Debate Club: Should We Pay Kids for Chores?

Two Parent.Co writers face off about compensation for pitching in around the house.

debate club

Why I Don’t Pay My Children to Do Chores

By Kathryn Trudeau

The night my husband and I decided we were ready (ha…ready) to start our family, we went out to a diner to discuss how my career would change, how our finances would change, etc. Like most non-parents, we had a laughable list of things called “Things We’ll Never Do as Parents.”
Okay, it wasn’t a literal list, but the point remains. While many things on that list have, in fact, been committed by either myself or my husband, one thing has stuck: We do not pay our children to do chores.
Growing up, I had my own set of cleaning duties, and I was never paid to do any of them. I never felt shorted, gypped, or indentured. In fact, our home was the cleanest to ever house two young children. Scratch that. It was the cleanest home, period.
Now, as my husband and I introduce our son, who is five, to household duties, he has jumped in with both feet. He knows how to fold his socks and underwear. He helps empty the dishwasher. He can use a rag to help dry the floors after a good scrubbing. As the saying goes, “Many hands make light work.”
Beyond my own experience, there is good scientific reason behind ditching the payment, and no, your house won’t turn into a trash bucket.

Payment diminishes the lesson

Paying kids to do chores eliminates any educational opportunity. The lesson of how and why to keep a clean home are replaced with a motivation for money.  You cannot teach a child to clean for the sake of cleaning when all they see are green dollar signs.
New York Times financial columnist Ron Lieber weighs in on the subject:

“At some point they’re going to get wise to the whole system. [They’re] gonna say to [their mother], “We don’t want to do the chores this week, and we don’t want to do the chores next week, and we don’t want to do the chores next month.” And then she’s in a little bit of a pickle, because the deal she set was that they get paid if they do their chores, which will [teach] them that if they don’t want the money, then they don’t have to do the chores.”

As Lieber pointed out, this pay-for-chores systems teaches kids that to escape chores, they merely have to relinquish payment. In reality, however, chores are inescapable, unless, of course, you like filth.
When your kids grow up, they will have their own houses that require cleaning. Why not set them up for life by instilling the habit of cleaning for the sake of cleaning?

Payment dampens enjoyment

Dampens enjoyment? Who is this crazy lady, and how on earth can chores be enjoyed?
In the early years of our marriage, my husband and I let our chores slide one week. We planned on spending a Saturday to rectify that. As we divided the chores, I tried to get out of kitchen duty. I had made a rather messy dinner the night before, and I didn’t want to scrub those pans.
My husband, however, actually enjoys cleaning the messiest room/pan/whatever, because he feels a sense of pride watching the transformation. If my son only focused on the money, he would lose the opportunity to take pride in his work ethic.

Payment for chores breeds entitlement

While many parents opt to pay for chores as an attempt to thwart entitlement, it actually does the opposite. It sets the stage for entitlement, because it teaches kids that everything revolves around them. It puts the child above the needs of the family. It begs the questions, “What’s in it for me?” and “What do I get out of it?”
On the flip side, “free” chores teach that everyone has a role to play and that everyone must contribute. A family is a community, not an employer-employee situation.

So how do kids learn about money?

The biggest argument in support of paying for chores is so kids will learn to manage money. But the two lessons do not have to be linked. Use chores as an opportunity to teach about cleanliness and familial responsibility. Use allowance to teach about money.
Whether you use the jar system or simply hand out cash, allowance is a great way to teach children the basics of money management. Think of allowance as a stipend, not as pay for work done. A study published in the “Journal of Economic Study” revealed that young girls ages eight to 10 who earned an allowance managed their money better than girls who did not earn an allowance.

The topic of money is always touchy. Add in children, and it’s no wonder that this topic can divide the masses so quickly. If you’ve never tried a “free” chore approach, talk with your kids about how a family is like a community that supports each other. Answer their questions, and try it out.

You still might end up with dirty socks on the floor, but that’s par for the course, right?

I Made My Kids Earn Their Allowance

By Kimberly Yavorski

Like many parents, when my kids were small I felt overwhelmed by how much there was to do. In addition to taking care of my children, I also had a home to maintain – one that was continuously trashed by said children.
I eventually came up with a way to help them understand why Mommy couldn’t play with them ALL THE TIME, and that we could all have more fun if they helped out.
We talked about how certain things needed to get done to have a healthy, happy home. I pointed out that when Mommy did all the work, she had no time for fun things, but that if they helped, we’d all have more time for fun things. They listened and nodded and were even excited about the idea of being able to do some of these very grown-up things.
I made a list of chores and gave each a point value. I made sure to have chores that the youngest could handle, such as setting the table, as well as those that the older ones could take on, such as cleaning the bathroom or the litter box. The easier chores earned one or two points, the more involved ones earned more.
Then I made a list of things that they could cash in those points for. I called them “Privilege Points.” The list included things like having a friend sleep over, screen time, and a special outing.
The chart worked (for a while, anyway), and I think it was largely due to two things. The point system worked like a game, and my children, who are a bit competitive by nature, could keep track of their points and brag about who had the most at the end of the week.
The other positive part of it all, from their point of view, is that it gave them a choice. They had the freedom to choose which chores they did and, for the most part, when they did them. They could also choose to not do any chores with the understanding that they would earn no special privileges.
Like so much of parenting, the chart evolved over time. In fact, my kids probably don’t remember this version. (I myself had forgotten it until I came across it in old files.) As the kids got older, the items on the list changed. When the topic of an allowance came up, it made logical sense to transition from “privileges” to cash.
Over the years, I have read articles extolling or condemning the concept of doing chores for cash and understand the very valid points made. Those on the yes side say that adults earn money for work they do, and children should learn that as well. The other side protests that basic life skills should be learned by everyone, that taking care of oneself and one’s surroundings is a necessary part of life, separate from “work.”

I thought back to when I first started getting an allowance. My father approached me, telling me he would give me a set amount each week for making my bed (apparently that was an issue) and watching my younger sister when my parents were out. Since I had a problem with the whole idea of forking over cash to my kids simply because they existed, this approach made sense to me. I could give them money and help them learn how to manage it. Through this, they would learn that rewards are earned, not simply handed out.
So I adjusted the plan. The objective: to complete chores with a point total equal to their age. In return, they got their weekly allowance. I continued to stress the community aspect of doing chores, how it benefited the entire family, and that everyone needed to make a contribution. Some tasks, such as caring for their own things, putting away their clothes, and clearing their dishes from the table, were expected as being a part of the household and, thus, not on the list.
This system wasn’t perfect. There were times my children came into money from part time jobs or gifts and didn’t “need” that allowance and would choose to not do their chores. Of course, that also meant they would not receive their allowance.
I don’t agree that an allowance should be completely without strings attached. I don’t want my children to think they’re entitled to anything, simply for being. I do, however, believe the ground rules matter.
I gave my kids a choice: Be a part of the family, contribute to the common good, and get to share in the financial success of the family. Or don’t, and have less cash to spend on items their allowance was meant to cover (namely “wants” as their basic needs were always covered).
It has been years since the chart was posted on our refrigerator. Every so often, someone would casually ask about it, but I no longer saw the need for it. As my kids grew into their teen years, the homework load increased dramatically, and I found – at least in our family – that teenagers don’t trash the house the way younger children do. Some of the chores became obsolete. For the most part, my kids cleaned up after themselves (sometimes with prodding) and volunteered to help with other tasks.
Keeping track of points was no longer necessary.
As young adults, my kids no longer get allowances (their part time jobs finance their social lives), but they still help out around the house. They may not always notice when something needs to be done, so I simply ask whoever happens to be in the room at the time, and the job gets done with little argument or delay.  
They all know the value of a dollar and have no expectation of receiving money they haven’t earned. Unlike some parents I know, I don’t get requests for money. Their accounts may get low, but they find a way to manage it until the next payday.
I consider this a parenting win.

Debate Club: Should Kids Attend Half- or Full-Day Kindergarten?

Two Parent Co. writers face off about how long the school day should be for kindergartners.

The Benefits of Half-Day Kindergarten

Cheryl Maguire

“Can we go to the library play room and do a puppet show?” my daughter asked.

“Sure,” I replied. “Do you remember when we used to come here for story time in the morning before you went to afternoon kindergarten?”

“Yes, with Miss Carol! It was so much fun.”

I have positive memories of library story time with all three of my children, who each attended half-day kindergarten. Their school gives parents the option to pay for full-day kindergarten or send their kids for half days for free. If interested in the full-day option, you’re placed in a lottery system due to the limited number of spots available.

My twins were not selected for full day spots, but I discovered it was for the best. After this experience, I chose half-day kindergarten for my younger daughter as well.

No significant educational benefit

The main reason I wanted to enroll my twins in full-day kindergarten is because I thought they would receive more education, which would in turn help them excel academically the following year. Both of them have done well in school academically despite fewer hours in school.

Research by Philip DeCicca showed similar findings. He tested children at the end of 1st grade and found little difference in both the reading and math test scores of children who attended full-day versus half-day kindergarten. (Initial gains were evident, but short-lived).

More time to play

Half-day kindergarten allowed for more opportunities for unstructured play time, either alone or with friends. The benefits of unstructured play include a stronger bond with family members, better peer relationships, improved problem solving, and healthy development.

My children developed friendships during their kindergarten years that they still enjoy six years later. I also had the opportunity to meet and socialize with their friend’s parents. We engaged in activities (such as Miss Carol’s story time at the library), which provided some structure mixed with unstructured time to allow the children to socialize with one another.

More time with family

Research from the University of Illinois found that when families regularly spent time together – in this case, going on nature hikes – they functioned better as a family. The study suggests that time together enables families to better read social cues, which led to feeling less irritable and more in control.

I look back fondly on those extra hours I spent with all three of my children. In addition to story time, we also visited playgrounds, playgroups, and other local, kid-friendly activities. My kids will be in school for six hours a day for the next 12 years, so I’m grateful for the additional time with them.

Limited attention span

Most kindergarten age children have a limited attention span. According to the website Day2Day parenting, the average five- to six-year-old child can attend to something of interest to them for 10 to 15 minutes. This time frame decreases to five to 10 minutes for topics that don’t interest them.

A school day is six hours long. That’s a lot of five to 15-minute increments.

Costs less money

Full-day kindergarten can be expensive. In the school my children attend, it costs $3k per child ($6k for twins!). Instead of spending the money on school, I was able to save and use the remainder to pay for activities such as a gymnastics or dance class.

There are only 180 days of school, and some days are half days. With my twins, it wasn’t worth spending an extra $3k for only three hours extra per day.

What’s best for your child

You know your child better than anyone. If you feel he or she would benefit from a full day – due to your schedule or as a good alternative to day care – you’re probably right.

Full-Day Kindergarten Prepares Kids Better For Their Academic Future

By Kristen Polito

The decision between full and half-day kindergarten is a personal one for all families. Many factors come into play when considering what’s best for your child. Socioeconomic circumstances, social preparedness, cognitive proficiency, and family schedules are all something to consider when signing your child up for their first full school year.    

The term “early intervention” keeps popping up in discussions about schooling, teaching, and learning – especially as it concerns the year between pre-k and first grade. Early intervention is vital as it’s focus is to help ensure that children succeed in their education and on into adulthood.

Several studies have explored the differences between full-day and half-day kindergarten, examining school readiness, longitudinal test scores, overall school performance, and socialization outcomes.

As far as the earlier academic years are concerned, considerable evidence points to full-day kindergarten classes as being the more beneficial option when compared to half-day kindergarten classes. According to the anti-academic fade out article in The Atlantic cited above, “we have to build on what children learn in those preschools and match it with challenging but playful instruction in kindergarten and the early grades.”

Going from pre-k to half-day kindergarten is redundant. Graduating from pre-k to a full-day of kindergarten – provided it is stimulating and challenging – can help build on the early foundation of learning.

Ready for school academically

Studies show full-day kindergarten programs are beneficial to the growth of children’s academic skills during that critical year between pre-k and first grade by boosting children’s literacy and language development, reading proficiency, critical thinking skills, problem-solving, and social aptitude.

How? By maximizing and capitalizing upon learning time.

For one thing, full-day programs naturally offer increased flexibility and allow for small-group and individual activities. This takes the pressure off teachers of delivering an overwhelming amount of information to the entire class at once. More individualized attention produces results.

Additionally, full-day programs tend to result in improved attendance in kindergarten and beyond, yielding more classroom face time. Better attendance in kindergarten and through the primary grades translates to more overall learning time.

Improved cognitive learning

Full-day kindergarten programs substantially increase cognitive learning due to time devoted to collaborative group work, independent work, and child-originated activities. This includes activities such as free play outdoors and indoor time in learning centers. 

Chloe R. Gibbs at the University of Virginia recently completed a study examining the differences between full- and half-day kindergarten. Full-day kindergarten ranges between four and seven hours, and the study says that time should be used proactively instead of passively. The brain has the greatest ability to change under the influence of the immediate surrounding conditions early in life.

Advanced literacy and problem-solving skills

Full-day kindergarten students show faster gains on literacy and language measures when compared to half-day kindergarten students. Moreover, such gains may last over time.

One study, for example, showed higher reading achievement persisting through third grade and, in some cases, through seventh grade – a benefit that strengthens students’ overall school performance.

Social competence

Full-day kindergarten students have displayed notable gains in academic socialization and are equipped with stronger learning skills. They also show improved emotional and behavioral development, creating an environment where they can thrive socially.

One study found that full-day kindergarten students received significantly higher conduct marks through playing nicely, working well with others, demonstrating self-confidence, and obeying playground rules. Researchers determined this through a self-concept scale over time. 

Chidren who have an easier time socializing and playing with peers also have an easier time making friends and experience a smoother transition into later grades as reported by parents and teachers. 

Research comparing half-day and full-day kindergarten suggests that it makes more developmental sense for children to segue from pre-k to full-day kindergarten as part of an early learning sequence. Some experts believe that this contributes to higher academic achievement in later grades, reducing retention and remediation rates.

For Education Week, Reporter Deborah Viadero writes, “In a study of over 17,000 students in Philadelphia, researchers found that ‘by the time they reached the third and fourth grades, former full-day kindergartners were more than twice as likely as children without any kindergarten experiences – and 26 percent more likely than graduates of half-day programs – to have made it there without having repeated a grade.’”

Extended care for working families

Many parents are joint earners by necessity or choice. Either way, the need for daily, extended child care is a reality for many families these days. Besides an education, a full-day of kindergarten offers the convenience and practicality of all-day child care. 

Ultimately, the availability of full-day kindergarten funding for your school district may make your decision for you. Not all jurisdictions can offer full-day kindergarten free of charge just yet.  And having to foot the bill for the supplementary half day may be a non-starter for many families with relatively modest budgets.

When it comes down to it, full-day kindergarten is not a panacea that will remove all conceivable obstacles to academic success that struggling students may face. Consider full-day kindergarten as one part of a large, working plan that parents, teachers, and school administrators can utilize to ensure that children reach their full potential. 

At the end the end of the day, every child’s story is different, and every family’s needs are unique. Full-day kindergarten should be available to any and all, but the decision to utilize it should be made by parents – and not by school boards.

Debate Club: Is the Role of Grandparents to Spoil Their Grandchildren?

Two Parent Co. writers face off on the topic of grandparental spoiling.

Go Ahead and Spoil!

Fiona Tapp

Some rules are non-negotiable, the kind of rules that keep children safe and well, the kind of rules that keep our home clean and tidy, and the kind that ensure children are polite, considerate, and kind.

As long as my child’s well being is being promoted, and he is happy and healthy, I am pretty flexible with anything that goes down at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

My reasoning for being lax about his weekends away are varied, but include my honest assessment that I should be grateful when someone else cares for my child. We all need time away from our children from time to time, whether it’s for some much needed head space or simply because you need to work. Having a reliable person to watch your child is a luxury, and if it’s free of charge as well, you really have hit the jackpot.

To complain and whine about small infractions of your usual household rules when you’re being given a gift that many parents without extended family would kill to have is really very petty.

Parents that demand their rules are followed when their children stay with other adults often claim that they don’t want to confuse their child by having different rules for different households. But this reasoning is completely invalid.

I worked as a teacher for over a decade and can tell you with certainty that my child and yours are easily able to differentiate between varying expectations of their behavior and conduct in different settings. Just as there may be one rule for home and one for school, children are able to expertly navigate between different sets of rules and parenting styles.

When your child is with another trusted adult, you need to acquiesce control to them and allow them to make their own decisions. So many moms try to micromanage every aspect of their child’s life, which can be quite damaging to their relationship with their grandparents. As long as your child is cared for and healthy, does it really matter if they eat a little junk food or watch a little TV?

Staying with the grandparents is often a rare treat. A short break from the usual rules can’t really do any harm. Rather, it helps to develop loving family bonds and memories of enjoying time with their grandparents.

Part of being a grandparent is not having all the day-to-day parenting worries of raising children and instead focusing on the fun bits, which is precisely why many grandparents claim to enjoy being a grandparent more than they enjoyed being a parent. Grand-parenting is, in essence, the very best bits of parenting with all the daily slog and responsibility removed.

So why not just let them enjoy it?

I can’t help but think that by supplying your parents or in laws with a list of rules and regulations they must follow when they watch your child is hugely insulting. After all, they did successfully manage to raise children of their own.

So I say let them be spoiled. That’s what grandparents are for.

When Grandparents Spoil it Undermines the Parents

Kathryn Trudeau

As the car pulled into the pet store, I felt that I’d already won half the victory. To this day, I’m not sure how I convinced my Grandma to take me to the pet store, but I feel like it probably had more to do with my Grandma wanting to make me happy and less to do with my excellent skills of persuasion.

I started the begging requests for a white kitten, but my pet mission was nonetheless successful as I walked out of the store with Cookie, an olive green parakeet. I couldn’t have been happier. My mother, on the hand, was not so pleased by this addition to the family. At the time, I didn’t realize how something as sweet as my little bird could be such a source of contention, but now with the experience of being a parent myself, I get it.  

Grandparents, as awesome and special as they are, need limits on their spoiling.

I absolutely believe that children need their grandparents in their lives, if possible. I’m merely discussing the limitations of a grandparents’ role. Here’s the bottom line: While close relationships with grandparents yield many positive benefits, the relationship becomes less beneficial when the grandparents have an “anything-goes” mindset and/or free reign power.

In fact, there are many benefits for a grandparent who grandparents without free reign spoiling abilities.

Prevent sabotage

Okay, Jenny. Your mama is gone. You can watch TV now. Even though you’re grounded, you can watch a little at my house. It’ll be okay.

Nothing sabotages parental authority quicker than a grandparent who completely overrules a parent’s rules or wishes. It might seem so innocent to indulge in an extra TV show or dessert, but deliberately disobeying parents teaches Jenny that, not only can she disobey a parent’s rule, but she can also be sneaky about it. This often sends conflicting messages to children.

When grandparents spoil children within parameters (i.e. parents’ rules), they cannot sabotage the parents’ authority.

Weakening the family value system 

Once Jenny learns that it’s okay to be sneaky to get around the rules, the whole value system of the family becomes compromised. Whether or not the grandparent intended to, Jenny is taught that it’s okay to sneak, lie, and disobey parents. With habits like that, the sturdy value system of a family is at risk.

On the other hand, when grandparents reinforce the rules of parents, it helps to fortify the value system of the child. Supporting the parents instills a sense of integrity and honesty within the child.

Safety

Rules (all rules, from house rules to rules of the road) are designed with one thing in mind: safety. When grandparents spoil children with reckless abandon, the child’s safety can be threatened. I have witnessed this on three occasions.

  • A grandma who allowed her grandson to have root beer floats for breakfast, which seemed like an innocent-enough treat. But the excess sugar caused problems with the boy’s medication.
  • A grandmother who felt inspired to take extra care of her grandson by giving him a daily vitamin. Because she had taken this matter into her own hands without talking to the boy’s mother, the child received double the dose.
  • A grandfather repeatedly gave almond milk to a baby despite the parents’ requests not to, insisting it was a treat and better for the baby. Not only is almond milk not recommended as baby formula, but the parents quickly lost trust due to this form of “spoiling.”

How to spoil within the limits of parents’ rules

Before I have every grandparent knocking on my door, I want to reiterate that I do believe grandparents are incredibly valuable. Grandchildren who are close to their grandparents benefit from their wisdom, stories, and relaxed demeanor. Grandparents are role models and a source of tremendous, unconditional love.

But the truth is, grandparents do not need to raise grandchildren. They can take excellent care of grandchildren without stepping on the toes of the parents.

Spend more time than money

When grandparents consistently arrive for a visit with a toy, it increases expectation for the future. Pretty soon, the child is going to answer the door saying, “Hi Grandma, what did you bring me?” Limiting toys and treats will keep them special and not expected.

Follow parents’ rules

A grandparent who supports a parent teaches a child just how important it is to obey parents. This lesson will continue to be especially important as the child grows up and is tempted to break even more rules.

Love abundantly

A grandparent cannot say “I love you” too much. In fact, there’s no limit on how much a grandparent can love a grandchild. Having another source of unconditional love in a child’s life improves his or her mental and emotional wellbeing.
Children who grow up feeling loved are more likely to handle stress better as adults, engage in more close, healthy relationships, and be more well-adjusted.

A little goes a long way

Like all things in life, moderation is key. A treat here or there is a special way to surprise a child.

Parents of young children have a lot on their plates, from being new at parenting to learning how to discipline children with love. It can be frustrating when grandparents’ spoiling overrides their rules or wishes.

But if grandparents spoil within the parents’ rules, life is not only easier for the parents, but the message sent to their children is loud and clear: Both parents and grandparents offer abundant, unconditional love, are all part of a strong family unit, and everyone has a place in that family structure.

Debate Club: How Many Baby Showers Is Too Many?

Two Parent Co. writers face off about baby showers.

debate club

A Second Baby Shower is One Too Many

by Michelle Downing

My little sister is expecting her first baby in the spring, and my other sisters and I were recently discussing her shower. My husband asked why we never had a shower for our daughter.

“Well, I did have one, before,” I replied. Before he was around, I meant. With my oldest daughter, when I was married to her father.

We never got to experience any of that, because I had already done it when I first became a mother more than nine years ago.

Granted, the situation could have warranted another celebration. My oldest was almost eight when our daughter was born. I had put the high chair and swing on Craigslist. I’d given away the crib and clothes to friends. A lot of things had ended up at Goodwill. I had never expected to remarry and find a man who was so great with children and who so badly wanted one of his own. And I had never expected to want to give him one.

My family had offered to throw us a shower when we made my pregnancy announcement. They wanted to celebrate this new chapter of our life and were so excited for a new little girl in our family.

But I declined. They had already thrown me a shower.

To me, a baby shower is just as much a celebration for becoming a mom as it is for the new baby. All the cheesy games center around being a first-time mom. Friends and family gift her with diaper genies and wipe warmers and a surplus of supplies she’s probably never seen and never knew she needed.

All the other moms get to offer their sage advice of tips and tricks. They get to share their sweet stories of the first time their son said, “I love you.” They share the horror stories of their daughter’s first blowout at the grocery store.

Once you’ve had children, you’ve done all of this. More importantly, your family and friends have already gone through the trouble of throwing a shower for you.

Unfortunately, showers aren’t always a celebration of a new birth. Sometimes they’re just a ploy for gifts. I’ve even seen etiquette rules for a second shower. The number one rule? Don’t ever throw your own shower.

This. This is appalling. The shower is not the problem. It’s the sense of obligation behind it. 

People argue their kids are far apart in age (I know the feeling!). Or now they’re having a baby of the opposite gender, and they don’t have everything they need.

Yes, kids are expensive, it’s a daunting task to go out and get everything you need to raise a little person of your own. But it’s part of being a parent. It is your responsibility and yours alone. No one will come over every night to buy groceries and supply your little one with dinner. No one will write your weekly check to daycare. No one helps with school supplies, larger clothes as they grow, a new car, college tuition, etc. 

When a baby is brought into the world, it’s a joyous event that should be celebrated. But a celebration doesn’t have to include balloons and invitations with storks. It doesn’t have to include every woman you interact with. A celebration doesn’t even need to include gifts. Why do people have to buy you something to prove they’re excited for you?

I had a nice brunch with my family before my daughter was born. We received lots of well wishes and cards in the mail. We had tons of visitors at the hospital, and at home once we were settled in. Some people brought gifts and some did not. I never once doubted how happy everyone was for us, and I have no doubt about how much that little girl is loved.

Each child is a blessing. But let people do it on their own terms, however they feel it’s appropriate.

Congratulations to all you first-timers preparing for your first shower. Make it a memorable one.

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The Arrival of Every Child Deserves Recognition

by Sarah Broussard Weaver

I have four children, and each have had a baby shower, or at least a gathering of friends to mark the event. Each of my shower gatherings had a very different flavor, corresponding with the situation my husband and I were in at the time.

My first shower was kind of a flop because only three or four people came. It was a combination of the wrong day, the wrong location, and a community I was out of touch with, having moved away a year before. But it was mortifying for me. My mother-in-law and friend planned it and had prepared so much delicious food and fun games to play. The recollection of it was a painful thought for me for years.

When I had my second baby, I was given another shower, and the second baby was also a girl. Many people came to that one, and I felt strangely healed from the embarrassment of the first.

For my third daughter, work colleagues threw a small shower, and I went to see “Wicked” with my best friend.

For my last baby and only boy, my three best friends took me out and plied me with Mexican food and gifts. That was more of a pamper-the-mother thing, and it was just what I needed.

Baby showers are a time-honored tradition, born of needing to help a young couple gather the things needed for their first child. After receiving the layette of tiny nighties, socks, a crib, and later, the more modern “needs” such as a Bumbo seat, baby food makers, co-sleepers, and boutique baby slings, the new parents are prepared for any following children. Worn out nighties or other items can be replaced as needed by the parents themselves, because they would presumably be established in their lives and capable of doing so.

But modern baby showers seem to mean more than just providing the baby’s needs. The shower for a first baby is still the biggest affair. But often subsequent children will merit their own shower, especially if the baby is a different gender than the first (or than the first two or three, as the case may be).

So many baby necessities are color-coded these days – rose-petal pink or baby blue – and some parents don’t want to ignore these societal cues. I can tell you from personal experience that even if you have your baby girl all robed in pink, strangers in the grocery stores will still coo, “He’s so cute! What’s his name?” so there’s not much point in that.

Multiple baby showers are fine in my book. They’re celebrations, gatherings to celebrate the child coming soon. I think the practice of multiple showers started slowly, with some mothers getting another shower when they had a “surprise” baby long after they got rid of their baby things, or when they were having a girl after two boys.

Now subsequent showers have themes like “diaper shower” where people only bring diapers and baby wipes, Diaper Genies, or cloth diapering supplies. There are “book showers” where people bring their favorite baby books. Showers to replace worn out baby supplies are called “baby sprinkles.” (Get it? Not a full-out shower, just a sprinkle. I guess that sounded better than drizzle!)

Sometimes showers for non-first children focus on pampering the mother before the baby’s arrival. They don’t have to be a huge fancy deal, but rather a great way for people to get together and celebrate.

Parents need different things at different times. When my son came, although I had nothing geared for a boy, we were in a place in life to provide it all ourselves. I just needed some relaxation, and a night out with friends gave me that, plus a feeling of the coming baby being honored and recognized. Sometimes parents need or could really use new supplies they might have difficulty providing. Others just need a nice celebration.

Just as people celebrate birthdays every year, I think the arrival of a new child is an event that deserves recognition. If you don’t agree, just RSVP your regrets, and all will be fine.

Debate Club: Should Parents Find Out How Long They’re Going to Live?

In this week’s Debate Club, two writers face off about how much information is too much information.

Should Parents Find out How Long They’re Going to Live? Of Course They Should*

Michelle Riddell

I’m neither a glass-half-full nor a glass-half-empty person. I’m more of an exact-volume-of-the-liquid-in-the-glass type. I’m the person who wants to know how many calories are in the entire package of cookies I’m about to eat and isn’t deterred after finding out they contain more than my recommended daily allowance.

I apply formulaic logic to every aspect of my life, and I’ve never subscribed to willful denial of any sort. So, when I heard that the TeloMe Company was offering its genetic telomere testing to the general public, I was intrigued.

To understand the significance of this test being publicly available, think of the trillions of cells that comprise a human body. Each cell will undergo mitosis (cellular division) 40 to 60 times before it dies. Each time a cell divides, the chromosomes housing its genetic material also divide.

Telomeres are the protective, structural caps on the ends of these chromosomes, buffering the DNA within. With every mitosis cycle, the telomeres fray and shorten until eventually they disappear. Once the telomeres are gone, the chromosomes are exposed, and the cell, unable to divide, dies. 

Genetic telomere testing is a blood test that measures telomere length. It is designed to reveal a person’s biological age, independent of chronological age. Biological age evaluates changes in the body’s physical structure and organ systems, as well as deterioration in sensory perception and motor skills. Chronological age simply notes the years since birth. The two aren’t always the same.

The telomere test analyzes the average length of an individual’s telomeres, theoretically providing insight into health, lifespan, propensity for disease, and most importantly, preventative lifestyle options.

Essentially, this test tells you how much longer you have to live. But first, before delving into the plethora of legal, fiduciary, logistical, and ethical implications of such information, the primary question – the core of the matter – is whether or not you want to know.

As a parent, a partner, and a health-conscious individual, I want to know.

Telomeres, like other parts of our anatomy, are amalgams of several factors, including ancestry, lifestyle, and outlying stressors. While research suggests that our genetic health is largely predetermined, we are still the catalysts of our own destiny. All is never lost, when it comes to the amazing resilience of the human body.

My grandmother smoked from age 20 to 50 and lived to be 99 years old. The moral of her story isn’t that she smoked and lived a long life, but that she lived nearly half a century after quitting. Taking the telomere test is like looking into the future from your current trajectory. If it’s heading in the wrong direction, there is time to change course.

The real question, as I see it, is what have you got to lose?

Just as we all hope (and expect) to live a long and healthy life, we all fear (and yet, accept on some level) our own impending death. It’s human nature. Fear of death is what keeps us alive. But fear is also the last straggler in our ever-evolving psyche and should not be catered to – especially if it impedes proactivity.

The logic behind avoiding this test is similar to the logic of postponing a mammogram because you’re afraid of being diagnosed with cancer, and that logic is flawed.

Consider the worst case scenario: You take the telomere test and find out that your body is older than its years. So what? Learning the results hasn’t altered the course of your life. Learning the results doesn’t change 30 years of poor nutrition or, conversely, good eating habits.

Vital statistics and medical test results are facts; your knowledge of them is incidental. What can alter the course of your life – doubtless for the better – is what you do with this knowledge. Let science be your guide.

debate club

Should Parents Find Out How Long They’re Going to Live? No Way!

Katie Schorr

As the kind of person who, at every doctor’s appointment, elects not to know her weight by cheerfully shouting to whomever is weighing me, “YOU CAN JUST WRITE IT DOWN, YOU DON’T NEED TO TELL ME, THANK YOU,” you can guess where I stand on the topic of knowing my lifespan.

If my clothes fit and my body can do things and looks to be in fine working order, I don’t have any use for a number on a scale – a number that will only compound my already anxious thought patterns. I can guess my weight, using context clues, memories of past weights, and some magical realism. The blurriness of that guess is what keeps me feeling both content in my skin and compelled to occasionally hit up a yoga class or sprint to the subway station or not eat all of the brownies.

The same theory goes for the year my body gives out. I’ve got a vague sense of when I’m going to kick it (based on the lifespans of my grandparents and wishful thinking), and that fantasy keeps me hopeful and also stops me from getting too cocky.

The fact that I have a child makes me no more interested in knowing when my days are numbered, in part because I am not sure what I would do with a tragic revelation, say that I only had a few more years left with him. I’m not confident that I’m one of those people for whom a death sentence would be liberating, allowing me to exist entirely in the moment, taking risks I never before considered, like skydiving or singing terrible pop songs loudly in public places.

Nor am I confident a death sentence would better my parenting, compelling me to savor every last second with my son, to tell him I love him more than I already do, to impart any more wisdom than I’m already dredging up on a daily basis, to prepare him for my being gone. I’m not convinced anything could prepare me for that. 

Funnily enough, my husband wrote a novel, “Denton Little’s Deathdate” (part “Back to the Future”, part “Superbad”, part philosophical musing on death), about this very conundrum, so I’ve had years to not simply stew on this, but talk it out in GREAT detail.

Denton’s story is set in a world where everyone knows the day they’re going to die – a sci-fi conceit, for sure, although…perhaps not for long – and when the book begins, 17-year-old Denton’s deathdate is 24 hours away, on the day of his senior prom. His parents have known his fate since birth, but have protected Denton from the tragedy he was born into by making his abbreviated life a very normal one.

Denton’s march toward the end of his life is goofy and unsettling and very funny and very sad and, without telling you what happens, I finished the book feeling more certain than ever that, if I could help it, I would never want to know my deathdate, nor my child’s.

Even without that knowledge, I feel plenty grateful for the life I’ve got. I read about the horrors the people of Syria endure daily and about the realities escaped by so many immigrants, undocumented and otherwise, in our country right now, and I cannot fathom how stupidly lucky I am. The lovely and terrifying uncertainty of every day as I know it in a world that is cruel to so many is inspiring enough to make me want to live without regret or fear.

Death is already imminent. Why make it more so?

*The views expressed in this article are the author’s and don’t necessarily reflect those of Parent.Co or those of its sponsors.

Debate Club: Should You Teach Your Kids to Share?

In this week’s Debate Club, two writers face off about sharing.

Teaching kids to share is good for them and good for society

by Kelly Meldrum

On a gorgeous fall day, I drove down the streets of our upper middle class, suburban neighborhood, waving at strangers raking leaves and kids playing in the unseasonably warm weather. As I passed garage after garage, open and neatly organized, I noticed something that disgusted me about the culture in which we live.

I saw the exact same items in nearly every garage: expensive lawn mowers, high-end snow blowers, ladders of every size, hardware of all kinds, and every lawn gadget thing-a-ma-bob imaginable. The two to three vehicles parked in every driveway didn’t escape my attention either.

The homes in our neighborhood are around 50 feet from one another. In this moment of clarity, it seemed like such a waste that every garage contained multiple, seldom used items hanging literally feet away from the neighbor’s identical items.

I thought about why we live this way. I believe that our need for autonomy, financial or otherwise, is rooted in the fact that, as a society, we’ve lost our sense of community and connection to one another. We don’t have relationships with our neighbors. We don’t share because we’re looking out for ourselves.

My experience cemented my conviction and commitment to sharing the things we own and teaching my children to do the same.

Spend less, give more

My desire for community and connection with others is deeply rooted in my faith as a Christ-follower, but it doesn’t require religious tradition to see the benefits of sharing. My cousin, an atheist, is kind and deeply empathetic to those in need. She sees the value of connection and community through sharing as much as I do. She loves others through her actions more often than many “Christians” I know.

The more we share what we have, the less we spend on ourselves, which allows us to give more to others, including family, friends, charities, and causes that are important to us. We remind our kids of this often, especially, when they both want the exact same thing. We ask them if they can share it, or if they really think they each need one.

We don’t demand sharing of every single thing we own (for instance, each child has their own iPad), but we do highly encourage it and talk through the possible outcomes of sharing or not.

Connection

When we share, we connect with others on a deeper level. There is no way to share without communicating and cooperating with someone else. The act alone is good for children’s social and emotional development. We can cultivate empathy as we talk through how it feels to be without something that we need or want. Likewise, children practice patience as they learn to wait for something that they want, including time or attention.

My children are not saints, and I am an average parent who “loses it” daily, but I believe our focus on sharing from infancy has positively affected our children and resulted in less fighting and sibling rivalry. Our two youngest share as if they are twins (they’re not).

Speaking of twins, they’re an excellent example of children who’ve learned to share from a young age. Twins typically share everything from toys to time to parents and rooms, yet they often have an unbreakable bond, likely hardened by years of taking turns and cooperation.

Community

One only need turn on the news to see the obvious break down of community in our society. In poorer nations all over the world today, life is all about community. People have to share to survive.

It used to be that way in First World nations as well, but time, money, stress, and, distance have separated us from one another literally and figuratively. Our elders cry, “I remember when neighbors really cared about each other,” and we all nod our heads in agreement.

Most of us concur that something is broken in our communities, but no one knows how to fix it. I believe that sharing can bring back some of that unity we’re lacking. We’ve started by letting our family, friends, neighbors, and church know that we have things they can borrow. Not surprisingly, most are taken aback that we would trust them with our possessions.

Regardless of how they feel, those who need something will take us up on the offer. In turn, they offer time to help with a chore or lend out something of theirs that we might need. It’s not tit-for-tat; it’s the beginning of community and real connection between acquaintances.

The Earth

It’s a no-brainer that the less we buy and use, the better it is for the environment. What if only every other house, or every third house on our block had a heavy-duty snow-blower? What if more people car-pooled to work or part-time workers shared a vehicle?

Even smaller gestures could have an impact. We could tell our neighbors that we have a 24-foot ladder they can borrow anytime so they don’t feel the need to buy one when they need to put up and take down Christmas lights once a year.

Boundaries and pitfalls

It probably seems easy for me to say “everybody share” when it’s clear that I am well-off. I wasn’t always. I grew up in a working poor family. We had everything we needed, but debt and living paycheck-to-paycheck was the norm. My parents worked hard, but still had to borrow money for Christmas, medical care, and unforeseen circumstances. I know the other side, and I can’t help but think of how we would have benefited if someone in our lives had said, “Hey, I have a few things you can borrow so you don’t have to buy them.”

My parents were protective of all of their things because they worked so hard for them. But even my parents, who didn’t have a lot, had items they could have shared with the neighbors. My dad worked in construction, so he had dozens of tools not in use. My mom made gorgeous handmade Halloween costumes every year for us (which she did lend out when we were older).

I understand the inherent desire to protect things that are special, so we do allow our kids a few special items that they don’t have to share. When sharing anything, it’s important to talk about what will happen or who is responsible for the item if does break. Will the owner pay for it if the borrower didn’t use it out of turn? Will they split the expense? It’s a good conversation to have upfront, and it fosters that connection we all need.

Modeling behavior

In our home, we model the behavior we want to see in our children. We give out our garage code to friends and family if they want to stop by to use the bathroom or get something to eat when we aren’t home.

When guests come over, we make it clear they’re welcome to anything in the common areas, from food and drinks to toys, movies, books, and magazines. We lend out our folding tables, hardware, carpet cleaner, leaf blower, ladders, chairs, lawn games, and virtually anything that we don’t often use that can be easily transported.

Our kids get one day with their new toys. Yep, just one day that they don’t have to share, and then it becomes family property and anyone can play with it.

I know that it’s not for everyone, but sharing is a way of life for us. Surprisingly, it works. And it’s made us a more joyful, more giving, and more loving family.

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debate club

I didn’t make my kids share and they became generous people

by Kimberly Yavorski

Parents have become too involved in their kids’ decisions. As a society, we seem to have bought into the idea that we’re judged on the actions of our children and, as a result, impose demands of perfection on them. We try to force them to behave in ways that are unnatural and, despite claiming to hate the idea, expect them to “Do as I say, not as I do.” Sharing is just one example.

While I certainly think there’s value in sharing, I don’t believe that kids should be taught to share everything. After all, as adults, we get to choose which things we share and which we keep to ourselves. It seems hypocritical to me to insist that a child share everything, then have a “look but not touch” attitude about certain items (i.e. keep all the salted caramel ice cream to myself).  Instead, I think we should start teaching them to decide if and when to share their things from a young age.

I believe in natural consequences. There should be a logical cause and effect. I think this is how people learn best. (I have to confess that I may have, on occasion, manipulated circumstances to make a point.) There’s inherent value in sharing; being selfish and greedy is unlikely to improve relationships with others and can be very isolating.

But I think this is a lesson best learned by experience, not by being forced. I gave my children the option to share, or not. If that resulted in siblings or friends choosing to reflect their selfish ways, I then pointed out that everyone can choose whether to share or not, and that maybe sharing with others would make them more likely to share with you.

When my daughter was small, like many others, she had a special stuffed toy that was extremely important to her and went everywhere with us. On one occasion, when we had another child visiting, he wanted to play with this toy. My daughter refused, and as the situation escalated, his mother admonished my daughter, telling her to share.

I quickly stepped in, saying no, she didn’t have to share that toy as it was very special to her. I told my daughter that since she didn’t want to share this toy, I would put it someplace safe for her and followed through. The other mom was surprised at my reaction, but it was my house, my rules, and she accepted my solution to the issue.

I kept to this philosophy as my children grew. With four kids in the house, there were many times one child wanted a toy that another had. We discussed sharing, and I pointed out how some toys are much more fun to play with when shared. Sometimes sharing and working together on something like a jigsaw puzzle made the process go faster as well.

I insisted on manners and taught the older kids to use a “bait and switch” technique when their baby or toddler siblings had an item they didn’t want to share. I explained that it was not acceptable to grab toys away, but that they should find another toy with equal or greater appeal and trade. Anything they were unwilling to share was to be put away before friends came over to play.

I believe that not forcing my kids to share has enabled them to be more assertive. They have the confidence to say no and to stand up to being treated unfairly (and also defend others who are less able to do so than themselves). They also accept no as an answer. They understand that sometimes a “no” is “not now,” and other times it is firm and final. That being said, they’re all generous individuals who frequently do share – on their own terms.

I question what we’re teaching the child who wants an item by forcing another to share. Does this somehow enable them and teach them that they can have whatever they want simply by demanding it, that it is their right to have everything shared with them?

Allowing kids to sometimes not share teaches the one suffering the rejection that they will not always get what they want, that wanting a thing does not necessarily mean you get it. Asking to play with a toy is a request. If the other child is forced to give it up, it becomes akin to a demand. Forcing kids to share can also cause resentment. If they’re going to share, I want my children to share willingly.

Some parents enforce sharing rules by insisting that children take turns (even when it is not their child or even their child’s toy). Assuming that such sharing equates to fairness, and that for some reason we should falsely imply that life is fair, is this really the message conveyed? If you have something and are not done using (or playing with) it, and are forced to give it to someone, how is that okay?

Instead, if we ask a child to wait until the other is done with the item, we teach patience and waiting (a skill that will be used throughout life). If we choose to say no altogether, it may seem harsh, but is more a life lesson than dictated sharing.

I have another, more practical reason not to insist on sharing. Not everyone places the same value on things. There are items that are important to me that others consider insignificant. In addition, not everyone is taught to respect the property of others. While I’m careful to take great care with things that do not belong to me (and have taught my children to do the same), others have not always reciprocated. Sometimes sharing results in the item in question being damaged, lost, or even destroyed.

I’ve had the opportunity to observe many children, of varying ages and abilities, engage in play. Some of these cherish playthings and treat them lovingly. Others seem to have a crush-and-destroy attitude towards everything in their path. Sharing involves an implied trust and sometimes that trust needs to be earned. Though some people are quick to offer a replacement, others simply move on to another toy. And in some cases, the item can’t be replaced.

Many people I know share freely, without giving it a second thought. They’re quick to loan any item, without caution or condition. Some may see my perspective as selfish or consider it a character flaw, but I’m more discerning in what I share and with whom. Prized possessions deserve careful treatment and don’t have to be shared.

When my kids ask to borrow things and I hesitate, they’re quick to tell me it’s okay if I don’t want to share, that they understand. They can say no to my requests as well; they know I will offer them the same consideration.

It’s okay to have some things for yourself. As adults, we respect personal ownership. We don’t walk into someone’s house and use anything we see that we like. In fact, we usually even ask permission to use a bathroom (as if that would be denied). Why should our kids be taught that their possessions are less important than ours?

Debate Club: Is Disney World the Best or Worst of All Family Vacations?

For some it’s a dream, for others it’s a nightmare. Two writers debate the merits and downfalls of a family vacation at Disney.

A Disney vacation is the best possible vacation

by Kathryn Trudeau

The clock struck three as the airport van pulled into my parents’ driveway. I’ve always thought that pre-vacation excitement made the 3 a.m. departure totally doable. After all, who wants to sit around all day waiting for a late-in-the-day departure?

But this was my first early vacation with children. As my husband carried two suitcases, a camera bag, a diaper bag, and a toys-for-the-airplane bag into the van, I buckled in the kids – one three, the other three months old.

As I stared at my sweet sleeping infant, I worried about his GERD-induced screaming and how the impending airplane ride would unfold. Were we making a huge mistake? Were we about to be the most stressed out parents in the history of family vacations?

As fate would have it, my littlest boy slept the whole flight, thanks to a nursing session. Bags in tow and fueled by Starbucks, we made it to the inspiring Wilderness Lodge. Walking through the lobby and feeling the rush of cool air as we walked through the door, I felt the same giddy excitement in the pit of my stomach that I felt as a young girl. And now I got to share that excitement with my two boys.

All obsessions aside, Disney still ranks as one of the best family vacation destinations.

There’s something for everyone

As a self-proclaimed obsessed Disney fan, it was only natural that I voted for a Disney honeymoon. My then-fiancé, now-husband quickly said, “Uh no. Isn’t that for little kids?” I then delivered a monologue about how Disney World is anything but “just for little kids.”

We booked the honeymoon. I’m proud to say I converted my husband into a Disney superfan.

Taking our kids was a very different experience, but no less awesome. Disney World offers something for everyone. If you take your kids and still want some couple time, there are kid centers at each hotel that will watch your littles while you escape to a world-class spa or a romantic candlelit dinner with your honey.

Disney World can entertain a wide range of children. If traveling with young children and teens, you will find activities for everyone. Between the live shows, gardens, thrill rides, pools, and water parks, outdoor recreational activities, and interactive events, your kids are sure to find something to thrill them.

The meal plan

One of my favorite parts of traveling to Disney with my family is the meal plan. Eating out three times a day can get costly, but the meal plan allows you to budget ahead of time what your food will cost, which saves money in the long run.

Cleanliness is next to godliness

I may be a super Disney fan, but I’m no stranger to other amusement parks or vacation destinations. When I was 14, my family traveled to an amusement park in Southern California. From the grimy food service counters to the trash littering the paths, the lack of cleanliness drove us from the park before the day was half done.

That being said, cleanliness is something to consider when planning a family vacation. Who wants to make their family memories among the smells floating from hot steaming garbage cans? Not me.

Disney cast members work diligently to make sure the entire park is not only clean, but invisibly so. As a guest, you never have to witness their garbage removal process (thanks to underground tunnels for the purpose.)

Affordable family vacation

A common obstacle for any family vacation is the price tag. Between airfare and quality accommodations, a one-week trip can be costly. But if you compare oranges to oranges (Get it? Florida…oranges…), a Disney vacation lands in the “pretty affordable” column when compared to other similar destinations.

Follow these few tips, and you can snag a super deal, too:

Book a trip in the off season. Not only will you have better rates, but the parks will be less crowded.

Subscribe to the vacation planning email lists. Periodically, they send out mailers with special rates and promotions. If you’re not opposed to planning a trip within a few months of notification of a promotion, this is a good way to get a deal.

Customize your package. You can opt for park-hopper status (ability to go to multiple parks in one day) or not. If you’re looking to save a little money, you can opt out of the park-hopper.  Alternatively, choose the hotel pools over the water parks.

A final thought on price: Is it expensive? Yes. Good, activity-packed vacations usually are. Is it over-priced? No. The value of the whole experience is worth every penny.

Educational

My son stared out of the car of Spaceship Earth. He was mesmerized by the giant image of our planet. As we exited the ride, we entered a pavilion that showcases new and upcoming technology. My son was silent as we moved from demo to demo. He’s always been a techie-in-the-making, and here, he was able to live out his need to tinker with real-life gadgets.

Disney is all about moving forward, upward, and bettering ourselves in the process – what a great mentality to show our kids.

The magic

The last reason why I love Disney: the magic. One of my most favorite memories from the trip was when my three-year-old met Mickey. My son, forever toting small toy cars in his pockets, whipped one out and wanted to play cars with Mickey. Ever the good sport, Mickey got on his knees and played cars with my boy. Nothing makes a mama heart sing as much as seeing pure joy on her baby’s face, and Disney did not disappoint in this department.

Still not convinced? That’s okay. Disney has a team of veteran moms who help answer vacation questions, from what to pack to where to stay. They can answer anything you throw at them. Maybe they’ll convince you it’s worth a try.

No matter what expectations you bring to a Disney vacation, you’ll walk away with happy family memories. And that’s a win in my book.

Don’t go to Disney World

By Cheryl Maguire

We made it. After a three-hour flight and two bus transfers, we were standing in front of the iconic Disney World Cinderella Castle. During my year of researching and planning, I wondered if this moment would ever happen.

We waded through the crowd and snapped a quick picture. Since I was uncertain of when we would actually arrive here, the only unplanned hours lay ahead of us.

“What should we do first? Magic Mountain? Meet a princess? It’s a Small world?” I asked.

“Swim in the pool,” my eight-year-old twins and five-year-old daughter responded.

“I didn’t spend an obscene amount of money on a Disney World vacation to swim in a pool. Which attraction will it be?”

We chose to split up. The twins and I went to meet Ariel, while my husband and daughter headed in a different direction. The problem was I couldn’t remember which direction, and I realized he took my cell phone with the back pack. Hours and hours of planning, yet I never created a plan if someone were to get lost.

“Who remembers what shirt Dad was wearing?” I asked.

A stranger passing by overheard my question and, with a laugh, said, “Oh, that can’t be good.”

Even though my husband is an adult (at least most of the time), I felt as if I’d lost a child. I panicked. How was I going to find him in this sea of neverending people? We started walking. I examined the faces of each person we passed by, hoping to find him.

One of my children remembered they were headed to the Big Thunder Mountain roller coaster, and somehow we managed to locate them. He, of course, had no idea he was missing (or that he took my cell phone). He’d been waiting in line the whole time.

“How was the Big Thunder Mountain ride? Was it worth waiting an hour?”

“Definitely not. It was really bumpy. I felt like I was going to vomit,” my husband responded.

“I agree with Dad.”

“I’m glad we spent thousands of dollars to wait in line and feel nauseous.”

They all wanted to go on the next ride, so I found a bench, absorbing the interesting surroundings. I couldn’t help but notice a man and woman, their arms flailing as they shouted obscenities at each other loud enough for everyone to hear, including children. So much for this being the “happiest place in the world.” I also witnessed many children in full blown meltdowns.

When my kids got off the ride, they asked, “Can we go to the pool now?”

Sweat dripped from every pore in my body and, from the looks of it, my family was experiencing the same. I relented and off to the pool we went.

For the rest of the vacation, we didn’t experience any major problems. But the heat, long lines, and crowds continued to wear on us. At the end of the vacation, I asked my kids, “What was your favorite part of the trip? Meeting Elsa? Toy Story Mania? The Aerosmith rollercoaster?”

In unison they responded, “The pool.”

If I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that I ignored several red flags. My kids seemed more excited about flying on a plane than going to Disney World. My kids had never been enthusiastic about their experiences at the local amusement parks we visited. I think I overlooked these things because I felt pressure from society to give my children a magical Disney World experience.

The average cost for a family of four to vacation at Disney World for four nights costs between three- and four-thousand dollars. Before you make this huge investment, you might consider the following questions to determine if you really want to go there:

  • Why do you want to go to Disney World?
  • Do your kids want to go to Disney World?
  • What do you want to accomplish during the vacation?
  • Have you tried to visit a local amusement park? If so, did your kids like it?
  • Can your kids (and can you) handle large crowds and long lines?
  • When you think of a vacation, do you prefer relaxing or being busy?
  • Do your children like Disney movies and characters?
  • Is going to Disney World worth spending between $3k and $4k (or probably more)?
  • Have you considered traveling to other places in the U.S. or the rest of the world?
  • If you went to Disney World as a child, did you like it?

The bottom line: You don’t have to go to Disney World. Figure out what type of vacation best suits your family. There are millions of cities to visit, and lots of those places have pools.

Posted on Categories Debate Club

Debate Club: Are Professional Photos Worth the Fuss (and Expense)?

We Don’t Do Professional Photos

by Laura Richards

It started when my husband and I got engaged. Back in 1998, everyone did a couple’s photo for their local newspaper engagement announcement page. We figured we should do it, too, so we went to a local photographer’s home studio.

One of the reasons I married my husband was our similar sense of humor. We frankly thought professional couple’s photos, no matter how tastefully done, felt cheesy. Our session was no different.

We felt cheesy immediately.

The guy had us sit back to back with our heads together, and then face the same way with heads together – ways we would never sit in real life. We both felt like running for the door, but we carried on with what would be deemed worthy of the now popular Awkward Family Photos site. We got the photos, chose one, and submitted it to the paper.

Fast forward a few years to the birth of our first children, identical twin boys who were born prematurely, one with some serious birth defects. A woman entered my hospital room asking if we wanted professional photos of the babies.

They were in the NICU attached to tubes and ventilators, and the doctors thought one son was blind. So I declined, not because of the boys’ situation necessarily, but because I’ve seen those newborn photos and 1) most babies look the same, 2) they make me think of hostage photos, and 3) the baby is often fussy or annoyed. I passed on that and opted to take our own photos of the boys in the NICU.

Our next “professional” photo experience was for our church’s pictorial directory – my husband and I with our toddler twins in matching corduroy overalls. My husband was sporting a forced grin while pinning our most active son’s arms firmly to his sides as the photographer implored that we keep him still. The discontent was palpable. This was not our thing.

Before we knew it, preschool started and, with it, the school photo frenzy. Some required purchasing a photo package without seeing a proof. One of my sons does not enjoy having his photo taken. He looks pained, looks the wrong way, keeps eyes closed, or sports such a forced smile that it looks like a bad celebrity mug shot from TMZ.

I decided that unless I could see proofs, I wouldn’t pay money for school photos. We purchased a few and displayed them in frames on a table, but they eventually landed in a desk drawer. Another time, one of our sons looked great in his class photo until we realized his hand was down the front of his pants. Yup!

Don’t get me wrong, we love our kids dearly, and we love photos of our kids. But we want to take them and, to us, candids are the best kind. We post lots of photos of the kids on Facebook, and I have hundreds, if not thousands, that we’ve taken casually. It’s the professional photos that make us cringe, especially those that involve holding (gulp) props.

We now have four boys ranging in age from four to 15. When I’ve said, “You know, we’ve never done a professional family photo. Should we try it sometime?” they all say in unison, “No! Lame!”

I’ve seen families pulling each other in little red wagons, on sleighs, holding life-sized candy canes. I’ve seen families holding life-sized inflatable numbers that together read 2017. And I concur. That it is, um, lame. Awkward Family Photos territory.

My husband has always secretly wanted to have the professional family beach photo done, with everyone in crisp white shirts and khaki shorts, the soft beauty light of sunset behind them shimmering off the ocean water. We’ve seen them over fireplaces in friends’ homes, but we know our family. We would probably start laughing, or a seagull would poop on someone’s head.

Instead, we’ll enjoy all the photos of your families holding hands, running across fields, sitting on pumpkins and huge Easter eggs. Know that we love you dearly, but we won’t be joining in on the posed photo fun.

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A New Family Photo for Every Season

by Shannon Miller

Right around Halloween, when the array of costumes on the racks gives way to Christmas-oriented gear, I start searching for the perfect set of pajamas for my two boys.

After all, they have to look great for their professional Christmas pajama-themed photo shoot.

Our family loves the holidays. My husband and I go all out decorating the house with knick-knacks and doo-dads representing every celebratory day from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving. We even find ways to recognize not-quite-holidays, like March Madness and Super Bowl Sunday with basketball and football motifs.

These days have been even more fun since we’ve had kids. And what better way to mark the season than dress them for the occasion and take photos for posterity?

We’ve done Fourth of July photos with flags and a lemonade stand, Mother’s Day photos that doubled as a maternity shoot, pumpkin patch pictures with the boys holding gourds and, of course, Christmas pictures with everyone in festive red and green. I join in the fun most times, and my camera-shy husband makes an occasional appearance, but it’s really all about the boys.

There’s a reason we go ga-ga for seasonal and holiday-themed photos. They capture fun times and our family’s growth and change through the seasons. They complete our tradition of celebrating special occasions by capturing an image to mark the moment. And, of course, our extended family loves them.

With no relatives in our state and the closest living about 200 miles away, frequent photos are the best way to keep Grandma and Grandpa, Aunt Linda and Aunt Christy feeling like a part of the boys’ lives…with Easter bunnies in spring or frolicking in a sunflower field in mid-fall?

The plethora of professional photographers in our area make this easy to do. Our local grocery store offers free photos in front of its pumpkin and corn husk display to anyone who shows up. Count us in. We mark the date on the calendar, dress the boys in matching outfits, and drive over for their close ups. Voila! Annual fall photo.

Many childhood and family photographers in Southwest Ohio are also mothers themselves, who support their families with their photography businesses. They’re my go-to professionals around the holidays as most offer a day of “mini-sessions” at a local park or in their homes with themed backdrops and props. They book families back-to-back for 20-minute sessions, and get 10 to 15 images to you in a week. It’s a win-win.

I admit logistics can be difficult. Four-year-old and one-year-old little boys don’t exactly cooperate with photographer’s cues, and getting them both bathed, dressed, groomed, and out the door to make their appointments could be an Olympic event. But somehow – thanks to my determination and the photographers’ skill and patience – we end up with at least one photo of the bunch that looks great. And that’s all we need for Aunt Linda’s mantel.

Are they hokey? Sure, sometimes. Do the kids really need to be posing in front of a backdrop filled with hearts while dressed in Valentine’s Day red? Probably not. But the kitschyness of it all is part of the appeal.

Seasonal photos bring variety to the staid studio or school shots with plain backgrounds that look the same from Maine to California. When they’re adults, the boys can look back and laugh at themselves in their matching shirts, holding pumpkins and basketballs, and post those photos on some 2040s version of Facebook for laughs.

Eventually, we know the photos will stop. No self-respecting tween wants to hold a bunny and dress in the same shirt as his little brother. But for now, we’ll continue to indulge. There’s a new studio at the mall I want to check out that offers monthly shoots for 30 dollars a mini-session, and we haven’t yet explored winter wonderland or Halloween costume themes.

Believe it or not, I was too late scheduling the Christmas shoot in time for this year’s cards. Never fear. We’ll be ready next year – pajamas and all. 

Debate Club: Does It Actually Get Better?

Parents – especially those with very young kids – are often told, “Don’t worry! It gets better!” Two moms argue that the “it” remains while “we” improve.

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Don’t Tell Me It Gets Better, Because I Don’t Want It

by Kate Steilen

The moment you take an infant outside, two things happen: people give you unsolicited advice at an alarming rate and, destabilized by the noise – which says “you are going to fail” – you seek advice from everyone. You become a newly-anointed failure. You wear anxiety like a winter coat. You perform ridiculous Google searches.

You lose yourself. Years may pass.

And then one day some chirpy parent, maybe older than you, at least out of your stage – maybe one who has rediscovered her/his confidence – places a hand on your arm and says, “It gets better, honey.”

“It Gets Better” (IGB) is the ultimate in non-compliments one can receive while parenting kids.  It’s like the “This too shall pass” doled out in the first year for each wild thing your offspring does or doesn’t do (e.g., sleeping), except applied to the public drama of toddlerhood and the preschool years. Year three is the heyday of “It Gets Better.” To the shocked parent of a child who has loudly entered year three, It Gets Better has some weary appeal. It fosters solidarity.

But three is also an experience that can last for many years beyond three. Temperament is forever. When you have young children discovering their power, or maybe you are raising a spirited child, every day is a shot at failure.

Perhaps the one thing I’ve learned in six years of “mothering” is that every mother thinks she’s doing something wrong. Nearly every mother feels like a terrible parent – that is, a terrible person.

I’m over it, and I want to know who to blame.

Blaming the “it” of It Gets Better leads nowhere. All that generic advice strangers offer does nothing to help when kids face larger challenges. The truth is, “it” does not get better. You do.

The life of a parent is committed. These days, it is insanely committed. You don’t check out; you don’t ever wash your hands of your children. You may gain sleep for a few years before your baby faces big kid issues. But those issues are out there, amplified by the lives children live online.

I know that when my girls are teenagers, driving cars, exploring intimacy, and becoming independent persons, their conflicts will loom larger and more terrifying to me. As children grow, so do the activities and emotions – exponentially.

If you’re bothered by the fact that a five-year-old’s hockey schedule runs three days a week, wait until they’re really into it, traveling or playing varsity in high school, when kid athletes have to drop other activities because one sport’s schedule won’t allow dabbling.

Your bigger kid may not throw tantrums anymore, but that doesn’t make their emotional growth easy. Your own desire to see them succeed may frighten you. If you feel rage toward the tot on the playground that shoves your child, imagine how you’ll feel when your teenager is treated badly by a teacher or boyfriend.

In an age where I’m supposed to focus parental energy on “resiliency,” as if my child is a permeable failure of engineering, as if projectile poison missiles are daily hurled at her body, I just…don’t know anymore. Robust, nope. Adaptable, no, not very. She’s six. Her instinctive response to badgering is to scream. It usually works.

Maybe I should take a page from her book and ignore whatever she doesn’t understand or have time for at that moment. I don’t need it to get better because my child is not a product. Whatever you are selling me in the parenting aisle, from “Pick your Battles” to “Failure makes Grit,” I no longer want. Whatever my child requires to survive in the American contemporary, I reject.

We are middling humans trying to retain a shred of originality. We were born with intellect and imagination. It’s a gift I gave to her! I don’t need a farm to cultivate my child. I don’t need a wild garden. I don’t need the unschooling adventure road trip. I don’t need a special school for her, and I don’t need a coach. I don’t need your book, FB group, meditation program, or any version of the pre-professional applied to my six-year-old’s life. I don’t want to tinker, I don’t want to STEM. Or STEAM.

As a parent, I get to be all of those things – wise – simply by being hers. I teach her by being around, and I think parents can stoke their kids’ imaginations and knowledge stores without living in a bus for a year or resorting to packaged, expensive adopted methodologies.

Instead of lamenting what is a brief moment in my day with kids, I would like people to observe that my child is human. You know, a person? I’d like people to remember they were once human children, the best of humanity. I want people to see children’s squishable hugginess and their ability to absorb the emotion of what you are telling them.

When you say, “It Gets Better,” you are saying children are temporary and inconvenient. You are saying we live in different worlds. You are admitting the now is forgettable. Regrettable, even. Tense, yes. Embarrassing to me, often. But it’s normal, not hell.

I want people to remember their own squishable, fleshy bodies and say, “Hi, what’s up?” Don’t tell me I’m doing a great job, or that they’re a handful. And don’t tell me IT GETS BETTER.

My kid likes to taste her boogers. In the next six years, she may be offered a prescription to help her cope or a friendly 10-step solution. She is not a future professional. Nor is she a windfall, a free, organic angel of the earth. She is 100 percent kid. Please make room for that species – the kid and aspiring dog-owner who spends her energy perfecting scooter tricks, eating cheerios every single day, fighting unfairness, and protesting adult overlords, taking in her world one day at a time.

It doesn’t get better. I get better. You get better. And kids grow faster than any strategy when your life has been belittled and insulted by the American obsession with ROI. I’m going to take all the credit I possibly can for this state of affairs, thank you, and no thanks to anyone who wants to think “it” is more consequential than you and me and the space we make for our children.

Please help me see my children, and children everywhere, for who they are. They’re only getting bigger.

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It Gets Better

by Kathryn Trudeau

The night I brought my oldest son home from the hospital was one I’ll never forget. Not because I was in love with him and was basking in the glow of an oxytocin-induced euphoria. Nope. In a word, our first night home was miserable. 

Between my total and utter lack of experience combined with a baby who wanted nothing to do with sleeping anywhere but on me, I slept a grand total of two hours, got pooped on, and was sore everywhere. By the time the sun began to peek over the horizon, my tears were in full force. I thought, “How in the ever loving world am I going to survive?”

Fast-forward eight hours and my sweet mother was at my door, sprinkling her magic baby dust on my boy and showing me how things were done. She assured me these first few days were tough, but it gets better.

She was right: those early parenting struggles (lack of sleep, 23,423 diaper changes, and the crying) do pass and it does get better. But babies don’t stay babies, and pretty soon, you have a toddler on your hands and then a preschooler and, before you know it, an empty nest.

While each stage of parenting has its own special joys, each stage of parenting also comes with its own unique problems and struggles. As we level up, so do the challenges. In an effort to maintain some (even just a shred) of sanity, we often comfort ourselves by saying “It gets better.”

But does it? Are the struggles and woes of a toddler any better than the sleepless insanity of newbornhood? Are the struggles of the infamous teenage years really better than the unpredictable moods of a threenager? Is it better, or are we just trading problems?

Here’s the short version: it does get better. But not for the reason you might think.

As our children grow up, parenting gets better, but not because our children become saints overnight who learn to listen (the first time), clean up after themselves, use polite words, and never fight another day with their siblings. No, parenting gets better because we get better.

I see the truth in the phrase “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” So why do I still think parenting gets better? Because we have been strength training since day one. The day our child was born, we began strength training. Being a beginner, you had to ease into it. Gradually, you could add more weights until, one day, you were strong enough to compete in the Strongparent Competition.

Think about this: every player in the NFL at some point had never even held a football. He, too, was an inexperienced beginner. See where I’m going? At first, we’re given small problems, but at the time they seem BIG because that’s all we can handle. As we grow in patience and wisdom, we graduate to bigger problems, and we take it all in stride because we’ve been in training.

The little problems at the beginning (tantrums, relentless crying, sleeplessness) were huge, all-encompassing problems. They also built you up, toughened you up, and gave you the experience and wisdom to tackle bigger problems. So in a way, parenting becomes easier – not because the problems shrink – but because you become more experienced.

You also grow in love and understanding of your child. You alone know your child better than anyone else, and a love like that can give you strength you didn’t know you had. 

It’s important to remember that even those NFL players make mistakes and have bad days. It won’t always be butterflies and rainbows, and you won’t have all the answers 100 percent of the time, but chances are your day-to-day life will get easier. At least you won’t always be covered in spit-up!

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Debate Club: Slow Cooking or Stove-Top Efficient?

What’s So Great About Slow Cookers?

by Rebecca Lang

I understand the allure of the slow cooker. Come home from a long day and, like magic, dinner is ready to eat. Except, it’s not magic.

It takes planning and preparation to make the meal come together, and I’ve never found it to be the indispensable kitchen appliance that other people do. I’d rather just spend 30 minutes cooking a meal and serving it right away than making it a whole day affair.

I really wanted to like my slow cooker. I’ve used it several times, in fact, and with each effort, I was hopeful, almost giddy, to taste the end result. However, I was always disappointed and so was my family. Besides being a handy vessel to keep my spinach and artichoke dip warm at a potluck, I simply don’t understand what the fuss is about.

Now, if you invite me over for a dinner party, I won’t boycott a meal you’ve prepared in your slow cooker. In fact, I’ll probably ask for seconds. But if you come visit me, you can bet your favorite ladle that I’ll be serving you either a stove- or oven-made dish, and here’s why:

It’s efficient

I learned to cook in college by watching Rachael Ray and copying my mother’s easy Italian recipes. I embrace their style of quick and tasty cooking, where no pocket of time is wasted. My go-to recipes let me take care of chopping veggies and even some clean-up within a thirty minute window.

Why would I want to go through all of that ingredient prep work, and then wait six to eight hours to actually eat?

Not to mention that slow cooker recipes often recommend browning meats before they’re placed in the slow cooker. This step adds a really important layer of flavor to the dish, and…I’m just going to say it: If you don’t do it, then your slow cooker dish is not going to taste as good as my stove top version.

Besides flavor, for efficiency’s sake, I’d rather finish cooking the meal in the same pot I used to brown the meat. Transferring it to the slow cooker and adding an extra pot to my sink just doesn’t make sense to me.

I can make dinner on the fly

I know slow cooker enthusiasts talk about the joy of “setting it and forgetting it,” but there’s no guarantee I’ll remember to start my slow cooker in the first place. Mornings in my house are just as busy as the witching hours between 4:00 and 6:00 PM. And I’m not a morning person. Thinking about dinner – not to mention prepping all the components of the dish – before I’ve even eaten breakfast is my idea of a nightmare.

Plus, many recipes require ingredients, like noodles and potatoes, to be added at later stages of the cooking process, so that they don’t get too mushy. This ends up being another step I have to remember, if I want to eat on time. Instead, I have a staple of pantry ingredients that let me put something decently healthy in front of my family in a pinch.

Meals are flexible

My husband and daughter will happily eat what I make, but my son is still developing his taste preferences, which is a nice way of saying he’s picky. Serving meals that have separate components gives me peace of mind that he’ll eat at least one thing on his plate. I don’t care if it’s only a few roasted carrots. At least I know his tummy is full of something, because I’m definitely not making him an entirely different meal.

The other benefit of meal separates is that I can better control how much of each type of food I’m eating. In my personal version of heaven, I will eat my mother’s spaghetti and meatballs every day for every meal. In the real world, I can’t eat like that and still fit into my jeans, so eating separates lets me keep an eye on how many servings of protein, carbs, veggies, and fats I’m really having. This has proven to be a huge component of healthy eating for me.

I still get to enjoy slow-cooked meals

The rich flavors of soups and stews are comforting and hard to beat. Plus, the cuts of meat that do so well in low and slow settings can feed an army and are inexpensive. So, I make big batches – bigger than what could fit in my slow cooker – when I have time on a weekend. Then I freeze them in portions to heat up on busier nights of the week.

If you have a slow cooker recipe that you think will prove me wrong, please share it in the comments. I’d love to find more uses for my fancy spinach dip warmer. 

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Why You’ll Have to Pry My Slow Cooker Out of my Cold, Dead Hands

by Jody Allard

Some people think slow cookers are a waste of time. They say they only produce mushy food and that everything that is cooked in one tastes the same. Those people are wrong.

My slow cooker is akin to an extra limb. Next to my children, it’s my most beloved family member. It feeds my family of eight – three sets of twins and a spare, plus myself – with little to no effort on my part, and contrary to what some naysayers think, my slow-cooked meals are straight up delicious.

It’s easy to see why the slow cooker takes so much heat; many online recipes rely on the same tired mix of meat, canned soups, and veggies. When you take the lid off your slow cooker eight hours later, all you can see is mush, and it’s anyone’s guess whether they’re eating chicken or beef that night. Ew.

But those monstrous creations aren’t the fault of the poor slow cooker. With a little effort, you can find recipes with nary a canned soup in sight and your crew will be begging for seconds. Soups and stews are always a hit in the Crock-Pot – and the meat is always more tender and flavorful than when it’s cooked in the oven – but my absolute favorite slow cooker meals are Indian curries. Slow cooking allows more time for the flavors to mesh, and doing the prep work beforehand makes them practical for even the busiest week nights.

Speaking of prep work, let’s talk about the abject misery that is dinner. Every single night, without fail, my kids expect me to feed them. This entails creating a weekly menu, preparing shopping lists, and going to at least three different stores to get stocked up. But then, as if that’s not enough, my kids expect me to actually cook all of this food. I know, it’s really just unacceptable.

That’s where my slow cooker comes in. The beauty of it is that you can pre-make ingredients, freeze them, and have a stockpile for anytime you know you’re just not going to want to cook the next day. If you can’t quite get it together to prep that much in advance (guilty!), keeping a few simple ingredients on hand means that you can make dinner happen in minutes by dumping them into a slow cooker when you leave for work.

My kids can’t get enough of my three-ingredient pulled pork, and taco night gets even easier when my two-ingredient salsa chicken is hot and ready when I walk in the door. Can you handle dumping a pack of chicken thighs and a jar of salsa in the slow cooker on your way out the door? I thought so.

I don’t live solely on Crock-Pot fare, of course. I make all sorts of elaborate (and absolutely not elaborate) meals for my family, and I pride myself on being something of a foodie. But the reality is that sometimes my kids have competing after-school activities or I have extra work to tackle in the evening, and I would rather stick pencils in my eyeballs than cook a meal. Any meal.

It’s ever-so-easy to order pizza or delivery from local restaurants on those nights, and that’s fine once in awhile, but on a regular basis it’s just not healthy or budget-friendly. Having at least part of the meal already cooked and waiting for me gives me the push I need to stop staring longingly at dinner delivery apps on my phone and get the rest of dinner on the table.

So if everything from curries to chicken pot pie tastes the same to you when they come out of a slow cooker, you should probably get your palate checked. Overcooking is often why these meals get mushy, which is where high-tech cookers come in. Not only do newer models have automatic shut-offs when their cooktime is finished, some of them can even be controlled by your phone. Running late? Switch it to warm and forget about it. It’ll be ready and not even slightly mushy when you get home! Seriously, what’s not to love about this miraculous gadget?

Unless you’re the Barefoot Contessa, meandering through your garden each day to prepare a special dinner party for a friend, learning how to use your slow cooker to maximum advantage will make that dreaded daily question of “what’s for dinner?” a distant memory.

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