Tuesday, June 28, 2016

When Mommy needs a time out

Sometimes my son pushes me over the edge. It's part of his growing up - he pushes his boundaries and learns the consequences of disrespect. My patience level - like all parents - varies. There are days when I can shake it off, and then there are days when I yell.

We aren't supposed to yell at our children, but most parents do. For most of us, it's a reaction to a moment of frustration. And a lot of us feel bad afterward.

So how do we learn not to yell at our children? There are lots of tips out there, but you have to find the one that works best for you. Common ones include:

  • An age check. Sometimes you can reset your expectation of your child's abilities by saying "What are you, six?" to remind yourself that you may be asking too much.
  • Counting to 10. It's never worked for me, but maybe I count too fast.
  • Walking away. This one works well if your child doesn't follow you. 
For me, I like a time out. For me. I've told my son that Mommy sometimes needs a time out from him because adults get grumpy, too.

Does this work every time? No. But like most things about parenthood, it's a work in progress.

What are your tips for not yelling at your child? Share them in the comments.

Monday, June 27, 2016

A phone-free dinner table

It's really hard to follow our own technology rules. We know that. I, for one, would consider it a win to have a phone-free dinner table. Maybe I could use a little help.

Major artists have started using these special pouches to have concertgoers lock up their phones during performances. The idea is that new music or work-in-progress material won't get leaked out ahead of time.

The pouches are pretty polarizing - some people embrace the idea of living their life in the moment. Others are upset about not being able to record special memories of the event on their personal devices.

I think they are a great way to keep people focused on the here and now.

I wonder if I can get some for my dinner table.

How do you keep your dinner table technology free? Share your tips in the comments.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Who is judging you?

Think about a typical day out with your family. Think of all the places that you may go and all the strangers that may overhear the way your family interacts.

Do you feel judged?

It's hard not to. In fact, almost all parents report feeling judged by somebody (other parents, strangers, their spouses), with women saying they feel the pressure more often then men.

I've been in stores where my son has started crying because he wants something. And I let him cry it out while speaking soft words to him like, "it's hard when you don't get what you want, I know, but we're not getting you that today." Did other people look over at me since my child was screaming in the shopping cart? Yes. But I figured that if they were parents they knew what I was going through. And if they weren't parents, I figured they had no right to judge me.

My son would eventually stop crying and he learned the lesson that this particular tactic didn't work on Mommy. 

We all feel the pressure to be good parents, and it is hard to think that others aren't questioning our actions. The important thing to remember is to stay focused on your family, not what other people think.

How do you shake off the judgement of others? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The business venture we don't want to fail

About seven years ago, my husband and I decided to go into a business venture together. The stakes were pretty high: We knew that it was a long-term investment and that we would be working crazy hours. We knew that we would not receive any financial gain from it and that once we entered it, there was no backing out. We were signing up for sleepless nights, an increase in marital strain and depression, and potential health risks.

And yet, knowing all that, we decided we wanted to be parents anyway.

There have been multiple studies showing that non-parents are happier overall than parents. (There should also be studies showing that non-parents are saner than parents, too, but maybe that is too obvious to get research money to do.) When you sign up for parenthood, you are signing up for a world of the unknown. Because, even if you think you know what parenthood will be like, there will be lots of moments that you can never ever prepare for. Like all the conversations around poop. Or the time you had to tell your child not to try and raise the toilet seat with their head. Or whatever.

Parent unhappiness isn't true of every country, however. There are lots of countries outside the U.S. that sport much higher levels of parental happiness. Crunching through the data isn't easy to pinpoint why, but one researcher believes that it has to do with a lack of subsidized care for the under-five set and not enough vacation time for Mom and Dad.

I would agree with that, but there are probably other factors as well, like the pressure we put on ourselves for parental perfection. That definitely needs to lighten up as well. And maybe we need to have more honest conversations with soon-to-be-parents about what you can expect after you bring the baby home.

Because being a parent is too important of a job in life. It's one that we all need some help in so that we don't fail. 

What did you wish you knew about parenthood before you had your child? Tell me in the comments.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cooking at home

This past weekend, I helped my son make pancakes.

I phrased it that way on purpose, as this was the first time I let him take the lead in making pancakes while I supervised. Up to this point, I would only let him do the prep work and stir ingredients together. But this time I let him work with the batter on the stove and he even sliced the strawberries by himself.

He did a fantastic job.

We've had several conversations before about the importance of learning to cook. I've been working to foster my son's love of cooking by having him help me in the kitchen, by including him in the family meal planning and by letting him watch other children cook on those Food Network programs.

And now I realize I need to take it up a notch, as the latest research shows that more money was spent at restaurants last year than at grocery stores. While that doesn't necessarily mean that people have stopped cooking (restaurants can be pricier than grocery stores), it is part of an overall trend. Families are busy and they don't always have time for a home cooked meal in between school runs and soccer lessons or after a long day in the office.

But I think it is worthwhile to cook. Even if it means you eat a late dinner. Not only because of the control over ingredients used and nutrition overall, but because cooking is one of those skills that I believe everyone should have. So, I'll keep teaching my son to cook. And we'll keep having fun in the kitchen together.

Who taught you how to cook? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Why we need good Dads

Whenever people see my family for the first time, they tend to stare at my son, then my husband, then me. They are trying to see who my son resembles more. Most people ultimately give up and declare that my son is a perfect blend of my husband and I. (We think so, too.) I like knowing that my son is part me and part my husband, because we both - like all parents - have a big role to play.

For the first years of our son's life, my husband had to deal with playing second fiddle to Mommy. Our little guy has been very Mommy-centric up until this point. Now, he wants to do more and more things with Daddy. And that is great for so many reasons.

As this link reminds me, Dads play a really important role in their child's life - even if it doesn't always feel that way. Whether it is by talking to a child (early and often), rough-and-tumble adventure play or just by being a good role model, Dads are needed. But there are other items on the list on that link that I don't always think of keeping an eye out for, like getting Dads screened for depression (a big one since it has an impact on your child's health as well) and checking to make sure Dad's vaccinations are up-to-date.

Dads are awesome and important. Every day (not just on Father's Day).

Tell me what is wonderful about the Dad(s) in your life in the comments.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The divorce list

We have all been to that wedding. You know the one. The one where you are trying very hard to be generally happy for your friend/relative and not say anything overly snarky, but - way down deep - you have a suspicion they are not going to make it as a couple. You don't want to be right, but you can't help how you feel. Then, after time passes and you hear word of the breakup, you have to bite your tongue and never admit to anyone that you knew it wouldn't last.

There is no lack of lists on the internet defining the keys to a long and healthy marriage. I was a bit surprised, however, to see this one in my inbox, detailing the signs that a couple is going to get divorced

It turned out to be a fun read, because it reminded me of how ridiculous these types of relationship lists can be. For example, the second tip to avoid divorce, points out that couples shouldn't have a lavish wedding, but a low-cost affair. But then the third tip points out that they should have more than 200 guests at their wedding. I am not sure how many people have successfully pulled off the low-cost wedding with more than 200 guests (and have everyone who attended say they enjoyed it). I can say that I did not have anywhere close to 200 people at my wedding, but that I happily did get the chance to talk and dance with everyone there.

So, you know, take the list with a grain of salt. People were not meant to live their lives by lists (except, maybe to-do lists, if you are into that kind of thing.) As for that wedding you are going to in which you know the couple is not going to last, try to enjoy it as a beautiful moment of happiness in life - however brief it may be.

What's the worst marriage advice you've ever heard? Leave it in the comments.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Being more than Mrs. Mommy

I have two t-shirts that I thought I had specially made just for fun. The first one was shortly before my wedding. I had it made to say "Mrs. XXXXX" (but instead of the Xs, it was my husband's name). The second was right after my son was born and it says XXXXXX's Mom (but instead of the Xs, it has my son's name).

I didn't think about them much at the time. They were fun to make and I still sometimes wear them to make the men in my life smile. For example, I wore the shirt with my son's name on it for Mother's Day, and he was thrilled.

But, maybe...just maybe, I had the shirts made because I was trying to balance my old identity with my new role in life.

That sounds deep, but there may be some truth to back that up, as a researcher recently reviewed Facebook posts and self-identified emotions by first-time Moms to discover that there may be a link between the amount a Mom posts to social media and her overall anxiety around being a Mother, and that she may have difficulty identifying herself in her new role. The researchers speculate that this may be why so many new mothers use their children's image for their profile picture.

The study also gives a deep dive into pressures that new Moms may feel to be perfect. It is a flawed study, due to the small sample size and its limitations to not include a very diverse portfolio of women, but there seems to be a kernel of truth for me: I am more than just Mrs. Mommy, and sometimes it is easy to forget that. But, it is important for us all to remember who we are and who we want to be.

Go onto Facebook and take a look at your profile photo. Is it a picture of you or is it a picture of your child? Tell me why in the comments.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

No toy guns please

When my brother and I were growing up, there was a rule in our household: No toy guns. Squirt guns were allowed, but all others - including those that came with GI Joe action figures - were not permitted. I liked that rule, so it is of no surprise that I adopted it for my own household.

My father, stepdad and father-in-law all grew up in a time where their heroes were cowboys. It is clearly an identifying mark of that generation, and I understand they have a deep affection for John Wayne, Howdy Doody and the Lone Ranger.

My husband and I grew up idolizing astronauts. We wanted to go to the moon and beyond, and cowboys just weren't as cool. (For details on the dichotomy between cowboys and astronauts, watch the first Toy Story movie.) And as my generation grew up, guns got a little scarier as they invaded our schools and shootings became part of the fabric of our lives.

So, outside of squirt guns, my husband and I don't allow toy guns in our household. And my son knows that: He is not allowed to buy any weapons with his allowance money and he doesn't ask for toy guns as presents. Yes, they still creep in with his LEGO sets, but for the most part, we are a gun-free house. And that works for us.

It's hard to talk about guns - both real and the toy version - with people who have different feelings than you do, but I believe that Dan Gross's TED talk on the subject is about as close to bridging the divide as there will ever be. Does it solve everything? No. But it does remind me that I respect the older generation's affection for playing cowboy and shooting toy guns when they were little, and I hope that they understand my hesitations, based on the world we have today.

Do you allow toy guns in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, June 13, 2016

All screens come with an off button

My son now has Minecraft on his iPad. And like most new electronic privileges in our household, it came with a set of rules.

So far, he has taken to the rules quite well. Whenever I tell him that his time is up with the game, he puts it away and sometimes I even get an unprompted kiss and "I love you, Mommy" from him. He's happy. I'm happy. And now, I'm trying to give parents some hope.

It's difficult to limit the amount of screentime our children have, but it is definitely worth it. For several years, I've been consistent about limiting the time my son interacts with devices and reminding him that screentime should be a small percentage of his overall day.

It (slowly) seems to be sinking in.

I no longer get the automatic whine when I ask him to turn off the device. Nor do I get the constant "I'm bored" wail when he claims he has nothing to do. (Don't get me wrong - it still happens, but then he will eventually remember that he owns LEGOs and there are things that need to be built.)

To any parent out there who is constantly battling the exposure time to screens: Keep up the good work. Stay consistent. It really does sink in. Eventually.

How consistent are you with the screentime rules in your household? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Why Dad needs to keep his voice down

I read a lot of studies about parenthood. A surprising number of them uncover changes that need to be made in the Mother's behavior, because either the study didn't cover Dads as well, or it saw Dad's behavior as not having a significant effect on the child.

So it was somewhat refreshing to find a study that was all about Dads. I wouldn't say that this could be considered an early Father's Day gift or anything though, because of the results of the study. In a nutshell: Dads, you've got to stop yelling.

I realize that your Dad probably yelled at you when you were a child. And I realize that your child is being especially annoying right now. And, I agree that it seems like your child is not listening. But, your yelling is not helping the situation. In fact, it is making it worse. Dads who yell have been found to have more aggressive teenagers. And in response to Dad's yelling, children often become less helpful overall - to other family members in addition to Dad.

It's important to note that the study said that parents can still be firm in their expectations of behavior, but that they don't have to resort to shouting. Is that going to be hard? Yes. But a lot of things we do as parents is hard. But a little bit of effort goes a long way.

Who yells the most in your household - Mom or Dad? Tell me in the comments (but not in all caps, please!)

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Getting sick at daycare

My son started daycare at 6 weeks old. I remember the heartbreak of leaving him (he was so little!) and the relief of picking him up on that first day (he had gotten bigger!). I did love that facility - the nurturing attitude, the brightly lit rooms, the web cameras for me to check in on him throughout the day.

What I didn't love was that every time my son moved rooms, or a new child came into the room, he got sick. We sometimes wondered if we were sending him to school or to a giant petri dish. We soon recognized the formula:

Exposure to a new child = new germs = sickness.

Sometimes it was as simple as a cold (not that colds are simple with babies), but other times it was the dreaded Gastroenteritis, and there had to be discussions about which lucky parent was going to stay home for an admittedly rough day of diaper duty.

I believed in the collective wisdom that exposure to germs at an earlier age meant that my son would have fewer sicknesses later on in life. Now that wisdom has been backed up by a study indicating that children that get daycare bugs get other bugs less frequently by the time they are in first grade.

But there is also the evidence of my own household: My son is really healthy. Despite the occasional mild cold, we have just gotten through the entire school year with only one major sickness. I consider that a win knowing that there were more than a few major gastro bugs spreading throughout his classroom this past year.

And now, as we are about to start summer camp, I wonder if his immunity will hold out, or if he will immediately come home with a mild sickness from all that exposure to new children and new germs.

Are you worried about your child getting sick from exposure to other children in daycare? Tell me your fears in the comments.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Reading for reading's sake

My son is a reader. He loves to visit our secondhand bookshop to get new books, he reads on his own all the time and he tells me that his current chapter books are too easy. (Am I bragging a little here? Yes.)

He comes from a reading family. Both his father and I love to read. I read so much that I've actually lost track of some of the books that I've read - picking up a book, only to realize that at the end of the first page I had read it before. (I guess it is good that I can remember the stories, if not always the titles.) The only time I ever kept track of the books that I read was when I did my 100 book challenge. I didn't have any problem keeping a record then, because I wanted to keep track of what I had read. Had someone told me I had to keep track of my books, I may have become resentful.

Which is exactly what happens when children have to complete a reading log. The studies on this have been small, but very telling: If you force a child to keep a reading log, it turns reading into a chore and can turn even lovers of reading into anti-readers. As my son approaches first grade, I am going to keep my eye out for this one. I already have an active reader who reads more than 20 minutes a day and is interested in a variety of books. If there is any way we can get through school without killing my little bookworm's love of literature, I am all for it.

Have you encountered the mandatory reading log at your child's school? Has it helped or hurt your child's love of reading? Tell me in the comments.

Monday, June 6, 2016

When did Lego sets turn violent?

When my son was born, he received a couple of LEGO sets. Even though he wouldn't be able to play with them for years, family and friends knew that my husband was a big LEGO fan and were certain that my son would be one, too.

And they were correct.

My son adores LEGO sets. He saves up his allowance for them. He pours over the sets that his Dad passed onto him. He ogles the big sets in the LEGO Store. And I have enjoyed seeing all the wonderful things that he builds with them - both with corresponding instructions and without.

One thing I haven't really noticed is that LEGO sets now include more weapons than they have in the past. Looking through the sets that my son owns, I can easily see how that has happened - the sets are more likely to be movie oriented than in the past. So, when you think of the sets that are getting licensed, it makes sense that weapons are included.

I am normally not in favor of guns as toys, but I find that I am OK with the smaller weapons in LEGO sets. I understand that children will explore conflict as part of any play. And if my son is going to play with a space-age gun, then I would rather it be just a small piece of a major build.

Have you noticed an increase of weapons in your children's toy sets? Tell me in the comments.

Friday, June 3, 2016

The life you can afford

A few days ago, I posted a link to the amount of money women earn in their jobs compared with men. It was infuriating to see all of that divergence in one big chart.

I've been thinking about working women since then, so I was grateful to find this article in Esquire interviewing four women about the lives they can afford based on their different incomes.

The article is an honest and open look about how women don't let money rule their lives, even when they are constantly aware of it.

Do you feel comfortable talking to others about your family's income? Tell me in the comments.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Trying to stay put

We are about to move homes. Although my husband and I have moved lots of times together (we're experts at purging and packing), I've recently realized that this is the third time we've moved since having our son.

The first move, my son was 10-months-old so he doesn't remember it. The second move, he has some memories of, but they are vague. For this third move, he is really excited.

I think part of his excitement stems from us trying to involve him as much as possible in the process: He's visited potential homes with us, and he has been asked his thoughts about paint colors for his room (he chose black...which we had to talk him out of, but he was still asked). Even better: We are moving to a location which doesn't require him to change schools.

If all goes well, we'll be in the new house for a long time. This is great news for my family because moving is a pain (even for us "experts") and because there are lots of stresses associated with moving for children. Children who move frequently are often plagued with social problems, negative behaviors, and declines in reading and math scores - even if the move is to a better area. Interestingly, the study only followed kindergartners through eighth graders. (Maybe after that age, moves don't matter as much because children are in high school and have bigger stresses to deal with.)

That puts a lot of pressure on parents to stay put and consider delaying moving until it works for everybody.

What's your worst moving story? Tell me all the terrible details in the comments.