Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why every home needs bookshelves

We've been visiting a lot of model homes lately. And like most show homes, they are immaculately decorated. As we wander through the rooms, I am usually distracted by two thoughts:
  1. No one's home looks like this.
  2. What books are on the bookshelves?
Let me explain that second thought a little: I have this image of the interior decorator going into a used book shop, buying a bunch of hardcover books, removing the dust jackets and artfully displaying them based on their color and size. Yes, they make the shelves look pretty, but upon closer inspection, they don't make sense. The book topics don't go together and there are reference books mixed in with fiction. Utter chaos.

To me, books are for reading, not display. We are a family that reads and I've always made sure that my son has plenty of books on his bookshelves. And now I have even more reason to make sure that our bookshelves stay full: Shared reading. As this piece in the NY Times points out, it is harder to share a digital book with your child than a physical one. As my son gets older and all our books get incorporated into one big family library, he will be more likely to reach for the books that are "mine" or those that my husband brought into the collection if they are physically present and in his eyesight. If we were to move to digital books, then yes, they could be shared, but it would take a little more effort and the visual reminder wouldn't be there every time he walked passed the family bookshelves. 

I find myself looking forward to what books he will choose to read and which ones I will get to read that he brings into the family.

What was your favorite book as a child? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Over the river and through the woods (or just the next town over)

My son likes to tell me that when he grows up he is going to get a house about a block or two away and he and his wife will ride their bikes over every day to eat dinner with us. And although I am not sure what his future wife will think of that plan, it sounds perfectly reasonable to me. I would never prevent my son from moving away from me, but I would be thrilled to have him within easy visiting range in adulthood.

Clearly, I am in luck, since a recent poll has revealed that about half of Americans live less than 18 miles away from their parents

I sort of fall into that category: A quick reveal on Google Maps shows that I am only 16.8 miles away from my Mom. But that is a fairly recent deal: For most of my adulthood, I have lived a few hour's drive away from her. I know that she likes having me closer to her nest as it gives her easier access to her grandson (and probably me, too).

So what is keeping Americans so close to home? The study theorizes that we are becoming less mobile as a society overall, with children staying closer to their parents for arrangements that include help with child care or caregiving services. Education and job opportunities also play a part: The more educated the child, the more likely they are to settle far away from home for a better job opportunity.

For me, I wish that all of my son's grandparents lived closer to us. There are the selfish reasons of course: I want my son to know each of the amazing grandparents that he has. But there are also the practical reasons: I want to be close by for those moments in life when my parents (by blood or by love) need me.

How far away do you live from your parents? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Sticking with blocks and dolls

When my son was a baby we had a lot of toys that made noise. Press a button, and something would make a sound and light up. We ended up removing the batteries from a lot of the toys because there was no volume control and they were just too loud. I liked playing with simple toys with my son: Board books, blocks, cars. And that seems to be what he loved playing with the most, too. I remember many afternoons of him lining up long rows of cars and crawling/smashing through the soft-block cities I created for him.

It turns out that those "simpler" toys may be the better choice for language development. Researchers studied parent-baby interactions with a variety of toys and found that the electronic toys elicited less interaction from parents. Researchers involved in the study observed that the parents would let the toy do the talking for them.

I like this study - even though it is small - because it points out that parents probably don't even realize that they are talking less when electronic toys are present. Most parents understand the importance of their interactions with baby leading to better language skills overall (and, as we've seen, better language skills leads to better math skills), so it's important to note that parents are not purposefully trying to avoid talking to their children. It's just that they don't want to compete with the noise.

What is the noisiest toy in your home right now? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Hanging out with grandma

My son loves spending time with his grandparents. Specifically, he likes spending time with his grandparents when I am not around. And I can respect that: He has a special relationship with them and doesn't need me around to develop it. And that works out well for all of us. His grandparents can set their own rules and spoil him to their hearts' content, and my son can enjoy the love and attention from another group of people.

And, as a bonus, rewarding relationships between grandparents and grandchildren lessen depression for both groups. When these two groups hang out, grandchildren get the benefit of learning their family history and exposure to different skill sets. My son for instance, learns how to dance, gardening skills and the importance of cowboys in the West. Grandparents receive a key touchstone into younger life and ideas. Sometimes they even get ideas for their blogs. (Love you, Mom!)

So, I don't mind what happens at grandma's house without me, as long as all parties involved benefit.

What do you like about having your children and parents hang out together? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, December 21, 2015

When age isn't just another number

I had a friend who was a little bummed out over turning 30. I couldn't relate. I was excited to turn thirty. At thirty I felt more stable and aware of who I was as a person for the first time in a really long time. Overall, I've enjoyed my thirties.

And I have good reasons to be happy with this decade: I am married to a man I love and we have a little boy who is adorable. Those are two events that happened in my late twenties and early thirties.

Those decisions - getting married and having a baby - happened on a timeline that worked for my husband and me, and it's a good thing that I didn't read all the articles out there talking about the best time to have a baby or get married or that the age you accomplish those items affects your health at 40, otherwise I might not be as happy as I am today.

Women have enough pressure as it is to figure out how to balance life/career/family and everything else that they want to do in their twenties and thirties. They don't need additional complications added to the timeline within their heads.

What do you want to accomplish in your life that you haven't already? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Breaking up is hard for everyone

I know that every marriage is different. I listen to girl talk. I hear from friends who let their husbands handle all the finances, and those that act as the family accountant. I hear from moms who think their husbands don't spend enough time with the kids and those that are happy with their amount of free time away from the family. I hear from women who joke about murdering their spouses several times a week and those that are careful to never say anything negative about their other half. I've learned that what works for my marriage won't necessarily work for yours.

And I think the same can be said of divorce.

My parents are divorced. And I don't know all the specifics around it, but I do know that it was as amicable as these things go and that they both loved their children and that they became happier people apart. And the specifics of that story is theirs and theirs alone.

Which is why I read this study around daughters' health being affected the most by divorce as a little suspect. I do not doubt that children's health and lives are affected by divorce, but I do wonder if boys are just as affected and not saying as much. When I read studies like this one which touts how children are affected by family breakups I have to reflect back on my own family life and wonder what would life be like if my parents had stayed together. Would their unhappiness have been worse for all of us in the long run?

When it comes to studies around things as personal as divorce, I take them with a grain of salt. Couples going through separation and the toll of breaking up and all the impacts to their families from those actions have enough things to worry about as it is.

What's the worst breakup you've ever had? Take a moment to let it all out in the comments.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Growing up tall

When some of us were children, we wanted to be ballerinas or cowboys or astronauts. We wanted to be teachers or parents or scientists. When I was a little girl, I wanted to be shorter.

I'll explain.

I have always been tall. When I was little, I towered over my friends, my Mother never had to hem my skirts and my long-sleeved shirts never fit quite right. Now that I am older and still quite tall, I still tower over my friends, I buy extra long pants and avoid long-sleeved shirts. But I would still love to be just a little bit shorter.

Many people, I realize, have the opposite problem to the degree that they worry about their stature and seek medical advice on it. And once you rule out any underlying health issues, there are only so many avenues to pursue. It turns out that a recent study on parental concerns over short stature has found that parents are really seeking help for any long-lasting psychological issues that may develop from being shorter than average.

I don't know what it feels like to be too short, but I can imagine the range of emotions. Whereas I felt like I stood out in every crowd, someone who is shorter may feel lost in it. There is some awkwardness with height differences while dating. And I know that it is hard to dress professionally when you have to worry about your size - tall or short.

Do you feel that you are too tall or too short? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Making positivity cool

I try very hard to stay a positive person. Yes, I have backup plans if things go wrong and like everyone I have off-kilter days, but generally speaking, I like to think that life will go my way. And I have noticed that I am the happiest when I am hanging out with like-minded positive people: Happiness spreads happiness.

That seems obvious, but now there is some research to back it up: Harvard researchers discovered that people with upbeat friends were less likely to suffer from depression. Here's the kicker: They exclusively studied teens.

That's right: Notoriously moody, hormone-filled teens, as depicted in your favorite television drama, can enjoy happiness, too. It just depends on who your teenager hangs out with. There is only one question left: How do we make being happy the desirable choice for our teens? Sometimes being happy is not cool.

Are you a generally positive or negative person? Or maybe you are somewhere in-between? Whatever your mood, tell me about it in the comments. 

Monday, December 14, 2015

I am raising my son to leave me

It is Sunday morning and I am the first person awake. I curl up on the couch with a good book under a blanket and read while the sun comes up through the windows. The house is quiet for about an hour until I hear the stomps of five-year-old feet down the stairs. My son comes over to the couch, gives me a big hug and snuggles under the blanket with me.

"I will be your little boy forever," he says to me.

I feel like a Hallmark card.

The moment will quickly pass as he starts asking science-related questions that I cannot answer without some help from the Internet, and I will have to think about responsible things like breakfast and that we will need to get dressed at some point.

The idea of him being mine forever stays in back of my head all day, because the truth is that he will not be mine forever. One day he will belong to himself and maybe even a spouse, and I have to accept that. I have to accept that I am raising my son to leave me one day.

Even though that thought hurts.

But it is better than the alternative: Researchers at Cambridge have pinpointed the top reason for family rifts and have determined it to be their son's new wife. Evidently, the journey from son to husband can cause family strife as the family (especially mothers) try to find a way to integrate the new person into the family. Strangely, rifts don't occur nearly as often with daughters and their new husbands.

After reading this study, I thought about my relationship with my mother-in-law and how graciously she welcomed me to the family, and how she sometimes refers to me as being the one who polished her son into the man he is today.

I am not sure that I deserve all that praise, but I am incredibly thankful that I have such a wonderful MIL who was accepted me into the family. (Thanks, Mom-in-Law!)

I hope that I am just as gracious when the time comes.

How's your relationship with your mother-in-law? Tell me all about it in the comments.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Doggie days and crazy cat ladies

We are not a dog family. My husband and I are not particularly fond of dogs, so our son is not very fond of them either.

But for people who do like dogs, they are probably already aware that dogs reduce stress, especially in children. The cycle of play, responsibility and companionship that a dog provides children has been linked to less anxiety overall.

We are a cat family. And here's the thing: Owning a cat has been linked to schizophrenia. Granted, that link mostly has to do with a parasite that a cat could have (which may or may not have added to the crazy cat lady stereotype), but all the same, I don't think it is fair for people to think that cats don't reduce anxiety as well.

We adored our family cats. And our son still received the same cycle of play, responsibility and companionship. I think that any pet can contribute to reduced anxiety as long as the entire family likes the pet. So go ahead and get your dog, cat, hamster or ferret - whatever it is that you love in life.

Do you have a family pet? What kind? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Why you need to change your tone

Jerry Seinfeld has a very funny bit about the many tones of marriage. Basically, it boils down to where he is not supposed to use his normal speaking tone when communicating with his wife, as she considers it too harsh.

And he is not making that up.

Because sometimes it doesn't matter what you say to your spouse, but it does matter how you say it. Researchers interested in couples' communications have evidence to support that the success of your marriage may indeed rely on the tone of voice you use with your spouse. The researchers dissected recorded conversations between couples - pulling out every last warble and change in pitch - and tracked the data to discover that certain tones were associated with the changing state of a relationship.

I am not sure that they needed to do all that research, as I for one can recognize my spouse's tonal changes when he is in a state of high emotion. And I am sure that he can recognize mine. But, I digress...

So what's a couple to do with the researcher's information? Check your tone and check your partner's tone. It really seems like common sense, but if you are going to talk about an issue that may cause high emotion in you or your partner, it is best to start when you are both calm and have the ability to focus on the issue at hand. When you hear a change in tone and neither partner can come back to neutral, you may want to resurface the issue at a later time or seek a third party's assistance.

What issue do you need to change your tone on? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Go ahead and talk to me

I keep a few older videos of my son on my phone. I like to watch them and compare what he was like a few years ago to how he is today. One of the items that I notice right away is how he talks. Not necessarily how much he talks (although I notice that, too) but the way he pronounced his words. At the time I took the videos, I was completely used to the sound of his toddler talk. And I also knew how important it was to his language development.

But I didn't realize how important it was to his math development. A recent group of studies, however, indicates that a larger vocabulary leads to better math skills. The researchers believe the correlation is due to children being able to think more abstractly and better understand advanced concepts, like patterns and number sequences.

More words also equates to better social development. That same group of studies points out that children who know more words are better able to express their needs, emotions and are more fun for teachers to interact with. All of that one-on-one attention can lead to even more words and the cycle continues.

So, let your little one talk on. And that means you should talk to. Narrate your activities (yes, this will feel weird at first, but you'll get used to it). Read everything allowed - even if it is not a children's book. And broaden your own vocabulary, so that you avoid repeating the same words to your child over and over again.

Eventually, they will surprise you with how many words they know.

How did you broaden your child's vocabulary when they were a toddler? Leave your tips in the comments.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Distracted dining hurts families

When I was little we had a simple rule in our household: No eating in front of the television. We ate our meals at the tables in the kitchen or dining room. In nice weather, we ate outside on the deck.

When I got my own apartment, I found myself still following this rule. I made my meals and ate them at my dinner table. Occasionally, I would eat some popcorn during a movie, but the majority of the time, I followed my parents' rule.

Now that I have a child of my own, we still follow that rule: We eat our meals at the table, and I'm glad that we do. Not only do I not have to worry about crumbs in the living room, but I don't have to worry about distracted dining.

Television, electronic devices, phones and games: They are all dinner distractions. And the latest studies say the distractions are a problem for both children and parents. The obvious part of the study indicates that distracted diners overeat. The less obvious part of the study points out that distractions prevent good parenting. When parents aren't paying attention to the meal, they are not monitoring their child's food intake or asking questions about fullness. They are also not modeling good behaviors.

So, put the distractions away, and please pass the pepper.

What are your rules around eating in front of the television? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Everything I know is wrong

I have tried standing more during the day. Because I once read that sitting too much was bad for my health. I tried standing more at home, at work and when I went outside to play with my son. I stood. But, it turns out that I didn't need to.

Another study has just declared that sitting isn't going to kill me. Nope, what is going to kill me is the lack of movement altogether. It doesn't matter if you sit or if you stand: You just need to move more.

That's good news, as I am sitting right now and am very comfortable.

I've also been focused on my sleep, thanks to my fitbit and its ability to track both the length and quality of shut-eye I get per night. And because of that, I have been limiting my screen time in the evenings and trying to find other ways to rest my eyes before going to bed.

But that doesn't actually matter either, since people without electricity don't get eight hours of sleep at night either. Sleep is actually regulated by a lot of factors - temperature, light, noise and other stuff. So, there's that.

And yet, I will still read my studies. I will read them because they make me think about my life and the things in it that I can change for the better, and the things that I need to work on. They inspire me and motivate me to be a better wife, mother, person. Even when they aren't 100 percent accurate.

What is something that you recently found out you were wrong about? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

First comes love, then comes moving in, then maybe marriage

Like many couples, my husband and I moved in together before getting married. And we actually lived together for more than a decade before saying our vows. We wanted to be sure about our choice to remain together. (Absolutely sure.) And to this day, I am glad that we put in all that time before we tied the knot. We know each other on every level and I believe that it made the "hard" years of marriage (the first year after saying "I do," and the first year of having a baby) a little easier on us.

It also makes our divorce much less likely, at least according to the latest research collected by a British study. The divorce rate looks to be on the decline, but the reasons why are hard to determine. Is it due to more cohabitation never leading to marriage in the first place? Or is it due to longer cohabitation leading to stronger marriages?

I am not sure that the reasoning matters: A bad relationship is a bad relationship. It is tough to separate your life from someone else's, although (of course) divorce involves way more paperwork. What does matter is that people have a lot more choices than they used to: There is no longer the expectation that women need a marriage proposal to leave her parent's home; men no longer feel the expectation that they have to have a family in order to feel successful.

Marriage works for me. I still get a thrill hearing people refer to me as "Mrs." and like seeing my husband's last name as mine when I write my signature. Don't get me wrong: Marriage is work. But it's worth it.

How long did you live with your significant other before you got hitched? Share with me in the comments.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Advice from your parents

When I left the family nest to get settled into my first job, my Mom gave me some advice. She told me some things about my paycheck and finances, she gave me a few words of wisdom when dealing with my coworkers and when I got frustrated with that job, she told me to stick with it until I found something new.

But since that time, I haven't heard much in the way of work advice from her. This may be because I haven't gone into too much detail about my career when we talk or it could be because like most parents she sees me as the adult she raised and keeps any advice to herself.

And yet, many adults wish their parents would weigh in with some advice. At least, that is the finding from a study LinkedIn commissioned for its Bring Your Parent to Work Day initiative from last year. Almost 60% of adults think that Mom or Dad has some career wisdom to share with them - even when they know that their parents do not fully understand what they do.

I welcome all advice from my Mom, but I wonder about the results of this study. It is one thing to say that you would wish your parents would give you career advice, but it is another thing to have a parent trying to give you advice in your adulthood. Would all those people who said "advice please!" in the study welcome it or come to resent their parents' stepping into their adult lives? Most people do not like having their decisions questioned - even when it is Mom and Dad doing the questioning.

(Hi, Mom. Don't worry about me: My work is going really well!)

Who do you take work advice from? Tell me in the comments.