You’re Going to Want to Remember This: Tips for Preserving Family Lore

Our families – made up of generations of stories – are like a treasure trove of golden moments just waiting to be heard.

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”5″]S[/su_dropcap]tories have been told since the dawn of time. Under a starry sky. Beside a crackling fire. Snuggled in blankets, heads on pillows. Around a dinner table, silverware softly clinking on plates.

Stories are the glue that fastens the past to the present with meaningful purpose. Sometimes we don’t even know how powerful a story is until we hear it released from our own lips or those of a family member. Whispered in a secret hush, hollered aloud like a gust of wind, excitement, and energy bestowed on every word, stories are magic. Telling a story is like opening up a plain old tin can without a label. No one knows what’s inside, but everyone is dying to find out.
I have always loved hearing the stories of my grandparents. One of my favorites is about my Grandpa as a teenager. He worked in a bakery and, to woo my grandma, he made a giant heart out of bread dough. He delivered it to her hot from the oven early one morning and left it on her doorstep.bread baked into heart shape
I imagine younger versions of them – my jolly grandpa nervously delivering his heart-bread to my bold and sassy grandma. I picture her smiling and laughing when she opened her door that day.
Storytelling not only remembers the consequential history of our grandparents, and their grandparents, but it also connects us to each other in the present. Stories weave us into a place of sharing in ways that we otherwise might never experience together – laughter, joy, fear, sorrow, excitement, silliness, love, hope.
We are all storytellers. Anyone who has taken a walk, gone to school, kissed a girl, gotten a job, taken a trip, lost a tooth, lost a friend, or played a sport, has a story to tell. Children want to hear it all. They want to know deeply the people they love the most.

mother telling daughter bedtime storyDocument and pass down your family stories

There are many ways to document or record your family stories. Spend a long winter or spare evening sifting through devices and albums and create a photo book that incorporates family lore and history. For even more nostalgia, record stories and preserve the sounds of family across multiple generations. The Voiceshare App by Wavhello is a great way to record songs, stories, and messages from loved ones. The audio clips can be stored, organized, and played remotely for your child using the cuddly Soundbub Bluetooth speaker. Tell stories together at your next family gathering to create long-lasting audio mementos.

Audio Memento prompt

Ask everyone the same question about another member of the family: What is the funniest thing grandma has ever done? What do all the cousins claim as their favorite memory with Auntie Jane? What are your hopes and dreams for new little Baby? 

 
Wavhello Soundbub and Voiceshare app voice recording

Parent Co. partnered with WavHello because they believe in the bonding power of storytelling.

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Story Prompts

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Stories about family history
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Stories about Experiences
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Stories about people
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Stories about “how?” and “why?”
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family and pets celebrating stories and lore

How to tell a story

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[su_service title=”Start with a question and answer it.” icon=”icon: arrow-right” icon_color=”#2eb370″ size=”22″][/su_service]
[su_service title=”Feed all the senses” icon=”icon: arrow-right” icon_color=”#2eb370″ size=”22″]Explain sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste with details. [/su_service]
[su_service title=”Make it funny.” icon=”icon: arrow-right” icon_color=”#2eb370″ size=”22″]Kids love silliness! Anything gross will get their attention.[/su_service]
[su_service title=”Tell kids stories about them.” icon=”icon: arrow-right” icon_color=”#2eb370″ size=”22″][/su_service]
[su_service title=”Remember your childhood.” icon=”icon: arrow-right” icon_color=”#2eb370″ size=”22″]Your kids only know you and your parents as adults. A two-minute description of the time you went down a giant waterslide and lost your bathing suit is just as good as a long love story. [/su_service]
[su_service title=”Triumphs and failures make for great stories. ” icon=”icon: arrow-right” icon_color=”#2eb370″ size=”22″]Tell about when you were the same age as your kids. How did you see the world? What kinds of things did you do (e.g. set traps for the tooth fairy, bury treasure in your backyard)? [/su_service]
Memories are stories. The more you start sharing them, the more you remember, and the more stories you’ll want to share!

Everyone has a story

We might not think our own stories are exciting or interesting. But the truth is that they are each uniquely and meticulously created over time and with fascinating detail. Each experience and emotion, each interaction we have ever known, is important.
Our families – made up of generations of stories – are like a treasure trove of golden moments just waiting to be heard. Loves and losses, triumphs and falls, trips of adventure and times of sticking around and holding on tight. Relationships close and far, deep and distant, short and long lasting. How amazing to hear them all!

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Parent Co. partnered with WavHello because they believe in the bonding power of storytelling.

 
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My 4-foot, 11 inch Mother is the Biggest Person in Any Room

If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
Mothers. We come in various ages, shapes, sizes, and temperaments. We bring our love, our quirks, our fears, and sometimes a little bit of our crazy to the job of parenting.
My parents grew up in the Bronx, New York, as next door neighbors. Yes, my mom literally married “the boy next door.” They are 100 percent Italian and grew up in a neighborhood of other Italians.
I’m sure they thought that everybody woke up to the smell of “gravy” cooking on Sunday mornings in preparation for the 3 p.m. dinner with 19 other relatives. I’m sure it was normal for families to scream and yell and gesture wildly during meals and for mothers to chase people around the house with wooden spoons and other impromptu weapons of torture.
If my parents had stayed in the Bronx, I might have grown up thinking my family was like all the rest. But my parents relocated us to Orange County, California, where it quickly became evident that my family was not the norm.
Let me rephrase that. More specifically, “one of these mothers is not like the others.” For anyone who has ever been driven crazy by their mother, I hope you can relate.
Here are a few things other moms definitely didn’t do:
Other moms did not make their child’s friends wash their underarms and feet when they came over to play after school. “You girls stink,” she would say. “You have B.O. and I don’t know if it’s your underarms or your feet, so go wash them both.”
Totally mortified, I would take my friends into the bathroom to wash up, and I would wonder if anyone would ever want to come over to my house again. Somehow, they always came back, probably because we had good snacks.
Other moms did not picket at school and start a petition when their youngest daughter was not named 8th grade valedictorian.
Other moms did not hire a stripper for their son’s family-friendly 18th birthday party in the backyard. Because what boy wouldn’t want his mother there when interacting with a stripper?
On a similar note, other moms did not also hire a stripper for their daughter’s 21st birthday dinner at a Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, with her boyfriend and all four grandparents present.

Finally, other moms definitely did not hire an older, unattractive man to come dressed as a pink monkey for their three-year-old grandson’s birthday party and then – surprise! – take off his monkey suit to double as a stripper for the 21st birthday of her youngest daughter, terrifying all children (and adults) in attendance.
Other moms did not write a letter to Rosie O’Donnell (who had one of hottest talk shows on TV at the time where their son has just been hired in the mail room) to brag about how talented he is and how he basically should be running her show. Italians calls this the “my son” syndrome.
Other moms did not somehow force the school district to re-route the entire bus schedule so that their children could be dropped off directly in front of their house rather than on the corner bus stop like all the other kids.
Other moms did not go against the wishes of their grown children and secretly baptize their grandchild in the laundry room sink. With “permission” from the local priest, of course.
Other moms did not fill their entire car with lemons and picket in front of the car dealership (standing up through the sunroof with a giant sign that said “Lemon by BMW”) when it had mechanical problems.

Other moms did not bring a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade to their 17-year-old daughter’s high school prom date’s house and give it to his mother to keep in the fridge because “Jami doesn’t like beer.”
Other moms did not tell their daughter’s new boyfriend, after knowing him for five minutes, that she wants another grandchild, then add that, at this point, she doesn’t care if they get married. She will even raise the child as long as they can just make one for her.
Other moms did not block traffic at the roundabout in front of the high school at pick-up time as they stuck themselves out of the sunroof waving a giant bouquet of balloons and honking their horn to wish their daughter a Happy Birthday.

Yes, my mom did a lot of things other moms didn’t do.
On second thought, perhaps other people didn’t have a home that was constantly filled with family, friends, food, and laughter, or a mom who let her kids’ friends live with them when they needed a place to stay.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who “adopted” the little old lady who sat alone in the back of the church every week and invite her to family dinner every Sunday.
Maybe other people didn’t have a mother who cooked dinner for her grown children and grandchildren every Tuesday night, year after year, making nine different dishes so everyone could have their favorites.
My mom stands only 4-foot, 11 inches, but I’ve never thought of her as small. To me, she was always the biggest person in the room (and by biggest, I mean loudest).
All kidding aside – from your eldest daughter who pours the milk before the cereal, to your only son who hasn’t touched a public door handle in 20 years, to your youngest daughter who will only eat ice cream with a fork – we may have turned out a little quirky, but all in all, I guess you did okay.
So thank you, my crazy Italian mother, for all those childhood memories, for being our fiercest protector, our strongest advocate, and our worst nightmare.

This Holiday Season, I’m Breaking Tradition

I never want to confine my family to tradition. I want my children to experience it, of course, but I also want to mix it up.

Tradition is and always will be important. But what happens when tradition starts to control your holidays in an unhealthy way?
I will never forget this story, once told to me by a person with much more wisdom than I.
Every Christmas Eve, her mother-in-law would come to the house and enjoy a festive dinner. Once they tucked the kids in tight, they would do something (in my opinion) absolutely insane.
They would put up the Christmas tree, fit with lights and ornaments. While most of us have been enjoying our Christmas tree for a month, they save it all for just one night. The woman was quick to tell me that this was her mother-in-law’s tradition that became engrained into their family.
The children would wake on Christmas morning to find that Santa had been rather busy, and that Mommy and Daddy look rather exhausted. It was the true Christmas miracle of miracles.
“WOW!” the children would shout.
“Where’s the whiskey?” their mom would mumble behind sleepy eyes.
Looking back now, the woman wishes she was brave enough to say, “What a great tradition you had with your family, but no, thank you.” She never did that, so as long as her mother-in-law was alive, they were stuck.
Many of us have experienced, and still do experience, the traditional holiday festivities. On Thanksgiving, we wear pretty fall dresses and eat at 3 p.m. at Grandma’s house. We enjoy turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, casseroles, and top it all off with warm gooey pies. Sounds nice, right?
Now, look in the corner. There you see the kids aimlessly scrolling on their phones, trying to make conversation with Great Grandma, and giving their cousins wet willies.
What if one year – not every year, but every few years – you broke tradition? What if (hear me out) you took a vacation with just your immediate family for Thanksgiving? You and your husband pack up your kids and head to the coast. Instead of turkey, you eat lobster. Instead of watching football, you play frisbee on the beach. Instead of dressing up, you stay in pajamas all day long.
After a vacation like that, you may feel rested and relaxed, which is the point of the holiday season, right?
I never want to confine my family to tradition. I want my children to experience it, of course, but I also want to surprise them with fun outings and activities. Instead of baking sugar cookies on Christmas Eve, go to the movies. Instead of Santa popping down your chimney, he visits you at a ski resort. Instead of ham or roast beef, grill out hamburgers and hot dogs.
You will not only be setting your kids up for fun, but you might also get a break and actually enjoy the holidays for once. My cousin took her kids to Disney World one Christmas. Now that’s cool.
When I was a kid, I was in the car all day on Christmas. We visited all of the grandparents around the state of Georgia. We would open our presents and at 10 a.m. and have to leave. We never had any time to play with our gifts.
What if, one year, we didn’t drive all the way to Grandma’s? Wouldn’t it be amazing if they came to us for once, and we were able to stay in our pajamas?
I am so sad for the woman whose memories of Christmas with her children are laced with a chore she despised. I don’t want to do that to myself. I don’t want to do that to my children.
For Thanksgiving this year, we will travel to see family. Next year, we are going on vacation. One for tradition; one for fun.
 

Top 10 'Must Haves' for First Time Dads

This list will offer some valuable insight into one of the most amazing and terrifying experiences of your entire life.

There was shit all over the walls of our one-bedroom New York City apartment. My two-week-old son managed to simultaneously pee all over me and poop on our crisp, white, living room walls.
Aside from being somewhat impressed, I immediately realized that I was an unprepared and overwhelmed first-time parent. If you’ve ever seen the State Farm commercial where the main character keeps repeating “I’m never… (insert random life event here)” – that is basically me.
Marriage and parenthood have been the best experiences of my life. Our son was born a year ago and, after countless of sleepless nights, ‘learning experiences,’ and unnecessary doctor visits, my wife and I have at last become familiar with the territory.
Admittedly, I assumed but did not know what to expect. Today’s your lucky day, though, because this list will offer some valuable insight into one of the most amazing and terrifying experiences of your entire life:

1 | Birthing classes

My wife was a marketing director prior to becoming a stay-at-home mom. Her ability to plan for the future keeps our little family in check and prepared. One of the most important things she did before our son’s arrival was to sign us up for a birthing class.
We were lucky enough to have an energetic instructor whose ability to combine Enrique Iglesias’s “Greatest Hits” with Lamaze breathing techniques kept us constantly entertained. You can only imagine the look on our faces as the yoga-pant wearing, granola eating, tenured nurse of 30 years straddled her living room coffee table illustrating how to squat and deliver a baby.
Not only did the classes bring us together in a comical and very informative way, but we were prepared for every step of the birth process.

2 | Photos

Leading up to the birth of our son, we basically relived our childhoods through pictures. Our families did not hesitate to share every photo of our youth that had ever been taken. Looking at our priceless memories made me realize how important it would be to create our own to share with our son someday.
Whether it’s a camera phone or a DSLR, just make sure that you capture all the moments you can. I captured my wife’s pregnancy and made a great photo book memento. I’m also compiling an album to share my son’s embarrassing photos when he brings his first significant other home to meet us.
Disclaimer: If your wife screams at you to get the camera out of her face while she is in labor, don’t be afraid to ask the nurse to take pictures instead. Your spouse may want to kill you then, but reliving the moment that your child came into the world is unreal.

3 | Prepared hospital bags

‘Essential’ doesn’t even begin to describe this one. Below is my recommended checklist when planning for a stay in a maternity ward. Of course, you’ll probably think of other things I may have missed.
Changes of clothes
Cell phones and chargers
Snacks
Pillow
Candy for the nurses
Medication (if applicable)
Anything you need to make the delivery room special for your wife (candles, pillows, pictures, etc.)
Toiletries
Safe car seat if you’re driving your baby home
Camera
For those driving to the hospital, I would also recommend looking into the parking situation and pricing.

4 | Scheduled date nights

It’s important to make time for your relationship. It’s hard not to feel bad leaving your little one behind, but it’s worse to forget about each other. A strong bond with your spouse will help during the stressful times. The first few weeks after childbirth can feel like your freedom is gone. It’s not gone, it’s just a change – a “new-normal.”
My mother-in-law actually kicked my wife and I out of our apartment to go on one date a week after our son arrived. Except for the tears during the appetizers, it was great.

5 | Dad-ready apparel

My son loves to be walked in his stroller, so a good pair of sneakers was key. Don’t forget you’re going to be carrying your child everywhere.
You’ll also spend a lot of time celebrating moments in your child’s life. Spruce up your wardrobe while you don’t feel bad about spending on yourself. Whether for a religious event or work, a well-tailored suit is always a must-have.

6 | Sense of humor

There will be a lot of serious moments to come. Stay light-hearted and enjoy this special time in your child’s life.
One of my favorite memories came after our son turned a week old. He was having trouble sleeping and woke us up almost every hour for a 48-hour period. We were mentally drained and feeling the physical effects of sleep deprivation. My buddy had given my son a large stuffed bear, so we decided it was time they were introduced. James’s expression was priceless, and the laughter gave us the ability to power through the pain.

7 | Baby gear

After gallivanting around the city at our own leisure for five years, we immediately started to feel caged in our small apartment. Within the first few weeks, my wife and I knew we had to get outside. Our son was born in July, so we were able to take advantage of the summer weather.
I highly suggest a convertible stroller with a snap-in car seat. It’s important to check the weight of the stroller and safety rating. At the end of the day, the stroller should be as comfortable for you as it is for your baby because it will be a constant staple in your life for awhile. Take the time to test-drive a few around the store to determine what works best for you.

8 | Defined responsibilities

My wife and I quickly assumed different roles taking care of our little guy. For us, this was a natural process because we both realized our specialties rather quickly and how they fit in with my work schedule. It’s absolutely crucial that you are there for each other.
If you haven’t done so already, learn to recognize your partner’s ‘breaking-points’ and be prepared to step in to allow for some much needed sleep or a chance to just step away for a minute to take a breath. The first month is a test of true endurance.

9 | A good doctor

This is a big one. During pregnancy, it’s paramount that you and your significant other find a pediatrician for your baby. Lots of pediatricians have scheduled meeting times or take appointments for interviews. I’d suggest meeting with a few different practices before selecting the best fit for your family.
Remember, you will spend quite a bit of time with your doctor in the first year of your baby’s life, so you need to feel comfortable and confident in their ability to take care of your child. Below are several items to think about when selecting a doctor:
What are the hours of the practice?
Does the practice have scheduled times for newborn visits?
Does the practice isolate the newborn and family from other patients when waiting for appointments? (This is important since your child’s immune system will be weak early on.)
Does the practice take your health insurance?
How long has the doctor been practicing?
What hospital is the doctor affiliated with? Will the doctor be visiting your child after birth in the hospital?
Are there other doctors in the practice, and are you comfortable/confident with them?
What are the doctor’s philosophical beliefs about child-raising (e.g. thoughts on breastfeeding or vaccinations), and do they align with yours?
Is the doctor specialized in any particular area, and does this align with any known needs for your child?
What is the on-call procedure at the practice?
Make sure to examine the cleanliness, wait time, and upkeep of the office to ensure they align with your standards.
How far is the office from where you live? Is the location of the office convenient/accessible in the event of an emergency?

10 | Patience

Let’s get real. While it’s a wonderful experience, having a child can be very stressful. When things get tough, take a breath and remember that these moments are fleeting. Don’t be afraid to ask your partner for help when you’ve reached your physical or mental limit.
I’m a strong believer that your child feeds off of and reacts to your energy, so you need to be confident and relaxed. If you have the support of family, don’t hesitate to ask for their assistance when you feel your patience running thin.
I hope this list helps as you begin your journey into fatherhood. When you think things are stressful, just remember, in 17 years your son or daughter will be asking for the keys to your car.
Please share your must-haves in the comment section below!

Questions Not to Ask a Woman Who Has Passed Her Due Date

If you hope not to piss off a woman who has passed her due date, never ask the following

I’ve carried four babies to full-term and passed my due date twice. Those last few weeks with each were brutally long and miserable. Unfortunately, the constant checking-in by well-meaning family and friends didn’t really help my mood or my patience level.
But it wasn’t the well-wishes that drove me crazy after I’d passed my due date. It was the ridiculous questions people constantly asked.
While I know each family member and dear friend had good intentions, their constant prodding left me feeling more judged than loved and supported: Am I doing enough? Do they think I don’t want this baby to come?!
If you hope not to piss off a woman who has passed her due date, never ask the following:

Still no baby?

It seems like an innocent enough question, and you’ll probably get a polite smile and short, sweet response, but really, it’s a silly question with no good answer.
Unless you’re dealing with an unusually cheerful pregnant woman (which is a rare thing after 40+ weeks), she’ll probably be running through a lengthy list of snarky responses in her mind, such as “Are you blind?!” and “Would I be here or doing this if the baby was here already?!”

Weren’t you due…?

Seriously, people, stop with the “due date is a blood oath” idea. Less than five percent of babies are born on their due date. Medical professionals refer to an “EDD” (estimated due date) because babies can come any time.
Full-term is a range, generally accepted as between 39 and 42 weeks. Most first-time moms welcome their babies after their due date, so let’s stop assuming the baby will arrive on or before that “magic” day. It’s not a package delivery and there are no guarantees.

Have you tried…?

There are a thousand ways one can try to induce labor “naturally,” and chances are, the pregnant woman you’re talking to has tried one or all of them already.
From walking to eating pineapple to ripen the cervix to “what got the baby in there,” most pregnant women who have passed their due dates have already explored the options. Unless they specifically ask for your advice, it’s probably best to just leave it alone.

Are you going to be induced?

Induction is so common these days that it may seem like a harmless question. A third of births that reach 41 to 42 weeks result in induction.
Despite this frequency, however, induction is a pretty serious medical intervention that involves risks for both mother (increased risk of postpartum depression and up to six times higher chance of a c-section) and baby (oxygen desaturation and significantly more occurrences of non-reassuring fetal heart rates).
Induction is a decision that really only needs to be discussed between a woman and her healthcare provider, not every acquaintance she runs into at the grocery store.

Are you ready?

I’ll venture to guess that nearly all women are ready for their baby’s arrival by their due date, at the latest. By the time the due date has come and gone, most women have prepared, and re-prepared, and re-prepared again.
Constantly doing all the tasks that she wants done before baby arrives, like having the house clean or the laundry done, can make an expectant mother go crazy as she spends her days wondering how much more cleaning and laundry she will have to do before the baby actually gets here.

What are you doing here?

Clearly, every pregnant woman who is waiting for her baby to arrive should be at home doing…I’m not exactly sure what. Waiting? Driving herself crazy waiting? Wondering when it’s going to happen? Wondering if it’s happening and she doesn’t realize it? Wondering why the hell it isn’t happening?
Yeah, no. The best thing a pregnant woman can do while waiting is to keep busy. It not only keeps her mind off the waiting, but normal human activity can also get the baby to actually come.

Are you going to try to have the baby before the storm?

Three of my babies came during hurricane season in South Florida, so I’m no stranger to preparing for delivery and a major storm at the same time. While not being able to get to a hospital during labor because of a natural disaster is certainly a terrifying prospect, bringing it up to a hugely pregnant woman who has probably been thinking about it non-stop is less than helpful.
Plus, babies are much safer and easier to manage during a natural disaster when they’re still in utero than after they’re born. So no, I will not “try” to have the baby before the storm.
So what should you say? Instead of prodding too much or drawing attention to the obvious, it’s best to stick with a simple “How you feeling?” or “I’m thinking of you” or, most helpful of all, “Is there anything I can do?

Raise Your Hand if You Don’t Like Scary Movies

In all honesty, I don’t think it was my age that ruined it for me. I think some people just aren’t cut out for the scary stuff.

The first scary movie I ever saw was “Jaws”. It was a July afternoon in Oklahoma, and I was visiting my cousins.
I don’t ever remember a hotter summer than that one. The heat rose off the roads in waves and the tar that zigzagged over the cracks in the sidewalks grew soft and stuck to our flip flops.
By noon, we retreated indoors, sunburned and tired from running through the sprinklers and hungry for a bologna sandwich. Still in our swimsuits, we ate in front of the television lying on our stomachs.
“Jaws” seemed innocent enough at first – the banana boats, the too short shorts on the guys, and the Farrah Fawcett hair on the girls. It was beachy and perfect for a summer afternoon. And then the music kicked in.
Dunna. Dunna. Dunna dunna dunna duuuuuunnnnnna.
A fin knifes through the water. Somebody gets dragged under. The water bubbles red. Everybody screams. And my cousins, all boys, tickle me until I am crying. I’m not sure where my heart has gone, but it is thumping loudly from somewhere underneath the floor. I am seven.
My scary moving-going has not gone any better since. I caught one scene from “It” on TBS at age 10, which forever ruined clowns for me. Although, does anybody really like clowns? I will not be seeing the remake.
At 11, I watched “People Under the Stairs” in a detached trailer neighboring my grandparent’s lake house with a girl named Chastity, who was one year older than me but looked like she was 30. She, too, was visiting her grandparents for the summer. They had cockatoos that roamed the trailer, freely pooping on the backs of chairs and your hair if you weren’t fast enough. Both the movie and the trailer gave me nightmares for weeks. I still can’t handle cockatoos.
Maybe I was simply too young for blood and terror and creepy slo-mo shots of half open doors. Maybe I should have waited a decade or two. Even now, I steer clear of the “Horror” category on Neflix. I can’t even pause in my scrolling because the movie covers give me the shivers. How do the eyes of the serial killers and demon dolls manage to follow you around the room?
In all honesty, I don’t think it was my age that ruined it for me. I think some people just aren’t cut out for the scary stuff.
According to Glenn Sparks, a professor at Purdue University, who conducted a research study on why certain people are affected by these films more than others, it has a great deal to do with our wiring. Some people get a kick from that adrenaline rush. The quickened heartbeat and prickling at the back of the neck leave them with more energy when the film is over, what he calls the “excitation transfer process.” It leaves you jittery and happy at having gotten to enjoy the thrill. It’s the same reason some people love roller coasters – the fear factor that leads to greater victory when it is done.
There’s also the novelty of the horror film that draws people in, the idea that you’re seeing something you don’t see every day. It’s curiosity that keeps you watching and wondering what could possibly happen next.
But for some of us, the rush and the novelty isn’t worth the emotional price. I don’t want to come out clammy and shaky and headed for sleeplessness just to say I did it. I’m all for novelty, but let it be for the good. Let it bring me a vision of utopia, not the stuff of nightmares. Give me “This is Us” and “Sing” and let me relax.
I think some of us are simply more sensitive to stimulus than others. The magic of story-telling in books and film is that it carries fiction into reality. If done well, the world in the story is all-encompassing and complete. But if you are a super feeler, a highly sensitive person, the reality can be too much to handle.
You can feel that hot sun and choppy water right before the shark appears. You can hear that door creak open from a mile away. You can already see those unblinking eyes looking back from the rain-slashed window and will continue to see them long after the credits roll. If you are anything like me, you need less, not more, stimulus. Life is enough of an adrenaline rush.
If you’re a scary movie lover, more power to you. With Halloween right around the corner, this is your season. But for those of you who aren’t, know that you’re not alone. I’ll be right there with you, with the lights on, watching re-runs of “Parks and Rec” and locking all the doors after dark.

What Does Single Motherhood Mean for Kids?

Surprise! A growing body of research finds kids in single parent households aren’t sentenced to lives of poverty, crime, or addiction.

The most common message to parents of all family types is that divorce is horrible for children, and all social ills are rooted in the recent surge in single motherhood, most especially unwed mothers (eek! Unmarried women having sex and babies!). If you’re inclined to unconsciously buy into this thinking (and therefore hold yourself back unnecessarily), do not under any circumstances google “Ann Coulter + single mothers.” Also, remove from your mind President Reagan’s admonishment of the “welfare queen” (whom no one was ever able to find, and who in fact was a propaganda construct), or George W. Bush’s $1.5 billion failed Healthy Marriage Initiative, aimed at curbing all the supposed misfortune rooted in the upward trend of unmarried moms.

Instead, a growing body of research finds that children who grow up in single parent households are not sentenced to lives of poverty, crime, or addiction simply by way of their parents’ marital status. In fact, by many metrics, the majority of kids who grow up with single mothers fare just as well as their peers raised in traditional, nuclear, two-parent households. For example, in one study of 1,700 children by Cornell University researchers, found that single mothers’ education levels and abilities as parents had far more influence on their children’s academic abilities than their relationship statuses or even incomes – and this was true for all races.

In fact, lots of research comes to the same surprising conclusion: It matters little the family structure that a child grows up in, though it matters a lot the dynamics of that family. For example, children whose parents have a high-conflict marriage fare better after their parents break up, and the vast majority of children of divorce do just fine within a few years of the split. One nationally representative study of all kinds of family types found that it didn’t matter if the children were adopted or if the parents were married, single, or remarried. What does matter, found the study, published in the National Journal of Marriage and Family, was whether the home was ruled mostly by harmony or by acrimony, and whether the children experienced a warm, secure environment or a cold and neglectful one. Research also found that children raised by single mothers tended to have closer relationships with extended family like cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, and other adults in their lives. This, I will argue, is something most Americans could use more of.

In other words, family is indeed what you make it, and you can create that warm, secure, and loving home life that is the springboard for a healthy child, regardless of what your family looks like. Just as you have countless opportunities to build a career and earn, you also have the freedom to build a family that you are proud of, to raise wise, thoughtful, hardworking, loving, and kind children. You can and will build not only a home life in which you and your children thrive, but a larger web of loved ones and community members who rise up and support you – and whom you support in return.

That said, I won’t sugarcoat this: There is plenty of very legitimate research that finds that children raised by single mothers are more prone to not-great outcomes, including teen pregnancy, dropping out of school, and incarceration. However, studies also point out that correlation does not automatically equal causation. In the most stark contrasts between kids raised by single mothers and those raised in two-parent households, when controlled for poverty, maternal depression, and lack of support, outcomes are more or less the same.

Another factor in the outcome for kids: All children fare better when both parents are actively involved and co-parent amicably. Many studies found that poverty associated with single motherhood is the common thread in families that fare worse than two-parent households – not the solo parenting in and of itself. It’s not rocket science why. With just one income and no second parent to help with childcare, single parents have to work more to pay for the basics, and have higher child care costs and fewer dollars for music and sports lessons, SAT prep tests, healthy food, or real estate in safe neighborhoods. Plus, poverty, or any financial hardship, is tied to depression, anxiety, and generally being a stressed-out mom with less patience for her kids and more arguments with the adults in her life.

One of the most cited studies about single mothers is the harm caused to children by the instability of boyfriends moving in and out of their home and lives. Leading researcher on single mother families Sarah S. McLanahan, of Princeton University, found that children raised by single mothers (who tend to be younger and poorer than married moms) are more likely to struggle academically because these single moms have less stable relationships with their children’s fathers, and men overall, with new boyfriends and their children moving in and out of the family home.

This research is important, and I urge you to heed it. However, do not let it scare you into celibacy, or shame you into sneaking or lying about your romantic life, or keep you up late worrying that decisions that led to this point have sentenced your children to a crappy life. Far from it.

Instead, this research highlights a mother’s relationship instability, which is within your control. The research is not about financially independent, unmarried moms who date a bunch of people without committing to them. The risks associated with partner instability have little to do with men who do not live in your house, who are not automatically designated boyfriends, and do not move in with their children or spur other major life changes that come with serious, committed relationships. The risk of negative outcomes for your kids, we can assume, plummets if you have a healthy attitude about romance, and if you are financially stable enough that you’re not compulsively tempted to cohabit out of financial destitution rather than healthy commitment to a shared future with a person you love.

Excerpted from THE KICKASS SINGLE MOM by Emma Johnson with the permission of TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Copyright © 2017 by Emma Johnson.

How to Get Gift-Givers on Board With Giving Experiences Over Things

Win people over to the experience-giving side by offering them the benefits of this approach, along with some easy ways for them to make the transition.

My husband and I tried early on to stem the massive flow of things arriving for our kids every birthday and Christmas. With four kids, large families on both sides, and two December birthdays, our house is overcome by mountains of trinkets, toys, and miscellaneous items, most of which are not used.
Everyone feels showering our children with things is an act of love, and it certainly can be. However, it’s also a sad reality that many of the material possessions they receive end up in a forgotten box, donated, or outgrown much sooner than anyone expects.
Still, we weren’t successful in convincing others to curb the gifts, maybe because we didn’t give them other options. When my mom took it upon herself to give our family a yearly pass to a local museum last year for Christmas, we realized that experiences were an obvious replacement for objects.
San Francisco State University conducted research that confirms experiences make people happier than things. The experiences don’t have to be extravagant, luxury vacations. They can simply be meaningful times that create lasting memories.
Memories have been made with the museum membership we received. We’ve visited the museum regularly this year, taking my mom with us on one occasion so she could see how much her gift meant to us. The kids talk about the benefits of this gift all the time, knowing we couldn’t pay for our family of six to attend so often any other way. Plus, every time we visit, my mom receives a picture of the kids learning robotics or digging for fake dinosaur bones in a sand area. It’s the thank you card that never stops coming.
The key to winning people over to the experience-giving side is offering them the benefits of this approach, along with some easy ways for them to make the transition.

Give time

What it means to give of ourselves comes truly into focus when we think of giving our time. It’s a cherished commodity, and encouraging our loved ones to spend time with our children helps them all create memories they can carry with them for life.
For family members who feel it’s impersonal or underwhelming for a child to simply receive a ticket to a ballet or to the aquarium, tell them to buy a second ticket and go with the child. Yes, that ups the expense, but just tell them to go with cheaper tickets – the experience of being with the gift giver will likely mean more to a child than having the more expensive option.
There’s also the option of spreading the time gift out over the course of the year. Offering children special one-on-one experiences like a meal at a restaurant or visit a local attraction sets aside time for the relationships with their extended family members to flourish.
You can seed the desire for experiences over things and gifts of time as early as setting up your baby registry. Think registering for donations to charities of your choosing, babysitting coupons, and home-cooked meal requests.

Go long term

There are plenty of people who opt for material items because they assume they will last longer than experiences. While this is true in some cases, it’s not in others, but still many well-meaning family members can’t get past the hurdle of offering an experience that only lasts for a couple of hours over something the kids can hold.
Recommend these individuals give long-term experiences, such as swim lessons, music lessons, or, like my mom offered, museum memberships. The giver can choose how long they want to pay for these experiences, obtain a gift certificate, and give a child a chance to go to class after class to develop a skill or take joy in a passion. Plus, those skills and learning experiences can have lasting impact on a child.

Buy the small, meaningful item

Everyone has that friend or family member who absolutely must put an actual item in each child’s hands on Christmas morning. They live for the wrapping paper and bows, and every part of them rebels against the idea of not having something material waiting for a child.
These die-hards are usually the last to even think of offering experiences, but there may be a way to turn them. Encourage them to buy a small item that relates to the bigger experience. A person who gifts a child swim lessons can throw in a nice pair of goggles. The child gifted with art camp can receive paint brushes. This way the items are sure to be cherished and used because they are relevant to the bigger experience being offered.

The harder, more rewarding path

Giving intentionally takes effort, and that’s what experience giving often is. Getting to know a child and learning what they are interested in doing with their time is an intimate process that strengthens the relationship. Investing the time to be a part of the experience for the recipient asks even more of us – and this is what makes the gift of experience all the more meaningful.
Keep the experience option in mind next time you have a loved one’s birthday or special occasion coming up. Clothing and toys all gather dust and get boxed up – memories last a lifetime.

How to Get on With Your In-Laws

Getting along with in-laws can be a chore. Remember the following do’s and don’t’s during their visit and afterwards.

Marriage, or the start of living together, brings much happiness, but it also brings the dreaded in-laws. The announcement of their first visit releases millions of butterflies in the pit of your stomach and you instantly go into overdrive in preparing for the upcoming nightmare.

Just stop and breathe, and again.

To get through this visit, and the many more to come, remember the following do’s and don’t’s during their visit and afterwards.

1 | Don’t hold your new spouse accountable

Always remember we can choose our friends, but we can’t choose our family. Just because the in-laws have views, opinions, and manners different than you and your new spouse does not mean your spouse is responsible for this. He or she may be just as offended as you are but has learned to go with the flow.

2 | Do be nice

We reap what we sow. If we approach a situation with negativity, chances are people will respond in kind. Smile at your in-laws instead of frowning at their behavior. Remember, their visit will end and things will go back to normal. (Unless your in-laws have moved in, then you may find little comfort in this article and you might need to find a new place to live.)

3 | Don’t make negative comments about them to your spouse

Criticizing your in-laws in front of your spouse might make you feel better but not your loved one. We take criticizing our parents personally as it can be seen to be an indirect criticism on us. After all, we are a product of our parents.

4 | Do debrief with your spouse

Talk to you partner about things that mattered to you after the visit is over. Talking about it might give your spouse an opportunity to understand your perspective and help you work through some of the negative emotions.

5 | Don’t sweat the small stuff

If you can ignore their annoying behavior, do so. Hopefully the visit is short and life will soon return to just you and your spouse.

6 | Don’t be afraid to set guidelines

Try and do this in a calm manner, without confronting them or showing anger. For example, if your dog does not get fed scraps from the table, say so. “Please do not feed Charlie food from the table. It doesn’t agree with him and instills bad manners that last long past your visit. Thank you.” Please and thank you still go a long way.

7 | Don’t offend easily

This goes hand in hand with getting to know your in-laws. Sometimes we can take offense too easily, particularly when none is intended. You’ll need to get to know your “new family” to understand the fine nuances in communicating with them. What you find offensive might be considered funny in other households. Remember the original mantra, take a deep breath in and out, and again. It’s amazing how deep breathing can get you through the most stressful situation.

8 | Get to know your in-laws

Remember Shrek’s words, “They judge me before they get to know me.” Don’t judge your in-laws too quickly, take time to get to know them. It took time to get to know your spouse, your friends, and acquaintances. Give your in-laws the same courtesy and get to know them before you judge them.

9 | Do be yourself

Just like you need to get to know your in-laws, they need to get to know you. Be yourself. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. Building relationships on unstable foundations is never a good idea. Your spouse loves you, chances are your in-laws will like you too. What they won’t like is someone pretending to be something else.

10 | Do celebrate when the visit is over

There’s nothing wrong with being pleased about the in-laws leaving. At the end of the day, you married your spouse, not his or her in-laws.

If you follow some or all of the suggestions offered here, your relationship with your in-laws should be a relatively good one. However, if it turns out to be a disaster and the relationship is a fractured one, try and keep your sense of humor. Remember, there’s always someone worse off than you.

Why Are Parents Eschewing Grandparental Advice?

When it comes to turning to our own parents for help – especially with parenting – many of us are reluctant.

“I can do it myself!” my three-year-old constantly screams at me. No matter the task – from buckling his car seat chest clip to climbing on the jungle gym – he wants his mother to do nothing more than observe from a distance. He hardly ever needs me.
That is, until he does.
When he can’t get the clips lined up just right, or a slide ends up being scarier than he expects, he calls for me to come help him complete the task. I’m happy to step back when he needs space to explore his own strengths and weaknesses, and I’m just as happy to jump in when I can be of assistance.
But when it comes to turning to our own parents for help – especially with parenting – many of us are far more reluctant.
Just like I do with my bulk diaper orders, I frequently find myself turning to the internet for parenting-related needs. Advice, companionship, and the latest recommendations from professional health organizations are only a few clicks away. While my parents are a stable source of support for me, they aren’t typically awake at 3 a.m. to answer questions like, “Are BPA-free sippy cups safe for toddlers?”
I’m far from alone in this trend. More and more parents are turning to the internet and social media for parenting advice, leaving behind the centuries-old tradition of seeking help from their own mothers. One study found that Millennial parents were twice as likely to seek out information on the internet than to ask advice from other people. Another Pew Research Center study found that 75 percent of parents reported using social media for parenting-related information and social support.
I’ve definitely done the latter. My mother lives 2,000 miles and two time zones away – she isn’t likely to know if the playground down the street is still closed for repairs, but a quick post on Facebook will get me answers almost immediately. Parents raising young children today belong to a generation more mobile than any before it, meaning many are raising their own children far away from familial support.
But while proximity may be a factor, generational differences may be driving young parents’ skepticism about turning to their own parents for advice. According to research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academics Societies, grandparents tend to use the same childcare practices they did when they were parenting, even though outdated methods may be dangerous.
Nearly a quarter of grandparents surveyed in the study were not aware that infants should sleep on their backs to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Two-thirds of grandparents did not know that wounds heal better with a bandage, and 44 percent still believed that ice baths were a suitable remedy for very high fevers.
Today’s parents have the benefit of more research into children’s health and safety than ever before, but the recommendations and advice are often difficult to keep up with. Grandparents, most of whom have not raised an infant for several years, are less likely to be familiar with current recommendations, meaning any parent today who has left their baby with his or her grandparents has also likely left an instruction list that looked like this:
“If they take a nap, make sure she goes to sleep on her backs – NOT her stomach or side. And absolutely nothing in the crib with her either. No, not blankets. Definitely not stuffed animals. And if you absolutely have to go somewhere – make sure the car seat is rear-facing. Nevermind, I’ll put the car seat in for you. Actually, just please don’t go anywhere. And definitely no juice in her bottle, and please no sneaking her bites of food. And try to keep her away from the TV while you are at it.”
To which every grandparent has responded (out loud or in their head): “I raised you just fine, didn’t I?”
Before we start arguing that we were lucky to survive the parenting practices of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, we must admit there is a downside to our increased reliance on peers and the internet. A survey in Time Magazine found 58 percent of Millennials found the amount of parenting information available to be somewhat, very, or extremely overwhelming, compared to 43 percent of Baby Boomers. A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that – unsurprisingly – many websites offered inaccurate information. For example, only 43 percent of 1,300 websites examined for their information on infant sleep contained recommendations in line with the American Academy of Pediatric’s guidelines. And while blogs or social media might be a fine place to find information about diapers that don’t leak, when it comes to advice on topics such as vaccination the information available can range from misleading to downright dangerous.
While grandparents might not be the best source for up-to-date scientific recommendations, they can offer the benefit of experience. Brooke Scelza, an anthropologist researching breastfeeding practices in Namibia, found that women from the Himba ethnic group isolated from modern cities called were more likely to breastfeed than women in the United States. But that’s not because they find it easier – instead, most benefit from the help of their mothers and other women in the early days.
Any trip through parenting message boards in the U.S. will reveal topic after topic with titles such as, “How to Say No to Visitors After Birth” or “No Grandparents Immediately After Birth; How to Tell Them.” The conventional wisdom that parents need time alone to bond with their newborn, rather than hosting guests, might set new mothers up for isolation, even as it aims to protect them from unhelpful visitors who leave behind more dishes than sage advice.
Of course, not all new mothers have warm relationships with their own parents. And the “I did it this way and you turned out just fine” line can certainly cause a new parent to question her own instincts. But while the internet may be able to offer the most up to date parenting advice, it lacks the warmth of in-person support from someone who cares about you.
Today’s parents face a host of worries that ours did not – from pesticides in food to BPA in drink cups to how to filter out an excess of information. Still, it can’t hurt to pick up the phone and say, “Mom, what did you do when I just wouldn’t stop crying?”
If nothing else, it might help to hear someone say, “I don’t remember. But you turned out just fine.”