in the sink? Or the way she leaves hair all over the bathroom floor? Think about the items in your marriage you wish were a little better. (Please don't email me a list or anything.)

Now, more importantly, what would you NOT change about your spouse? Is it the way she cooks dinner almost every night? Or the way he entertains the kids so you can have some time to yourself? You should probably thank your spouse for those things.

Because, in marriage (the same as in other relationships) a thank you can go a long way.

Researchers from the University of Georgia polled numerous couples about their relationship and their financial situations. After trolling through the data they were able to determine that expressions of gratitude were the strongest predictor of a quality marriage. It didn't matter what else was going on in the family - new baby, loss of job, sickness - marriages where partners were able to show each other gratitude were the strongest.

Furthermore, the study was able to show that a simple act of gratitude was able to counteract weeks of negativity within a marriage.

I love this study, mostly because it is a good reminder for me to not take my wonderful husband for granted. Can he drive me crazy? Yes. Absolutely. (But I probably drive him just as crazy.) But I also need to remember all the things he takes care of for me and our family so that I don't have to worry about them.

Thanks, honey!

How do you show your spouse gratitude? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, October 26, 2015

They are not charging me enough for this app

If you were to visit my house three weeks ago, you would have witnessed a fight that broke out in the bathroom every morning and every evening. It was the battle over the toothbrush. The catalyst for the fight varied by session, but always involved around one of the following:
  • My son wanted to brush unsupervised and would become incredibly upset over being told that he needed to brush longer/better.
  • My son did not want to brush his teeth at all and would scream and cry as a parent did it.
  • Some other issue set off my son and he was still in a bad mood/yelling when it came time to brush his teeth.
I was unhappy. My husband was unhappy. Our son was unhappy. (The cat was probably unhappy, too.)

We had tried so many methods to improve his habits - switched out brushes, added music, rewards...I even got those red disclosing tablets to show him spots on his teeth to work on.

Then I read a story about a toothbrushing application that was so successful that it was interfering with bedtimes and causing children to overbrush their teeth.

Brushing too often is a bad thing, but I was desperate. I bought the toothbrush and downloaded the free app. Here's how it went:

Night 1: My son was overtired and freaked out over the toothbrush (because it is electronic). My bad for not prepping him properly.

Morning 1: I prepped my son appropriately. We try it. No tears.

Night 1: My son is excited to brush his teeth.

Skip ahead...

Morning 5: I tell my husband that this company is severely undercharging me for using the application. (It's free.)

Night 5: My husband tries the app with our son. He agrees with me.

I don't do product reviews on this blog, but if you are interested in the app you can get the details here. All I can say is that there hasn't been a single fight since instituting the toothbrush and the application. Not one. And, since I keep it on my phone (and my son doesn't know my phone's unlock code) there is no danger of his overbrushing to get more rewards from the application.

All I know is that my son is happy to brush his teeth. And that is huge for me, considering that Halloween is coming up and oral hygiene is on every parent's mind these days. I just cannot tell you how much I look forward to two less arguments every day.

What application has made an invaluable change in your family's lives? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The democratic family

I often try to involve my son in our family decisions: What do you want to do this weekend?, What do you think we should do about dinner tonight? and even What do you like about this piece of furniture? are all questions that I have asked him within the past week. I ask him about what he wants to eat for lunch while grocery shopping, and I haven't been allowed to choose his clothes since he was three and started to do that on his own.

This may seem crazy to some parents, who have a different parenting style that may teach their child that Mom and Dad are the Law. And that is great if that works for them.

In our family, I want my son to know that his opinions matter, and that our household is everyone's responsibility. For me, that means he gets a lot of choices. He doesn't get to weigh in an opinion on everything, or when the decision is a tough one (like between two bad choices), but we do include him when we think he'll be affected.

This excellent exploratory piece by Time takes a look at a shift in parenting styles over several generations - from over-scheduled perfection to a democratic, crowd-resourced style. Reviewing my household, I see that I fall somewhere between a Generation Xer and a Millennial, which makes sense, considering that my age falls somewhere between those two generations, depending on the study that you are looking at. 

I think the important part of that article is that we parent in the way that works best for our family. Does this mean that I get push back? Of course I do. (Every parenting style comes with push back.) But it also means that there are a lot of choices out there when it comes to parenting.

How would you describe your parenting style? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Students say that family comes first

I said a lot of dumb things when I was in my 20s. As I am now older and (presumably) wiser, I take comfort in the fact that everyone says dumb things in their 20s. In your 20s you suffer from an optimistic idealistic attitude about...well, everything.

As I have gotten older, I have gotten wiser. Which is why, when I read this study indicating that MBA students say that they believe that they will choose family over career in their lives, I take it with a grain of salt.

First of all, I wouldn't think that there would be many people who would honestly say that they would choose work over family. Of course we all want a work/life balance, but there are so many mitigating factors in creating that balance that it is very hard to maintain.

The one good takeaway from that study is that it is good to hear that work/life balance is an issue with both sexes. (It would be better if this were no longer an issue at all, of course, but the fact that both men and women now think about it does represent a significant change within the work arena.)

I just wish I had advice for those people who already list work/life balance as a concern before they even enter the workforce. The truth is that there is no magic formula, no secret trick and no perfect company. There is just the personal choice - every day - to make it a priority and to keep what is important to you at the forefront of your mind.

How do you keep your family at the forefront of your decisions? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

My heart just can't take it

I still hate running.

I have my good days and my bad days; I have times when I am not getting out of the bed in the morning to run and those times when I am able to convince myself to run because it is the right thing to do. It is a daily struggle. But I try (oh so very hard) to stick with it.

And it still may not be enough.

A new study published in the journal Circulation indicates that more than 30 minutes of exercise per day may be required to see substantial reductions in the risk of heart disease. So, even if you are the dutiful person who carves out your daily half-hour for exercise and you get all your dots on your fitbit at the end of the day, you still might not be doing enough.

That's totally depressing. And that's not how I want to start my day. So, let's see if we can brighten things up a bit:

I think the basic point to keep in mind is that all exercise is good. So even if you are still only getting those 30 minutes a day, you are winning at the game of life. Maybe you only get 10 minutes one day or 15 minutes the next - it's OK. It's still better than nothing.

Keep it up! You can do it! Go team go!

I'll be right there with you...just let me tie my running shoes.

What exercise do you cram into your oh-so-busy day? Tell me in the comments (I promise to cheer you on!)

Monday, October 19, 2015

Come and visit me

When I was a little girl we would visit my father's extended family quite often. So often, that I was confused as to who my Mother's family was for a very long time. (I would wonder: Did she not have a family? Or was her family the same as Dad's family?) It took me a long time to realize that her family lived farther away.

It turns out that all that in-person contact was good for the older relatives in my Father's family, since we now know that face-to-face contact helps prevent depression. For the study on that link, researchers rated the effectiveness of communication with family members across several different methods (phone, email, social networks and in person) and then collected data on people's moods. They were able to determine that in-person visits are the best.

I really like this study. I think that as we are all so used to keeping up with people via texts and emails and phone calls, it speaks volumes that an in-person visit is still the strongest connection we have to other people. I know that the people that I feel the closest to are those who I see every day.

As an adult, I am not able to see my extended families as often as I would like - on my Dad's or my Mom's or my husband's side. The geographical distance makes it difficult. But, when I am able to see them I always feel better afterward - like I know my place in the world a little better.

Who do you wish you could see more often? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Pleasing the powerful parent

Who is the more powerful parent in your household?

Yes, yes, parenthood should be an equal partnership between two people, but we all know the truth: One parent in the household simply ends up doing more. And that parent is the one who may be influencing their child's self esteem the most.

New research conducted by the University of Sussex has found a link between a child's self-esteem and the parenting style of the dominant parent.

The researchers involved in the study did their best to remove culture from the equation. Instead they looked at how families were structured to find households run by both fathers and mothers with different parenting styles: Controlling, lax, disciplinarian, free-range, nurturing and even smothering.

The results were pretty clear: Whenever children felt negativity from the dominant parent, their self-esteem plummeted - and it didn't matter what the style of the other parent was like. It wasn't enough to overcome the dominant parent's negativity.

So, back to my original question: Who is the more powerful parent in your household? Tell me in the comments. 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Working parents are suffering in silence

At 5 pm, I have been working for eight and a half hours. I probably don't even know what time it is. In fact, I am probably in a meeting, since I work for a bicoastal company and it is only 2 pm on the other coast. (That tends to be a popular meeting time.)

By 5:14, I am trying very hard to focus on whatever I am doing and not stray from the meeting/problem I am trying to solve. I am doing my best to ignore the message that just popped up on my screen, or to convince the person who popped into my cube to come back tomorrow.

And then it is 5:15, and a calendar reminder pops up. This is the moment that I am never ready for. But it is a big moment and I have an important decision to make: Am I going to leave the office on time or work late?

I am sure that I am not the only parent out there who has to remind themselves via Outlook that it is time to go home. The more interesting discussion is why we have to do that.

A new study by Bright Horizons Family Solutions claims that 98 percent of parents have felt burnout and that a significant portion of them believe that any hope of a work/life balance begins at work. But here's the worst part: Those parents aren't being vocal to their workplaces about what they need.

It's a vicious cycle: Parents experience burnout and don't let management know; management does nothing to change the environment for the better; parents get fed up and leave the company; management is confused and doesn't know to make improvements for the next set of working parents who come into the newly opened position.

I, for one, do not completely agree with the majority of work/life balance beginning at work. I believe that a good work/life balance begins with me. Yes, it is important that I work for a company that has a culture of balance, but more importantly is the action that I choose to take when it is the end of the day and that reminder pops up telling me that in 15 minutes I need to head out the door.

What changes would you make to improve your work/life balance? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Adding on a vegetable

You come home from work and head straight into the kitchen. Within a few minutes, you are pre-heating, sauteing, chopping and seasoning. It's a Tuesday, you've put in a full day at work, and now you are cooking with purpose: You are trying to get dinner on the table before 7 pm.

A few minutes before seven, you have the food plated. Everybody is seated and the house smells delicious. As soon as you sit down, you hear it:

"But I don't like peas!"

My son does not like vegetables. At all. But I still think about incorporating them into meals and try to encourage him to eat them whenever possible. One day he may try them on his own.

I have hope.

I also now have new fodder for including veggies into my meals: They fool the family into believing that you are a better cook. It's weird, but true: Through a series of studies, Moms who served meals that included a vegetable were perceived to be more attentive of their families and better cooks overall.

Sounds good to me. Please pass the peas.

What's the go-to vegetable you like to add to meals in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, October 12, 2015

How many selfies could you take in one day?

When my son was born, my Mom asked me to take a picture of him every day. So I did. (Thanks, Mom!) Obviously, I took more than one picture of him most days, but I can say that I have a record of my son every day of the first year of his life - that's 365 photos of his daily changes from being a day old to being a year old.

And that number pales in comparison to the number of selfies teens take in a week.

I've been reading the results of the #Being13 study by CNN, which explores the amount of dependence that today's first-time teen has on social media: Some check their feeds more than 100 times a day, and others can take up to 150 selfies a day. The division between the online world and reality is so blurred for the 13-year-olds involved in the study, that it is hard to keep up.

One of the more disturbing items in the data was around what information is being shared: All those horror stories of nude photos and personal information being shared across a broad audience that came out a few years ago among high school students has unfortunately hit the early teen world. All of that additional pressure at an early age has side effects that can't even be quantified yet.

But there is hope: Parent involvement. Parents who monitor their tween's social feeds can basically erase the negative effects of living an exposed life online and can prevent issues from escalating.

Read the revelations from the study at CNN's Website and let me know in the comments what your life was like at 13.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Teens are very scary

Last week I told my son a "very scary" story about what would happen to him when he became a teenager. Although I was having some fun with him, I am well aware of the fact that what will actually happen when he becomes a teenager will be much, much more frightening. For me.

Think back to your teenage years. Mostly they are full of fond memories of excitement and good times, and great friendships. This is not true for your parents. In this great long piece in The New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert takes a look at the brain of a teenager and why we should all be afraid. The gist of the article is clear: Teenagers are wired to be riskier than any other age group, and when you throw in early experiences with sex, alcohol and driving for the first time, the risks get higher.

The most worrisome part for me is that this fact remains: The brain is not fully finished when we hit our teens, and it is up to parents to step in and bridge the gap between risky and real life. And that is an incredibly difficult task.

On a side note: Sorry, Mom!

What type of discussions do you repeatedly have with your teenager? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Could you work with your spouse?

I am spoiled. For several years I worked with my husband at the same company, and now we work only a few blocks apart. This means that I am used to being able to have lunch with my wonderful husband on a frequent basis and that neither of us has to go out of our way to spend time together in the middle of the day.

I often think back to those days when my husband and I worked for the same company - albeit different departments - and we were able to share more about our days. Since we both knew the same people and how the organization worked, there was a better understanding of how the other person's day went when we discussed that topic over the dinner table.

My story aligns with the latest USU study finding that work-linked couples tend to have better family lives overall.

But I think there needs to be a caveat to that study about how close the work link is. As mentioned above, I worked at the same company with my beloved husband, but never in the same department. I am not sure how well our relationship would fare if we were working with each other all day and then tried to talk about how our days went at dinner. I imagine the conversation would be something like this:
"How was your day, my dear?
"You already know; you were there."
Or - even worse - we would talk about work all the time and forget that there are other topics of conversation that are far more interesting for couples to discuss.

So, for now, I think a little distance is good. (But not too far - I like being spoiled.)

Have you ever worked with your spouse at the same company? Did you like it? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Growing up too soon

On the days that I think about it too much, I can't believe that my son is already five. Like most parents, I think that I blinked and he went from being a gurgling baby to a chaotic, smart, loving kid.

But even if I can't account for the speed of time, I can account for what we have been doing in the meantime. We've been playing. Whether we are making forts, dancing in the kitchen, building with Lego bricks or reading together, that little guy of mine is having fun.

I hope (when I blink again and another 20 years passes) that he remembers all the fun he had in childhood. Because, your childhood evidently predicts your parenting style. Researchers studying low-income families found a strong correlation between women who had to grow up too soon (and take on a great deal of family responsibilities) and a less-warm parenting style. Reading the conclusions from the study is a little heartbreaking - it is almost as though those children who were adults too soon became too jaded by the time they had their own children.

So, yes, chores are important; I want my son to feel personal responsibility and be a committed member of the household. But, I also want him to be a kid.

How many chores do you give your children? Share what type they are in the comments.

Monday, October 5, 2015

This will be on the test

My son is in real school now: He has defined classes, grades and real homework. So far, he has loved all of it.

As we continue on his academic journey, I am trying to keep a close eye on how he handles the structure and rules of school. Especially tests. He had a math test last week that he was excited to tell me all about - but that might be because he found it "easy" and got all the answers correct. I will be interested to hear what he thinks about the standardized testing when he gets his first exposure to that in a few years.

I remember standardized testing in my school - those odd days where we sat at our desks for hours filling in bubbles on a scantron sheet and then getting the results several months later. I am sure that it has changed since then - especially the frequency.

A recent Mother Jones article describes the increase in standardized testing and how some students are starting to retaliate: Mostly by opting out. Granted, students are not able to opt out of every test, but with a little research, they are able to determine which tests are required and which ones are measurements used to evaluate their teachers and schools, and are therefore optional.

The history of standardized testing and the need for data is complex, but I find it disturbing that U.S. schools dole out the highest number of tests per year - with some unfortunate students taking up to 20, depending on their school district.

I, for one, would rather my son focus on learning more in school than how to take a test.

How many standardized tests does your child have to take this year? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Passing along the bedtime pass

As of today, I am very lucky with my son's bedtime routine. He and I snuggle up in his bed and read books together (he reads me one and I read him three). Then there are hugs and kisses and then the light goes off. He very rarely leaves the bedroom.

But one night that may change, and he may decided to push his luck and leave the warm comfort of his bed to use the bathroom or tell me something "important" or to get a drink of water. And when that starts, I will institute the rule of the bedtime pass.

The bedtime pass is simple, which is probably why it works. Every night parents give their child a small piece of paper, which is the child's pass to leave the bed one time per night. After that one time is used, the parent will not respond to their child for any reason and the child may not leave the bed.

And that is it. Really.

It works, because the rules are set ahead of time with all parties, and because children feel that they are in control to leave the bed once per night if they want to. Everyone is happy; everyone can sleep better.

And isn't that the real goal?

Tell me what tricks you use to keep bedtime routines simple.