I want to lace tight a pair of sturdy boots that will never let me lose my footing. I want to strap on a too-large pack, heavy with only life’s essentials and not the weight of my world. I want to walk headlong down a path, one with twists and turns, and yes, obstacles even, but one with markers so I’ll never lose my way.
I want to go wild.
After reading Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” about both her physical and metaphorical journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I can’t help but fantasize about doing the same. Imagine? Imagine leaving behind, if only for a week (a month? three?) the demands of this complicated 21st century lifestyle. The pressure of a 24-7 on-demand world would be lost in the woods.
By hiking into the natural world, I could trade the psychic weight of my overextended life with the physical weight of a pack. I would welcome a bruised back, the chafe of straps along my hips, real cuts and bruises, real blood, in exchange for the blanching of my soul. That kind of pain can’t compare to the psychic assault from underemployment and overtaxing family life, underwater mortgages and overwhelming bills, wars and incomprehensible crime that is our modern life.
One on one with nature, we might remember what it is to be truly alive and how to live true.
Some might call me selfish if I were to leave behind my world of responsibilities. Yet hiking into the woods, I wouldn’t be walking away from my life, but toward it. Going into the wild, experiencing physical pain and discomfort, true hunger, would no doubt break me down, but I suspect it wouldn’t break me. Learning to ration supplies, push myself another mile or five, listen to my soul while alone for days on the path would strengthen my will. I might even remember how to be kind to those I meet in passing, how to give and receive kindnesses when in need.
If each day I were reduced to the bare essentials of life – warmth and cold, food and water, light and darkness, exhaustion and resolve – I might just remember who I am and what I’m capable of. In that quiet place, I might be able to hear the sound of my own voice again.
I suspect I’m not alone in wanting this. In the weeks and months to come, I expect “Wild” will inspire others to go back to a simpler way, to rediscover the wild within.
I hope I’m one of them.
Among US 12-to-17-year-olds, the most avid users of videochat – such as on iChat, Skype, or “hangouts” in Google+ – are also the most avid social networkers, according to just-released data from the Pew Internet Project, indicating to me how integral video chat is becoming to socializing and keeping in touch with friends and family.
Pew looked into two other uses of online video too: video recording and uploading, such as 1) producing and sharing do-it-yourself music videos and clips of exploits in video games or vlogging (video blogging) on YouTube, and 2) live video streaming like what 16-year-old Texas singer Austin Mahone does on Ustream.tv (he has a YouTube channel too). The researchers found that:
- 37% of online teens videochat, girls (42%) more than boys (at 33%). Age doesn’t make a huge difference: 34% of online 12-to-13-year-olds use video chat and 39% of 14-to-17-year-olds do.
- At 27%, teens’ video recording and uploading has almost doubled since Pew’s last look at this in 2006, when 14% were doing so. And girls have nearly caught up with boys in this aspect of online video activity. In 2006 the numbers were 19% boys and 10% of girls; now it’s 28% of boys and 26% of girls. With this activity, age makes more of a difference – 30% of teens 14-17 record and upload video, compared to 21% of 12-to-13-year-olds. The researchers add that the numbers suggest cell phone use “does not relate to teens’ likelihood of recording or uploading videos” – 28% of teen cell phone owners share self-produced video while 25% of teens without cell phones do.
- Only 13% of teens stream live video, with little distinctions by age or gender (13% of boys and 12% of girls), but “social media users are more likely to stream video” than non-social networkers (14% compared to 5%, respectively), Pew says. And interestingly, “other choices that teens make about their online privacy do not relate to their likelihood of streaming video…. there is no statistically significant difference among teens with private, semi-private or public profiles.
As for social media use in general, Pew’s latest: 77% of all teens have cellphones (23% have smartphones) and 97% of those phone owners text; 40% of texting teens videochat compared with 27% of non-texters.
More than three-quarters, 77%, of all teens use social sites; 16% use Twitter. Comparing their use of video to non-socialnetworkers, Pew says “teens who use Facebook and Twitter are more likely to use video chat, with 41% of Facebook users chatting (compared with 25% of non-users) and 60% of Twitter users using video chat (compared with 33% of non-Twitter users).”
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at NetFamilyNews.
Hi Folks! As our annual "Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day" draws nigh (does “nigh” ever get used without the verb draw?), it's good to remember why it is so great for kids to get out and play, on their own, without a coach, program or parents to organize (or limit!) them.
The idea of the holiday is simple: On May 19 (Saturday), we take our kids, age 7 or 8 and up, to the local park at 10 a.m. That way, they meet up with other kids from the neighborhood. We wave goodbye and the kids are on their own to come up with something to do. Boredom works in their favor – eventually they start playing because not playing is so painfully dull.
By the time they’re through – it could be half an hour or half a day later – chances are they’ll want to do it again. And so Sunday becomes “Our kids are going to the park on their own” day, as do most days thereafter!
If you’ve got younger kids – great. Go to the park and witness what your kids will be able to do in only a few years. Meantime, you’re there on the bench, creating the kind of community that reassures the parents waving their older kids goodbye.
Spread the word!
The idea is not radical. It’s simply a way to “re-seed” the all-too-empty playgrounds and parks with children. There’s no reason kids can’t play on their own. Crime is down since when we parents were kids. Diabetes and obesity — the twin scourges of sitting inside — are up. What’s more, it is safer for kids to play than not to play, and this study (if you need to wave one around) says that letting kids play unsupervised is one of the best things a parent can do for a child:
Professor Roger Mackett, who led the study, said: “Allowing children to leave the house without an accompanying adult has significant benefits. The health benefits are clear, but without action the less tangible benefits of increased independence and self-reliance will be lost.That may be a very great loss with many implications.”
Fight the fear that has kept kids indoors or only in supervised programs. Go forth to Facebook and Twitter and the PTA to spread the word about Take Our Children to the Park… and Leave Them There Day! And let us know if you get some traction!
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Lenore Skenazy blogs at Free-Range Kids.
What’s the best place in the world to be a mother? Not the US, says Save the Children – not by a long shot.
In it’s annual pre-Mother’s Day index of the best and worst places across the globe to be a mother, the international children’s advocacy group puts Norway in the No. 1 spot, while the US sits at number 25 - down in between Belarus and the Czech Republic.
Maternal death rate, low preschool attendance and low political representation push the US behind many of its developed country peers, the organization says. To come up with its rankings list, the group also evaluated factors such as maternity leave policies, mortality among children younger than five and the ratio of estimated female to male earned income.
Mothers in the US face a 1 in 2,100 risk of maternal death – the highest in any industrialized nation – and children face an under-five mortality rate of 8 per 1,000 births. That’s around the same level as rates in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovakia, and Qatar.
Save the Children's “breastfeeding policy scorecard” also lists the US as “poor,” behind almost all other developed nations. This is in large part because the of the country’s short and unpaid maternity leave policy, the group reports. The US also has among the lowest percentage of moms exclusively breastfeeding at three months. (The group ties breastfeeding to significant health benefits for mother and child.)
“While the US has moved up in the rankings, ahead of last year’s 31st place, we still fall below most wealthy nations,” said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children, in a press release. “A woman in the US is more than seven times as likely to die of a pregnancy-related cause in her lifetime than a woman in Italy or Ireland. When it comes to the number of children enrolled in preschools or the political status of women, the United States also places in the bottom 10 countries of the developed world.”
But the US is still a far better spot for moms than the countries at the bottom end of Save The Children’s rankings.
“Conditions for mothers and their children in the bottom countries are grim,” the report says. “On average, 1 in 30 women will die from pregnancy-related causes. One child in 7 dies before his or her fifth birthday, and more than 1 in 3 suffers from malnutrition. Nearly half the population lacks access to safe water and fewer than 4 girls for every 5 boys are enrolled in primary school.”
In Niger, the bottom-ranked country, only 13 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women; a typical girl receives only four years of education and one in seven children die before his or her fifth birthday.
“That means that every mother in Niger is likely to suffer the loss of a child,” the report says.
Whether it's in the cozy twilight of a bedtime tuck-in or the supermarket checkout line, kIds will surprise parents with the "big" questions: Why am I here? Where did Grandma go when she died? Where does evil behavior come from? The longing to find meaning in life seems innate.
Finding the words to explain these things to an impressionable three-year-old, a skeptical adolescent, or even your adult self can be unsettling.
Modern Parenthood had a conversation about this with Krista Tippett a mother, journalist, and founder and host of public radio's "On Being," a weekly exploration of the "big" questions at the center of life. Her books include "Einstein's God – Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit" and "Speaking of Faith – Why Religion Matters and How to Talk about it."
The intersection of her profession (contemplating these issues and talking to the best thinkers about them) and her family life (she's the mother of an 18-year-old and a soon-to-be-14-year-old) made Modern Parenthood want to ask her these questions:
Do you think parents have a responsibility to cultivate some sort of meaning-making or spiritual sentiment in their children?
It’s kind of a new phenomenon in Western history right now that we have all these kids growing up with parents who have rejected their traditions of origin, in a way people weren’t free to do previously.
Children ask for this. Maybe they’re asking for structure and meaning-making. Or maybe they’re just asking the big theological questions which they do at very young ages: Where do we come from? Why do people die? Why do people treat each other that way?
So do we have an obligation to come up with something? I don’t know. But I think we have a responsibility to meet our children’s questions and longings along those lines. I think that – especially for people who have rejected the tradition in their background – that becomes an opportunity.
You grew up in Oklahoma with a grandfather who was a fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher, left that tradition when you went away from home, and found yourself unsettled without a spiritual anchor at midlife. How important is it for parents to be settled in their spirituality?
In the name of not giving your children what you rejected, you also give them nothing to reject, to work with, to question, and to challenge.
It’s true a lot of people these days do go through a period of agnosticism or searching or atheism. That’s what happened to me. But I circled back to questions of meaning, of morality, and – ultimately – faith as an adult.
The question becomes: What do you do with that? Do you take it seriously? A lot of people hit that place when they have children. They start asking themselves this question: What do I need to pass on to my children? And I think it does feel like a huge burden. But just seeing that as an adventure and as a moment of possibility for yourself can be really important.
Rabbi Sandy Sasso [an expert on spirituality and parenting interviewed by Tippett] says, don’t let the people who ruined your tradition for you define what that tradition is about. Often many of us – even if we have grown up uprooted or have uprooted ourselves – we have a mother tongue, we have a homeland. Start there; don’t let it be defined by the people who turned you away from it. See if there’s something there for you to work with as an adult bringing your questions now, your curiosities now.
Can you define “homeland”?
Your denomination. For me, my Southern Baptist upbringing was so rooted to a place, it was a whole universe which stopped making sense when I left.
But when I started realizing that what I was asking – what I initially thought were ethical questions which in fact were spiritual questions – I did realize that Christianity was my mother tongue; the Bible was my textbook.
I could have moved away from that. But I really needed to go back there and see, because I knew how to read that. And I did find that I was reading whole different things there than what had been taught to me in Sunday school. And that was really exciting.
I didn’t return to the Southern Baptist tradition, but I did go back to Christianity. And now I really identify more as Christian instead of a denomination.
Parents want their children to be virtuous. But you talk about virtues becoming charged and uncomfortable to discuss. Why?
A lot of the words around the classic virtues are either charged or just watered down – compassion, gratitude, love. Love is something you fall into, you fall out of. Compassion and gratitude have been on too many Hallmark cards. And words like "peace" and "justice" are politically charged. So for the virtues we want and need, the language itself doesn’t carry the water for us.
I think a lot about how to use other words and stories and narratives with the connotations virtue has when these things are meaningful.
And what about nurturing virtues in children?
I did an interview for Mother’s Day last year with the Jewish-Buddhist teacher, mother, and grandmother Sylvia Boorstein. And she really brought me back to the fact that what we nurture in our children is most of all what we demonstrate to them.
So I think a lot about that: What are we passing on? What are we supporting in them? And what are we modeling? And it’s uncomfortable that it comes down to that. But it really does.
What are examples of that discomfort?
When we think about how we nurture our children’s spiritual lives or impart them with virtues, we want guidance on what to teach them. And it’s really important that we actually have to cultivate these things in ourselves even as we are teaching them and cultivating them. It’s good to remember that.
It’s also kind of a relief, because when you think about how do I grow my children’s inner life, their spiritual life, it feels daunting. But if you realize that part of the work is growing your own – and that part of what you can take time and energy to do for the sake of your child is to be cultivating that in yourself – then it’s helpful.
Big virtues are very daunting. Compassion is huge. Forgiveness is huge. So one thing I’m really attentive to in my conversations with people are ways into those superstar virtues. Some ways are cultivating atmospheres; some are creating silence. In our 21st century lives and families, you actually have to make an effort to create silent spaces where there are no electronics on. In all of our spiritual traditions, silence is a very important element of self-awareness and of virtue and of deepening.
I was talking to Rabbi Sandy Sasso [an expert on spirituality and parenting], who points out that reading is an exercise that takes us out of our own imagination and introduces us to the lives and minds of different others.
So we can see some of these ordinary things that we want our children to do as also spiritually enriching; it’s not necessarily an extra set of activities.
It’s pausing – this is where it gets hard – in the morning when we’re all late and I’m yelling at everybody to get out the door and I’m in a panic. It’s knowing it really is possible to stop and take a breath and just be present – and say, “Here we are at the beginning of the day....” It’s knowing that that can create a whole different atmosphere.
Another thing I think a lot about is beauty, as in attention to beauty. Beauty almost is a moral value and something that is necessary for human beings that makes us more alive and is a way into virtue that I hear a lot. That’s something that we can show our children in all kinds of ways, both in our homes and outside our homes.
So that’s how I think we break these things down and see them as possibilities that are woven into the fabric of the everyday.
Is it important for parents to raise their children in a specific faith?
I think the depths of faith and religion are in the particularities. Our traditions have specific emphases. They have vocabularies; they have texts; they have rituals; they have communities. And children are very drawn to all of those.
So I don’t think you have to feel like by giving your children a particular experience you’re narrowing their field. You’re giving them tools to work with. They are going to ask their questions, they are going to challenge it, they – in this world, in this age – are going to be exposed to a whole bunch of other things, and you have no control over that. So to give children something substantive to work with is valuable – and it’s not to narrow them, it’s to give them some depth and some roots, and they can grow as they grow and go where they’ll go.
What tools – books or movies or methods – do you suggest to convey meaning-making to children?
Human beings are storytelling creatures and always have been. But we kind of lost our sense of that. In the 20th century we became very fact-based, very plan-based. Our children remind us that our traditions are full of stories to delight in – and it’s exciting to take our children’s cue on this, because they know how to work with them.
Something that may feel a little counterintuitive: Children know what to do with the hard stories and the dark side of life that is also there in our traditions – the complexity of it all.
In fact, they are experiencing that in the world, they are experiencing things that are happening in their families that are painful, or difficult – and, in fact, that’s what [the stories] are there for.
Also, respecting silence, respecting questions [are tools to use]. Children are big askers of questions, and our traditions grew out of these existential questions: Where do we come from? Where are we going? Is there a god? Why do people treat each other that way?
And being willing to be in those questions with our children – as maybe I think our parents weren’t, because they felt like they had to give us answers, whether they felt like they had the answer or not. I think it can be just as valuable, and maybe pretty exciting, if your child asks a question like this, for you to say “Boy, that’s a great question. What do you think? Here are some ideas I have.” To really share in that wonder, because that’s a big piece of religion too.
Do you have any “ah ha!” moments when this worked for you?
One thing that’s been really interesting to me is how interested my children were and remain in my grandfather who was the religious patriarch of our family. He was a Southern Baptist preacher. He was the one who laid down all the rules. And a lot of what he stood for is a lot of what I rejected for myself later on. Although I think the vitality of his faith is still very formative for me and inspirational.
He was a kind of a contradictory character because you would get the impression God was pretty mean – you just couldn’t do anything or have any fun. But my grandfather was this very funny loving person. And so I drew all this information about the nature of God, not just from what he said, but from how he was.
My children have always loved stories about him and there was this cathartic story when I was a child that I’ve told them about. He was kind of an evangelist and he used to pastor at little country churches just kind of itinerantly.
And this cathartic story is where I was in a shed, where he kept the lawnmower, and there was a snake coiled up in there. There was this epic battle between my grandfather with a hoe and the snake. My kids love stories like that. And if you think about it, there’s all these classic layers to it – all those images we take from the Bible about the serpent, and here’s the preacher taking one on; good versus evil; dark versus light; courage and comfort in the face of danger.
So even things that we’ve rejected but that are dramatic narratives – we may reject them, but they are still interesting and complex.
Children love to hear that stuff and they’ll do with it what they will. And we have to trust them.
My colleague KJ Dell’Antonia, editor of The New York Times parenting blog Motherlode, pointed out in a recent post that there are 940 Saturdays between the time your child is born and the time she turns 18. KJ’s calculation comes from Harley Rotbart, a parent, a pediatrician and author of a wise book called No Regrets Parenting.
The days of early parenthood are long and chaotic and exhausting. Sometimes those days lead into nights that are puzzling or downright scary. I still remember the times when Anna or Adam’s cries broke through the scrim of night or light sleep. Ken and I felt helpless as we asked each other the same question over and over: What do you think is wrong with her?
“I don’t know,” the other would say. “What do you think is wrong with her?”
There’s an old chestnut that says the very definition of insanity is repeatedly asking the same question, but expecting a different answer. The truth is there was no answer. We never found out why our babies cried. We never understood why Adam’s colic descended like the darkest cloud and then lifted just as suddenly five months – yes, five months – later.
As the mother of an almost 18- year-old who has an exact date for when she starts her first year of college, I’ve put aside Dr. Rotbart’s calculations. I simply pretend that time is still on my side.
But then the finite amount of time I have with my children took center stage last week when I heard my rabbi, Michelle Robinson, sermonize about the Omer and parenting. The Omer literally means to count and that’s what’s done during the 49-day period between Passover and Shavuot. The Omer originally staked out the time during which wheat was harvested and counted in preparation for a sacrifice at the Temple. Save for the Western Wall, the Temple is long gone. But Talmudic Judaism still observes the Omer by ticking off the days between the holidays.
Counting the Omer was not the only thing on Rabbi Robinson’s mind when she delivered her sermon. Like KJ, she too had just read “No Regrets Parenting.” As the mother of three children, she was deeply impressed with Rotbart’s approach to mindful parenting and his wisdom that although the days are long with young children, the years are short.
Robinson’s sermon then pointed me to my friend Aliza Kline’s recent blog post about Omer. Aliza is the founding executive director of Mayyim Hayyim and has been instrumental in bringing the ancient ritual of immersing in the mikveh into the 21st century. She and her family have been on an “extraordinary” sabbatical in Israel this past year, which is coming to an end next month. But instead of counting down the days until she leaves Israel, Aliza is counting up the days just as the Israelites counted up to the day they received the Torah. Aliza astutely writes:
"It’s an interesting idea to count up. Rather than thinking about all that we have to do before a deadline we can focus on all that we get to do once we’ve reached that momentous day. Counting also provides that helpful reminder to be mindful of each day, to be aware of time passing. To be 'present' regardless of whether the day or hour or minute brings joy or sorrow."
So between now and mid-July, when Anna turns 18, and then four weeks later when she sets foot for the first time on a college campus as a matriculated student, I need to count up. I hope that counting up will help me to distinguish that the milestones of Anna’s life are not the tombstones of my parenthood. I will try not to think of what I’m losing, but what I am gaining by sending my girl off to school.
First and foremost, Ken and I are giving our daughter one of life’s most vital resources – an education. As my mother used to say, no one can take your education away from you. My mother was all about independence for her daughters. She went back to school for a teaching degree when I was 5 and never looked back. A few years later, after she landed her first full-time job, she opened her own checking account and contributed significantly to her three children’s college tuitions.
Maybe this next phase of our family life will be as exciting for me as it will certainly be for Anna. After all, I won’t have to drive the 15-mile round trip to her school when she forgets her soccer cleats. I won’t have to look at the messiest room in town every day. But I know I’ll get weepy when I see the return of that sloppy wasteland because it means Anna’s in residence.
I envy KJ, Michelle and Aliza for the hundreds of Saturdays still ahead of them with their kids. As for me, I have 11 Saturdays until Anna turns 18 and 15 Saturdays until she leaves for college.
But who’s counting?
My friend Rachel is about to give birth to a baby, her first, here in Beijing. And while she’s been remarkably organized and calm about the whole process, she did have one East-meets-West moment that made me realize how differently things are done here.
Her ayi, the woman she hired to cook and clean and help her take care of the baby, wanted to know if she was going to honor the “moon month.” When she told her no, the ayi was horrified.
Moon month in the Chinese tradition is a period in which the mother and the baby are confined to the house. I mean, really, really confined. No going outside at all, no stairs, no open windows, no air conditioning in the summer, and – most unsettling of all to many women – no showers or baths. Women are mainly to stay in bed, and even when they breastfeed, are supposed to lie on their sides instead of holding the baby.
Traditionally, the mother-in-law is the person in charge of the moon month, cooking, cleaning, taking care of the baby, waiting on the mother. Special foods are provided that are supposed to bring the new mother strength, like eggs. Lots and lots of eggs. They’re supposed to drink warm or hot water, not cold, which is bad for the mother’s health, the Chinese believe.
Some theorize that the no-shower tradition came from a time when the situation of a new mother was more precarious. Taking a shower might mean using dirty water or getting a chill. With no running water in many houses not terribly long ago, the mother would have to go outside the safe confines of her home to bathe.
One part of the tradition, however, is rather appealing: This is supposed to be a period when a new mother is pampered while she learns how to care for her baby.
China in recent years has seen the entrepreneurial opportunities in the moon month, and businesses have sprung up to provide new mothers with a place to go to wait out the month. Beijing, for instance, has something called the Beijing New Mother Maternity Service Center, established in 1999, an improvement, the center says, on the old traditions. Instead of tiring out the mother-in-law, the center offers six meals a day (strength-building, of course), nurses dressed in pink (“elegant and cozy,” the center notes), lessons on diet and baby care, and lots of TLC for mother and baby. (I suspect that going to a maternity center might also be a way of avoiding the pesky inlaws hovering too much in a stuffy apartment for an entire month.)
Mothers who would prefer to stay at home (and China recently approved a 98-day paid maternity leave, up from 90 days), can hire special ayis who work 16-hour days and can make as much as $2,000 in a month, a fortune for poor rural women.
Many non-Chinese women giving birth in China tend to reject, understandably, the prohibitions. Canadian musician Ember Swift, who is married to a Chinese man and lives in Beijing, wrote recently in Beijing Kids magazine that her husband surprised her when he agreed that she should follow all the traditions of the moon month. “My modern, dreadlocked, musician partner is showing me his traditional, conservative side,” she wrote.
Later, after she had the baby, she wrote on her blog: “I’ve also found myself settling into the rhythm of a life in confinement, remembering what I need to do when she’s sleeping and how to pace my day, and I’ve even gotten in some exercise on the side…
“After about ten days, I was going a bit mad and so negotiated some stairwell walking. We live on the sixth and seventh floor of an old-style apartment building. There’s no elevator. I argued that I was still within the rules of the moon month if I walked the stairwell but didn’t ‘enter the wind’ (进风 jinfeng) by going outdoors. They relunctantly agreed (more to keep me from losing my mind and thus having to deal with me, I’m sure) and they make sure I bundle up excessively before my walks each day just in case I catch a cold. There are 84 steps and I can now do ten rounds of up and down. 840 going up, 840 going down. After one week, I’m feeling much better for it.”
For my friend Rachel, confinement, even with stair-walking, just isn’t in the cards. She should tell her ayi, said one friend, that she is honoring her own traditions, Western ones.
I’ll be interested in seeing whether she has the nerve to drink a tall glass of cold water on a stifling June day right in front of her ayi.
One of the bedrock principles of my happiness project is that I can’t change anyone but myself. It’s so easy to imagine that I’d be happier if only other people would behave properly, but I can’t assign resolutions to anyone but myself.
I firmly believe this, yet I did decide to try something that runs completely contrary to this very sound Gretchen-only rule. I proposed a family resolution to give warm greetings and farewells.
When our two daughters were little, they’d greet me and my husband with wild enthusiasm whenever we walked in the door, and often cried miserably when we left. Nowadays, they sometimes barely looked up from their own games or homework or books when we walked in or out. It was a relief, in a way, but also a little sad. And too often, my husband and I didn’t give warm greetings or farewells, either.
I love my resolution to hug more, kiss more, touch more. It takes no extra time, energy, or money, and it makes a big difference in the atmosphere of my apartment. To build on that resolution, I wanted family members to feel acknowledged and welcomed, every time they walked through the door.
Over Sunday pancakes, I posed a question: “If you could make a resolution for everyone in the family, what would it be?”
My husband answered without hesitation. “I do whatever I want, while the rest of the family cleans up the apartment and runs errands.”
“That’s a thought,” I said drily. “Next?”
My older daughter said, “We’d have different things for breakfast during the week, like eggs, instead of just cereal or peanut butter on toast.”
“We could do that,” I said. “I didn’t know you wanted anything else.” Then I turned to my younger daughter. “Do you have a suggestion?”
“People would always give me a big hug and a big kiss every time they saw me. And I would go to State News to buy a toy whenever I want.”
“Well, I want to propose something,” I said. “It’s a lot like the first part of that suggestion. I want us to have the rule that when any one of us comes home, or is leaving, we all have to pay attention to that person for a minute. Let’s give warm greetings and farewells.”
“Why?” asked my daughter.
“Let’s show more affection and attention for each other. I know that I’m bad about this, myself. It’s hard to be interrupted when you’re in the middle of something, but this is important.”
Everyone agreed good-naturedly with the aim of the resolution to give warm greetings and farewells — but would we all remember to do it, without nagging? I didn’t want a resolution meant to boost our feelings of affection to turn into a source of conflict.
Somewhat to my surprise, we all quickly began to follow this resolution (most of the time). Giving warm greetings and farewell feels like a natural thing to do, and the more we do it, the more it becomes a habit. As a consequence, each day, several times, we have moments of real connection among all members of our family. For instance, instead of letting my older daughter yell, “I’m leaving” before she disappears out the door to go to school, I call, “Wait, wait,” and we all hurry to give her a real hug and a real good-bye.
A small thing, very small — nevertheless, it makes a real difference. As Benjamin Franklin pointed out, “Human Felicity is produc’d not so much by great Pieces of good Fortune that seldom happen, as by little Advantages that occur every Day.”
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Gretchen Rubin blogs at The Happiness Project.
A 6-year-old boy was suspended from his suburban Denver school last week for alleged sexual harassment. According to school officials, the child (child, folks) recited some popular song lyrics to a girl, singing “I’m sexy and I know it.”
(The group that sings the song, LMFAO, is an acronym for another suspend-able phrase.)
Now the boy’s mom has publicly declared that she is going to clear her son’s name, and says the little guy was simply singing in the lunch line. Officials at the Sable Elementary School in Aurora, Colo. have also dug in (although there apparently is a meeting scheduled for today), saying they have a requirement to keep the school safe, undisrupted and sexual harassment free.
There is so much wrong here I don’t even know where to start.
Sexual harassment in educational settings is clearly a big problem. According to an American Association of University of Women study from 2001, peers perpetrate 79 percent of the sexual harassment in schools.
But as schools have responded with stronger anti-harassment policies and “zero tolerance” approaches, little kids are not only being held to standards way beyond their developmental levels, but are being blamed for a culture that sexualizes childhood, experts say.
In their book “So Sexy So Soon,” professors and child development experts Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne write of a five-year-old boy named Jason who was almost suspended for telling a female classmate that he wanted to “have sex” with her. When the school psychologist met with Jason, however, and questioned him about what he was trying to say to his classmate, he burst into tears. He just meant that he “liked” her, he sobbed.
“This was the first time that anyone had bothered to ask Jason what he meant by what he said, a potentially damaging error on the part of the adults,” Ms. Levin and Ms. Kilbourne wrote. “They were all using an adult lens for interpreting what he said about sex, not a child’s lens. Often when adults think “sex,” children have something very different on their minds.”
To blame young children for using sexual terms “inappropriately” is hugely unfair, they and others say.
Children are bombarded with sexualized messages every day. Through everything from television shows to clothing commercials to the magazines at a grocery store checkout counter, kids are taught that “sexy” is good and desirable – well before they have any grown-up sense of what “sexy” actually means.
The American Psychological Association’s 2010 task force report on the sexualization of girls tried to put numbers to some of this. It reported that some content analyses indicate that 44 to 81 percent of music videos contain sexual imagery, and that 80 percent of women in magazine advertisement samples were posed in sexually exploitative positions. Meanwhile, dolls made for children as young as 4 years old are sold in fishnet stockings and bikinis, while 15 percent of songs popular with teens have not just sexual but sexually degrading lyrics.
So ... it’s not really that much of a surprise that a little kid might be humming a tune that we think is problematic, right? Is suspension not a little bit of blaming the victim? Because here’s another problem with schools’ sexual harassment policies when applied to the single digit set:
By assuming – and acting as though – young children have an adult understanding of sex, we’re contributing to their sexualization. A six-year-old should not, in fact, have the same concept of “I’m sexy and I know it” as does a teacher. By insisting that a child fully comprehend the meaning of those words, we’re adding to the problem. We should start trying to fix it elsewhere.
Growing up, we always celebrated Mother’s Day with breakfast in bed. Dressed in our pajamas, my sisters and I would burst into our parent’s room and proudly shower our Mom with brightly-colored cards and a tray of toast, coffee, and fresh flowers.
It’s a familiar tradition across the country, and now it’s one in my own house. As the mother of two little girls, I am the one being showered on Mother’s Day. This year, however, there won’t be much time for me, or my kids, to enjoy it.
Shortly after breakfast I’ll finish packing, head for the airport and board a plane to Africa.
The trip marks my second to Liberia for a documentary I’m producing on a ground-breaking mental health program there. When I first booked my flight I entered every combination of dates in an effort to avoid leaving on Mother’s Day. No matter which search engine I chose, the results were the same. Unless I added 24 more hours to my travel time, I had to fly on May 12.
The more I searched, the more frantic I became. Leaving two little kids for a far-flung corner of the world is hard enough, but on Mother’s Day? Suddenly, the specter of Mom guilt had me in its clutches. What message will this send to my girls? Will they feel neglected? Will they one day sit across from a therapist and cry about the time I left them on Mother’s Day? What kind of Mother am I?
That same day, I called on a friend for support. “You are not neglecting your kids,” she said. “You are giving them an invaluable gift.”
When reason prevails, I understand this. In my career as a journalist I’ve often traveled far in the name of an important story. And as my older daughter grows up, she is beginning to understand. She tells her friends I am going to Africa, and shares her knowledge of what it’s like to be a child there. When she talks about my work, I feel an overwhelming sense of pride.
Then, in what feels like an instant, the parenting guilt kicks in and defeats it. The questions about what might happen in my absence nag at me, and with a Mother’s Day departure they loom larger. Oftentimes they are trivial: What if they forget to bring show-n-tell? Will the babysitter remember to put the little one to bed with two books (no stuffed animals)?
As parents we’re so often guided by the idea that proximity to our children equals protection. The less we leave them, the better off they are. To a certain degree, of course, this is true. But it’s also true that to build their independence and confidence, we simply have to let go.
So this Mother’s Day, I am letting go. Yes, I am leaving my children on the very day most of my friends and family will be celebrating with their kids in the comfort of home.
But if by definition Mother’s Day is about honoring not only our role as parents but also our role in society, then I believe I am giving my girls a gift. It’s the message that they, too, can travel far and wide, pursue their work with passion and confidently step out of their comfort zone for causes they believe in. And if they do forget their show-n-tell in my absence, life will go on.
The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs.