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An Unfair Advantage

MIL photoI recently listened to an interview on This American Life that stuck with me. The show was entitled “It’s Not The Product, It’s The Person” and went through a series of examples uncovering the reality that great business (or great work) is more a product of the who than the what. Who people are, how much grit, tenacity, raw or natural talent, passion, or skill really matters when doing whatever it is that that they do. Far more perhaps than what they actually create, sell or even perform. And although this isn’t the point I mean to make (you’ll see) it’s worth noting that the show opens with details of a young entrepreneur, like really young (age 11 years) and demonstrates how her talents, bravado, and finesse allow her to sell things and attract attention that others can’t. The show rounds out as the narrator showcases the varying pitfalls in his own quest for success as an ex-NPR radio producer turned start-up entrepreneur. The story was somewhat lighthearted, of course, but one point stuck. As he was gleaning information from an established, successful venture capital investor he was asked a potent question. The investor was interrogating how this fledgling entrepreneur could get funding; assisting him in creating his “pitch” for the money people. He asked, “What’s your unfair advantage?”

Think about it, what’s your unfair advantage?

It stuck with me because it was so relevant for success in an often random, senseless world of building ideas and companies but also in parenting “like a pro.” An unfair advantage sometimes facilitates success and I would suggest nearly all of us have something in our pocket that we know makes it work. You can think of this unfair advantage in terms of celebrity or early success for some (Kate Hudson’s mom is Goldie Hawn after all, and it certainly seems easier to get a bedroom in The White House if your last name is Bush or Kennedy or Clinton for that matter). Yet we all also know that success isn’t only built of “unfair advantages,” that it does take advantage wed to sheer passion, purpose or intent. But clearly those unfair advantages help people get their ideas and skills discovered.

It was only recently that I realized my unfair advantage this past decade or so. Read full post »

Baby Talk: How Moms And Dads May Differ

baby talk photo edited

There may be a stereotype that women talk more than men; the language environment in which we’re raised, starting at day one, may have influence on this. Whether or not women are chattier than men is due largely in part to the context of the conversation. But a new study published in Pediatrics shows when it comes to parents talking to their babies, the term “Chatty Cathy” probably rings truer than “Chatty Carl.” And this has the potential to change the game with your child as they age. It’s well founded that the number of words your baby/child hears in the first few years of life has dramatic impact on their vocabulary, school success and education for a lifetime. Parent-talk has more impact on a child’s IQ and vocabulary than their education or socioeconomic status. Who we are as talkers really changes our babies’ lives.

Gender Differences In “Baby-Talk” And “Parent-Talk”

The Pediatrics study out this week evaluated the intersection of both baby-talk (comparing preterm and term baby boys and girls vocalizations for 16 hours at a time) and parent-talk (comparing Moms’ to Dads’ vocalizations to their infants) at birth, at about a month of age (based on original due date), and at 7 months of age. More than 1500 hours of recordings (derived from little devices worn on babies’ vests) were analyzed to compare family language interactions. Babies in families with a Mom and Dad at home were included (no same-sex couples). About ½ of the babies were late preemies (note: 1/4 of all the babies studied had a stay in the NICU) and 1/3 of families were raising children in a bilingual home. I found three key takeaways: Read full post »

On Being Mortal At 40

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 10.13.56 AMI felt very much alive reading Dr. Atul Gawande’s new book, Being Mortal. Not because I have a sense of youthful immortality, but because stuck here in the sandwich generation I’m feeling a bit caught in-between — feeling simultaneously mortal and then very alive. In my mind this has a little bit to do with turning 40, a bit to do with the gift of raising young children, and a whole lot more to do with a year of losing people I love. Over the last 11 months I feel like my soul has aged by a decade as people I’ve loved and held onto have passed away. When dealing with death some hours can feel far more centurion than any others we can remember.

Gawande’s words granted some space to reflect on both my profession and my role as a parent, wife, daughter, sister, relative and friend. There’s a balanced vulnerability woven throughout the book that facilitates our joining into his stories as peers. And although the book begins notably academic, it accelerates into a rich narrative of love, endurance, small failures and singular courage. In its essence, Being Mortal is about one man’s journey loving his family, caring for patients, discovering inadequacies in his profession and interrogating the options afforded us all in living our lives with intention.

As a true “middle-ager,” sitting with these words felt to me a bit like peering over a vast, newly frozen Great Lake. Imagine letting your eyes move from left to right, looking out at the cracks in the ice and swirling snow as you capture the enormity of the expanse and what lies in front of you. But remember that this Great Lake is enormous, as big as the potential space of the lives in front of us. The words in Being Mortal can feel like a nudge. It’s as if while looking out from the shores of that frozen lake you hear someone whisper, “ Why, yes, it’s only been frozen overnight, but please just get up and run across it, Girl.” And you will, never knowing just when you’ll fall in. Read full post »

Malala, Malala, Malala! A Child Wins The Nobel Peace Prize

Photo: Claude Truong-Ngoc/Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Claude Truong-Ngoc/Wikimedia Commons

Malala, Malala, Malala – this is a historic day! A child has just won the Nobel Peace Prize! Our heroine, Malala Yousafzai, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. She shares the prize with Kailash Satyarthi. Children and parents everywhere on planet earth have a perfect bedtime story. The youngest ever recipient of the prize goes to a girl born and raised in Pakistan who was denied equal access to her education. I mean, really, whenever you think your child’s potential is bounded or someone in the community minimizes the importance of your child’s ideas or implies that their potential is truncated by their age, limited by their perspective, or premature because of their experience, we have a new story to tell. We have an extraordinary antidote to those who treat children as lesser citizens of the world.

Malala Yousafzai.

Malala, you amaze us and you open up doors for little girls and little boys everywhere. Parents and pediatricians can and will share the news with young children and teens who falter.

First off, don’t let her globe-trotting-book-writing-media-circus attention fool you into thinking she’s an adult. She found out about her Nobel while in class, a place where all the other 17 year-olds in our country get the opportunity to sit…

Malala has leveraged her skills as a brilliant communicator and wed it to the courage of a champion to change the world’s understandings and opportunities. We are all so lucky.

Quick Facts For Your Family About Malala Yousafzai:

  • Malala and her father report that part of her success is based on the reality that her “wings were not clipped.” More from her dad in this popular TEDtalk.
  • Malala is a world leader. Read Amy Davidson’s New Yorker article from earlier today as a reminder of her influence — note Davidson saying, “It is past time to stop seeing Malala as simply the girl who survived, as a symbol. (The Times called her a ‘global emblem.’) She is a girl who leads: who addressed the United Nations on her sixteenth birthday; who amazes Jon Stewart and asks Barack Obama about drones.”  Watch her interview on Jon Stewart for examples of her unflappable courage and determination.

Age-Appropriate Malala Bedtime Stories:

Age 2-5: There once was a little girl loved to go to school. But one day the rules changed where she lived and she was unable to Read full post »

Deliberate Ambiguity

Deliberate ambiguity

I was at Back-To-School night this week at my boys’ school. Heard something I’m still thinking on. One of the teachers talked about how students are introduced to technology in the school house. She detailed how her philosophies helped shape their evolving understanding of, skills with, and opportunities with computers, code, and digital tools. She discussed her opacity with instructions as just one way to help develop grit. She said,

 

 

 

I use deliberate ambiguity. I want to make it a bit of mystery getting from point A to point B…

In ways, this is our job as parents in rearing independent children. Strike through childhood with deliberate ambiguity and provide a sense of mystery each day. With it, we can prime opportunity for our children to discover and stumble upon a sense of mastery. We can vilify technology in our children’s lives or we can facilitate our children’s use of new tools for expression and creativity. But deliberate ambiguity? That’s genius that we can apply in all sorts of places in our children’s lives.

Media Deprivation?

media deprivationMedia deprivation: do you think it exists? Although laughable at first glance I know I’m not the only parent who wonders if limiting screen time could change my child’s opportunity. Those of us who fiercely control screen/device time may have momentary lapses where we wonder if we’re doing things right. Even though I’m convinced there isn’t a study telling us that typically-developing children need media/apps/screen time to learn how to think and evolve into compassionate, successful, and happy adults, part of me wonders if my screen policing isn’t ideal.

Are You Screen-Phobic Parent?

There may be an inverse relationship worth noting: perhaps the more a parent loves technology, the more they see technology’s omnipotence and its invasive, devious elegance. Do those of us who adore technology consequently limit its use at home? Unsure there are data to back this up, however there are some nice anecdotes. Turns out Steve Jobs was a low-tech parent. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home,” he said. In addition, The New York Times reports that Chris Anderson, former editor of Wired Magazine and current CEO of a drone company draws hard lines:

This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever.

The American Academy of Pediatrics guides us that media should be limited (ideally to less than 2 hours daily) and advises us to protect the sanctity of the place our children sleep by keeping screens out. Pediatricians work heroically in the office trying to help families  get a sense of why moderation with media matters and the benefits for making media plans. You’ve probably heard about concocting a “media diet” and ways to reduce screen time, especially before bed. Some of us take it pretty far…our children may go days and weeks without screens while at home. Perhaps its my own technology enthusiasm and unending quest for balance with devices that has me locking up all the tablets and computers at home. In our home the phones, tablets and computer have taken the place of Drano — they’re up and out of reach. Read full post »

Can’t Stop Time

photo (58)I take solace sometimes knowing I can’t stop time. When I look to the clock and trade panic for solace it’s a way to distance myself from the reality that as time marches on in its infinite human construction, I don’t have to think about moments with the boys lost. Every parent hears over and over again that, “it just goes so fast.” I find that advice never helps. Just makes us feel like time with our beloved little humans is slipping through our fingers and I can’t imagine a parent who feels good about that.

My little boy is no longer allowed to be entirely in my grasp as the doors of that big schoolhouse open forever next week. My 5 year-old starts Kindergarten and it’s pretty clear to me that from here forward there will be many forces facilitating his gradual exploration of the world away from our cozy nest.

The solace I mention is real though and it helps me. At moments I can feel the space and peace that comes in knowing I have literally no control over his aging and what it provides — like giving into the wind I can lean into this space and know what a privilege it is to witness this wild ride. It certainly helps that he clearly loves the speed with which life is hurling at him. I see it in moments where he looks at the Kindergarten class list and in the moments where he sticks his right foot out while standing next to his bike and poses as if he’s ready to take a big stage and I feel his thrill as he looks over to his older brother and realizes he finally belongs at the same school. Growing up really is quite a thing to behold.

Being a part of something bigger is a huge part of being human and school is an essential first (or second) step

And although that solace I just mentioned is real I can’t help but tell you that there is certainly a part of me that suffers in these waning summer days. I feel the excitement yes, I lean into the solace yes, but as a working mom I can’t help wonder, “did I do this all right?” Were the last 5 and 1/2 years exactly what I imagined for his time at home preparing for the onslaught of schooling? Was I present, available, ready, and everything I wanted to be? Well, surely not. It’s clear my iPhone got in the way, as did my job, and my ambition to improve children’s health. Thankfully there are ways he shows me he knows he’s got my attention but I can’t help but trip (and fall) sometimes knowing there are infinite ways to raise a child and I do look at those other paths with curiosity.

Today let me tell you this: I’ll hold onto the solace every single moment I see it and I’ll let it mix up with the suffering. I can gently mute the parts of pain that comes with aging and losing the intimacy found between mother and son during toddlerhood and the preschool years. I’ll find that solace when I feel the thrill from peering over the edge of this great big world ahead of him. One thing I know for certain is I’ll enjoy the first moments of Kindergarten next week, too. This little boy of mine is growing up to be a thoughtful, curious, kind, and happy little man. It’s his excitement for the next giant step that will tug me along into September…

On hand-holding

handholdingThe boys still eagerly hold my hand when we go out and about. And it’s not just when we cross the street. I find that, my 5 year-old in particular, will just show up alongside me while we’re walking and all of the sudden his hand will be in mine. Divinity. This little hand doesn’t go unnoticed and I suspect although it won’t always come so frequently or so eagerly or so spontaneously, I’ll get to hold my son’s hands throughout my life if I ask. I really do treasure that hand in mine.

There is nothing of more value than this love of family we find as our children grow. Nothing more striking really than the intimacy that can exist between a family totally in love.

When we’re walking hand-in-hand my mind often slips to a stunning obituary I read last summer. In it, Jane Catherine Lotter (who wrote her own obituary) details her life’s achievements, her love for family, her gratitude and wisdom, and her memories. As she’s closing the piece she says, “At any rate, I am at peace. And on that upbeat note, I take my mortal leave of this rollicking, revolving world-this sun, that moon, that walk around Green Lake, that stroll through the Pike Place Market, the memory of a child’s hand in mine.”

There’s wisdom in clarity and it seems to me Jane had it and was generous enough to share it. One distillation of life’s joy being a child’s hand in her own. When you hold onto that hand today perhaps take notice of the extraordinary thing it is to have it curled up inside your own. I mean, wow.

20 Minutes

photo (43)When it comes to food allergies, expert parents are uniquely-positioned educators. They know the tricks of the trade and the ways to the oasis of safety in a culture that has yet to fully embrace supporting children with unique medical needs. Over the years in practice, it’s parent-food-allergy-experts that have taught me the greatest new lessons I now pass on routinely to patients. Marrying the life-threatening nature of food allergy to the concepts of strict avoidance to the use of medication to treat anaphylaxis will never be enough when supporting children, their families, and their schools. The essential advice may be locating the inspiration families need to be staunch, relentless, and tireless advocates for their children. Even when uncomfortable. It’s Food Allergy Awareness week and some just-in-time allergy info has arrived.

This post, this concept, this advocacy, this is Mom-to-Mom health care. Enjoy this post from the ever-brilliant mom and researcher, Susannah Fox (her bio below)

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Once a year, I give a high-stakes presentation in front of a single audience member: my son’s teacher. I have 20 minutes to teach her how to save his life.

I need to explain the science of food allergy, list all of his many allergens, accurately describe the symptoms of anaphylactic shock, instill an appropriate sense of urgency and responsibility with one or two frightening stories, but also build her confidence so she does not tune out or give up prematurely. Read full post »

Digitally Savvy Parenthood

As a pediatrician, I encourage families to search online for health advice. Yet how you search and where you click matters. Tips for you and your time with “Dr Google” or “Surgeon Bing.”

The Pew Internet Project’s research finds that over 70% of Internet users in the United States say they have looked online for health information in the last year. Furthermore, most health information seekers (ie freaked out parents searching in the middle of the night) don’t start their health search on their pediatrician’s website. More than ¾ of people in the United States start their health search by typing something into a search engine like Google or Bing. Where you click and what you do next is key.

As a mom, pediatrician, blogger and general online enthusiast, here are a few insights to assist you when looking online for health information for your child or family. We parents are active information seekers on our phones and computer ~ I maintain that this is a GREAT thing! For practicing physicians, there is a tricky balance in believing that the Internet can help save lives. Have You Been In To See Doctor Google? A few ideas to improve trust for us all.

7 Tips For Becoming A Savvy Digital Parent:

Read full post »