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Tuesday, January 28th, 2014
Today’s the big day for writer genius Jennifer Senior
. Her big release, All Joy and No Fun
hits shelves. She tackles some big parenting ideas–issues that we all have but never speak of. For example, why does happiness decline so much once we have children according to vast amounts of scientific research? What’s up with over-scheduling our kids when all of that running around makes us miserable?
Her article in New York Magazine
, where she is on staff, first stirred up the topic. The book goes into detail after fascinating detail about how our kids change our lives completely. She studies real families all across America to explains why this phenomenon happens and tells us what to do about it.
The point of this tome seems to call to parents, “Hey you, it’s hard. And you are not alone!” Oh boy, just read the part about teenagers. Hint: Adolescence is harder for parents than it is for kids.
I asked Jennifer exactly what her goals are with this book and which topics she thinks push the most buttons. Get a great feel for All Joy and No Fun by reading the Q&A below.
KK: How did you get the idea to write about such a controversial topic?
JS: Okay. This is the part where I quite possibly reveal myself to be completely delusional when I say: I didn’t – and still don’t! – consider this topic controversial. I mean, what’s controversial about examining the ways that kids affect their parents? All of us are profoundly influenced by our kids. It’d be nuts to think that our kids are born and we remain the same.
As for how I got here: In 2010, I wrote a story for New York Magazine that tried to figure out why so many studies – across such a wide variety of academic disciplines – said that children don’t improve their parents’ happiness. I read about this finding in 2006, before I had a kid, and it struck me as bonkers, because all I wanted at the time was a kid. After I had said kid, my understanding became more nuanced, but this research still struck me as both totally right and dead wrong. I wanted to delve deeper into it, and I did. I suppose the magazine story was characterized as “controversial” at the time, but again, I never saw it that way, and I think those who made it to the end of my story didn’t either. (I mean, what parent doesn’t find the experience a mixed bag? Especially now, when there are no norms about anything?) But there was only so much one could say about that subject. What really interested me, in the end, was the broader question of how children shape their parents lives. I was, and remain, genuinely shocked that there aren’t several zillion books devoted to this topic.
KK: How do you think your research can help readers–moms of young kids in particular?
JS: What I’m really hoping is that my research will help people say: Whoa, so I’m not alone? It’s a sense of identification, really, that I’m hoping to provide.There’s no normed knowledge out there about our parenting experience. We’re all improvising, all doing it in our separate silos, all wondering whether our feelings are typical, without realizing that there’s actually tons of research out there that tells us what we’re feeling and experiencing is typical—the research is just scattered in all sorts of different places. So, for instance, in my chapter about how children affect your marriage, I’m really hoping that some woman will be sitting in bed somewhere, reading the book, and she’ll suddenly elbow her husband: You see! I told you there was a reason I was feeling this way! I don’t care that you do the yard work and shovel the driveway! I’d much rather you took the kids off my hands for a couple of hours. It says right here that most American women find child care more stressful than the chores you do.
KK: What is the main message you’d like to convey about modern parenting?
JS: That it’s precisely that: Modern. People think they’re supposed to know what they’re doing, when in fact “parenting,” as we know it, is only 70 or so years old. Before World War II, kids worked on behalf of the family’s welfare. Now, kids don’t work, and parents work twice as hard to support them. They treat their children a future investments. But the future, by definition, is unknowable, which means we are all working entirely without a script. Normlessness creates a lot of tension. We’re not sure what we’re raising our kids for, and we’re certainly not sure how to negotiate this new task within the setting of a modern marriage, with both parents working, which is now the norm.
KK: Have you made any personal parenting changes since writing and researching All Joy and No Fun? Which one(s)?
JS: Somewhere along the way in my research, I came across a piece of data I never used in my book but saw played out repeatedly in kitchens across the United States. It’s this: Parents who are good at self-regulation may not themselves be happier, but their children are happier. So I do try, mightily, to keep my temper at bay, even though I often fail.
And there’s one bit of research that is in this book that I seriously take to heart. It says that if parents hash out their divisions of labor before their first child is born — not just in broad terms, but with hyper-specificity —there’s much less conflict between them. Now, my husband and I weren’t organized enough to do that before our son was born. But I’ve discovered that I can still use this technique. Specifically: If the weekend is ahead of us, and I know I have three tasks looming — things I must must must do — I now warn my husband ahead of time and tell him what I need. And vice versa. We negotiate in advance who needs what time to do whatever. And you’d be amazed how much tension that eliminates. Before coming across that research, I had a much more passive approach: The weekend would come along, I’d tell him there was something I needed to accomplish, and he’d get very tense, like I’d sprung it on him. Now, he’s really relaxed about stepping in, because he’s been forewarned. And vice versa.
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KK: Do you have any advice for moms who are struggling with the issues you raise such as constant guilt and all of this concerted cultivation?
JS: Yes! Don’t go bananas. Give yourselves a break, and give your kids a break. n terms of guilt: Remember, national time-use surveys say you spend more time with your children than your mothers spent with you (or women did in the 1960s, for that matter, when most weren’t in the workforce). And in terms of anxieties about concerted cultivation: We may have all sorts of notions about what will put our children in good future standing, but I’d like to point out: When I was in high school, it was considered essential that we all learn Japanese. That didn’t turn out to be the case. One can’t predict the future. We have no idea what our kids’ jobs will look like. Their jobs probably haven’t even been invented yet. Can you imagine Larry Page and Sergey Brin as children, looking at their parents and saying, “One day, I’m going to make all the information in the world searchable. And I will call my company Google.” Their parents would have rolled their eyes.
All Joy and No Fun, happiness, Jennifer Senior, kids, New York Magazine, over-scheduled, overscheduled, unhappy parents | Categories:
Best Sellers, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Popular Books, Q&A With Authors
Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
As I stated in the January issue of Parents Magazine, essay compilations aren’t usually my thing, but I absolutely could not put The Good Mother Myth down. Talented mommy bloggers and writers such as Amber Dusik, Lisa Duggan and Jessica Valenti revisit the familiar topic of Supermom—obviously focusing on the fact that she doesn’t exist. But each contributor brings a fresh look at who we really are—and aren’t—as caregivers. Whatever your subject–twins, religion, full-time work, SAHM, adoption and more–you’ll find something that really resonates with you in this great book.
The one that changed my life is Soraya Chemaly‘s. She reminds us that volunteering devalues our skills and makes a great case for just saying no more often (or all of the time). Her piece is so powerful that Time excerpted it today in a post called School Volunteering and Parental Pressure: One Mom’s Unapologetic No.
“However, a 2013 Bureau of Labor Statistics study revealed that, regardless of age, education or race, women volunteer more than their male demographic peers. (Volunteer rates for women and men are 23.2 and 29.5 percent respectively.) Schools benefit hugely from the unpaid labor of mothers – most of whom, today, don’t have the luxury of not needing jobs. The pressure to donate unpaid labor at schools is inextricably entwined with ideas about mothering and work. Every time volunteer cultures are gender imbalanced it is almost certainly a symptom of women’s work being taken for granted, invisible and unpaid.”
How many times have you volunteered and really wish you hadn’t? Check out Soraya’s full essay in the book, and you will never feel guilty for turning down those volunteer “opportunities” again. While I am glad I had the experience of coordinating a huge after-school enrichment program for my kids’ public elementary, I know never to do that to myself again. It’s great to chip in when I can, but I will weigh the value of my time and energy more carefully in the future. And best of all, I’ll release all of that useless guilt.
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Amber Dusik, feminism, Lisa Duggan, say no, school volunteer, Soraya Chemaly, The Good Mother Myth, volunteerism | Categories:
Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Popular Books
Friday, January 17th, 2014
If you’re like me, you’re always reading the latest research on how to be a better parent. How much should my little kids study? How many sports and activities should they do? Do they really need that organic milk?
Like a breath of fresh air, Tom Rath, bestselling author, scientist and dad, says there is an easy way for kids–and their parents–to improve their lives and their health. All we need to do is Eat Move Sleep, which is the title of his new book. Really. This is something we all can do. (Check out Parents’ advice on the top sleep mistakes parents make.)
“What I found,” says Rath, “is that the majority of your risk in life lies in the choices you make every day. What you eat, how often you move throughout the day, and the quality of your sleep is far more important than your genes or family history.” He backs up all of his findings with solid research, just like he did in his previous work, How Full is Your Bucket? For example, did you know that elite performers–musicians, athletes, chess players and actors–sleep 8.6 hours per day on average? That’s about one our more than most Americans. His findings on food quality and activity are awesome, too.
Here are his 3 Easy Tips to For Families to Get Healthier and Feel Better Now. These pertain to your kids and you!
1. Eat, move, sleep
Instead of focusing all of your energy on a popular new diet or exercise regimen, you are more likely to improve your health if you work on eating right, moving more and sleeping better in parallel. For example, a good night of sleep leads to better food choices and more activity the following day. Then high quality food and activity make it easier to sleep the next night. Each of these elements builds on the other to create upward spirals. When you do these three things in parallel, you have more energy for your kids as a result.
2. Sleep Over Everything Else
Make sleep a family value. Instead of allowing sleep to be the first expense that gets cut from your daily budget, consider each additional hour of sleep as an investment in your family’s health and well-being. Instead of “sending your kids to bed” when they act up – help them to see how sleep is an essential ingredient of a good day. Create bedtime rituals for the entire family that minimize bright light, televisions, computers, tablets, phones and other distractions in the hour before bed. Turn the thermostat down a few degrees at night to make it easier for everyone to stay asleep. Then try to maintain consistent bedtimes and wake-up times, which should enable your children to thrive at school.
3. Move–You Probably Already Are!
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Make all of your activity count. Most parents move around more than they realize. The good news is that being active throughout the day is more important than getting vigorous exercise five or six times a week. But in order for this activity to have the most benefit for your mind and body, you need to know how much you are moving throughout the day. Find some way to track your activity, such as an app, pedometer, Fitbit, Jawbone or any other device that will tell you how far you are walking in a given day. Aim for at least 10,000 steps per day or roughly 5 miles. (Rath has been known to do work at his computer while pedaling away on his FitDesk.)
Thursday, January 16th, 2014
Are you ready for your baby to become a teenager? Most parents are not because, if I remember correctly, teens are a PITA. But bestselling author Dan Siegel, M.D., says those adolescent years do not have to be so dramatic. In his popular new book, Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, he explains that what’s inside teens’ heads are normal, scientifically-proven developments. Once we understand how their thoughts work–and why–we parents can lead them much more easily and sleep better at night.
Here’s what Dan had to say about the highlights in his book:
KK: What is the greatest myth around the teenage brain?
DS: The greatest myth is that adolescence is an “immature period of life,” one “we need to just get through and survive.” The truth is that it is an important and necessary transformative period that can allow us to thrive–not just in adolescence, but in adulthood as well. The scientific truth is that the “essence” of adolescence is something we can learn to cultivate in our lives. This “essence” is the crucial foundation for living a full life in adulthood as well. This “essence” = emotional spark (ES), social engagement (SE), Novelty-seeking (N), and creative exploration (CE). These things, which are all critical points of development, are vital to living well during adolescence and to keeping your brain young as an adult.
KK: People don’t often think of brain health daily. How important is brain health to a great life?
DS: Our brains shape how we feel, how we think, how our body functions and how we interact with others. When we learn the key to keeping our brains healthy with daily activities, we not only strengthen our mind, feel better and engage with others in more rewarding ways, we actually make our body healthier. How? By strengthening the brain, we help fight off chronic disease, repair the important caps of our chromosomes, and even improve our immune function. These are all skills that I try to teach both adolescents–and adults—in Brainstorm.
KK: So what can people do to keep their brains healthy and active?
DS: Science shows that there are at least seven fundamental daily activities that have been proven to keep the mind strong, the brain healthy, the body working well and our relationships thriving. These practices include having time each day to move the body, to be out in nature and connect with other people, to focus on one thing at a time, to relax and unwind, to sleep well, to be spontaneous and playful, and to take “time-in” to focus on your inner experiences of Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts. That’s how you can “SIFT” your mind each day to keep your brain healthy.
KK: What are 5 of your favorite facts about the brain?
DS: There are so many, but here are my five favorites:
1. Your brain continues to grow across the lifespan.
2.How you focus your mind changes the function and the structure of your brain.
3. The brain is the social organ of the body–and relationships shape and are shaped by the brain
4. The brain’s remodeling in adolescence leads to a more integrated and highly functional brain–remodeling is necessary and can be cultivated by both adolescents and adults.
5. You can choose to keep your brain strong and healthy. We can learn these important skills in adolescence and then hold on to the Essence of Adolescence throughout our adulthood to keep our brains vital.
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adolescence, adolescents, Brainstorm, Dan Siegal, difficult teen years, teenage brain, teenagers | Categories:
Best Sellers, Mom Must Read, Must Read, Parenting Advice, Q&A With Authors
Monday, January 13th, 2014
Is it possible for a mom to go vegetarian without taking her chicken nugget- and bologna-eating kids along for the ride? Author Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN, believes this feat can be accomplished. She is a New York-based nutrition writer, educator, counselor and author of the brand new book The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian. The book is geared to teens, but Rachel has advice for all ages.
As a part-time vegetarian–I’d be full-time if the whole family just would get on board and pepperoni would stop existing–I find Rachel’s advice super helpful. Check out her advice below including her list 6 Ways to Go Vegetarian Right Now.
“Whether it’s for health reasons, environmentalism or changing tastebuds, you may be among the roughly 30 percent of adults say they’d like to eat less meat in the future. But if you’re a mom, you’re already juggling a long list of dietary wants, needs and quirks as you try to get dinner on the table—and it may feel like you have a choice between your food preferences and your sanity.
As a registered dietitian nutritionist who has worked with lots of families with differing tastes, a longtime vegetarian who totally gets the draw of going meatless and a busy mom who is resistant to anything that may make my life a little more complicated, I say: You can most definitely eat the way you want without losing your mind (or becoming a short order cook).
6 Ways to Go Vegetarian Right Now
1. Be a Share-er
Chances are, if you say, “Look, kids, Tofu Surprise!,” you will hear groans from your family. Instead, introduce your children to new vegetarian foods like black bean burgers or grilled tempeh by putting them on your plate (try this at a restaurant or a friend’s house to minimize your workload in the kitchen). Don’t be surprised when your curious kiddos want a sample—and actually like a food they otherwise may have rejected.
2. Do Meatless Monday
This public health campaign aims to get people to begin each week with a meat-free day is a favorite among celebrities. Chef Mario Batali has jumped on board, as have Jessica Simpson and Oprah. Many schools are now participating in the campaign as well. Visit www.meatlessmonday.com for great recipes and information on the benefits of being a part-time vegetarian and have a discussion with your kids to help them get excited about joining in. Once you find meatless recipes your kids love, they won’t blink if you add them to the dinnertime rotation later in the week.
3. Go Gradually
Becoming a vegetarian doesn’t have to be an overnight decision. It takes many veg-hopefuls years to find the diet that best fits them. For moms, it may make sense to ease into vegetarianism by giving up just red meat at first. Kids (and spouses!) may feel rejected if mom says she’s no longer eating the same foods as them—doing it little by little helps maintain some sense of normalcy around the dinner table and gives everyone the opportunity to grow comfortable with your change.
4. Talk, Talk, Talk
Make sure your family knows the reasons for your decision, whatever they are—and that you becoming a vegetarian does not mean you expect them to do the same. Reassure your children that their food choices are theirs to make and give them the same respect that you hope for them to give you. The more they understand, they less they’ll feel threatened. And while we’re on the topic of communication—be sure your kids are aware that you are being careful to replace meat with other nutritious foods (like beans, for instance). Parents set the stage for children to have a healthy relationship with food, and it is crucial that your kids see and hear you taking this decision seriously.
5. Make Malleable Meals
I encourage the “blended families” I work with (you know, omnivores and vegetarians) to favor meals where they can “pop out the protein” and add in a new one to minimize the extra work for the chef. It’s hard to take the meat out of, say, meatloaf. Instead, make your family something like a tofu/chicken vegetable stir-fry with rice. While the veggies and rice are cooking, stir-fry some tofu for you. Set it aside, and then use the same pan to stir-fry chicken for everyone else. Top the veggies with each family member’s protein of choice, and everyone gets to share (virtually) the same meal.
6. Have Some Mom Go-Tos
There may be days when your family simply will not do without burgers or chicken cutlets. Stock your kitchen with ingredients for super simple yet delicious vegetarian meals like black bean burritos (shopping list: tortillas, black beans, cheese, salsa, avocado) that you can throw together in minutes. Because there are few things sadder than spending an hour cooking and eating cereal for dinner.”
Are you a vegetarian with a meat-eating family? How do you keep the peace?
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