Reflections on the Emotional Complexity of Getting a Dog

A puppy just came into my life. This was not expected, not planned for. I have a lot on my plate already. I’m not sure I have room in my life for the added complexity of caretaking another being.
He’s a loaner, though. My friend manages a foster dog program called Passion 4 Paws that helps rescue dogs and find them homes. He said I could borrow the dog for the weekend and take a trial run.
My family just bought our first house, which, for the first time since my kids were born, makes having a dog even a consideration. But the house is expensive. Dogs are expensive. Kids are expensive. I can’t afford all this.
The puppy is currently selecting various inconvenient things to chew – my son’s shoe, a candy wrapper, the vacuum nozzle. I have to stop writing to avert disaster.
Still, every kid should have the opportunity to form a relationship with a dog sometime in their childhood, shouldn’t they? I don’t know, maybe I’m projecting. Meanwhile, my kids are growing up. My oldest son will be 16 this month. I can already feel him spreading his wings, testing the air currents. It won’t be long before he flies.
But right now, the puppy is curled up on the couch behind me in a cute little furry loaf, nose on tail, eyes closed. My boys are all ensconced in their rooms, watching their digital rectangles.
My wife is out, braving a snow storm, doing her thing. There is a space between us as we age. It is a healthy space. She and I have good communication. We’re a good team. We love each other, and we care for each other. Yet, space is space. Sometimes it’s lonely.
Relationships change.
Of course. Everything changes.
As I was bringing the puppy home, I pictured how my family might react. I imagined my three sons playing with him, feeding him, taking him for walks. I envisioned them leaving their screens and frolicking with him. What kid doesn’t want a puppy? When we got there, I was surprised by how little attention they actually paid him.
My youngest son was actually distraught. He doesn’t like dogs, he says. I can see the fear and hesitancy in the way he interacts. He stands on his tippy toes and holds his hands up, elbows high, backing away as the puppy comes to sniff, to play.
I think it will be good for him to learn to like dogs. This, again, is my projection. Why do I think my kids need a dog? Maybe I’m trying to justify my own desire for this creature, this relationship.
My youngest, though, was more worried about the cats. He thinks it’s not fair for me to do this to the cats. I’m certain they agree. My cats are pissed.
Of course, cats always look as if they’re mildly peeved. That’s part of their charm. They have let this new interloper know, in no uncertain terms, that he is most definitely not welcome. I think, though, given time, they’ll get used to him. Maybe I’m just projecting again.
He is a very sweet dog, playful, but not rambunctious, small enough to sit on your lap, but not a yippy little lap dog. He hasn’t barked even once since he came home. He is really quite charming and well behaved. I mean, for a dog.
I had my heart broken as a teenager when my childhood dog, Godot, was hit by a car. It was my fault. I had left the car door open while we parked on a busy road. Godot was riding in the back. He got out and was killed pretty much instantly.
For years, I blamed my dad for leaving the door open. I was so traumatized my mind blocked out the possibility that I could have been at fault.
A few years back, I realized I had been suppressing this memory and had a reckoning with myself. I think I have, subconsciously, been making room in my life for another dog since then. I have been manifesting this moment, waiting for the universe to bring the right one to me. After 30 years, I think I’m ready.
There are always plenty of reasons not to do something – the cost, the time, the commitment. But what about the reasons to do it? The opportunity for love and companionship are sure to manifest. The joy of having this creature, even for the single day we’ve had him, frolicking around, being curious and playful, has been worth the risk of knowing that he will break my heart again eventually. Inevitably.
You can’t live your life in fear of having your heart broken. You just have to know that it’s a guaranteed part of life and fill it up with as much love as you can so that maybe, just maybe, your heart will be big enough, strong enough, deep enough to endure the ache of loving.
The cats finally emerged from hiding after 24 hours. The kids are now unplugged, and the dog has become a part of whatever they’re doing in the other room.
What kid doesn’t want a dog? It’s only been a day, and I can’t imagine our family without him.
Hooboy. Here we go.

50 Questions to Get Your Kid Thinking Like a Scientist

Careers in science, technology, engineering, and math are in high demand for good reason. STEM professionals offer creative and analytical solutions to many of the world’s biggest problems. But how do we encourage the next generation to be interested in these fields?
We should introduce them to the wonders of the universe and the excitement of experimentation early in life. We should support their curiosity and investigations. We should help them notice and study their surroundings. We should encourage their questions and ask some of our own. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer! You can discuss it together, design an experiment, or turn to the internet to learn more. Here’s a list to get you started on cultivating the little scientist in your home.
1 | Do you think this object will sink or float?
2 | What do you think will happen when we mix these ingredients together?
3 | Do you think this will dissolve in water?
4 | How do you think this food will change in the oven?
5 | How do you think this would change in the freezer?
6 | How does a toy car act differently on a hard or soft surface?
7 | How do you think you could make it go faster?
8 | How do you think you could get it to slow down?
9 | What happens when you mix colors?
10 | Why do you think ice melts?
11 | Will the water level in a glass of ice water change as the ice melts?
12 | Why does the water level go down if you leave a cup of water out all night (in dry conditions)?
13 | Why do some foods get warmer on the table while others get cooler (e.g.,  yogurt vs soup)?
14 | Why do bubbles always form spheres?
15 | How can you make your tower taller (or stronger)?
16 | Can you describe what the wind feels like?
17 | Can you describe what the rain feels like?
18 | Which of these objects feels hotter in the sun?
19 | Which of these colors feels hotter in the sun?
20 | Why do you think hair gets longer?
21 | Why do you think cuts and bruises usually go away?
22 | Why do you think plants grow?
23 | What things does your body need to grow?
24 | What do you think the inside of this object looks like?
25 | How can we improve our paper airplane design?
26 | What can you build with these objects?
27 | Why do you think this rock looks this way?
28 | What kind of bugs might live in the ground here?
29 | Why do the leaves change through different seasons?
30 | Why do you think the moon changes?
31 | What do you think this would look like if it was 10 times bigger (or smaller)?
32 | How tall do you think this is?
33 | How long do you think this is?
34 | How much do you think this weighs?
35 | Which thing do you think weighs more?
36 | Which object feels harder?
37 | Which object feels smoother?
38 | What material do you think this is made of?
39 | How do you think this is made?
40 | Does this need energy to work?
41 | Where do you think it gets its energy from?
42 | What’s making that sound?
43 | What can you do to change the sound?
44 | Can you describe what you smell?
45 | Why do you think it smells like that?
46 | How do these things taste different?
47 | How does adding an ingredient change the taste?
48 | How do you think a coat or blanket keeps you warm?
49 | How does a fan keep you cool?
50 | What’s an experiment we could try?
As you start with basic questions of forming hypotheses, designing experiments, and making observations, you and your little scientist will discover many new ways to investigate the world. Incorporating scientific questions into daily activities is easier than you think and will fuel creative problem solving for the whole family!

Posted on Categories _Connections

Fantastic Winter Books for Kids of All Ages

We find ourselves in the days when the holiday hustle and bustle is behind us but spring feels like it will never arrive. The days when daylight is still short and the windows are still closed. My favorite thing to do on those days is curl up with my little people to read great books.
Here are 12 amazing books to keep you and your little ones cozy this winter.

For the little littles

 
 

“The Mitten”

by Jan Brett

“The Mitten” is a whimsical, animal-filled tale that delights children. Jan Brett is masterful with her storytelling and illustrations, showing woodland animals exploring a child’s lost mitten in the snow. Funny and classic, this is a tale kids will love.


“Bear Snores On”

by Karma Wilson (Author), Jane Chapman (Illustrator)

“Bear Snores On” transports kids to Bear’s cave as his animal friends come to see if he is still sleeping for the long winter. No one is as surprised as Bear to wake and see all the commotion he has been missing! Charming and funny, kids will love pretending they are Bear, snoring for a long winter nap.


“The Emperor’s Egg”

by Martin Jenkins (Author),‎ Jane Chapman (Illustrator)

“The Emperor’s Egg” explores the incredibly cute world of the Emperor Penguin. It is full of amazing facts and illustrations about the animal while holding on to its cute, fuzzy, lovable nature. Telling the story of the father who sits determinedly on the egg for months while the mother goes out hunting, it is a wonderful way to talk about how animals, just like people, do so much to provide for the little ones.


For the school-aged littles

“The Snowy Day”

by Ezra Jack Keats

A perfect introduction to classic poetry, this delightful picture book captures a child’s day in the snow. With charming illustration and the beautiful verse by Jack Ezra Keats, the reader experiences the joys and wonder of “A Snowy Day.” This classic is not to be missed!


“Snowflake Bentley”

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Author),‎ Mary Azarian (Illustrator)

“Snowflake Bentley” is a true story of Wilson Bentley, a boy from Vermont that grew up seeing snowflakes as unique miracles. His scientific and artistic brain collided as he photographed snowflakes, capturing their utterly matchless shapes and designs. A delightful tale that is the perfect inspiration for making some paper snowflakes of your own!


“Winter Days in the Big Woods”

by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Author),‎ Renee Graef (Illustrator)

“Winter Days in the Big Woods” and the rest of the “My First Little House Books” are a beautiful introduction to the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. These stories of a cabin in the woods before there was internet or even electricity captivates kids for their simple beauty. Kids fall in love with these Wisconsin tales of Laura and her family, while parents fondly remember the original books and the joy they brought.


“Blizzard”

by John Rocco

“Blizzard” is a beautifully told tale based on The Blizzard of 1978 where the author’s small Rhode Island town received 53 inches of snow. As the boy watches the storm begin from his classroom window, the reader journeys with him through the changing landscape of his little town. As the snow piles high you experience the wonder of all he knows being covered in over four feet of snow! A perfect tale for a snowy day!


“The Story of Snow”

by Mark Cassino (Photographer),‎ Jon Nelson (Contributor)

The “Story of Snow” is a magical non-fiction that answers questions about snow in all of its amazing wonder. Written by a nature photographer and snow scientist, this book is full of fantastic photographs and scientific information perfect for kids. It even includes instructions for how to catch snowflakes! Perfect during a snowstorm or for kids who just wonder what snow is really like, “The Story of Snow” is beautiful.


“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”

by Richard Atwater and‎ Florence Atwater

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is an early chapter book that has been a classic for decades. As Mr. Popper longs for things he has yet to do like visit the North and South Pole, he receives a most peculiar gift: a penguin. A family with one penguin grows to 12 penguins and the shenanigans that ensue are hilarious. Kids love reading about the eccentric Mr. Popper and his band of penguins!


Finally, for those who deny they were little

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

Hands down my favorite family read-aloud, this book of fantasy and adventure takes four siblings to an enchanted land trapped in a perpetual winter. Narnia is full of talking animals, a witch, trees that whisper, and a Lion that changes everything. After their journey the children – and Narnia – will never be the same. A delightful tale of bravery, loyalty, and love, this book will enchant all who read it.


“Breadcrumbs”

by Anne Ursu  (Author), Erin McGuire (Illustrator)

“Breadcrumbs”  is a tale woven with references to classic fairy tales. Two friends are separated when one disappears into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Will Hazel risk everything to find Jack? A tale of friendship, fantasy, and growing up, Breadcrumbs explores fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen as well as modern stories to tell the story of Jack, Hazel, and a friendship that grows.


“The Call of the Wild”

by Jack London

“The Call of the Wild” has been famous for over one hundred years for its simplicity and raw story of a dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. The dog is sold into a life as an Alaskan sled dog where he learns to adapt to the harsh circumstances of the wild. Written with Buck the dog as the main character, this classic is hard to put down.
Take advantage of these colder days and snuggle up with a book. What are your favorites to read with your kids in the winter? Share in the comments!
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Why You May Want to Hide the Ibuprofen Bottle From Your Husband If You Are Trying to Get Pregnant

Getting pregnant is not a walk in the park for every couple who dreams of becoming parents. According to the CDC, one in 8 couples (or 12 percent of married women) in the United States have trouble getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. Approximately one-third of infertility is attributed to the female partner, one-third to the male partner, and one-third is caused by a combination of problems in both partners or is unexplained.
If a couple is struggling to get pregnant, the last thing they want is another component in their lives that could inhibit fertility. Now a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has shocked many by concluding that one of the most common over-the-counter medications used – ibuprofen – can impact male fertility.
Every day millions of people turn to ibuprofen to relieve headaches, fever symptoms, joint pain, muscle aches, and more. We are now learning that this pain reliever can have a negative impact on the testicles of young men. This current study was a follow up to previous research that explored the health effects as a result of pregnant women taking any one of three mild pain relievers: aspirin, acetaminophen, or ibuprofen. Those studies showed that when taken during pregnancy, all three medicines increased the likelihood that male babies would be born with congenital malformations of their testicles. Therefore, these drugs are anti-androgenic, which means they disrupt male hormones.
Following those studies, scientists wanted to explore if the medications would directly affect grown men. The research team recruited 31 male volunteers between the ages of 18 and 35. Fourteen of them were given a daily dose of ibuprofen: 600 milligrams twice a day, which is the maximum limit per instructions on ibuprofen bottles. The remaining 17 volunteers were given a placebo.
Within 14 days, the men taking ibuprofen showed a decrease in the level of luteinizing hormones, which is a sign of dysfunctional testicles associated with infertility. The researchers are not yet sure if the effects from the ibuprofen will be reversible over time.
Although small, this study is especially important because most drugs are not evaluated for their effects on human male fertility. However, one of the scientists involved in the study told CNN that there is evidence that some medications are harmful to the male reproductive system, including testosterone, opioids, antidepressants, antipsychotics, immune modulators, and even the over-the-counter antacid cimetidine (Tagamet).
Yet these adverse effects are rarely communicated to patients. Therefore, this news about ibuprofen and infertility may bring attention to the use of certain medications and help many couples who hope to be parents someday. It is also critical because a father’s use of ibuprofen may impact his children as well.
Overall, experts recommend that men who are planning to father a child should avoid ibuprofen and the other drugs shown to influence fertility. Although this new study indicates that ibuprofen disrupts the reproductive hormones in healthy young men, it is also possible that there is an even greater negative effect in men who already experience low fertility.
Finally, we will have to keep a look out for additional studies to see if taking common medications like ibuprofen can impact young boys and adolescent boys. Is it possible that taking ibuprofen for a headache at a young age can later impact that boy’s chance of becoming a dad? Every parent will certainly want to know the answer to that question.

How to Listen Without Getting Defensive

Understanding your partner requires the capacity to listen. Really listen. Couples are advised to hear each other’s complaints without feeling attacked. As great as this sounds, it’s often unrealistic.

Understanding your partner requires the capacity to listen. Really listen. Couples are advised to hear each other’s complaints without feeling attacked. As great as this sounds, it’s often unrealistic.
When something you said (or didn’t say) hurts your partner’s feelings, there’s a strong impulse to interrupt with, “That wasn’t my intention. You’re misunderstanding me,” even before your partner is done talking.
Unfortunately, when the listener reacts to what the speaker is saying before the speaker gets the chance to fully explain themselves, both partners are left feeling misunderstood.
This is why the N in Dr. Gottman’s ATTUNE model stands for Non-defensive listening.

The defensive reaction

For most of us, listening without getting defensive is a hard skill to master. This is especially true when our partner is talking about a trigger of ours. A trigger is an issue sensitive to our heart – typically, something from our childhood or a previous relationship.
While the phrase “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” may have some truth, it doesn’t acknowledge that trauma and regrettable incidents can leave us with scars.
This could be a result of a number of things. Maybe you’ve been repeatedly hurt or have experienced injustice in your relationships. These moments from our past can escalate interactions in the present.
Maybe you feel controlled like Braden does. So when his wife, Suzanne, tells him, “You have to make sure the kids have dinner cooked before you go to the gym,” he responds with, “Stop acting like my mother!”
After a few more defensive statements, Braden shuts down.
Braden’s heart races at the thought of Suzanne bringing up a complaint during their State of the Union meeting (what Dr. Gottman calls a meeting to ensure that both partners feel heard and understood before problem solving together). Any complaint Suzanne expresses that includes a wish for him to change some part of his schedule around, makes Braden feel controlled.

Self-soothe to listen

While it’s important for the speaker to complain without blame and state a positive need to prevent the listener from flooding or responding defensively, it’s also vital for the listener to learn to self-soothe.
If you’re unable to self-soothe, your emotional brain will overpower your rational brain – the part that is designed to self-regulate and communicate – and you’ll “flip your lid” and say or do things you don’t mean.
As Dr. David Schnarch puts it, “Emotionally committed relationships respond better when each partner controls, confronts, soothes, and mobilizes himself/herself.” This is because the more partners can regulate their own emotions, the more stable the relationship becomes.
Self-soothing improves the stability of your relationship by allowing you to maintain yourself and your connection with your partner during a tough conversation.
Here is how Braden did it.
During their State of the Union Meeting, Suzanne started off as the speaker, protecting his triggers by stating her complaint without trying to control him: “When I asked about making sure the kids were taken care of and you responded by telling me I was acting like your mother, I felt hurt because it felt like our kids are not a priority for you. I want to make sure our kids are loved. I need some help.”
While Suzanne expresses her experience using I statements, Braden has a hard time hearing her. He wants to defend himself and tell her how she is bossy and demanding. But he understands that he isn’t supposed to mention any of these feelings until it’s his turn to be the speaker. When that happens, he has to be sensitive to her triggers.
Below are some tools that helped Braden self-soothe during his State of the Union meeting.

Write down what your partner says and any defensiveness you feel

Dr. Gottman suggests using a notepad to write down everything your partner says, which is especially helpful when you’re feeling defensive. This also helps you remember what was said when you reflect back what you hear or it’s your turn to speak. Remind yourself that you’re listening to your partner because you care about their pain.
Lastly, it’s helpful to say to yourself, I’ll get my turn to talk and express my feelings about this.

Be mindful of love and respect

During tough conversations, it’s helpful to focus on your affection and respect for your partner. Recall fond memories and remember the ways your partner has demonstrated their love. Think of how they support you and make you laugh. Remember that the joy you bring each other is more important than this conflict – that working through this together will lead to more joy.
I’ve found it helpful to write a quote or a happy memory in the top right corner of my notepad, reminding me that I love my partner and that this conflict has the potential to bring us closer. In “What Makes Love Last?”, Dr. Gottman suggests saying to yourself, In this relationship, we do not ignore one another’s pain. I have to understand this hurt.
When you self-soothe, you learn to separate your relationship from the anger and hurt you’re feeling over this particular issue.

Slow down and breathe

Slowing down and taking deep breaths is a great way to self-soothe. Focus on relaxing your body. Sometimes doodling helps. When you do this, don’t get lost in the activity or stop listening.
If your partner notices you soothing, just say, “I am trying to stay present as I listen, and stuff is coming up for me, so I am trying to calm myself so I can truly hear you.”
Remember to postpone your agenda and focus on understanding your partner.

Hold on to yourself

In Passionate Marriage, Dr. Schnarch advises partners to create a strong relationship with themselves as individuals by learning how to self-soothe and embrace their own emotions.
Oftentimes, when you feel flooded, it’s not because you are reacting to your partner’s words or behavior. It’s because you assign personal meaning to their statements. Maybe their anger makes you feel like they’re going to leave you. Or maybe it makes you feel like you’re not being a good enough partner.
Look inward and notice what you’re telling yourself about what this conflict means and how it may impact you. Holding onto yourself also means considering that your partner’s complaint may have truth to it. Sometimes we hold onto a distorted self-portrait. I know I have.

Don’t take your partner’s complaint personally

I know this sounds impossible, especially if the complaint is about something you did or didn’t do. If you feel yourself getting defensive, seek to understand why.
Ask yourself, Why am I getting defensive? What am I trying to protect? Your partner’s complaint is about their needs, not yours. Soothe your defensiveness so you can be there for them.

Ask for a reframe

If your partner says something that triggers you, ask them to say it in a different way: “I’m feeling defensive by what you’re saying. Can you please reword your complaint so I can understand your need and explore ways we can meet it?”

Push the pause button

If you notice you’re having trouble focusing as the listener, ask your partner to take a break from the conversation. This is a proactive way to self-soothe and prevents your emotional brain from flipping its lid.
You can say, “I’m trying to listen, but I’m starting to take things personally. Can we take a break and restart this in 20 minutes? Your feelings are important to me, and I want to make sure I understand you.” During this time, focus on the positives of your relationship and do something productive. I prefer to go for a walk.
Once you’ve learned to self-soothe, it becomes a lot easier to ask your partner to help you calm down. If you find yourself struggling, tell your partner what’s on your mind. For example, “Hon, I’m feeling flooded. Can you tell me how much you love me? I need it right now.” vs. “You’re the one with the problems. Fix yourself!”
The latter reaction comes from a place of fear and often creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. The former gives your relationship a fighting chance and the possibility to create a more secure bond.
Conflict is not only a catalyst for understanding, it’s also a vehicle for personal growth. I like to think of relationship conflict like an oyster. Oysters don’t intend to make beautiful pearls. Instead, pearls are a byproduct of the oyster reducing irritation created by grains of sand. In the same way, conflict can inadvertently create connection and closeness.
After listening to Suzanne, Braden takes a deep breath. “I hear you saying that my reaction to your request for help with the kids made you feel like family doesn’t matter to me. I can see why you’d be so upset with me.”
A tear rolls down Suzanne’s cheek. This is a major breakthrough for their marriage.
Long-lasting love requires courage. The courage to be vulnerable and to listen non-defensively, even in the heat of conflict – especially when we are hurt and angry.
Written by Kyle Benson for The Gottman Relationship Blog.

The Importance of Offering Children an Intergenerational Identity

Children who have what is called an intergenerational identity feel more in control of their lives, according to research by Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush from Emory University.

I grew up in a family of story tellers and talkers. They’re known for chatting, for saying goodbye, and then taking 45 minutes to make it out the door. It’s what they’ve always done, tales of triumph and failure the narrative patches holding the pieces of the family quilt together.
This skill, then, should come naturally to me. That’s why an exchange with my daughter over a game of Uno unsettled me.
“I used to play Uno with my Papa,” I told Wren. “He’s the one who taught me how to play.”
“Who’s Papa?”
“Like your Pappy. He was my grandfather.”
“Why have I never met him?” she asked.
“He died when I was your age.”
She looked sad, and I felt my stomach drop like an elevator on free fall. My grandfather was one of the biggest characters in my life, one of the most important people who played a role in my formative years and beyond. His death leveled me, and my nine-year-old daughter had no idea who he was. I’d never shown her pictures or told her stories.
His death was followed closely by the collapse of my parents’ marriage and the rearranging of family members that felt like tectonic plates shifting without end. I buried the pain, and in the process, I buried the memories.
I did exactly the opposite of what I should have done if my goal was to raise emotionally healthy children.

The importance of the narrative

My motive for keeping my family’s history quiet might have been to protect my kids from the hurt and confusion of death and divorce, or it might have been to avoid sharing my own mistakes and missteps from the past. Whatever the reason, it was the wrong choice. Researchers agree that children need to know that they have a place in a bigger story than their own.
Children who have what is called an intergenerational identity feel more in control of their lives, according to research by Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush from Emory University. Knowing where they fit in a story also seems to paint a rosier view of the family overall, since children in the study who knew the most about their families viewed their family units in a more positive light.
Telling our kids family stories may even lower the chances of anxiety and depression, even when world events stand to trigger a negative response. After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush followed up with the kids who had participated in their study only months before. Those who knew they had a place in a larger family story were more resilient than those who scored low on what they knew about their families. An intergenerational identity helped serve as a shield between these kids and catastrophe.
There’s also the benefit of having kids who are less likely to become narcissist. Being a part of a bigger story means not being the center of the universe, a fact we want to instill in our children. We can give them both self-confidence and humility by sharing family stories, helping them develop a sense of self-worth and resilience without losing empathy and becoming solely self-focused.
Author A.J. Jacobs, organizer of the Global Family Reunion, points out another advantage of children knowing their family history: they may become interested in going even further back, looking deeper into genealogy. Their interests can create opportunities for them to find out that we live on a very interconnected planet. “It’s eye-opening,” Jacobs said during an interview. “It’s much harder to be racist and narrow-minded when you see how closely linked all the races are.”

How to tell the story

Not every narrative form is equal. Researchers recommend the oscillating family narrative when sharing family history with children. This style deals with both positive and negative events and enforces the strength of family and perseverance throughout. It avoids sharing only the ups or only the downs, instead presenting a more realistic view of life. Family life, like life in general, has good and bad.
I can use the oscillating family narrative to tell my kids about my younger years and all the memories I have with my parents and grandparents. That will eventually lead to divorce and death, obvious setbacks, but we can then move to stories about how we found ways to heal and move on. This leads to the family they have now, full of both biological and step-grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles who are focused on making a family environment for them.
Good can come from hard times, and that’s the point of the oscillating family narrative. Children will know not to expect everything to be perfect when raised on these types of stories, but they will know that even during trials, people persevere. Mistakes from our families’ pasts can serve as road maps for others, even if they are just evidence of what not to do.
Considering a child’s maturity level is key when sharing family tales. Being honest is always a win, but giving details that are appropriate to a child’s age and understanding is important. Dr. Alisha Griffith recommends parents “meet them on their level, be direct and honest, and use simple language that they would understand. It’s also important to listen to their concerns … and answer their questions.” The point of a family narrative isn’t to overwhelm kids with TMI but to allow them to see where they fit in the big picture.

Getting started

Dr. Fivush created a “Do You Know?” questionnaire that asked children in the study to answer 20 questions about their family stories. It contains questions like: Do you know how your parents met? Do you know the source of your name? Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up? These questions are a great way to start the conversation.
When it’s time to share, there’s no one way to go about it. Family reunions are a place my late uncle entertained generations with his elaborate tales. Any meal or gathering where the family is together can be a time for sharing. One friend I have even videotaped her grandparents telling family stories from their lives. Those videos are now in the hands of younger generations, preserving family stories that can continue to be passed down.
Regular occurrences, like a game of Uno, can even spark memories and offer a time to share. Family stories can take the place of books during bedtime a couple of times a week.
The reaction when I finally started unearthing some memories to pass to my kids was priceless. They winced when they heard the one about how I accidentally hit my sister in the face with a bat, laughed at my Papa mistaking poop that had fallen from my sister’s diaper for chocolate (family stopped him before he ate it), and begged for more stories as bedtime approached.
It wasn’t difficult for me to see the immediate benefits of these stories. My kids laughed, they were engaged, and they seemed to feel they were growing in the knowledge they possessed about their family members. They are learning with each knew story that they are connected to people who succeed, fail, and find ways to overcome, and that’s a gift that can be passed down for generations to come.

The New Research That Convinced Me to Become a Soccer Mom Dropout

Am I a horrible mother? The society-driven guilt part of me says, “yes,” but the authentic me says, “heck no!”

My oldest son is eight and one of the few in his class who is not involved in soccer…and never has been.
Gasp!
It hasn’t been an intentional choice on our part. He has never really shown an interest (for more than one day). Plus, I’m not ready to commit our precious free time after school and especially on weekends to sitting in the hot or cold or rain to watch him practice.
Am I a horrible mother? The society-driven guilt part of me says, “yes,” but the authentic me says, “heck no!”
Truth be told, I kind of like being a soccer mom rebel. I don’t enjoy always doing the expected motherhood thing, and my son isn’t one to just “go with flow” when it comes to activities like that. He has participated in certain activities from time to time – summer baseball (we missed half the season traveling), “ninja” gymnastics (right up his alley), and chess club.
Overall, however, I find that he does best just hanging out with his friends after school – the few who have also eschewed soccer.

What we do instead

The other day, I found my son and two friends making an “arcade” out of a bunch of huge cardboard boxes and some Nerf guns. I couldn’t have been more proud. They used their best salesmen techniques to try to convince some younger boys at the park to play for a fee (ha!).
They didn’t make much money, but they had a blast, and you could tell they felt empowered by their experiment in entrepreneurship.
I’m not against all organized activities. They have their place. But seeing the pride on my son’s face while planning and accomplishing his arcade idea reinforced my hunch that there is something to allowing kids to just do their own thing.
Plus, his behavior and mood improves when he has plenty of time to play with friends without an agenda. During free play, kids get the chance to release their emotions, pent-up anger, or anxiety. Think of how you feel when you’ve been stressed and then you go for a long walk or a strenuous workout. You feel de-stressed and cleansed, right?
This is what play does for kids. Without it, our kids’ emotions and frustrations spill out as misbehavior, whining, and overall crankiness.
This past weekend, for example, we were pretty busy. We went to an amusement park with some friends, my son sold popcorn for Cub Scouts, and we had church and a party to attend. We are not usually that busy on weekends, but it just ended up that way. By Sunday night, I felt a little spent but it seemed my eight-year-old was doing okay.
Guess what? Monday after school, he lost it. Total meltdown. He had not gotten enough downtime over the weekend. He had held it together at school all day and needed an emotional release. He whined and cried off and on, and then we talked for about what’s been going on at school and on the playground, etc.
Once his energy had been restored, my son became a totally different kid. The night before, you would have thought everything in his life was a disaster. The next morning, he was eager for school and ready to move on.

What does the research say?

Child development researchers are delving into this topic and trying to understand the relationship between structured activities and children’s development.
In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers at The University of Colorado looked at the connection between how kids spend their time (structured verses unstructured activities) and the development of executive function.
Executive function is one of the key regulatory skills that develop during childhood and is crucial to children’s success and well-being later in life.
Executive function includes things like:

  • planning ahead
  • goal-oriented behavior
  • suppression of unwanted thoughts or behaviors
  • and delaying gratification.

Do these sound familiar? They are typically all the skills that break down when kids are overtired or stressed and have been shown to predict children’s academic and social outcomes years down the road.
Researchers then analyzed the relationship between children’s activities and their level of executive function. The results showed a correlation between these factors. The more time children spent in structured activities, the lower their scores on the assessment of executive function. In contrast, the more time children spent in less structured activities, the higher their assessment of executive function.
So what does this all mean? Before you pull your kids out of their activities and turn to “unschooling,”  keep in mind that this study was small scale (70 children) and only correlational, meaning we do not know if structured verses unstructured activities cause a change in executive function, or if there’s something else going on here.
What this study does show is some relationship between these factors that deserves further study. What is it about unstructured time that might enforce executive function skills? Is there something about structured activities that limit executive function?
A study like this encourages parents to reassess the cultural norms and expectations we might be adopting. Are we involved in activities because our kids like them or receive some benefit from them? Or are we just doing “what soccer moms do”?
Activities can be great, but don’t feel like you must enroll your child in every enrichment opportunity out there because that’s what society dictates.

Stop in the Name of Hormones: When Puberty Meets Perimenopause

I do not want a she-shed, even though I love to craft. I’d prefer to call it a hormone time-out hut. My dream hormone hut wouldn’t be mine alone. My ‘tween and teen would be welcome to share.

I never planned on puberty and perimenopause in the same house, but here they are. If you have dueling hormones in your home, follow a few simple steps to bring peace without having to build a hut in your backyard.

The two P’s

In 2017, the CDC put the average age of first-time moms at 28. There are many reasons behind that number. Women are waiting to get married and/or have kids because of careers.

I didn’t get married until my late 20’s. I had my kids at 29 and 34, so I fall right in that age-28 average. My mom had me at 22. By the time she was 47, I was almost married. By the time I turned 47, my kids were 12 and 16. That’s a big difference in ages. And in hormones.

“Since the changes of perimenopause may precede menopause by as many as 10 years, daughters often begin puberty around the same time their mothers begin perimenopause,” reports Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D.

I cringed when the doctor wrote AMA (Advanced Maternal Age) on my pregnancy chart. I did the math when I got pregnant. I knew I would be 53 when my youngest graduated high school. What I didn’t count on or know about was the collision of perimenopause and puberty. While my kids are both getting hormones as a ‘tween and teen, my own hormones are apparently beginning to run away.

If you’re a mom in the same boat, here are my tips on finding peace (even without a hormone hut) in your house.

The growth of the Hormone Monster

I’ve been to several parenting seminars and read more books on puberty than I can count. At one of the seminars, the speaker pointed out the first sign of pending puberty wasn’t hair or crying or boobs or even sweatiness. She told us that our kids’ feet growing was the literal biggest indicator that puberty was on the horizon.

Sure enough, Kid One went from a kid’s size shoe to a man’s size 15 in less than a year. Kid Two got woman-sized feet long before boobs. Big Foot-level hairiness definitely followed. Those feet were harbingers of hormonal doom.

My first big tip: watch the feet. Once kids cross into adult sizes, a hormone explosion may be lurking around the corner.

H-H-A-L-T

When my kids were toddlers, I swore by the acronym HALT (Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired) to see why they were acting they way they were. With puberty and perimenopause running amok in our house, I’ve added another H to the acronym. Are you hormonal? Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? All of the above? Get thee to the hormone hut. Or get thee to the snack basket and some Midol.

The Ancient Bird and the Very Young Bees

It hit me one day: every person in my house “could” get pregnant or get someone pregnant. In that vein, no one in the house wants to be pregnant or will be getting anyone pregnant. At 47, that would put me at 65 when a third child would graduate high school.

Having to chat about my still-present fertility while threatening my children within an inch of their fertile selves was maybe the most uncomfortable part of “The Talk.” They didn’t want to think about me getting pregnant. Or about what causes that. And they still (fingers crossed forever) think that it’s a gross proposition for themselves.

My mom did very little talking and I consequently did very little understanding of what was going on with me or her. While initially “The Talk” isn’t fun, continuing to talk is crucial. Even if the experience is uncomfortable, it’s necessary.

Go to the doctor hut

A pediatrician only treats your kids so far. Our doctor is board-certified for kids and adults so we’ve discussed everything about puberty with him. When the hormones hit, it may be time to visit the gynecologist with daughters if your doctor only treats younger children. Your doctor that has monitored everything from growth charts to vaccines should also discuss puberty.

Ask questions. What’s normal? What’s your opinion of the HPV vaccine? And Mom, you should also get your hormone levels checked.

Be empathetic

I’ve think that there’s a positive in going through enormous hormonal changes at the same time as my kids. It’s that I’m going through enormous hormonal changes at the same time as my kids.

When they sweat at new levels, I can empathize because I have the beginning of hot flashes. When they start shaving for the first time, we can share the bloody tissue-paper covered shins. (I still haven’t figured out a way to avoid that disaster.)

Hormones can keep both adults and teens up at night and there’s honestly someone in my house crying most days. While they don’t always want to or have the ability to explain why they’re crying (and I definitely don’t always know the origin of my own tears), empathy is key. Sometimes, just sitting next to them and listening is helpful. Sometimes, staying outside of the slammed door is a better choice.

While it isn’t always fun being in the same hormone hut as my kids, the truth is that it’s better because we are together. If you find yourself in the same situation, use empathy even in the midst of your own hormone experience.

Writing the story

My kids and I started to exchange journals at the beginning of the hormone journey. They leave the simple composition notebooks outside their door with notes to me when it’s too hard or too embarrassing to talk. I respond and put the notebooks back in their rooms. The journals are a way they can open up communication without direct conversation.

If you start a similar journal exchange, be prepared for hard and easy questions. Sometimes I just get a simple “thank you” note written on one line. Introducing some form of the no-judgment, no face-to-face conversation can be one way to get hormonal kids to open up, even if it’s just on paper.

You are not alone

Almost all of my mom friends are around my age or older. While we lament and compare some of the changes our kids are going through, it’s much harder (and usually communicated in side whispers) to discuss our own hormonal changes. Open up dialogue in your mom network about your experiences too.

Craft it out

While there won’t be an actual hormone hut growing in my backyard, I am on this hormonal adventure with my kids. Occasionally man-o-pause even rears its hormonal head. By exercising empathy and being aware of the effects of hormones at both ends of the scale, our house is much more peaceful.

When it gets really bad, I may still craft and eat chocolate in my closet. I know I not the only one hiding in a closet with a glue gun and a Hershey bar.

Singing to Your Baby Will Help Relieve Postnatal Depression

It’s not uncommon that mothers of newborns feel the symptoms of postpartum depression. Whether the mother suspects she has the baby blues or depression, many symptoms may creep in.
After my first child was born, I felt anxious and weepy. People recommended different remedies, including getting outside, talking with friends, sleeping when the baby slept, and others. Although I slowly improved, no one ever suggested that I try singing lullabies.
According to a new study in the British Journal of Psychiatry, singing actually helps decrease the symptoms of postnatal depression (PND).
Women who encounter PNP often report symptoms of fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, tearfulness, irritability, and loss of appetite. Given this physical and emotional disturbance, women are usually willing to try different options to treat their depression. Why not try singing if it could help significantly?
The summary of the study, found in Newsweek, cited a goal of observing women facing PNP to see if singing lullabies would help alleviate their symptoms.
One hundred and thirty-four women were either placed into a workshop group of 10 to 12 participants where they sang lullabies, or another group where they carried on with their regular routines for 10 weeks. The women in the singing groups brought their babies with them and were encouraged to learn lullabies and other children’s songs. The sessions lasted around 60 minutes each.
Women in both groups reported an improvement of their PNP symptoms, but women in the singing group responded at a significantly quicker rate.
Rosie Perkins, a researcher of Imperial College of London, said, “Additionally, some of our other research with mothers has shown that singing led to greater decreases in anxiety and enhanced perceptions of emotional closeness than other social interaction.”
The groups brought a sense of identity and progress to the women because they found that they weren’t going through the obstacles of motherhood alone. And the singing itself helped relieve the depressed brain.
The positive effects of both singing and the camaraderie of women are not new findings when it comes to defeating depression. Think about the benefits of listening to a favorite song and how it can lift you out of a funk. Feeling less alone amidst all of the obstacles that motherhood brings is imperative, too – especially when it comes to depression after a birth of a child.
If you’re feeling the effects of PNP and don’t have access to a workshop like the women in the study, try singing lullabies more consistently with your baby. Your anxiety and tearfulness just may decrease at a quicker pace – and your baby gets to hear the soothing sound his mother’s voice.
Sounds like it’s worth a try to me.

My Magnificent Mom Body

I feel like I’m going to vomit. My friend who runs marathons told me, “When you feel like you’re going to throw up, keep pushing for three or four more minutes. It will increase your stamina,” so I’ve been running through that pukey feeling. I’m slower than most of the girls in my group, but I’m getting faster. See, I remember that pukey feeling from those ten, twelve, fifteen hours of labor. I got this.

For the first time in nine years I’m not pregnant or nursing a baby, but out with my friends. I stop at one glass of Malbec and, instead of staying out to dance, I head home. I drag my ass out of bed at five o’clock to work out.

“But why?” my friend asks. Here’s my answer:

I don’t do it because my four-year-old said, ”Your butt looks like it got poked all over.” (Yeah, that’s cellulite). She’s also said, “You’re the strongest, Mommy,” and, “You look so beautiful, I love how you look,” and, “Do the dance again, Mommy!” Not one of my kids care about a couple dimples on my booty, especially when we’re shaking them.

I don’t do it so my body is beach ready. My body is beach ready when I put on my bathing suit and sunblock.

When I was pregnant with my third the doctor came in (with a cute intern) and pointed at my belly. “What’s this?” he asked. Um, a stretch mark Mr O.B., perhaps you’ve seen them before? Yes, it’s unusually large, but surely you’re aware. More like S.O.B.

Anyway, if I can be humiliated by the doctor and be okay about my bod, I think I can handle anyone at the beach.

I don’t do it because my stomach is mush. I think my stomach will always be squashy, no matter how many planks I do. I remember when planking wasn’t a thing, and I liked it better. All my babies have slept on that belly, snuggled up, their little heads on my heart. It’s a comfy tummy.

I don’t do it to decrease stress. I use naps, orgasms, and wine for that. Also, my kids sometimes set up a “spa” for me in the bathroom. I lie on the damp, dirty bathroom rug while the four of them rub my back with hot washcloths and sweet-smelling bottles of hotel lotion. Paradise.

I don’t do it for my husband. He likes big butts and he cannot lie. He has seen me make and subsequently give him four human beings. I mean, after that, running a couple miles kind of fast is pretty inconsequential.

I don’t do it because my friend posts motivational memes all over her Facebook page. Enough already. If I see one more perfect ass with something about squats on it, I might unfriend you. At least unfollow. See, it feels like all I do all day is squat to pick up a lego off the floor, squat to kiss a bloody knee, squat to sweep the broken glass into the dustpan. I got you’re squats right here, buddy.

Yes, I’m setting a good example for my kids. Yes, I feel better. And yes, I’m becoming that person who is a little grumpy when I don’t work out. Damn it, I hate that person.

None of these things are really why either.

I’m training for a triathlon, my first. Pre-kids, I used to think, “Wow! Those people are amazing, I could never do that.” But I’m doing it. I’m doing it now because, after pushing out four babies, nourishing them with only my body, lifting them to the branch so they could climb, pushing, pulling, and dragging them screaming out of countless grocery stores, carrying their sleeping bodies from the car and up a thousand stairs to bed, catching them whenever they were going to fall, all that and raising them up, I finally know the strength of my body.

Please don’t tell me how to get my body back. My body has been here all along, growing human beings. I never knew how capable I was until those four tiny people gave me this extraordinary gift: they gave me my mom body.