Friday, January 29, 2016

No one is paying attention to you

This time it happened before breakfast.

My son woke up and started asking questions about how babies fit in the womb. So, of course, we looked at cross-sectional drawings of pregnant women and discussed how a baby was born.

Then he got dressed for school.

On the way to school, he (oh-so-helpfully) reminded me that he didn't want me to get pregnant again.

I know why he said that: My son has no siblings, but he still competes for my attention. If I am talking with my husband or a friend, he gets a little louder and a little clingy. It's instinctual for him to want undivided attention. And because I know that, it is hard to me to imagine what life would be like with two children competing for my attention.

It is exactly that need which all children have - the desire for their parent's attention - that drove this paper describing the effects of larger families on children. In a nutshell: Smaller families are better for children. In a smaller family, children aren't competing with as many people for their parent's attention. And the more attention they get, the less likely children are to have lower math and science scores (for girls) and behavioral problems (for boys).

It comes down to a quantity/quality trade off: The more children, the less time parents have to spend with each of them.

My son doesn't need a study to tell him this. He has long held the belief that he doesn't want a brother or a sister because he doesn't want to share us.

At least he is honest.

If money wasn't a concern, would you prefer a big family or a small family? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

You seem angry

Yesterday, we talked about what makes people (ok - white men) happy. And it's good to focus on happiness, because we (males and females) are becoming angrier overall.

What are we angry about? Well it depends on your gender and ethnicity, as well as your income level, but Esquire has got a great info-graphic breakdown of all the data. The one area where everyone agrees to focus their anger? School shootings. We are all angry about those.

Check out the graphics and let me know: What is currently making you angry?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The secret to happiness (for men)

My son likes to tell me when he is not happy. If I take him to a store, I hear "But that doesn't make me happy." If I tell him to clean up his toys, I hear, "That makes me so sad." He is five: Happiness is getting to do whatever he wants when he wants.

I used to think that happiness depended on the person - that everyone needed to figure out what makes them truly happy. I am (evidently) wrong, though, as researchers have drilled happiness down to three things:
  1. Having close relationships.
  2. The quality of those relationships.
  3. Stable, supportive marriages.
There is one flaw in this list: They only studied males. I'm not saying that the above list couldn't apply to women, I'm just saying that I know a lot of women who are quite happy being alone.

I'm actually skeptical about the whole idea of pinpointing happiness down to just a few simple concepts - no matter what your gender is.

So, beyond the static answers of "family and friends" what truly makes you happy? Share with me in the comments.

Monday, January 25, 2016

I'm watching your eyes

My eyesight is bad. Really bad. Bad as in: I memorize the color of what the technician is wearing at the eye doctor's office, because once I take my contacts out I get a little lost when they move me from room to room.

Naturally, I was really worried about my son's eyesight and if he would have to wear glasses by age four (like I did). There is nothing wrong with wearing glasses (now that they actually make children's frames that fit their little faces, unlike the giant ones that I had when I was little), but perfect eyesight is definitely a wonderful thing. Thankfully, he seems to have his Daddy's eyes and the perfect vision that they enjoy (and I envy).

But I still worry about his eyes, especially after reading that children are twice as likely to suffer from myopia these days. Evidently all that time inside and staring at screens is not good for our eyes.

I'm not surprised.

Studies show that fresh air and sunlight are good for your eyes: We're are going to have to go outside and play. And watching him play is a beautiful thing to see.

How's your eyesight? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Mom, I'm bored

There is a phrase that echoes across every household on the weekends. It is intolerable to parents. It is ridiculous and annoying and insidious.

"Mom! I'm bored!"

In our household, I normally hear this phrase after I tell my son that he has had enough screentime for the day. It is his go-to reaction if he doesn't have any toys that he immediately wants to play with. Forget the fact that he has Legos and Hot Wheels and puzzles and crafts and books and an imagination and lots of other things to play with. You can't point those things out to a child who is bored. A bored child can't see past their own boredom.

It turns out that boredom is interesting to scientists. So interesting that they are starting to study it. Evidently there is no accepted clinical definition of boredom, but for the first time, scientists are finding a way to classify it.

Of course, the studies are filled with adults. But I feel that a child's boredom and an adult's boredom are completely separate states of being. Boredom as an adult is linked to true listlessness and light depression, even a loss of purpose. As a child, boredom is mostly connected to a loss of possibilities or being denied the one thing that they want to do.

I think that some boredom is good for children. In our household, a little boredom can go a long way - far enough for my son to think of alternative activities. And in that case, boredom breeds resilience. So, I wait for the after effects of the common complaint of "Mom! I'm bored" Because that is when creativity happens.

What do you tell your children to do when they are bored? Share with me in the comments.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Maybe you should avoid those unique baby names

I have a few friends who are expecting babies right now. And one of the things that I love is hearing their criteria for choosing a baby name.

Every parent has their set of criteria for narrowing down the thousands of baby names out there to find the one perfect name: Some parents like to pass on a family name, others want to make sure they aren't repeating a family name, others are looking for a name that is completely different from any other name that they've heard before, and some fall in love with the name of a city or a street sign and go with that.

I don't see many people passing on family names anymore (at least not as first names) and this may be why my son's Kindergarten class doesn't have a single William, Anna or Henry in it.

But maybe parents should rethink those names, as a study by MooseRoots.com has found that most geniuses have a common name: John, Mary, Robert and Elizabeth all took the top spots on the survey.

Does a name denote genius? No. Of course not.

But it is something else to think about when narrowing down that baby list.

What was your criteria for naming your child? Share your guidelines in the comments.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The older mom on the block

Someone asked me the other day if I wanted to have another baby. People like to ask parents that question. (I don't know why, as it is really none of their business, but they ask.) I have my standard answers:
  • We are one and done as I have provided the heir to our family fortune.
  • My son is perfect and I couldn't possibly imaging having another one.
  • I'm well into that "high-risk pregnancy" category now, so I'd rather just stay with the one child.
That last point isn't one that I always lead with, but it is something that I think about often. Would I want to have a newborn at the age that I am? (That's a personal question you can ask yourself, but for me the answer is no, I don't want to be that older mom on the block who can't keep up with her children.)

The truth is that a lot of women are delaying having children, as the overall age of first time mothers continues to climb in the U.S. - at least according to this NPR study

My Mother actually sent me that story link and I would like to think that she sent it to me as fodder for my blog and not because she would like another grandchild. (Thankfully, she reads this blog, so I am sure that she will send me a text and let me know the answer.)

But let's talk about that study for a moment: The age for first-time Mothers is now 26 years old. And that is not old, but it is definitely a shift away from the teenage mom scares of my youth. In fact, the increase in age is mostly attributed to fewer teen moms in the U.S.

So, that is good news in general. But for me, I'll stick with my one.

Here's another personal question: How old were you when you had your first child? Tell me the magic number in the comments.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Put your phone down and parent

My son is sitting on my lap as I write this post. He is watching the way my fingers move across the keyboard and he is reading the words as I type them.

I try very hard to not use my phone too much in front of my son. Yes, it is very rewarding when it is my turn in a game, or I get a text message from a friend. But, he is my son, and he is much more rewarding to interact with than anything that pops up on that little screen.

I hope he know that. (He says he does know that. Also, he says he likes the button that makes the letters slanty.)

There are a lot of bad habits that parents try to stop when they have children (like smoking and poor diet choices). Phone overuse should be another one.

But why should we stop? Well, this article in Time talks about distracted parenting delaying a baby's ability to process pleasure.

Ouch.

Babies rely on their Mommies for social cues. That's just the way nature works. If a parent is looking at their phone, then the baby doesn't have a full view of the face to pick up on those cues.

It's hard to quit your phone - so start slow. Maybe just get in the habit of checking it at certain times of the day and putting it on mute so that you don't have the temptation of checking it every time it makes a noise.

Your child will notice the difference.

Want to take the media diet challenge and see how much screentime you really log in front of your child? It's only for the brave of heart, but it's good for those who want to really cut back. Tell me how you do in the comments.

Friday, January 15, 2016

My Mother never slept

When I was a teenager, I was convinced that my Mother didn't sleep. She was a single Mom with a restaurant job that required long hours. And on the nights that she worked a close shift followed by an open shift, I am pretty sure that she only got about four hours of sleep (at best).

I got used to my Mom's work schedule. And her schedule is part of the reason why I never had a curfew. I didn't have to be home by a certain time; I only had to be home before my Mom made it home and realized I wasn't there. I would sometimes wake up early in the morning just to see her for a few moments or stay up late to talk to her before she crashed at night.

So, it doesn't really surprise me when I read that single mothers get the least amount of sleep out of all the parenting groups/combinations. Of course they do. Single Moms have a lot on their minds, and sleep isn't one of them.

I often think about my Mother and how much/little sleep that she got when I was in my teenage years. It was certainly less than at any other point of our lives together, and, knowing the importance of sleep on health, I realize how much she sacrificed to make my life better. Now that all her children are out of the house, I hope that she is getting just a few more winks at night than she used to.

She certainly deserves it.

How much sleep do you normally get at night? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Wrap that baby up in a box

The biggest shock after having our son is that after four days the hospital was letting us take him home.

Despite the baby prep classes and recovery time from my C-section and the video the nurses insisted that we watched, it seemed really soon. As in: We don't know what we are doing yet - are you sure you want us to take home this precious little life?
And yet, they did. And we were (like most new parents) unprepared but able to figure it out.

I think back on that time today and think about how much easier life would have been with a baby box. "What's a baby box?" you ask. Well, there is this essentials kit that Alberta parents have been receiving (lifted from an idea in Finland) that is filled with all the things you'll need once at home with the baby. Actual essentials. It's not filled with the cutest possible outfit that you saw in the store or the fanciest diaper bag, but items like blankets, swaddling instructions and baby thermometers. (Things that you maybe didn't know to register for.)

In the first few weeks of my son's life we didn't know how tightly he liked to be swaddled, or which exact cream to use on what area of his body and how much. Yes, I had my Mother living nearby to ask these questions of her, but a box full of answers would have helped tremendously.

I hope that one day the baby essentials kit becomes standard issue to all parents. Because there is nothing scarier than when the hospital encourages you to leave the nurses and the sterile environment and take your baby home. A box of help is just what every parent needs.

What did you need when you first brought your baby home? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

No news is good news (for young children)

It happened at breakfast. I don't know why these things happen over breakfast. Maybe it is the quietness of the morning. Or the contemplative nature of maple syrup. But that is when my son started randomly telling me the story of how the twin towers fell on 9/11.

There was no prompt on my end. Not even a "What are you thinking about, honey?" There was just quiet chewing and then he asked me what happened to make the twin towers fall, because he heard that robbers stole a plane and crashed it into one of the towers.

I tried not to react (or choke on my eggs), but simply said my favorite phrase, "Why do you ask?"

He said he wanted to make sure I was in a safe building at work. I took a deep breath and explained about the fire drills we have and the building's overall safety. I answered his questions about all the ways I could exit the building if I had to. And then I asked him where he had heard the story about the towers.

"At school," which is a standard answer at our house. I've learned that further questions produce no results (except frustration on my end).

We finished breakfast. We talked about plans for the day. I strengthened my resolve about not letting him watch the news. We are not a news family - the news is not on in our household for his little ears to pick up distressing nuggets of information without the proper context. And that is a good thing, considering that children his age are not emotionally ready to deal with the broader world. But the day will come when we do have to discuss the world at large. And the news will have to be discussed and explained in bite-size, age-appropriate nuggets.

But maybe we can discuss it over the dinner table.

Do your children watch the news with you? If so, tell me how old they are in the comments.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Technology in the hands of children

I must be doing something slightly right as a parent. For Christmas, my son received his uncle's old iPad. Although my son seemed not as excited as we all expected him to be at the time, he has since declared it to be "the best gift he could ever receive" and "the only thing he has ever wanted in his whole life." He also spent the next few days only wanting to play games on his Uncle's team and sit by him at meals. High praise from my son (in actions, if not in words.)

So, my son now has an iPad. And my son recently told me that having an iPad was a privilege and a responsibility. So my message about technology must have sunk in somewhere.

And that is great to know after reading that technology has become so easy for toddlers to use. Several recent studies have shown that children aged four and under are able to swipe and scroll, as well as choose apps with relative ease. I believe it is that ease of use which is partially responsible for parents handing over their devices to children.

We've made it through my son's toddler years without him having his own device. And now we are ready to take all that advice and research that I've been collecting over the past few years and put it to good use. We're still working out the rules and limits, but it's a conversation we're having together.

What age did you first give your child their own device? Share with me in the comments.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Why I ignore most of my son's homework

My son has been in school since he was six weeks old. Not daycare. School. Before he reached preschool age, he had endured extensive homework requests to put together collages of various themes, build beanstalks, retell stories and (once) to build a robot. And we did it all because education is important to me.

But now he is in Kindergarten and he has homework every school day. Most of the time, we don't do it. I look at the monthly list of items to do, and they all take around 20 minutes, which is time we don't have in the evenings. Frankly, I am more interested in getting dinner on the table and him to bed on time than I am in having him put together a collage. And if we manage to have free time one night, I would rather us play a board game together than argue over the sentence he should write explaining a connection he made to a character in a story.

My son is naturally inquisitive ("can we talk about the Big Bang?"), asks good follow up questions when he doesn't understand ("why is a group of tigers called an ambush and not a pride?") and retains the stories that I tell him so that he can repeat them in his own words (his retelling of the asteroid impact at Chicxulub that helped wipe out the dinosaurs is a thing of beauty.) In short, he is a typical 5-year-old.

I do not want to squash his natural wonder of the world by bogging him down in homework. As this piece in The Atlantic points out, children are enduring so much school structure (starting with preschool) that they are basically burning out by second grade.

So, we cherry pick from the homework list. We do the "bigger" projects on weekends; we skip the stuff he knows already. There are fewer arguments in the household. And my son is still above average on his core skills.

I'll worry more about homework next year, when grades start to matter. For now, I just want him to have a few more precious months of learning by fun.

What's your take on homework? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The hidden pricetag in having a girl

My son is a typical little boy. He likes to build with Legos, ride his bike and create chaos and joy. He hates cleaning up (but somehow likes to sweep), enjoys having additional responsibilities and loves being independent. His favorite colors are green and orange. He hates the color pink.

And it is that last part (not liking pink) that has saved me a bundle of money. Because, as it turns out, retailers often charge more money for items that are marketed to girls, even if the only difference is the color.

So, yeah, that is discouraging. And wrong. Really, really wrong.

Why are we punishing women by charging them more for similar items or slight changes based on gender preferences? It doesn't make sense. But until retailers change, consider buying the boy version and save yourself some money.

Have you bought a "girl" version of something that was way more expensive than the "boy" version? Tell me about it in the comments.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Knowing where you come from

On one girls-only weekend at the beach, one of my friends spent her time looking up her family ancestry. Occasionally, she would let us know about a branch of her family tree that she had discovered, and from listening to her talk, it sounded like her family was full of rogues and adventurers. (I am sure that there were pleasant, everyday people as well, but she didn't share those tales with us.)

But the pride of having a rogue in the family is to be expected, as a recent survey concludes that most people like the idea of having a skeleton in their closet. (At least in their long lost, well-before-my-time closet.)

My Mother-in-Law once got to thoroughly research her family tree, and her efforts created a binder full of documents and stories to round out her family's history. (And, yes, there were a few colorful characters.)

All of this makes me wonder if the piecemeal stories that I've heard about some of the branches on my family tree are true. Yes, I would love to get the oral history from my older relatives - not just for my own curiosity but to pass along the stories to my son - but I know that I have limited resources. It looks like I will be one of the many people thankful for all those ancestry websites.

Do you know your family history? Share a piece of it with me in the comments. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

100 minutes of me time

There is a phenomenal woman that I work with. Every day she comes into the office a half-hour early, sits in the break room and reads. She regularly encourages other people to take time to do the things that they love. And when I once asked her who she could make happier right now, she said she wanted to make herself happier by putting in the same amount of time into her interests as she invests in the people around her.

And she is the person who inspired my 100 challenge for the year.

This year I am going to spend 100 minutes on myself once a week. Here are my rules:
  1. I have to spend the 100 minutes consecutively. No stopping and no interruptions.
  2. I have to spend the time on something that interests me (not just doing chores).
I really struggled with this challenge, because at first it feels incredibly selfish: wanting to spend 100 minutes a week on myself without my son or husband. But then I thought about that amazing woman I work with and how she believes that you can't take care of anyone else if you don't take care of yourself first.

Also: It is only 100 minutes a week. I think that if I get to sit and read, or get my nails done or go shopping by myself that it is enough time for me to reset my mind and come back to my family as a better person.

Forget resolutions: Do 100 of something and tell me your plans in the comments.