Monday, February 29, 2016

Teaching girls to be afraid

Like most parents, I have noticed that my son plays differently with me than he does with my husband. With me, he wants Mommy to do things with him or for him and he tends to choose activities that aren't risky. With my husband, he wants to try new things, explore the world a bit more and generally tumble around.

This dual play is considered normal and natural for children of both genders. But my son is at an advantage here. Because he is a boy, both his Dad and I will continue to push him toward trying new things. Because he is a boy, we are less likely to teach him to avoid play that isn't "safe."

I have thought about the way we are with our son on the playground: We encourage him to try the bigger slide, the harder climb, the bigger jump. Would I be this encouraging if my son were a little girl?

The answer is probably not. Whether we mean to or not, we are raising a bunch of girls who are scared to try new things, because we aren't letting them have the same adventures as boys have. Instead of letting the daughters of this world climb trees and get skinned knees, we are warning them of getting hurt. Meanwhile, we are giving our sons the directions to try new things on their own, while we stay hands off.

I think back to my own childhood. My Mother wasn't risk adverse and we did lots of crazy things in the Girl Scouts (creek-stomping comes to mind), but I do recall being very scared that I was going to hurt myself with certain activities. Meanwhile, my brother got stitches and didn't think much about the consequences of building a bike ramp in front of the house.

Do you teach your daughter to play the same way you would your son? Why or why not?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Sharing a nap with Fido

When our cat was alive, she used to sleep in bed with us at night. I could count on her to nudge me in the middle of the night if I was snoring, crawl up next to me when she was having a bad dream and gently paw at me when she wanted me to wake up and feed her.

As you can imagine, this didn't equate to a good night's sleep for me. I didn't really mind it, though - she was such a sweet kitty and my constant companion. I will say now that she is gone, I probably sleep better.

As it turns out, an unfit night of sleep isn't the case for everyone - lots of people actually claim to sleep better at night with their pets.

This is hard for me to imagine - I have visions of large dogs taking up a great deal of space and being difficult to sleep next to. (How do you get them to roll over or stop storing?) But maybe I am wrong, since I've never had to share a bed with a large dog.

What about you - do you sleep better with your pet sharing the bed with you or without? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Coffee in the morning; wine in the evening

I used to have only a few cups of coffee every year. And then I started having coffee time with a friend of mine at work, so now I have coffee on a more regular basis. It's still not every day, but around once a week.

At first I was worried about the increase in my caffeine levels, but it turns out that the amount of coffee I drink per week probably negates the amount of wine I drink per week (which is also not a lot, but it's nice to have balance in my life without any additional effort.)

That's right - there is some preliminary research that indicates that coffee wipes out any negative effects of damage from booze. Multiple studies also hint that additional cups of coffee can help reduce liver damage.

None of this means that you should try to indulge one way or the other - either with extra lattes or tumblers - thinking that you can easily wipe out the effects. Genes and other factors definitely play a role here and moderation is always key.

But it is nice to know that after having wine with dinner I can enjoy a coffee with some friends in the morning and not worry about either one.

How many cups of coffee do you drink per day? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Finding love on the job

My son often tells me that when he grows up he wants to come and work at my job. He has plans to sit in the cube next to mine and be on my team. He also wants to help distribute candy when the team needs a little pick-me-up on rough days and have lunch with me every day.

All of that works out nicely for me, because I can now narrow down what field his future wife will be in. Yes, there is now a chart that you can use to look up your job and see what career your partner will be most likely to fall into. (Or at least what fields have been most likely to marry up in the past.)

Of course, this is not an accurate indicator of the marriages being any good or not, but you can spend some time wondering why registered nurses end up with truck drivers or why firefighters end up with customer service representatives or why teachers tend to marry other teachers. 

It's all just for fun.

Did you marry someone whose career complimented yours? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, February 22, 2016

When the accent comes out to play

My husband and I were born in the Northeastern United States. We spent a third of our lives there before our families migrated South. So, we've spent most of our lives living in the Carolinas. Although I know my speech pattern has slowed down a bit and I will on occasion say "y'all," I don't have much of an accent - neither Southern nor Northern.

My son, however, is another story. He attends school where most of the children and the teachers have a Southern accent. At home, he speaks mostly in a way that reflects the way my husband and I speak, but when he is frustrated or excited, we hear a twang come out.

It may or may not last, but it is intriguing to hear him change his vocal patterns to his audience.

And he's not the only one. Evidently, we all have a special voice we use while talking to our digital assistants. A "telephone voice" an "accent-free voice" or a "polite voice" - call it whatever you want - there is definitely a different tone and inflection we use when asking Siri for something that we never use with our family and friends. People have learned very quickly that regional accents, slang and colloquialisms tend to confound our devices, and we have been quick to adopt a flat, polite tone when we want something from them.

It is this ability of ours to adapt our speech to our situation that reassures me that my son's accent doesn't matter. He may always become a vocal chameleon to fit in at home or with his friends, but I am more interested in what he is saying that how he sounds when he is saying it.

Do you have an accent that you've ever tried to tone down? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Sharing the germs with your baby

My son was born via C-section. That definitely was not the way that I wanted to go, but that is the path we had to take. And at the end of the day, I had a healthy baby boy, so that is all that mattered to me. I did the skin-to-skin contact and breastfed him as soon as I was able because I had read so much research on those connections being important to a newborn.

What I never considered was that because he was born via C-section means that he may have missed out on some important Mommy germs found in the birth canal.

Researchers, however, are starting to experiment on ways to change that. And it is simple: Within two minutes of the baby being born, nurses are swabbing the baby with some microbes from the birth canal. The data is still out on whether this is keeping babies as healthy as those that pick up the microbes naturally, but since the procedure is so simple, I don't see how it could possibly hurt (as long as Momma is otherwise healthy).

With so many other options available for birth plans, I wouldn't be surprised if this one starts to make an appearance as a popular request.

What was the most important thing to you as you filled out your birth plan? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The gender-neutral public bathroom

Here's the thing: I like my privacy in the bathroom.

I teach my son about privacy and remind him to close the door when he is in the bathroom. My husband and I keep the bathroom door closed on each other, keeping the mystery alive in our marriage.

I am all for family bathrooms in public places. I applaud the businesses that have put those facilities in to make life a little easier for parents having to take their opposite-gendered child into the restroom with them. I love no longer having to take my son into the women's restroom with me when the two of us are out running errands together.

There is a lot of discussion right now around gender-neutral public bathrooms being the norm.

Once upon a time, I worked for a privately held company that was mostly a boys club. All the bathrooms were single-stalls and gender neutral. And the few women that did work at the company were generally upset at the state of those bathrooms and sharing them across both genders. (The men didn't seem to care either way.)

I am not saying that one gender is cleaner or that bathroom use is different or anything like that. I am saying that the bathroom is the last place in the U.S. that is still segregated by gender. And I am OK with that. I am OK that in the moment where I feel most vulnerable and exposed and am trying to take care of my body's needs, I don't have to see the opposite gender. I am not OK with everyone not having that same sense of privacy. There needs to be a third option to cover people who want privacy for whatever their reason.

Would you be fine with gender-neutral public bathrooms being the norm? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Leaving the PTA off your resume

In my job, I get to interview a fair number of applicants. I like that part of my role - meeting new people, hearing about their career journeys and goals, and asking why they want to join my team. I have HR-approved questions to ensure that I never ask an "illegal" question, but I am always surprised at how many people just offer up additional details around their life - especially when it comes to parenthood.

Let me be clear: I never hold parenthood as a factor for or against hiring someone for a position. I am just surprised that people freely disclose that information, especially with the mounting evidence that shows that parents face a lot of prejudice when it comes to career advancement.

Part of me understands: Parenthood is a huge life event. And parents should be recognized by companies for their amazing skills in negotiation (if you finish your chores early, you can watch a movie later), time management (start brushing your teeth while I brush your hair) and attention to details (you can't go to school like that, the email from your teacher said you needed to wear red and that color is more of a burgundy). But, unfortunately, not all companies think that way.

What I am saying is that maybe you should leave the fact that you are currently running the PTA off your resume until the rest of the world realizes how amazing parents are as workers.

Did your boss know that you were a parent before you were hired at your current job? Let me know in the comments.

Monday, February 15, 2016

When your child doesn't believe anymore

We have a thing in my family called the Valentine's Monster. This is what he looks like:

I know that he is very polarizing: Upon seeing him, people are either repulsed or can completely relate to him. My son adores him, because he is the magical creature who comes alive the night before Valentine's Day to leave treats. Or at least my son did adore him. Until this year.

This year, my son woke to find a trail of chocolate heart candies leading from his room to his treat. He excitedly found a bag in his room and collected all the chocolate hearts. I was pleased to see him enjoy the magic of the holiday until he told me that he knew the Valentine's Day Monster wasn't real.

"Why do you say that?" I asked, trying not to sob as my heart was breaking.

"I know it doesn't come alive at night because it is just a statue."

So fine. He doesn't believe in the little monster anymore. I knew that day was coming. At first I worried about this disbelief extending next to Santa or the Tooth Fairy (who hasn't even had a chance to visit him yet). But, I think I am safe on those two fronts as there is a culture built up around those figures: Santa and the fairy exist in books and cartoons and messages everywhere already.

In retrospect: I should have made a book about the Valentine's Day Monster before introducing him to my son.

What was it like when your child learned the truth about beloved figures like Santa and the Easter Bunny? Tell me every crushing detail in the comments. I'll get my tissues.

Friday, February 12, 2016

My most stressed out time as a parent is ahead of me

There are things that as a parent you can't prepare for. I like lists, so here is just a few of them:
  • The amount of time you will spend talking about your child's bowel movements
  • The way you will react the first time your child has a public meltdown 
  • The random things your child learns at school from their friends and then parrots back to you at home
(It's that last one that makes me realize why I have friends who homeschool their children. Listening to the nonsense he gets from other children drives me insane, and I completely understand wanting to control what goes into his beautiful sponge-like brain for as long as possible. But homeschooling is stressful, and I really like my job, so that is not going to work out for us. Sorry, I digress.)

The point is that you can't prepare for most of your life as a parent, especially when it comes to what's going to stress you out. I have this long-held belief that my son will turn into a complete stranger in his high school years, become a goth and hate me before finally coming around to appreciate me right before he leaves for college.

Now I've learned that this will probably happen in middle school instead. Blame the facts that children are dealing with more peer pressure or entering puberty earlier, but most mothers are reporting that their most stressed out time of life has become the middle school years.


How do parents survive the onslaught of moodiness, independence and pressure? They say that the common sense rules still apply: Communication, listening to your children and knowing when to let them do things on their own.

Do you have any advice for handling a middle schooler? Share your wisdom in the comments.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Please don't yawn in front of me

Full disclosure: I just yawned while typing that title.

Here's the thing: I am very susceptible to yawning. If I see someone yawn in front of me, I am going to yawn back at them. And when I do, I really hope that they are not also susceptible to yawning, otherwise we have entered a very dangerous yawning loop from which no woman can escape.

I said "woman" in the paragraph above, because researchers have evidence that women are more likely to yawn back when they experience a "trigger yawn." It is quite possible this is because women are more empathetic than men. Or maybe we are just more tired because we get less sleep. Whatever the reason, there is one thing for certain:

We are spending time studying yawning.

I'm pretty sure that there is some other research that we could be using these great minds for. Not everyone can work on the cure for the latest disease, but I'm sure we could find some topics more useful than yawning. For example, here's a list of things that I spent less than two minutes putting together:
  • Why do children's toys come with multiple volume buttons? Who wants those toys on "loud" mode all the time?
  • How much peanut butter can you eat in one week before your diet is considered off-balance?
  • Why does my son wake up extra early on the weekends, but have trouble waking up during school days?
  • Why is it then when we are in a hurry, children take longer to get ready?
What items would you like for researchers to spend their free time on? Add to the list in the comments.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Depression is a social disease

When our most recent cat was still alive, I noticed that she would come and sit with me whenever I felt sad. I don't know how she knew that about me, but if I started to feel blue, she would hop up next to me (she was never a lap cat) and purr to let me know that I wasn't alone in the world and she had my back.
She was a good cat.

I have definitely learned from her. When I see that my son is upset (legitimately upset, not when he is pretend upset to try and get his way), I try to sit with him. And since I can't purr (at least not very well), I try to talk to him. Talking has various levels of success.

The idea that we are all influenced by each other's moods is not new, but the degree to which children can be affected by their parent's mood is eye-opening. In the example above, I was just talking about sadness, but researchers discovered that Swedish teens received lower grades if they had a parent diagnosed with depression. How much lower? Well, we are not talking about a full letter grade, but enough to make a difference if your child is on the cusp of two grades.

It's important to realize that the research only pointed to an association, not a cause or a direct link. The researchers even admitted that because depression can be passed down genetically, they are not sure if the students are really affected by their parent's diagnosis or by their own depression.

All of this reminds me that depression is a social disease - so if one person in the family has it, then everyone is affected. We have to pay attention to each other's moods. And maybe even learn to purr better.

Do you worry about depression in your family? Tell me your concerns in the comments.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Raising a kind child

Whenever my son doesn't get his way, he declares that my husband and I are being mean to him. Of course he does. In his world "mean" is the best word he has to describe the situation. It is horribly mean of us to ask him to follow the household rules, or for us to squash his fun by taking him on errands, or for us to encourage him to finish his morning tasks so we can get to school on time.

I do not want him to focus on the unfair world, though. I want to help him focus on ways to be kind. But in order to do that, I have to show him more kindness.

Researchers who have been studying kindness have created a list of tips to help parents teach kindness. I like this list, because in order to teach it to your child, you have to participate as well. And if we are all acting with kindness, then we are all winning:
  1. Daily repetition. Sounds almost too easy, but it is true. Children who are able to demonstrate being kind or helpful every day, tend to display more of those behaviors on their own.
  2. Zoom in. Children need to feel like a part of something larger than themselves. I won't let my son watch the news, but I do want him to feel like a part of his community.
  3. Strong role models. That would be us parents. We need to show kind behavior and admit when we make mistakes. Our children need to see us as flawed but loving figures.
  4. Manage destructive feelings. We all get overwhelmed in life. But those of us who go for a walk, learn to release stress or have a creative outlet are modeling better behavior than those who let their feelings out at the dinner table.
What activities do you participate in to teach your child kindness? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Practice doesn't make new

There are a lot of things we practice in our household (like politeness and shoe tying), because - after all - practice makes perfect. That is not a phrase my son likes to hear. He (like most children) gets frustrated when he is unable to master something on the first try.

We've all been there.

But this article in the New York Times makes an excellent point: Practice may make perfect, but it doesn't make new. As in: Originality never came through repetition.

So how do we foster creativity and original thinking? The article points out that households with creative-minded children had a lack of rules in them, allowing children to forge their own behaviors. (It wasn't a land of chaos; families that lived that way put emphasis on values over rules.) 

I, for one, am not sure that I could live in a household where my son chooses his own bedtime.

Luckily there are other ideas, like allowing your child to choose their own passions in life, rather than force them into structured music lessons or hand them over to a high-strung coach who promises to mold your little one into a world-class athlete. And that is an idea that I can support: I can help my son pursue his interests instead of forcing him into my own.

What activities does your child really enjoy that they found on their own? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The next generation of parents

My husband once shared an interesting observation about our generation's way of parenting. He said that we tend to make changes for our children based off what we didn't like about our own childhoods:

We remember the long boring car trips and put televisions in the cars to help with backseat boredom. We remember injuring ourselves on the monkey bars and created safer playgrounds. We grew up in a time when school shootings were a real threat and had to go through metal detectors to get into our classrooms; toy guns don't seem appropriate to us.

Yes, every generation makes changes to (they hope) improve the world they leave to their children. And we are just starting to see the impacts that millennial parents may have on the world. A study by Crowdtap recently explores what effects the first generation of digital parents have on their children. The list includes:
  • Being wary of social media distracting from family life
  • Moms considering themselves to be the decision makers for their families
  • Appreciating technology's role but still wanting their children to go outside and play
What changes will be implemented next as we get more and more of this generation as parents? One item that made me happy to read was that millennial parents still look to one main source for parenting advice: Their own Moms. (Thanks, Mom!)

Who do you reach out to for parenting advice? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Are you an adult?

I am in my mid-thirties. I manage a team of people in a frequently high-pressure industry. I am a wife to a wonderful husband and a mother to a chaotic (aka normal) five year old. But sometimes I do not feel like an adult.

It turns out that adulthood is a fluid concept. It cannot be attached to age or job situation or even to if you've made it out of your parent's house. Some people feel like adults at a very young age. Others go back and forth - depending on their life situations.

My son, for example, likes to tell me that when he is a grown up he is still going to live with me. (And I am OK with that.)

Because here's the thing: Adulthood is a personal state of mind. For everyone. And that can be shocking if you think about it too hard.

When we are children, we look to the adults around us for answers, for guidance and for help. We look to them to make the decisions and tell us how to make sense of the world. We look to them to be, well...adults.

But the truth is, there are days when we do not feel that way. There are lots of days when we are still surprised that we are in charge. We don't have the answers. We are going to want to play, too.

And that is also OK.

At what age did you start feeling like an adult? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Keeping a digital tab on your teen

I know that I am going to stalk my son on his mobile device.

It will not matter to me how responsible he is, or what agreement we will have around his device or how old he is. I will be stalking him.

Mostly because I love him.

I am not alone in this. It turns out that most parents use monitoring software or at the very least know their child's passwords to check up on their digital lives. I know that he will not like this and he may feel violated, but I don't care. I am his Mommy, not his friend.

It's hard to think of myself this way - mostly because I am so focused on having privacy conversations with him now. Granted, most of these are focused on him closing the bathroom door, but we all need to start somewhere.

The day will come, however, when I will talk to him about why he doesn't get to have privacy on his mobile device (yet) and why it has to be earned and why I will be monitoring him.

And how it's all because I love him, even though he probably won't see it that way.

Do you keep tabs on your teen's mobile device? Tell me about it in the comments.