The Case for Boredom to Ignite Our Minds

The demands of careers and parenting mean we’ve lost time to let our minds wander. There are always tasks that need to be handled, and then there’s the other obvious way we “cure” boredom should it have a chance to strike: technology.
Smartphones give us the opportunity to constantly engage with social media, games, or news. All of these serve as distractions that keep our minds from dealing with boredom for even a minute.
Since hearing from our kids that they are bored tends to be annoying, we may assume that curing boredom is a good thing for all of us. We’re not bored, the kids aren’t bored, and everyone can grab their smartphones or tablets should boredom arise.
However, researchers fear that the problem with boredom is that we aren’t experiencing it enough.

Why we need boredom

Being bored may seem like a pointless task, and research shows that people will go to extremes to avoid sitting alone with their thoughts. Studies found that boredom can cause excessive drinking, gambling, and eating when we’re not hungry.
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to engage in these harmful activities to stave off boredom. Unfortunately, we see smartphones as the safe option when they are not.
According to studies used in author Manoush Zomorodi’s TED Talk, we now shift our attention every 45 seconds when working because technology makes it easy to do. We also spend time checking our phones when we don’t even know what we’re looking for. Notifications constantly pop up, and we become Pavlovian in our responses to them, searching for them when they’re not even there just because the phone is readily accessible. A recent study showed that even having our smartphones in the room with us lowers our cognitive function.
Smartphones and the way we use them keep us from allowing ourselves to get bored, and that means we’re missing out. When bored, the brain goes into default mode, and it’s in this mindset that we can reflect on our past and plan problem solving for our future.
We daydream, we create ideas, and we stick with a train of thought that can lead us to create when bored. A study even found that participants who were asked to perform a boring task before being asked to solve a problem using creativity did a better job than those whose brains weren’t first prepared by boredom.

How do we do bored in the technology age?

Journalist Manoush Zomorodi launched a podcast in 2015 that challenged users to engage with technology responsibly and to put some bored back in their lives. It wasn’t a cold-turkey technology detox. Most of us have to use some form of technology for jobs or communication with others, and Zomorodi launched her challenge to help people learn to do it responsibly. She wanted participants to give themselves time during the day to free their minds from simply staring at a screen for no reason.
Her challenge led to a book that came out this year titled “Bored and Brilliant: How Spacing Out Can Unlock Your Most Productive and Creative Self.” It gives even more detail on how to engage responsibly with our phones while giving our brains the sacred time they need to be utterly bored. Challenges include deleting our favorite apps from our phones or walking without a phone in our hands for an entire day. None of these challenges seem that hard until participants are forced to perform them.
That’s when many who signed up for the challenge on Manoush’s podcast realized they were addicted to their phones, though some had inklings of that before. It’s why they signed up in the first place. Most of us know we are missing time we used to have, time where our minds roamed and we created in order to cure our boredom. Our brains had room and time to develop ideas.
Children born into the smartphone age need to be trained to use technology responsibly because they will not remember having all that tech-free time. That longing we have to unplug will be foreign to kids who live electronically plugged in at all times.
Parents can set the example by using self-control and making technology work for their lives, and not take them over. In the process, they teach their kids the sacred practice of boredom.
Simple guidelines are a good start:

1 | Keep the phone out of the bedroom

Let those boring moments before sleep get the creative juices flowing and preserve rest. Phones in the bedroom are blamed for sleep problems.

2 | Go hands-free

When walking or driving, don’t hold a phone like it’s an extension of the body. Instead of focusing brain power on looking at the phone or wondering when it’s going to offer a notification, go hands-free and let the brain go into default mode.

3 | Set times for engagement

Those in the technology development industry have no problem admitting they are creating a product, and they want it to be as addictive as possible. Manoush believes that it’s so hard to be bored because our technology is designed to draw us in.
To combat this, set up rules and times for engagement. Don’t let tech designers decide how and when you use technology.

The long-term payoff

Creativity was cited as a leadership competency that CEOs look for in employees. Creative people may be hard to find if we now live in a society that doesn’t value boredom. We are also living in a society full of people who feel guilty about the unhealthy relationships they have with their phones.
We can change the course, though, and raise a generation that benefits from technology while still using their minds to create and problem solve without distractions. We can have the conveniences that smartphones have to offer without the addiction or the brain drain they cause. It’s as simple, and as difficult, as embracing boredom.

Breadwinning Mothers Carry the Mental Load at Home

Mothers everywhere are increasingly the breadwinners. This title looks great on paper, but with it our “mental load” gets only heavier. When my son was first born I, too, fit that role. I would wake up, feed my baby, take him to his grandparent’s, teach all day, pick up my son, and then do all of the evening stuff at home. My weekends were filled with grading papers, cleaning, meal-prep, and one squeezed-in activity with family or friends.
Sleeping was difficult. My head would rest on the pillow, but the to-do list piled up like a stack of books, keeping my eyelids open. I never felt caught-up. After reading some recent research, turns out, I wasn’t alone in accumulating this “mental load.”
The research was conducted by Business Wire and proved that when women are the breadwinners, we take on more responsibilities outside of work compared to their husbands. Yes, on top of bringing home more money, they truly did it all: cleaning, cooking, paying bills, and the planning all of the extracurriculars. All of this is known as the “mental load.”
According to the annual report in Bright Horizons Family Solutions (BHFS), the mothers are the ones who perform and plan almost all of the family matters. This load is often far too heavy for one’s mind. The report shared that women were more than twice as likely to volunteer in their children’s schools, make the schedules, and assure that all of the family’s responsibilities are met.
It’s no wonder that the term “self-care” had to be invented and made a part of the lives of mothers. With carrying the brunt of the mental load, we need to remind ourselves to go for a run, plan a dinner with our friends, or read a damn book. Although women are now working right next to men in the work arena, the jobs in the home are still unequal. If a mother can work full-time, and even bring home more money, then her partner can certainly carry more of the mental load at home.
But, they’re not. According to the BHFS report, “86 percent of working moms say they handle all family and household responsibilities, 72 percent feel it’s their job to stay on top of kids’ schedules, and 63 percent have missed work to take care of their sick children.” And although this seems greatly unfair to women – and it is – men are feeling this injustice as well.
Fathers today want to be more involved in parenting and in the home. But according to the same report, they are feeling judged by their colleagues at work for doing so. For example, “46 percent of dads feel burnout due to not having enough time with family at home. Further, they are nine percent more likely than working mothers to wish their employer offered more family flexibility and 32 percent more likely than mothers to give up a 10 percent raise for more family time.”
Women are making strides in the workplace. It should be applauded that stereotypes there are slowly diminishing. Yet, the traditional roles of the 50s within the home are still blazing. Yes, it’s encouraging that mothers are turning into the breadwinners, but we should not continue to carry most of the mental load.
When I worked full-time, I should have asked more of my willing husband. He could have handled the bills, or the scheduling, or scrubbed the toilets for that matter. Instead, I carried that mental load myself – to the point of burnout. Now that I work part-time, my mental load is much lighter, and I’m finally sleeping better, too. But to be honest, there are times when I feel like I sacrificed my career.
In hindsight, I should have simply opened my mouth, and given more of the at-home responsibilities to my husband. My mental load would have felt lighter – and I would have, too.

Baby Brain Only Minor: How Pregnant Women Can Reduce Its Impact

Many mothers know the term baby brain. It describes the phenomenon of decreased memory during pregnancy. During my pregnancies, I worked well into the third trimester with no problems but did note the occasional odd memory lapse such as turning up to appointments on completely the wrong day something that had previously never happened to me.
A recent meta-analysis study by Deakin University examined baby brain in 20 studies looking at 1200 women. It found that baby brain was real but minor in its impact, with pregnant women having reduced cognitive function compared to non-pregnant women. Four out of five pregnant women experienced these symptoms.
“General cognitive functioning, memory, and executive functioning were significantly reduced during the third trimester of pregnancy, but not during the first two trimesters,” the authors wrote.
Published in the Medical Journal of Australia, the study found minor changes in cognitive function in pregnant women occurring early in pregnancy. Most changes did not become noticeable until the third trimester.
Women need not worry about baby brain as the cognitive lapses experienced were most commonly minor such as forgetting or failing to book appointments rather than an inability to perform at work. The researchers suggest that the results were consistent with recent findings of long term reactions in brain grey matter occurring during pregnancy.
According to lead author Sasha Davies:

“An intriguing study published last year showed there are reductions in grey matter in the brains of pregnant women in regions known to be closely tied to processing social information, such as decoding infant facial expressions and establishing healthy bonding between mum and baby. This presents a compelling idea that ‘baby brain’ is actually an important adaptive phenomenon that might help women prepare for raising their children by allowing their brains to adapt to their new role as new mothers.”

The researchers said that women reported changes to their executive functioning such as having more difficulty multi-tasking. “Women often report that multi-tasking seemed to be a bit harder [during pregnancy], and we found that was the case,” says co-author Linda Byrne.
The researchers suggested a range of things pregnant women can try to maximize their brain capacity whilst pregnant. These included:

  • Good sleep hygiene. Making sure you are well rested is important particularly in the first and last trimesters. The first and third trimesters are when pregnant women feel most fatigued so ensure adequate rest during these periods.
  • Maintaining good nutrition and exercise habits
  • Make use of memory aids, such as phone apps and reminders
  • Even if your memory was previously good making lists and writing reminders is a good way of just making sure that important things are not missed

It seems that baby brain is real, but only minor in its impact and may serve a function to help us be parents. More research is needed to learn how long it takes women’s baby brain to bounce back to normal after birth. If you experience baby brain when pregnant, rather than panicking about your mental state, using memory aid techniques and looking after your general well-being will likely limit any potential impact of temporary cognitive changes associated with pregnancy.

Conducting These 3 “Mom Audits” Made Me a Better Parent

It’s easy to identify when my children misbehave. One child says “I want that toy” and yanks it from her brother’s hands. I’m not even two steps closer to intervene when I hear him scream his indignation as he plows his big sister over. Now both of my children are locked on the toy, red-faced and sobbing.
Intervention must happen, right? I high-tail it to my snarling children, pry them apart, and address the situation accordingly. Perhaps it’s my motherly instinct to keep them alive for as long as possible, but this element of knowing when it’s time to parent is not hard. The tricky part is implementing a discipline for each incident that will help my children become mature, responsible, considerate, functional adults who can think for themselves and pursue a healthy path in life.
No pressure, right?
Parents are the judge, jury, and executioner for our children’s behavior. That’s a ton of power that can be misused so easily. Many story lines in movies explore this topic of abusing power (e.g. “Captain America: Civil War,” “Spider-Man,” “Mean Girls”).
Some examples of how that can manifest itself in parenting are yelling at a child, verbal or physical abuse, emotional manipulation such as playing the “victim” to guilt a child, and so on.
Children can’t verbalize their emotional needs to us very well. It’s not like a kindergartener is going to say, “Mommy, I would grow up with a much higher self-esteem if you didn’t call me that.” It’s up to us to protect our children, even if it means protecting them from our potential abuse of parental power.

Getting to the heart of the matter

I truly wanted to learn how to discipline my children effectively, lovingly, and wisely. But how? The answers began coming when I read “How to Really Love Your Child” by Dr. Ross Campbell. He said so many parents simply address their child’s behavior. Instead we must explore the root of the issue.
We must seek our child’s heart.
I began asking myself new questions. “What is my child’s motivation for acting this way? Where did this pattern of bad behavior start? How can I speak into that?”
Shortly after, I started conducting what I call “mom audits.” A mom audit is when you analyze your own actions, feelings, motives, etc. in any given parenting situation. I think we audit our children’s behavior all the time. If I see my daughter melt down as she struggles to put on a sock, for example, I check the clock. My quick audit usually shows me it’s near nap or bedtime, hence the meltdown.
If we didn’t audit our children’s behavior, we’d have a difficult time assessing what they need. I believe the same is true for us. When we don’t check in with our own heart and mind, we might also miss the parenting consequences that follow.
For example, one day I noticed my three-year-old acting up more than normal. He’s a placid kid, but for some reason he couldn’t quick picking on his sister. My efforts to correct his behavior didn’t seem to phase him. He’d tease her and land in a timeout or lose a privilege. When I tried to speak with him about his actions, he just pulled away more. He didn’t seem tired, hungry, ill, or lacking activities to stimulate his mind. It was frustrating, and although I was keeping my cool, I began to see why some parents lose it.
That’s when I remembered to stop correcting the behavior and explore my son’s heart instead. What he was doing to his sister was wrong, but what was behind it? I began asking myself some tougher questions. Through my first mom audit, I found powerful answers.

My Three “Mom Audits”

1 | Attention

How much eye contact have I given my son today? Have I tried to meet the needs of his natural love language – quality time? Did my son act up because he wanted attention while I was looking down at my phone? Was this how his three-year-old brain dealt with that rejection?

2 | Understanding

Have I given him a chance to explain his side of the story before I launched into all the reasons why his behavior was unacceptable? How well have I listened?

3 | Affirmation

How often have I praised my son when he made good choices today? Have I provided any positive reinforcement when he made improvements? Have I taken time to kneel down and say how proud I am of him lately?
My audit helped me discover that my son craved more attention. He was going to get it by any means necessary, which meant much of it was negative. I decided to put down my work, got down on the floor with him, and watch as he connected his toy trains in a long line. The moment he saw me sit down, he lit up and began narrating all the important details about his toys.
Then, my son said, “Watch this.” He raced his train across the playroom floor until it crashed into a plastic dump truck on the other side. He turned and met my gaze. “Did you see that, Mom?”
I smiled and said “Yes.”
The smile on my son’s face said it all.
It was in this moment I realized, my son had just audited me. Our children see so much, don’t they? My son desperately craved my attention and when I finally consented, he accepted it with open arms.
My son and I still discussed his defiant behavior from earlier. You’ll never hear me say to stop disciplining your child. I believe it’s an act of love for parents to hold their children accountable, to be consistent, and to help them understand the consequences of their actions.
However, we must also pursue their heart.
All children are different and will crave different things. “The Five Love Languages of Children” is an excellent resource for helping you understand how best to express more love to your child. My daughter so often craves words of praise more than racing toys across the floor together like her brother. When I check myself with her, I ask if I’ve spoken those life-giving words to her soul yet.
Through this auditing process, I’ve become a student of my children’s hearts. My hope is that they’ll grow up knowing, even when their negative actions lead to punishment, they are valued, protected, and always loved.

How to Get Your Kids to Listen

When I call my kids’ names I am met with silence. My voice no longer makes their ears turn on. In fact it might do the complete opposite! They don’t hear me over the TV show or playing or reading books. My voice has lost some power.
Their lack of response makes me unsure if my directions are going to be followed. Often, they leave the room so I have a false sense of certainty that they are following directions. When they return 30 seconds later it becomes obvious they heard the noise of my voice but not the words.
It’s time to take the power back.
We need to get their attention before we start giving them tasks. We need to allow them to stop what they are doing so they can listen. Kids don’t multitask – they cannot think or play and take in extra information. Parents cannot remain patient and kind when completely ignored.
I am always surprised when visiting my kids’ classrooms at how the teachers keep things quiet and calm. How they aren’t yelling over the volume of the kids and how the kids turn their heads and listen.
In an interview with The New York Times, Robert Abramson, director of the Dalcroze Institute in Manhattan, says:

”When children can’t stop talking, teachers wind up screaming. You make a game of it, so children have to listen, move, balance, watch … combining established rhythm and movement techniques … help students learn to pay attention.”

So, I began to use a simple technique heard in many schools – a rhythmic clap that my kids have to repeat. This is acknowledgement that they know I am asking for their attention. It is an audible signal to stop what they are doing. It is clear and direct. It doesn’t make me want to scream and yell in frustration!
Kids like to move. Have you noticed how quickly they can memorize things, sing songs, and learn short simple tasks? This easy action of clapping is developmentally appropriate. Expecting them to pause the TV show or put down the toy when I start talking is always going to leave me frustrated. It is unrealistic to think they will learn to do that without a few beginning steps.
Clapping has become a training step in showing respect, responding in a timely manner, obedience, and how to listen for cues. It has created a habitual response that keeps their brain engaged.
What was unexpected was how it gave our kids independence and confidence to get our attention in a less demanding way. Do you ever tire of hearing your kids yell for you across the house? Or worse: from the bathroom? One way we helped our children learn to respond to us quickly was by letting them use the clapping technique to call for us. When we would come to them and praise them for not yelling our names across the house a new language was created between us – a language that allowed us to hear each other and communicate clearly, to give each other the attention deserved.

6 Rewards Schools Could Use to Motivate Introverted Kids

My son’s school offered a special incentive to encourage students to use their online learning program during the holiday break. There was a note in my Kindergartner’s homework folder that said all students who did 45 minutes per week during vacation would have a special lunch with the principals when school started back.
As an introverted adult who once was an introverted child, my first thought upon reading the note was, “Worst. Prize. Ever.” Regular school lunch was enough of a nightmare already with all the forced socialization, unstructured time, and eating in front of other people. And now that I’ve finally gotten into a workable routine after four months you want me to eat somewhere else, with different people, and in the company of principals? No thanks!
But, being the enlightened parent that I am, I tamped down my school demons and put on a good face for my son.
“Hey!” I said with an exclamation point for some reason. “This says if you do i-Ready for 45 minutes a week during vacation, you get to have a special lunch with the principals!”
“I know,” my son replied. “I don’t want to do that.”
What a relief. Don’t get me wrong, normally I would want him to do his homework, but in this case his take was objectively the right one, so it was hard to argue it.
It did get me thinking, though. What are some things schools could offer up to motivate introverted kids? I came up with a few ideas.

1 | Normal lunch

Since the school is looking for fun lunch ideas to reward participation, let’s start with the most fun lunch idea imaginable: normal lunch. This is lunch exactly as it is done every other day of the school year. Students sit in their same seats, next to the same people, eating the same foods. Bathrooms are readily available for hiding out if the noise level or expectation of casual conversation becomes too intense.

2 | In-school suspension

I’m not sure if this is still a thing, but when I was in school, one of the punishments for misbehavior was something called in-school suspension. From what I could gather, this involved sitting in a room alone quietly completing school work. Needless to say, I was always envious of the misbehaving children. How this came to be regarded as a punishment rather than a reward always confused me. It’s time to set things right.

3 | A big stack of worksheets to complete independently

See above. If a separate room isn’t available, quiet time with lots of worksheet doing and no talking would also be much appreciated.

4 | No group work for a week

Sold. 100 percent. In exchange for a whole week of not having to do group work or cooperative learning or whatever that stupid crap is called, we will do anything (that doesn’t involve talking, obviously).

5 | No games at P.E. that involve intense interpersonal interaction or solo performances

No kickball. No relay races. And for the love of God, no Red Rover! A nice anonymous activity like jogging around the track is just fine, thanks.

6 | No classroom games like “Heads Up, Seven Up”

These are supposed to be fun? Sure. If you like having to put your head down on the desk, hide your eyes, and stick your thumb up like a fool. And if that isn’t bad enough, go ahead and guess which person pushed your thumb down in front of the whole class so you can look like a complete idiot when you guess wrong. More worksheets, please.

11 Lovely Children’s Books on Love

Valentine’s Day is truly the perfect kid holiday. You’re not old enough to be jaded by the “most romantic day of the year” and you get piles of candy and actual mail. It’s cold out but you don’t care because you’re all sugared up and shuffling conversation hearts into phrases like a little homemade Ouija board.
Consider these 11 lovely books on love the nightcap to your Valentine’s Day.

Snoring Beauty

by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen

Fractured fairytales are the best. They offer a refreshing twist on a familiar story. It’s what made “The Wolf Who Cried Boy” and “Wicked” and “Shrek” sensational hits. It’s also what makes this spin on “Sleeping Beauty” so hilarious.
It’s perfect for reading out loud, and you’ll love Mouse, the main character, who just wants the snoring princess to wake up already so he can get some peace and quiet on the night before his wedding. Prince Max is pretty entertaining, too.


Love Monster

by Rachel Bright

I dare you to stare into the eyes of the Love Monster and not want to knit him on a pillow. The goggle-eyed monster doesn’t mesh with the cuties in Cutesville, so he sets out on a journey to find his own version of love and end his loneliness.
Think of this one as the kid’s version of “Edward Scissorhands.” In fact, Time Burton should absolutely make a short of it.


The Velveteen Rabbit

by Margery Williams

Whatever you do, you have to buy the original version of this classic story with the illustrations straight out of 1922. The pictures are just as much a part of the story as the plot itself.
The forgotten and worn-out Velveteen Rabbit is about to be destroyed with all the other toys. His beloved owner has been whisked off to the seaside in the wake of scarlet fever and his hopes are almost up.
Then, a fairy appears out of his tears to carry him off to Rabbitland where he finally becomes the real rabbit he’s always dreamed of. It’s the ending you cross your fingers for with every forgotten toy.


Catching Kisses

by Amy Gibson

Even when my kids aren’t feeling especially “hands-on,” they’ll let me blow them kisses. Kisses in the air are so much more magical in their path from kisser to kissee. You never know where they will land.
That’s what this book is all about – the path a kiss takes from New York to New Orleans and across the country to the west coast and everywhere in between. It’s like a message in a bottle…in the air.


Paul Meets Bernadette

by Rosy Lamb

Paul is a fish who’s suffering the perfect millennial ennui. He’s circled as much as he can circle and flipped as much as he can flip in his bowl. He’s tired of his room with a view. Then Bernadette shows up.
Bernadette takes Paul on a tour of all the things he’s been missing. She’s the perfect guide to get your own imagination going on a wintery day. You’ll catch yourself reaching out to touch the thick glossy oil paint of Rosy Lamb’s illustrations.


Love Is

by Diane Adams

Just go ahead and cue up the tears for this one. A girl and her pet duck learn to take care of each other over the course of a year as they grow up and grow apart. But they never lose the love that knit them together in the first place.

You don’t have to dig too far into the metaphor to see the parent/child relationship in duck form.


In My Heart

Jo Witek

This book is the emotional equivalent of the doctor’s smiley face pain scale. It introduces the full spectrum of emotions and shows you how to pin them down. A heart can feel as shiny and bright as a star or as heavy as an elephant, but every feeling deserves to be felt.
The rainbow heart that spreads from page to page is the perfect visual for the hard-to-name feelings that can be so hard for kids (and adults) to name. Shyness isn’t so bad, and silliness makes sense once you can name it.


Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink

by Diane deGroat

If you’re sitting at home cutting out hearts with your first-grader and covered in glitter and wishing Pinterest would stop already with the cutesy cards for classmates, this book is for you.
Gilbert isn’t sure he can write nice cards for the couple of kids who’ve made fun of him in school. So he writes a few not-so-funny Valentines instead. Feelings are hurt and everybody ends up coming clean in this most realistic Valentine’s Day story to date.


The Valentine Bears

by Eve Bunting

Two things make this book a must-read. Firstly, The the story is told by the epically-talented Eve Bunting, author of over 200 children’s books.
Secondly, the illustrations of Mr. and Mrs. Bear celebrating their first ever Valentine’s Day in lieu of hibernation are done by Jan Brett, the infamous illustrator of “The Mitten,” “The Hat,” and so many others. Her illustrations make every book a Scandinavian wonderland.


Love, Splat

by Rob Scotton

In the most hilarious love triangle between felines, Splat the cat is in love with Kitten who won’t give him the time of day. What’s worse, his arch rival, Spike, is after her, too. If the biggest and best Valentine card wins, Splat’s got no hope.
Lucky for him, Kitten is a little more high-minded. Let us all rise above the Spikes in the world, who think this is winning material: “You are so lucky that I like you.”


Love from the Very Hungry Caterpillar

by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is in love, and he wants to tell you all about it. This book is the perfect gift for a teacher or kid who loves all things Eric Carle. Just like the original, it will make you happy, and hungry.
Here’s to keeping the magic alive on Valentine’s Day for kids and grownups alike. As everyone comes crashing down from that sugar high, read one of these and let love be as uncomplicated as ducks and rabbits and cats and caterpillars can make it out to be.

Paying Someone Else to Clean the Bathroom (And Other Confessions)

There are few things as sacred in motherhood as having a door that locks. In my house that’s the bathroom door, so my bathroom has become the place I retreat to when I need to have a small nervous breakdown or a piece of chocolate I don’t want to share.
Considering that I have a lot of kids and a full-time job and a husband and a big old house and a dog and a body and a laundry pile and a fridge that never seems full, every once in a while I inevitably need to regroup by locking myself in the bathroom and having a good cry in a sad little pile on the bathroom floor.
This last time, as I was curled up having a grand old pity party, I couldn’t help but come face to face with the actual condition of said bathroom floor. I tried to remember the last time I had cleaned it, and couldn’t. It showed. And nervous breakdowns aside, I couldn’t be expected to enjoy my secret candy bars amidst dusty tumbleweeds and soap scum.
This is how we get to me, locked in the bathroom, disinfectant cleaner and a rag in one hand and a tissue in the other, just scrubbing and sobbing away. And lord, if that isn’t a metaphor for motherhood I don’t know what is.
So I said to myself: when you get to the point of having to multitask through your nervous breakdowns, something probably needs to shift. Maybe it’s time to ask for help.
One day not long after I had a headache, the kind that started in the back of my neck and wrapped itself right around my head like an unwelcome scarf, ending deep inside my ears. Lights hurt, sounds hurt, and breathing hurt. Not usually one to take a pharmaceutical remedy, I came up empty handed in my search for pain reliever in my own purse, and had no choice but to enlist the help of a friend. And as she handed me the ibuprofen, she asked me where the pain was, and when I answered, she told me it was probably a stress headache.
A headache caused by stress.
Considering what the last few weeks have looked like, this does not at all come as a surprise. When having a baby meets going back to work meets the regular everyday stuff we all muddle through, apparently the conditions are ripe for the perfect storm to brew. Right at the base of my head. And when the ibuprofen started to kick in and my vision started to clear, I thought of the lesson staring me in the face here:
When the pain became too much, I knew I needed help.
When I asked for help, I got it. And things got better.
So I looked around at my life, and I asked for more help. Yes, I am now having my house professionally cleaned. I am lining up some neighborhood girls to help me out with the baby on the evenings when my husband is working his second job. I’m allowing myself to buy pre-made meals from the deli without any guilt or judgement, and I’m forgiving myself the last five pounds of baby weight that won’t come off right now, no more questions asked. I’m waving my mama white flag.
Because I can’t do it all. I certainly can’t do it all well, and I probably can’t even half-ass it all. What I know I can do, because I have been doing it for a while, is try really really hard to do it all, fail, and then lament my own failure right into a pile of snot and self pity on my dirty bathroom floor.
So instead of scrubbing my floors tonight after work, I am going to hold my baby. And next week, while my husband is at work, I will pay a sweet neighborhood girl to do the same thing so I can nourish my older babies with pre-made food that I heated up with love and a side helping of attention that isn’t feigned.
It’s actually kind of exciting, once I got past the initial shame of having to admit I was kind of drowning and found myself able to take a deep breath. The headache is gone. I can breathe. The bathroom floor is spotless. And now I kind of want to shout what I’ve learned from the rooftops: I need help and that’s okay! And it’s okay if you need help too!
Life is hard, y’all. It’s winter and it’s subzero and it physically hurts to run from the car to the house. The Christmas lights are packed away and so is everyone else. This season is naturally quiet and reflective, and it’s so easy to feel alone and stressed and overwhelmed. We talk a lot about the body’s response to stress: that whole “fight or flight” phenomenon that we all know so much about. Eons ago, maybe that stress was being chased by a saber tooth tiger, but today, I think that stress is more often than not just trying to do more than we are physically – or emotionally – capable of.
For me that includes raising a lot of children and working a full time job, but that’s just who I am right now. For someone else that could be staying at home and raising children, or it could be trying to adjust to an empty nest, or it could be working a demanding job and trying to find time to sleep and eat. It could just be trying to find the strength to get out of bed in the morning and face another day.
For all of us, it’s trying to remember to carve out a little time for ourselves, on the bathroom floor or otherwise. Our bodies are pumping out the stress hormones in full force and thanks, mother nature, for equipping me to outrun a bobcat, but that’s not what I need right now.
What I need – what we need – right now is the courage to wave the flagged ask for help.
And maybe a chocolate bar.
I’ll be in the (clean) bathroom if you need me.
This article was originally published on LizPetrone.com.

Posted on Categories _Adulthood

The Upside of Lying

“Did you just feed the dog broccoli? The broccoli I told you to eat before you could have dessert?”

“No,” she says.

Dog is under table licking something.

“Did you?”

“No.”

“Yes, she did!” her brother howls.

Siblings are really just vigilantes fighting for justice, truth, and equal consumption of vegetables. Without her brother as testifying witness, I would probably still be having the broccoli discussion.

I am not a proponent of lies. Generally speaking, I am anti-lie. However, I’m tired. I fight this battle every day on multiple fronts – they lie over who hit whom, who took what favorite toy, why all the toilet paper is unraveled into the toilet, who covered the sheets with crayon, who still needs to go to the bathroom before we leave the house. Meanwhile the dog is chock full of vitamin C and farting peaceably under the table. So I will take the upside when it’s offered.

Lying, it seems, is a sign of intelligence in kids. According to the New York Times, children who lie tend to have higher verbal I.Q. stats, and they also have better “‘executive functioning skills’ (an array of faculties that enable us to control our impulses and remain focused on a task) as well as a heightened ability to see the world through other people’s eyes.”

This last one is the one that gets me. Is lying actually linked to empathy? Could it be that this practice shows that my daughter, the artful dodger of truth, is able to anticipate my reaction to her actions and therefore manipulate me based on her intuitions? Could this be a good thing?

Psychologist Kang Lee would tell me that “[l]ying, in other words, is good for your brain,” at least developmentally speaking. It promotes creativity, problem-solving, and language skills in young kids. It makes sense in a way. It takes a fairly high level of calculation to decide whether the truth or a lie would bring about the most positive outcome and then craft the most believable lie that fits the occasion.

That being said, I think we can all agree that the need for honesty is paramount. Surely we can put that higher I.Q. to better use.

Lee suggests that there are ways to turn the tide in your favor. The best way to curb the lying? Let them see “others being praised for honesty” because it “promotes honest behavior” in themselves. If they see you celebrate others for telling the truth, they will want that kind of feedback. Praise for honesty makes them feel good and gives them a much-needed shove in that direction.

It sounds so simple. Too simple. I tried it out.

I thanked my son for his honesty when he confessed, unprompted, that he hid the remote so we couldn’t switch off his favorite show. It’s “Paw Patrol” for life around here. After the standard never-hide-things-in-this-house-because-it-is-already-a-pit speech, I praised the living daylights out of him for his truth-telling. In the periphery, I watched his twin sister study us, creatures in the wild enacting a new ritual.

That afternoon, she ran into the kitchen with her hands raised like a marathoner crossing the finish line.

“Mom, I shoved all the coloring books under the couch!”

“You what? Wait, why?”

“So no one else could use them when I went upstairs.”

“Um, okay. So don’t next time?”

“Okay, but at least I was honest, right?” she said, and tucked her hands behind her back, waiting for the praise.

She’s a frighteningly quick study. I hugged her and thanked her for telling me. Then we colored.

It doesn’t work every time, and I can see how this might turn into a lie-plus-admittance-equals-praise spiral towards chaos. However, if she’s as intelligent as her devious behavior predicts, then I will work towards the good in it. I will move that empathy in our favor.

I’m Scared My Child Will Turn out Like Her Dad

In my work with parents and children, there is one theme that creates the most anxiety: how likely is it that my child will inherit the abusive personality traits of the father? Worried moms observing aggressive behaviors, similar personality traits to a psychopathic ex-partner, or lack of empathy in their child will tentatively ask this question.

Moms who have left relationships due to abuse, violence, or other criminal behaviors in their partner fear these behaviors when they witness them in their child. In fact, any negatively-viewed behavior that’s similar to the child’s father is often a source of anxiety for these mothers. Sometimes the mother’s own trauma is triggered by their child’s developmentally normal behavior.

As children develop, they can be aggressive. They can hit, kick, bite, pinch, growl, and slap. Even if they’ve never observed violence or been punished physically, children can have volatile anger that they have difficulty self-regulating.

Equally, empathy takes time to develop in children. Humans develop empathy over time. For moms who’ve had an abusive partner with strong psychopathic tendencies, observing heartless or cruel behaviors in their kids younger than five years old can be very worrying. This fear is usually strongest if the child is a boy. Sometimes this fear leads to harsh punishments when a child lacks empathy or behaves aggressively.

As parents, we often place a lot of emphasis on genes as we look for similarities to our families in our children, but how much do genes play a role in psychopathy? Although genes have been found to play a role, no one factor has been pinpointed as the cause of psychopathy.

Parenting style and environment also play a role and can weaken the genetic risk. Researchers of these gene studies, such as the Minnesota twin study that’s often cited to explain the genetic influence, continue to emphasize the role of parenting and environment.

”The message for parents is not that it does not matter how they treat their children, but that it is a big mistake to treat all kids the same,” said Dr. Lykken. ”To guide and shape a child you have to respect his individuality, adapt to it, and cultivate those qualities that will help him in life.”

This means parents should not give up hope and instead parent the child that they have. A 2015 study of 780 twin pairs demonstrated the importance of the environment and parenting we provide for children with a genetic risk for psychopathy. This research has shown that life experiences during the infant and teen period can make all the difference to whether a child becomes a psychopath.

How to help prevent the development of antisocial traits in our children

Nurturing care

By soothing our baby, we provide the first steps towards healthy emotional development. When we comfort our baby, we help him learn to soothe himself and, over time, to soothe others. The love and care you give your child together with talking about his feelings teaches him these skills as he grows. Bruce Perry’s beautiful book “Born for Love” explores this further.

As part of nurturing care, I urge mothers to notice the ways in which their child is different from their ex-partner instead of focusing on similarities. Focusing on what’s the same tends to increase the mothers’ anxieties and impacts their relationship with their child.

Encouraging empathy as your child grows

As your child grows, you can begin actively coaching their empathy skills as their language and cognitive skills increase. Toddlers need carers to repeatedly model empathic behaviors. You can do this both in day-to-day interactions and in play.

You may see your toddler copying your empathic behaviors during play by saying things like, “Oh teddy sick, teddy hug.” Notice and praise these behaviors when you see them.

As your child approaches three, you may notice some empathic behaviors beginning to shape. Many parents report their child reflecting back feelings like, “Mummy sad,” or empathic statements such as, “Poor Mummy is sick.” Praise and notice these interactions.

Parents can help encourage the development of empathy by encouraging discussion about feelings, the child’s and others. Ask questions like, “Why do you think your friend Sophie cried when she fell off the swing at the park?”

Reading books and encouraging discussion about the characters’ main feelings can also help. Discussing with your child how you knew that someone was sad or angry gives your child a broader understanding of how we interpret feelings in others. Playing games or crafts in which you create faces is a fun way to emotion coach. Encourage your child to label her feelings and where she feels them in her body when she is happy, mad, or sad.

As your child approaches six, she will be increasingly able to discuss feelings and develop a sense that she belongs to a community. Children in this age group become more skilled at reading people’s faces and voices for emotions.

Parents can help children to develop empathy by avoiding “quick-fix” solutions or reassurances in response to feelings. These manifest in blanket statement like, “Everything will be all right.” In these situations, reflect what your child is feeling with phrases such as, “You feel scared of the spider because you think the spider will bite you” rather than “Don’t worry, you’re okay.”

It’s also important for children to learn to read your emotions empathically. If you’ve had a hard day, don’t hide your feelings from your kids. Instead, share with them that you feel sad or angry. It may not be appropriate to share every detail and we certainly don’t want to lean on our children emotionally but, by sharing the emotion, we help our children better develop their own empathy skills

Positive parenting with love and limits

It’s important to use positive parenting strategies with lots of love and limits. The heart of positive parenting is guiding behavior through noticing desirable behaviors and ignoring unwanted behaviors. Punishment is avoided wherever possible and empathic guidance is preferred. Limit-setting is also a core part of positive parenting. Children need firm boundaries to feel loved and cared for.

It’s very important not to harshly parent children with a possible genetic history for psychopathy because this will increase the risk rather than minimize it. Here’s an example of what positive parenting could look like:

Mom: “Jack, you hit your sister because you felt angry that she wouldn’t give you the toy when you asked. How did your sister feel when you hit her?”

Jack: “Sad. She cried.”

Mom: “Yes, and she was angry too. Remember I had to stop her from hitting you?”

Jack: “Yes.”

Mom: “What can you do when you’re angry instead of hitting?”

Jack: “Use my words or tell Mommy.”

Mom: “That’s right. Sometimes it’s hard for you. You can’t always do it yet, but I know that you’ll be able to soon if you keep trying. For now, I need you to come and help me in the kitchen until your feelings calm down.”

In this example, the parent coaches the child’s emotional reaction and uses connection rather than consequences (such as time out or losing points).

Provide nurturing care in a loving and safe environment, encourage empathy, and use positive parenting strategies to help prevent your child from developing psychopathy. Seek professional help for your relationship with your child or in the use of positive parenting techniques if you’re struggling to view your child in a positive way. Raising your child with support and guidance is necessary when your child exhibits challenging behaviors that trigger you.

If you fear your child’s genetic loading, there’s a lot that you can do, but always keep in mind that your child shares your genes as well.