Becoming Mother

A book and a blog for first-time mothers

Tag: parents

Kids Belong with their Parents, a.k.a. Why Is This Confusing?

I think I was pushed over the edge with this latest hullabaloo when Jeff Sessions and Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited the Bible in their rationale for the policy change.

EXCUSE ME?

You’re going to bring the Bible into this?

Oh.

No, you don’t.

You don’t get to tell me what’s in the Bible. Lucky for you, I was a young prodigy at memorizing paragraphs of the Bible.

Don’t talk to me about the “rule of law.”

To be Christian is to recognize the balance of Law and Grace.

But above all, to be Christian is about Love.

As any former Bible memorizing prodigy will tell you:

“Love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 3:10)

Where are we?

Is this the United States?

Bring on midterm elections.

I’m ready.

Pieces of Parenthood # 3: “The Most Fun Thing to Play On” a.k.a. “The Most Dangerous Time of Day”

A lot happens in the last twenty minutes before bedtime.

 

Why My Kids Will Be Getting Jitterbugs Instead of Smartphones

So I’m wearing braces. In my 30s. (I’m cool like that.)

And every few months, I get to sit in a waiting room with a dozen or so middle schoolers and their parents. When it’s my turn, I am called and then seated in one of the twenty dentist chairs that pepper a large room where the orthodontist flits back and forth among the pubescent patients while dental hygienists perform most of the routine parts of the exams.

I tell you this because, in the past two years, I can count on one hand the number of middle schoolers in either of those rooms who

1) didn’t bring or weren’t using their smartphone and

2) weren’t using the installed handheld gaming console that was attached to each dentist chair. (Not kidding.)

Have I already become (at age 35) that miserly curmudgeon who shakes her fist at the younger generation?

Part of me wants to believe that this new shift in technology usage is nothing special. It’s just a new form of communication.

It’s like my generation’s America On-Line. (Remember that?)

Right?

Students and technology

***

A few weeks ago, my sister shared Jean Twenge’s article in the Atlantic, titled “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?

Par for the Atlantic’s course, it was fantastic and I strongly encourage you to read it.

Among the most surprising trends that Twenge reports are:

  • Rocketing depression since 2012  (especially for girls)
  • Rocketing teenage suicide since 2012 (especially for boys)
  • Increase in feelings of loneliness

But also…

  • Decreased individualism among today’s middle schoolers
  • Decline in teenage dating, sexual activity, and pregnancy
  • Decline in teenage drivers and teenage employment
  • Decline in teenagers face-to-face hanging out with friends

What happened in 2012?

The proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone rose above 50%.

Loneliness chart

One of the most surprising charts from Jean Twenge’s Atlantic article: (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/09/has-the-smartphone-destroyed-a-generation/534198/)

Apparently, teenagers today have more of an in-person relationship with their smartphones than they do with their family (not surprising) or their actual friends. And we’re not just talking about suburban, middle-class teens. This wave of technology is crashing upon both genders, all races, and all socioeconomic levels.

Then, I listened to an episode of On Point called, “How Smartphones are Draining our Brainpower.” The commentators reported on a recent study done at the University of Texas at Austin.

People who have their smartphones in another room did better on cognitive tasks than people who had their smartphones in their pockets or on their desks. Even if the phone was on silent.

I believe it.

I started teaching in 2006 and I’ve watched the wave of smartphones come crashing into the classroom. In 2011, 90% of my international students had smartphones. I started collecting them at the beginning of class because whenever my students didn’t understand a certain word that I said (which was frequently), they pulled out their smartphones to look it up. But then, they were lost when their attention turned back to me.

And it has gotten worse.

Last year, I had a student from Jordan who was so addicted to his smartphone that he didn’t realize when he was checking it. I once jokingly bet him $10 that he couldn’t refrain from checking his phone for 50 minutes. He said he could. He even put it on the front table, a full twenty feet from his chair, as a means to help him not check it. Fifteen minutes later, students were working in small groups and I was walking around and listening to students. Then, I saw him. He was up at the front of the room getting a tissue, and his hand was already on his phone, checking. When I called his name, he looked stunned for a moment before he said, “No! No! I wasn’t thinking! Wait!”

That’s a funny story. But some stories are pretty scary.

One of the callers in this episode of On Point recalled that she recently tried to collect a smartphone from a student so he could take a test and he broke her door handle in protest.

To teenagers today, the smartphone has become a literal limb of their body and violating that privacy feels akin to abuse.

That’s what makes me assert that this wave of technological is far different from the changes that we’ve seen over the last thirty years.

With previous technological change, that technology didn’t follow you around.

It didn’t create an additional reality where you curate your life for all to see.

It didn’t present you a neverending ribbon of beautiful images from other peoples’ lives.

It didn’t require you to interact with it so you wouldn’t lose a line of communication.

You didn’t sleep with it under your pillow.

It was just there. And you walked away from it. Frequently.

***

This whole topic makes me worried.

Like, seriously concerned.

What are parents supposed to do?

There’s the argument, What are you gonna do? Just let your kid be the only one who doesn’t have a smartphone?

Maybe.

I’m not opposed to the idea.

Which brings me to the title of this post. I actually kind of love the idea of buying our kids something akin to today’s Jitterbug when it comes time for them to have a phone. If the point of a phone is to contact your child when they’re out and about, then problem solved.

They can be those adorably out-of-date teenagers just like their parents were, in their Jordache jeans and Ponies sneakers (What? You didn’t have those? Your loss.)

jitterburg

But I really don’t know.

I believe in teenagers being given more responsibility, especially in terms of controlling themselves, monitoring their own behavior, and dealing with the consequences of their mistakes…

But hormones.

And sexting.

(Apparently, that’s what teenagers are doing instead of having sex with one another.)

And, hey, sexting is actually something that teenagers are being arrested for.

Being classified as a “child pornographer” isn’t really a mistake that I want my kids to live with for the remainder of their lives.

***

I try to be a good example to my daughter about my phone use. I don’t do Twitter. I still can’t understand Pinterest (Question: How do I get my pin to show up on other people’s feeds? Answer: Algorithms and magic.) Instagram befuddles me (You mean I can only upload pictures that are on my phone? That’s stupid.) And Facebook is such a time-sink that I took it off my phone completely.

Basically, I use my smartphone for my calendar, my FitBit app (3 miles today!), music/NPR, and reading my kids’ daily daycare reports (Did the baby poop today? When was his last bottle?). Sometimes I send a text and answer a phone call (98% of the time, it’s my husband. The other 2% is spam.) And I’m miffed that I have to use my phone now to log into the university network where I work.

This is how I get things done.

Of course, no one really witnesses me getting things done because I’m not constantly sharing pictures of me getting things done, but you know.

Sacrifices.

***

I realize that this post will probably hit a nerve with some parents. iPhones, iPads, Leap Pads, video games, DVD players, and on and on and on. Even if you don’t buy them for your kids, they’ll use them in school. Or maybe they’ll use them at their orthodontist appointments. (Ha!) It’s guaranteed. You really can’t get around it anymore.

Guys, really, I get it.

Raising kids is neverending, tiring work. There are great uses of handheld electronics. There are educational games! Kids can learn to read or do math! They’re quiet and they hold still while they’re working on them! It’s almost like life before kids!

I’m not going to say media and electronics are the devil.

I let my daughter watch TV. A lot of TV actually.

But the TV doesn’t follow her around.

She can’t turn to the TV when we’re at restaurants or church or a store (usually) or in the library. She can’t manipulate the TV to do whatever she wants and then be rewarded for it. There’s no TV in her room.

And when it goes off, ain’t no amount of crying and begging that will turn it on again.

And she knows it.

That’s what I worry about with smartphones–that they’ve become the new pacifier, the modern, hip version of the cigarette. The new acceptable addiction that goes hand in hand with excessive caffeine consumption.

I worry because the cocktail of smartphones and social media are not only highly addictive, but they actually shape how we interact with and understand the world–and our roles in it.

They can make us believe that no “normal” person deals with depression or has abortions or fights with their spouse or flips off an asshole in traffic while their kids are in the car or can’t stand the hours of 3-6 on Sunday when you’re just trying to get life ready for the week and the baby just, won’t, nap…

We should care about breaking the virtual bubble and grounding our kids in the hard truths of pain and disappointment and the resiliency that comes from moving through and overcoming.

We should care about the fact that we simply don’t know the long-term consequences of letting our kids turn to smartphones to solve their problems and keep them from being bored.

Their brains are being wired and rewired right now.

Although the brain’s plasticity is still pretty limber until later in adulthood, most of its wiring is completed in childhood and adolescence. And once that wiring is complete, it’s extremely hard to rewire it. Ask any language teacher. Ask any counselor who has worked with abused children.

What happens in their formative years is likely to stay with them forever.

They are learning how to feel boredom and cope with stress and make friends and express gratitude and empathy and JOY.

Will they be able to do those basic human interactions without emojis?

Again, I’m not judging you for letting your child use handheld devices. Someday, I might be in the same boat. Right now, my daughter still hands my phone to me as she would a CD (like we’ve taught her–Don’t touch the shiny part!).

But, really, I think we need to be thoughtful and intentional about not only when and how we let our kids use smartphones, but also how we use smartphones.

What I’m saying is that while we’re suspended in this time when we really don’t know what the long-term consequences are, maybe we should avoid giving our kids smartphones altogether.

Of course, feel free to check back with me in eight years, when our oldest is twelve.

It might be a soul-searching moment for me.

***

And if you want to read the study about smartphone’s destroying our brain power…

Adrian F. Ward, Kristen Duke, Ayelet Gneezy, Maarten W. Bos. Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2017; 2 (2): 140 DOI: 10.1086/691462

Yay, humanity…

For What Can We Blame Parents?

On April 20, 1999, Sue Klebold prayed “the hardest prayer of her life.”

She prayed that her son would take his own life.

Her husband had called her to tell her that their son, Dylan, was one of the shooters at his high school, Columbine High School. She knew that if he were caught, she would have to watch her son be executed.

So she prayed that her son would kill himself before they got to him.

He did.

***

Andrew Solomon describes Tim and Sue Klebold in his book, Far From the Tree, as eerily normal parents. Of all the parents that he interviewed for his book, these were the parents that he would have most likely have been friends with. They were intelligent, thoughtful, and well-spoken.

Sue Klebold

 Sue Klebold, 2016: Image credit, www.radio.foxnews.com

After the Columbine massacre, the Klebolds didn’t move. They didn’t change their names. They wanted to be around people who knew them before the shootings. They wanted to retain some part of their identities that existed before they had been forced to become the “parents of a mass murderer.”

They tell of a memorial service at Columbine High School, days after the shooting. Someone had placed 15 crosses for all of those who died: 13 for the victims and 2 for the shooters. Before long, parents of the victims ripped out two of the crosses from the memorial and threw them away.

When the school planted 15 trees to remember the dead, parents of the victims cut down 2 of the trees.

Soon, the media started referring to “13” as the total number of those who died.

***

Not only does our society have little empathy for those who commit crimes, but they also have little empathy for their parents.

Here is what Andrew Solomon says on this topic:

In our household, we brought our children up differently. That kind of thing didn’t happen… The burden of that blame is terrible. And it’s counterproductive. Blaming parents for their children’s transgressions doesn’t make those transgressions go away. It just traumatizes the parents.

To those of us with young children, still so innocent and blameless, it’s hard to imagine a reality in which our children become rapists or murderers. When the Brock Turner sentence broke headlines, his parents became equal targets for the mob’s anger and frustration. What kind of parents can raise such a monster, we wondered. How could they continue to make excuses for him? How could they continue to victimize this poor woman?

We like to think that we teach our children morals like respect and compassion, empathy and forgiveness. Parents have an incredible ability to shape the lives of their children.

But we cannot also deny that our peers also shape us.

If we’re honest with ourselves, we remember what it was like to be a teenager, when the words and experience of our peers trumped what we heard from our parents. Maybe we respected our parents, but when it came time to make decisions, we often chose on the side of what was favorable among our peers.

I remember how I chose where to go to college. I told people that I chose Miami University because it had a good education program. I told them that it had a good reputation. I told my parents that it wasn’t so far away from home.

But the real reason that I chose it was because of a boy.

Big surprise, I know.

Emotions rule so many decisions in late adolescence. Combined with a false sense of invincibility (and if you’re a white man, privilege!), it’s a little easier to imagine a reality in which our kids do terrible, terrible things for stupid, stupid reasons.

It’s a little easier to imagine becoming the parents of a child who has done something terribly wrong.

***

When a three-year-old boy was attacked by a gorilla in the Cincinnati Zoo this past May, there was a small, but vocal faction of parents who spoke out in defense of the child’s mother. Many of them cited their own personal experiences when their children had fell into dangerous circumstances and they found themselves the targets of suspected child neglect.

This also happened with the two-year-old boy was killed by an alligator near a Disney Resort in June.

It happened this way because there were enough parents willing to speak out to say, Hey, terrible things happen. They happened to me. These weren’t neglectful parents. Back off.

But when it comes to cases of rape and murder, there is far less compassion. The stigma of being the parent of a rapist or murderer is so damaging that few parents are willing to speak those words. They don’t want that identity. Who would?

And in the absence of those voices, we become an echo chamber of self-righteousness. Of course it was their fault! I mean, look at all of us. None of our children did stuff like this, so we’re clearly doing something right.

The sound of our own self-righteousness becomes so loud that we drown out any compassionate voices that speak out.

And when we lose our compassion, we lose our humanity.

 

If you liked this post, check out Becoming Mother, a great gift for first-time moms!

First Trimester

I knew it was true before the test.

I knew the feeling of that tiny, dense star settling in.

Laying its roots.

Sensing its first lines of communication.

Even though the tests had been coming back negative.

10 days past ovulation.

11 days.

12 days.

13 days–I’ve missed my period.

14 days.

Then, at 15 days, the faintest of lines.

Tiny. Wondrous.

Terrifying.

So terrifying.

You’re four weeks pregnant, the app announces. A tiny cluster of cells, burrowing, hopefully in a good location. I feel twinges and fullness, a familiar Oh, right. That’s what it was like. I begin teaching my fifth (and final) seven-week term of teaching for the academic year. I make plans to accomplish everything that I can do ahead of time before the hard weeks set in.

You’re five weeks pregnant, it tells me. A tiny tadpole, the neural tube forming. I wonder how many days I have left before the cloud of nausea overwhelms me. I look back at my previous pregnancies and chart out my symptoms to help me make an estimate. I worry about not feeling much yet. Then I tell myself to be grateful.

You’re six weeks pregnant, it tells me. The heart starts beating. The symptoms begin. I leave work early to sleep and sleep. I read about a gorilla dragging a three-year-old boy at the Cincinnati Zoo. I watch parents mirror the same aggression, ripping the mother to shreds with their judgment plastered across social media.

You’re seven weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs move into place. The symptoms build. I stop exercising at 5:00 a.m. I spend mornings trying to establish equilibrium with my nausea while teaching 8:00 a.m. classes four days a week. I tell myself that I’m grateful that I’ve made it this far. I read about the Brock Turner rape case. It makes me more nauseous.

You’re eight weeks pregnant, it tells me. The organs develop. The symptoms peak. Mundane teaching tasks take all my concentration. I battle hunger and nausea hour after hour after hour. Trial and error. Carb or protein? Water? No water? Constantly queasy, wave after wave after wave. I wake up at 2:00 a.m., hungry, nauseous. I eat crackers in the night.

I read about another mass shooting, this time in Orlando. I watch the familiar script, that we’ve all been trained to follow, play out in detail after agonizing detail on social media. I’ve just about had enough of the argument that more weapons = more safety.

Then, a diversion: more parent-shaming as a toddler is attacked by an alligator at a Disney resort.

 

And then, the ultrasound.

 

The beauty of a tiny flicker in the center of its chest.

The unmistakable wahn-wahn-wahn-wahn.

166 beats per minute. Good rate. Chances of miscarrying now are much, much lower.

I relax.

You’re nine weeks pregnant, it tells me. The tail disappears and the hands forms. The symptoms continue, with just the slightest hint of weakening. I put away my size 6s. And my size 8s. It’s size 10 for right now. I think about how much longer I can hide this.

I watch Democrats start a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives. I read about Brexit, shocked and dismayed.

You’re ten weeks pregnant, it tells me. The baby inside me looks like a baby. It is tiny and translucent, but complete. I look in the mirror and I know I need to start telling people soon. I’ve put away my fitted dress shirts. I’ve taken out my stash of maternity clothes, now three years in hibernation, but every summer shirt was bought for my third trimester. They are huge. So I buy some larger clothes to get by.

I think about telling my co-workers, but then I decide against it. What if I lose this one, too, just like the last one? Am I ready to have those conversations with everyone?

I’m not. I’m really not.

So as the last day of my teaching contract passes for this academic year, I turn in my final exams and final grades, pack up my snacks at my desk, and unceremoniously bow out of my teaching responsibilities until mid-August. Without sharing the news.

You’re eleven weeks pregnant, the app announces. My baby begins to open and close its fists. Its bones begin to harden. I’m officially living in someone else’s body. On some days, my lunch sits in my stomach until 7:00 p.m., my digestion moving at an absolute crawl. Everything causes heartburn. Everything. I’ve given up on coffee. It’s just too painful. I want to eat protein and more protein. I want nectarines, grapes, peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, anything high in vitamin C.

Screw it, I think. I put away the size 10s and embrace maternity jeans.

I stop reading the news. It’s too depressing.

I hear my baby’s heartbeat again at my next appointment.

I relax more.

We visit some friends who have just had their second baby. They are hosting a Fourth of July cookout. A gaggle of kids take turns diving into the inflatable kiddie pool, despite the overcast skies and cool temperatures. My friend’s tiny newborn sleeps curled up on her chest, tucked into a baby carrier. It makes me smile.

I wish this whole pregnancy were already over and I were in her same position. I’m already exhausted with this whole process and I’m not even out of the first trimester. I want to be able to eat a normal meal without wondering how long it will sit in my stomach. I want to run like I used to, early in the morning, three miles. I want to sleep through the night without getting up to pee at least three times. I want to take medicine when I get a cold. I want to have a cold Guinness from the tap on a summer night.

I want a spicy tuna roll. Badly.

Of course, I know that the postpartum period is even rockier for me than pregnancy is, but in this moment, I just want to be beyond where I am.

I feel like I’m getting too old for this.

But dwelling on all of this doesn’t make it go faster. It just robs me of my gratitude.

So instead, I fix my attention on what I will do during these next six weeks, while my daughter is in daycare, while I continue to grow a human being, and while my body finishes the exhausting job of creating a placenta. (And, God… it is.)

I will read. I will write. I will exercise on my own schedule. I will take care of myself and hopefully dive into some creative project that heals my soul enough to swallow another year of new rules and policies and mandates that don’t lead to better education.

You’re twelve weeks pregnant, the app tells me. The baby now has reflexes and will squirm away if something prods it. I think I’ve learned the new rules about how to eat and feel okay in this new body of mine. It’s humbling to bow to the truth that someone else is steering this ship again.

I’ve forgotten how hard all of this is.

I turn on NPR again to catch up on news.

More shootings. More death.

I rest my hand where life is growing.

I think about what I might write about all of this.

 

If you liked this post, check out my book Becoming Mother, a great gift for first-time moms.

Gorillas and Refugees

Now that social media has started to calm down on the great debate of whether a human being or a gorilla is more valuable and of whether your child entering a zoo enclosure means you’re a negligent parent, maybe we can step back and get some perspective on what we pay attention to on social media. All week long, social media users have been sharing post after post about the killing of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo.

It’s the mother’s fault. Get control of your child! 

Or Did they really have to kill Harambe?

Or Leave the mother alone! You can’t always be in control of them! 

Fine. Everyone feel better now?

Good.

While we’ve been distracted by the death of an endangered gorilla and our unspoken love of shaming other parents, 880 migrants died last week as they tried to cross the Mediterranean on smuggler’s ships.

capsized_boat

Photo credit: CNN.com

2,500 people have died in this manner since the beginning of the year.

***

It doesn’t bother me that people feel the need to talk about the Harambe story.

I get it.

I think most Americans can more easily identify with this story, and thus feel like they have something to say about it. Most of us can imagine being the parent that takes our child to the zoo and then being forced to watch your child being handled by a 400-pound gorilla. Some of us can even find the compassion in our hearts to mourn the death of an endangered gorilla, who spent his life under the constant parading gaze of humans.

Our imaginations can take us this far.

But our imagination stumbles when it comes to the refugee crisis.

We probably don’t know any refugees. In fact, given how long the U.S. refugee settlement process takes, it will probably be years before we have any refugees living in our communities. In the meantime, this whole refugee crisis thing seems like some horrific story happening in some other world.

Quite simply, there’s no fertile soil in our hearts for these seeds of compassion to grow.

It’s hard to imagine being forced out of our homes because our city is now rubble.

aleppo

Aleppo, Syria: FoxNews.com

It’s hard to imagine walking six hundred miles with our children.

It’s hard to imagine strapping life vests to our loved ones, telling them It’s going to be okay.

life vests.jpg

Photo credit: CNN.com

It’s hard to imagine sleeping in the hallway of a train, like this.

railroad cars.jpg

But that, my friends, is exactly what we need to do.

Imagine.

Practice compassion.

And direct our attention toward something more worthy of our energy and angst.

drowned_child

5/31/2016

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